Papal preach on Good Friday: “…residue of past ceremonials, laws and disputes…”

As is tradition, the papal preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, delivered the Good Friday sermon at the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion in St. Peter’s Basilica with Pope Francis.

He said:

We must do everything possible so that the Church may never look like that complicated and cluttered castle described by Kafka, and the message may come out of it as free and joyous as when the messenger began his run. We know what the impediments are that can restrain the messenger: dividing walls, starting with those that separate the various Christian churches from one another, the excess of bureaucracy, the residue of past ceremonials, laws and disputes, now only debris.

Full text here.

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17 comments

  1. We know what the impediments are that can restrain the messenger: dividing walls, starting with those that separate the various Christian churches from one another, the excess of bureaucracy, the residue of past ceremonials, laws and disputes, now only debris.

    I pray for firm, resolute, and defined leadership from the Pope on this. The last thing we need is for a thousand talking heads to take these words of Cantalamessa and decide for us which walls divide as opposed to protect. I doubt Christian ecumenicism will be advanced for the good by a flurry of chaotic wall-demolition. People matter.

    Archbishop Sheen told a story of a group of children who lived joyfully and playfully on an island with a wall around it. They were told by so-called liberators who visited them one day that they would be far freer without the wall. The children tore down the walls; now you can find them — the ones still left — huddled together in the center, fearing for their lives, lest they fall into the sea.

    1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #1:
      Jeffrey, that Archbishop Sheen story reminds me of Chesterton: The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

  2. Yup, Fr. Cantalamessa, tearing down those walls has worked really well for you all since the “new springtime” of Vatican II. The faith is virtually dead in a Europe, the churches are empty, and Moslems are the only ones having babies.

    You won’t have to worry about “uncluttering” in thirty years. There’ll be a Tiber-side Taliban that will see to that, so that the Grand Imam can conduct Friday Prayers from the loggia.

    The solution for the mess of Vatican II — more Vatican II! Talk about Kafka!

    Fr. Cantalamessa and company are engaged in the hermeneutic of denial.

  3. I agree with Jeffrey. If the future of Catholicism is to renounce all its “trappings” and “distinctions” and so called “walls” it can hardly be said that the tradition– if there is one– makes any specific claim on anyone– or me, at any rate. Perhaps the father would give such open consideration as to whether or not the entire Christian project is mere debris of a past age, as many of no faith claim? Or that what we call Roman Catholicism is not just the ghost of Constantinianism, as many have said for centuries? Where does it stop? The very Gospel is an “ecumenical” barrier with all of non-professing humanity, doesn’t he realize?

    How much are we willing to “clear away” in the name of the unadultered Christianity of the first century (if, indeed, it was ever unadultered) ?

    If you say you’ve been in error for about 1700 years, it’s just as probable that you’ve been in error for 2,000.

    1. @Jordan DeJonge – comment #3:

      If you say you’ve been in error for about 1700 years, it’s just as probable that you’ve been in error for 2,000.

      A thought that has occurred to me more than once.

    2. @Jordan DeJonge – comment #3:
      “If you say you’ve been in error for about 1700 years, it’s just as probable that you’ve been in error for 2,000.”

      Exactly not. Nuanced thinking that makes distinctions is needed. That shifts happened in the 4th century that brought about distortions of the Gospel (I mean the papacy aping secular courts and secular power structures) certainly doesn’t make it more probably that the core message from Jesus in the 1st century is wrong.

      The whole point of reform, Vatican II or otherwise throughout history, is attempting to return to the core message. If that involves admitting that mistakes came in – in the 4th or 14th or 19th century or whenever – so be it. It is precisely the Gospel message that allows us to admit fault gracefully, to accept the Spirit’s promptings without worrying about judging previous generations. God can take care of all that.

      Obviously, the call for active participation and simplification at Vatican II necessarily implies an admission that something went wrong in church history – and any study of that history shows that it went wrong especially beginning in the 4th century.

      awr

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #14:

        That shifts happened in the 4th century that brought about distortions of the Gospel (I mean the papacy aping secular courts and secular power structures) certainly doesn’t make it more probably that the core message from Jesus in the 1st century is wrong.

