About 2,500 were in DC for the NPM national convention this past week. Among them was NPM presenter Rick Hilgartner, director of the office of the Bishops’ Committee for Divine Worship (BCDW) at the national bishops’ conference. AWR had a cup of coffee in the hotel lobby with Rick and visited with him about World Youth Day and Pope Francis.

AWR: You were in Rio with Pope Francis and a couple other million people. What was it like to celebrate liturgy with Francis?

RH: Words cannot adequately describe the level of enthusiasm and faith that was evident throughout WYD.  There was an obvious level of energy surrounding Pope Francis, but all throughout the week pilgrims were not ashamed to profess their faith. There were profound moments of prayer in large and small group settings. One element that is less publicized is the program of catechesis that lasts for three days, in which pilgrims gather within their language groups in churches, auditoriums and other venues for catechetical presentations by bishops, which includes time for discussion and Q&A as well as prayer, time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and Mass each day. I worked at an English-language venue, co-sponsored by the USCCB and several collaborating organizations, which saw 2,200 young people each of the three days.

The liturgies for World Youth Day are a challenge, both because of the size of the gathering (sometimes with inhospitable weather) and the diverse languages and cultures represented in the assemblies. There is no easy way to celebrate the Eucharist with 3 million people and to balance the “production” and “spectacle” with a sense liturgical prayer. Some elements worked well, and others, from my perspective, came off as “made for television.”

Many took note of the use of the additional acclamations within the Eucharistic Prayers, which appear as options in the Missal for use in Brazil (it should be noted that they are not yet using a translation of the Missale Romanum, third edition). From what I learned, there are used most of the time, so they were not unfamiliar to Brazilians. Because the acclamations were well known, the assembly seemed quite engaged in the Eucharistic Prayer.

AWR: From your overview perch at the national liturgy office, what effect do you see so far from the fresh spirit of Pope Francis? Is he already having an effect on how people think about liturgy, how they celebrate it, what sorts of questions they ask your office?

RH: Pope Francis is preaching the Gospel effectively at the moment… he is touching people’s hearts and the world is paying attention. In terms of administration or policy he has not yet said anything precise. People are watching him and trying to draw conclusions from his actions. Such is the nature of our incarnational faith, in which we can glean meaning from symbols and rituals. At this point it is difficult to see any particular changes in the liturgy  evident because of his pontificate (other than the addition of the invocation of Saint Joseph in the Eucharistic Prayers), but I hope that we are taking seriously his invitation to a significant personal relationship with Christ and the mission to be a witness to Christ.

AWR: Everyone is talking about reform of the curia and reform of the Church. What do you think we might expect from Francis? What hopes do you have?

RH: From what I see, everyone seems to have an expectation that he will do something significant. From our perspective as members of the faithful, it might take some time once any changes are implemented before we see any real impact (i.e., it would take policy changes brought about by new personnel in new leadership roles before the faithful really notice the impact). The Church has been around for a long time, and in the Curia has had a certain way of doing things. It will not change overnight. Whether changes will simply be a matter of appointing new personnel or a more drastic structural change remains to be seen.