Liturgical Views of the Papabili: Cardinal Odilo Pedro Scherer

by Jeronimo Pereira Silva, OSB.

This year the spotlights of the world will be turned on Brazil. At “World Youth Day,” young Catholics from around the world will invade the Terra de Santa Cruz (“Land of the Holy Cross”), the country of soccer, beautiful beaches, samba and – could it be? – the pope. Among those indicated by the international media as papabili is the Brazilian Dom Odilo Pedro Scherer. He was born on September 21, 1949, to parents of German descent in the small southern Brazilian city of Cerro Largo (population 14,000) and was ordained a priest in 1976. He became a bishop in 2002, taking as his motto in meam commemorationem (“in memory of me”). Six years later he was named Archbishop of São Paulo and in the same year was made a cardinal. About 4.5 million Catholics are under his pastoral care, a ministry he fulfills with tenacity and determination. In spite of all he has to do, this young, likeable, and at the same time somewhat shy cardinal, an aficionado of both classical music and MPB (Brazilian Popular Music), believes that in addition to working in his office, he needs to “be a leader among bishops and other priests. At the same time he has to make sure the Church is present in the media, and he has to be a public figure in a religious playing field that is ever more competitive.”

Our cardinal’s CV is an enviable one. Among its highlights: President Delegate of the XII Ordinary Assembly of the Synod of Bishops (October 2008), member of the Congregation for the Clergy (since 2008), member of the commission of Cardinals charged with investigating the organizational and economic problems of the Holy See (since 2009); member of the Pontifical Council for the Family (since 2009), member of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America (since 2009), member of the Pontifical Commission of Cardinals charged with supervising the Institute for the Works of Religion (since 2009), member of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization (since 2010), Chairman of the Commission of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Vatican II (since 2011).

The Italian writer Andrea Tornielli, in the February 15, 2013 issue of La Stampa, pointed out some of the unresolved issues of the pontificate of Pope Ratzinger that will certainly influence the choice of the successor of the Apostle Peter. Underlying them all is the question of the communication of the Gospel in a post-Christian society, a question related to the gradual increase of atheism in Europe and the overwhelming advance of Protestant sects in traditionally Catholic countries such as Brazil.

Another open question concerns the liturgy. Summorum Pontificum,the motu proprio of July 7, 2007, was primarily concerned with resolving the problems raised by the followers of Lefevre and addressing certain liturgical abuses, such as the “degeneration of the Mass into a show.” Pope Ratzinger’s determination to take “outmoded” vestments out of moth balls and his insistence on the use of Latin did not solve either problem. As far as liturgists were concerned, the only thing the motu proprio did was generate other problems of a different order.

Tornielli also highlights other issues of no little importance, such as the reform of the Roman Curia “to make it function better,” and also what to do about groups of priests “who openly invite disobedience by calling for an end to priestly celibacy and advocating the ordination of women . . . and how to find a way to respond to the crisis of marriage and to the growing number of divorced people who have remarried.”

These are problems that, mutatis mutandis, Cardinal Scherer – like every bishop under the microscope – faced or faces in his heavily populated archdiocese. His reaction to such problems can show us, or at least give us an idea of ​​who this papabile is.

The media highlight two issues: the problem of communicating the Catholic faith in the face of the increasing number of sects, and secondly, his position vis-à-vis the surprisingly increasing number of “performer priests” who have turned sacred rites into shows and sanctuaries into stages. Cardinal Scherer has dealt effectively with both cases in deed and word. He recognizes that the Church has lost members, and so he has raised the double banner of faith and understanding. “The only solution is helping the faithful feel strengthened in their faith and rooted in the Church.” This is not a problem that is specific to the Catholic Church, but one that is transmitted by the mass media. What is certain for the Cardinal is that “religion today comes in many forms and, to my mind, can be quite aggressive. In some way, people are under pressure to make new choices.”

Scherer knows that the Church must adapt to changing times without losing its identity. In an interview published in O Estado de São Paulo in April, 2012, he said:

This is a huge challenge, one that the Church has been dealing with for two thousand years. We are experiencing an epochal upheaval similar to what occurred in the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern era, and the modern era to the present. These are times when the Church has to relearn, presenting itself in a new way, but maintaining its identity. This is what we need to do today.

The cardinal has always been very cautious in his comments about liberation theology. He sees it as a phase of theology that he thinks has already been surpassed. As for politics, to him things appear very clear-cut. When asked about the relationship between religion and politics, he said, “I do not know whether or not religion should influence politics, but the religious convictions of citizens have political repercussions. Religion and politics do not merge, do not overlap, but very it is very difficult to separate the two.”

Asked last year by the above-mentioned newspaper if he ever thought about being elected pope, his response was simple:

I can’t imagine it. . . . It is the conclave that decides, not someone who puts himself forward or says, ‘I want to be pope,’ or ‘Vote for me.’ That doesn’t happen. The only thing I think about is being archbishop of São Paulo.

Given the possibility of his being elected to the papacy, such pronouncements have transformed Cardinal Scherer – as far as Brazilian newspapers and blogs are concerned – into someone with a double identity, a kind of saint and Satan, a traditionalist with progressive ideas. There are those who believe that his papacy would follow the “playbook” of Pope Ratzinger verbatim. Still others think there would be opportunity for a dialogue with modernity, allowing the Church a form of government where collegiality was not only held in high regard, but looked upon as indispensable.