        Certainly I agree with you Father that the institutionalization of Christianity in the late Roman Empire profoundly changed the religion. Even so, the pre-institutionalized Church also displayed facets of patronage, which clearly denotes an unequal society of believers. It’s not as if the Milvian Bridge or Constantine’s toleration were great paradigm shifts. A hierarchical Christian was developing even before toleration. Toleration and institutionalization of Christianity merely pushed the development of Christian hierarchical and secular power structures into warp-speed.

        I often think that Jim McKay’s frequent apologies for the liturgical reforms present a more plausible reason for the need to reform. (Jim, if I have understood your arguments wrongly, please correct me.) I understand Jim’s apologies in this way: the Great War severely undermined European monarchy, and World War II uncovered the horrors of totalitarianism and profound genocide. Liturgical reform, then, is an ongoing attempt to recast Catholic worship to reflect a post-imperial and post-totalitarian world. I would add that ressourcement often uncovers aspects of early Christianity which are useful in creating post-imperial liturgies.

        An apology for traditionalism in light of the above argument resides not in the defense of exclusive Latin use in worship or ad orientem. The challenge resides in the ability to at once accept the overt imperialism of the EF and at the same time claim that the accumulation of tradition, rather than the recasting of tradition, is the best way to worship after the cataclysms of the 20th century.

      2. @Jordan Zarembo – comment #15:

        Jordan, that’s a better explanation of my position than I could come up with. I’d probably get too wrapped up trying to include the French Revolution and African colonialism to make as concise a point as you have here.

        And I do not care about the use of Latin or ad oriented as much as recovering a sense of Christ’s presence among us. I have my doubts about whether that can be accomplished by keeping the imperial traditions, but mostly because there is no “emperor” but the Popes who promulgate the OF. Most of us no longer have much connection to the imperial structures, so they seem inadequate to encouraging a sense of Christ’s presence among us, but if the RotR can make a case for finding Christ in our midst, I’d be more interested than in the current arguments about formalities.

      3. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #14:

        Unfortunately, making those distinctions is a lot harder than you seem to concede, particularly since the witness of the past is one of the things that gives the Gospel’s their authority. There may well to future catholics who feel the need to undo the present days work, as unnecessary distortions of the Gospel.

        However, you do make a good point about reform, and going back to the core message (i.e. as this gives changes which retain the authority of the past).

        Edmund Burke, a foundational conservative thinker in the English speaking tradition, spoke of going back to an older and wiser set of ancestors, where our more recent ancestors may have gone astray.

  4. What?
    Do you prefer the situation described by Kafka:

    “the multitudes are so vast; their numbers have no end. If he could reach the open fields how fast he would fly, and soon doubtless you would hear the welcome hammering of his fists on your door. But instead how vainly does he wear out his strength; still he is only making his way through the chambers of the innermost palace; never will he get to the end of them; and if he succeeded in that nothing would be gained; he must next fight his way down the stair; and if he succeeded in that nothing would be gained; the courts would still have to be crossed; and after the courts the second outer palace; and so on for thousands of years; and if at last he should burst through the outermost gate—but never, never can that happen—the imperial capital would lie before him, the center of the world, crammed to bursting with its own sediment. Nobody could fight his way through here even with a message from a dead man. But you sit at your window when evening falls and dream it to yourself”

  5. Regarding some of the odd choices made to shorten the Holy Week liturgies: An interesting excerpt today from Sandro Magister, hardly known as a liturgy crusader:

    As for the “ars celebrandi,” in the liturgies of Holy Week at St. Peter’s there was noted a more elevated respect for the symbolism and the splendor of the rituals than that seen at work in the Mass for the beginning of the pontificate.

    Here as well, however, with abbreviations that were not always understandable. In particular, it was not clear why at the Easter Vigil, after the singing of the Exultet, the biblical readings were cut to the bone and the first was literally mutilated, with the account of the six days of creation limited to the creation of man alone.

    That brevity which in some contexts can find justification and is in effect provided for by the missal made no obvious sense in an Easter Vigil presided over by the pope and attended – in person or via transmission – by a highly motivated faithful people, who were deprived of the fullness of that narration of the “historia salutis” which the liturgy illuminates, on this culminating night of the year, with the lighting of the Easter candle.

    In one of his memorable passages, Romano Guardini described the celebration of the Easter liturgy in the basilica of Monreale, Sicily, packed with poor and mostly illiterate farmers, who nonetheless were enchanted by the splendor of the rite: “The sacred ceremony lasted for more than four hours, and yet there was always a lively participation.”

    It was precisely on Guardini that the Jesuit Bergoglio wrote the thesis for his doctorate in theology, in Frankfurt in 1986.

    Link: http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1350489?eng=y

    Is it possible that a desire for brevity is being taken a little too far? Or do we just assume that Italians of today are far more attention deprived, or indifferent to liturgical splendor than the Sicilians of Guardini’s day?

    1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #6:
      It seems to me that, if the options for convenience should ever be taken, they should be taken as a concession to weakness. Consequently, if the papal liturgy is really in some sense ideal, the papal liturgy should always be the full thing.

      At my cathedral here, which has been doing the same thing for decades as far as I can tell, all seven readings are always read, with the appropriate psalm sung for each. The Mass takes about three hours and fifteen minutes. I don’t mind at all, I much prefer it. The bishop warns us in advance it will be lengthy, that we should try to absorb the readings. If it’s not possible to concentrate on all of them, that we should feel free to step outside or get a glass of water if we need to. I think the idea is that, year after year, you will get them all and more likely in a more profound way.

      It seems odd to me, all this conciliar focus on “getting back to Scripture” only in the end to be “looking at our watches” and cutting back when some of the richest texts in the whole tradition, at the symbolic height of the Church’s liturgy, are being proclaimed.

      1. @Jordan DeJonge – comment #8:

        It seems odd to me, all this conciliar focus on “getting back to Scripture” only in the end to be “looking at our watches” and cutting back when some of the richest texts in the whole tradition, at the symbolic height of the Church’s liturgy, are being proclaimed.

        Another good point – and an odd irony.

    2. @Richard Malcolm – comment #6:
      Is it possible that Magister doesn’t know that there is an abbreviated reading of Genesis in the lectionary, which “is cut to the bone”? Pope Francis isn’t responsible for this, the only question is whether the use of this option is opportune.

      In Italy, the clocks were set forward that night, and I suspect that sheer physical exhaustion may have been a factor in the Pope’s decision. One hopes that in future years, efforts will be made to celebrate the Vigil in such a way that it will be literally a joy to “endure” it for hours!

      1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #10:

        Hi Rita,

        Is it possible that Magister doesn’t know that there is an abbreviated reading of Genesis in the lectionary, which “is cut to the bone”?

        It’s certainly possible – I didn’t mention the option, and Magister doesn’t seem to be particularly liturgical in his reportage.

        But I mentioned it because, while it is an option, I’m not aware of the abbreviated option ever being used in the papal Vigil Mass before. I haven’t examined every year, however.

        So far, Pope Francis’s Masses have been kept on the short side. This seems of a piece of that; but I concede that precise responsibility here is hard to nail down.

      2. @Richard Malcolm – comment #12:

        Magister does note that the abbreviation is permitted (although the phrasing is wierd, perhaps due to the translation from Italian.)

        “That brevity which in some contexts can find justification and is in effect provided for by the missal made no obvious sense in an Easter Vigil”

        “Quella brevità che in alcuni contesti può trovare giustificazione ed è effettivamente prevista dal messale non si è capito che senso abbia avuto in una veglia pasquale presieduta dal papa e partecipata – di persona o via etere – da un popolo fedele altamente motivato, al quale è stata sottratta la pienezza di quella narrazione della “historia salutis” che la liturgia illumina, in questa notte culminante dell’anno, con la luce del cero pasquale.”

        effettivamente (effettivaˈmente)
        Translations
        adverb

        a.(in effetti) in fact
        b.(a dire il vero) really, actually

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