As for liturgy, in Brazil the “active participation of the faithful” is confused with “participatory activism.” The Sunday leaflet prepared by “private entities” and not directly by a “national liturgical office” ends up establishing – sometimes in a very subjective way – how the liturgy will be celebrated throughout most of country, without any regard for different regions or languages, and without taking into account the many communities that do not have access to the basic liturgical books (the lectionary and the missal). Furthermore, the leaflet also provides the music for the celebration. With the publication of an official hymnal, which is presently going through a review process, the bishops’ conference made available , especially in the hymnal for Ordinary Time, a treasure trove of “liturgically correct” canticles – that is, the Word of God paraphrased and transformed into beautiful poetry. In these hymnals some of the melodies are difficult to sing. But unfortunately, the main criterion for choosing which canticles to sing is whether or not they will “enliven” the celebration. In spite of its limitations, the hymnal is a magnificent resource, but unfortunately it is still a great unknown.

The Mass as entertainment, with its catchy and easily accessible music, is now omnipresent in the media and has become a model for the parish Mass, so much so that people compare one Mass with another, a “lively Mass” with a “dead Mass.” What draws attention are Masses that attract crowds and Masses with dancing. Organ or choral music has been virtually eliminated. Only frenzied rhythms will do, and in some cases the frenzy goes from the entrance song to the final song without any distinction between the Ordinary and the Proper of the Mass, between Penitential Rite and Gloria. The people have to sing everything—no soloists, no choir, no melodic instruments (violin, flute, oboe). The instruments that dominate are the electric guitar, the guitar, drums, the conga, the tambourine, and the afoxé (rattle). The main musical style is that of the popular song. This is true not only among young people. Often the “old folks” Mass has become a high-energy “Club Mass.” What especially attracts the majority of worshippers is music in the Gospel style, with sentimental texts that are all about “me.”

A growing spirit of resentment is giving rise to a certain disequilibrium in the area of liturgy. Traditionalists are beginning to emerge: women with veils, kneeling for communion, Masses in Latin, resistance to communion under both kinds, opposition to music in the vernacular, lack of sobriety in vestments and sacred vessels, and – even worse – a contempt for everything that is Vatican II. Masses emptied of any participation of the people other than an ecstatic attentiveness to an “incomprehensible mystery,” Masses permeated by a strong expression of “stereotypical devotionalism” christened as personal and intimate “piety” – these are the main characteristics of a “Baroque spirituality” that forms Christians who are indifferent to the rest of the human community.

Luckily, we still have a considerable number of faithful who participate in the Sunday Eucharist. Although the numbers are down, many young people and children also take part, especially those who are involved in parish groups and movements.

One notices a certain nonchalance on the part of the bishops’ conference regarding “abuses of the ars celebrandi.” Without doubt, committees are functioning (music, architecture, etc.), but there is no perceptible effort to promote the awareness and practice of liturgical norms. Even liturgies celebrated by bishops often descend to the level of celebrations that are “adrift,” sometimes made-up-as-you-go-along, sometimes marked by rigid rubricism. Courses for the liturgical formation of the priest are not programmed. When Cardinal Scherer was asked about the main challenges that the new pope would face, he said nothing about liturgy (published on the website of the Archdiocese of São Paulo [05/03/2013]).

As a matter of fact, the territorial extent of many Brazilian dioceses and the unevenness of Brazilian society militate against a certain homogeneity. Furthermore, we are not looking for a liturgical “leveling” that disregards the diversity of the people who celebrate it. Fairness or liturgical evenness in a territory as vast as Brazil still has long way to go. The important fact is that we’re on the way.

We, citizens of a Third World that is now rising and going backward at the same time, feel truly blessed by the fact that the next successor of Peter could be someone who left this “cradle,” the homeland we describe in song as

Giant by thine own nature,
thou art beautiful, thou art strong, an intrepid colossus,
and thy future mirrors thy greatness. . . .
Than the most elegant land abroad,
thy smiling, pretty prairies have more flowers
“Our meadows have more life”,
“our life” in thy bosom “more love”

(from the Brazilian national anthem).

Given the universal nature of the Church, we have to recognize that a pope from the Third World is most likely just a beautiful dream. For patriotic Brazilians, however, the non-election of a Brazilian pope would not be interpreted as a sign of disparagement. After all, the saying that crisscrosses Brazil from north to south, from east to west, indicates that the sons and daughters of this “gentle beloved homeland” already have a name that is greater than all: Deus, God! And “Deus é brasileiro” “God is Brazilian.”

Fr. Jeronimo Pereira Silva, OSB, is a monk of the Monastery of Sao Bento in Brazil, currently studying at the “Istituto di Liturgia Pastorale di Santa Giustina” in Padua, Italy.


One comment

  1. Let me just take this opportunity to thank PrayTell for this wonderful series on the Papabili that have been such an education on the world wide church and express the hope that after the conclave PrayTell will encourage a lot more information about liturgy throughout the world, especially beyond the English speaking part of it.

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