by Andrea Grillo
In the structure of Pope Francis’s pontificate – it cannot be said frequently enough – the liturgy has a place, not of “direct discourse,” but rather of “indirect practice.” This is because the Pope is a “son of the Council,” which he incarnates in supple and concrete ways. In his Masses at Casa Santa Marta, his Wednesday audiences, and his Sunday homilies, as well as in his major discourses and specifically liturgical measures (for example, the modification of the rubrics of the Holy Thursday foot-washing), it is clear that Francis celebrates the liturgy with “the joy of the Gospel.”
But there is more. Francis’s “programmatic” text, Evangelii Gaudium, lays out an ecclesial vision of a church on mission – like a “field hospital” – in a way that draws new attention to the relationship between liturgy and life, and between liturgy and culture. This vision is expressed in Francis’s intention to decentralize curial power, entrusting to regional episcopacies competence that is even doctrinal in character. The appropriation of such decentralization within the teaching of Evangelii Gaudium itself is already highly significant.
All of this contrasts fundamentally with what has been happening in the area of liturgy for the past fifteen years, since the promulgation of the Fifth Instruction “For the Right Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” Liturgiam Authenticam (2001). That document has effectively stalled at the universal level every effort at authentic inculturation of the liturgy. Liturgiam Authenticam called for a universal retooling the liturgy based on its Latin prototype – one that is inevitably static and closed off – by favoring an obstinately and scholastically literal translation and by pretending that the vernacular languages bear the same structure and rhetorical elements as Latin. This has been, from the beginning, a project lacking any solid foundation, not only in simple, human experience, but also in the tradition of the Church.
Never has the “receiving language” been treated with such disregard. It is as though knowledge of the original text is essential to understanding its translation! But when a language that is no longer taught by any mother to her child becomes the sole and decisive measure of the living languages, who can stand to live within such a “Clockwork Orange”? Who could have devised such an abstruse and self-referential system? If the entire structure is determined by a language that “has no future” – which is the case for Latin, a language without the capacity for renewal, a quality that some find reassuring, because that means it is also deprived of a history – how long will it be before tradition is reduced to nothing more than a “wax museum”?
After a troubled fifteen-year reign, Liturgiam Authenticam has reached the end of its line. Not only have legitimate criticisms been raised from the start, from both doctrinal and pastoral points of view, but the facts have demonstrated it to be, throughout these years, both flawed in theory and virtually inapplicable in practice. And where the matter has been forced despite these problems, the result has been liturgical texts that are technically “correct” documents – that is, consistent with poorly conceived norms – but which lack, as a result, any relationship with living language, real life, and the lived faith of those for whose use the texts are intended. At the root of everything is not a philological problem, but a theological and anthropological one: a rigid tradition and the presumption that the experience of the liturgical subject is unimportant.
Bishops today, throughout the world, find themselves between a rock and a hard place: they want to continue to “obey Rome,” of course; but they also want to and must serve the faith of their people. They know very well that obeying in Rome means producing unusable texts. But they also know that promoting real growth of their church means they must deviate substantially from the “Roman criteria.” The only possible solution is to “stop everything.” Ask for nothing from Rome, in order to avoid tripping up the distorted central control process, for fear that evolution will become devolution and that obedience will generate still more confusion and encourage only the most sectarian spirits.
The literalistic radicalism of Liturgiam Authenticam has generated division and despair, and this was easily predictable fifteen years ago. It is clear now that the most widespread sentiment among the leadeship of episcopal conferences throughout the world is fear. In fifteen years, Liturgiam Authenticam has produced – at least among the hierarchy – a real “angor liturgicus,” an anxiety and suffering that have now reached intolerable levels. The “joy of the gospel” cannot coexist with the “fear of the liturgy.” And if we start, in liturgical matters, with “luctus et angor” – a phrase which was included in the original title of what eventually became the conciliar Constitution Gaudium et Spes – how can we possibly take up the true and great revival of the conciliar gaudium and spes that Pope Francis calls us to? Evangelii Gaudium envisions a church on mission, capable of an authentic liturgy. But there can be no authentic liturgy until we reject the lifeless and defensive stance of Liturgiam Authenticam, which will only give us a church that is closed and locked in its own past, where the liturgy becomes a “diocesan museum,” with air conditioning and bulletproof glass cases.
This is now the conditio sine qua non: either a new, sixth instruction on liturgical reform is written, or we will be increasingly dominated by fear, paralysis, and immobility. And the good Roman officials, locked in their offices, will continue to spend their time passing judgment on individual words, the signs of peace, the different forms of singing, the overlooked Latin structures … their gaze directed only toward the past, without joy, fearful of the slightest liturgical abuse, ignoring the customs and the great and inexhaustible experience of men and women. But even these officials are among the victims: Liturgiam Authenticam has “forced them” to work this way! How is it possible that it takes a letter from the pope explicitly asking for the reform of a rubric in order for them to “open their eyes” and take a breath? Surely the Congregation’s task should be one of stimulus, of openness, of momentum. How can there be, in a Church that sees itself essentially on mission, a congregation that specializes only in locks and alarm systems? I believe that a rediscovery of our “vocation to joy” can only happen if that congregaton is able to adopt, finally, a new instruction. Too much time and energy has been spent over the past fifteen years on efforts to avoid applying principles that are inapplicable, both in theory and in practice.
In the present stage of our history, we do not need liturgical lamentations; we need hymns to joy. I know that many experts, theologians, and pastors would be ready and willing to collaborate in preparing an instruction that translates Evangelii Gaudium into practical guidelines for an area so important as the liturgy. We need, in short, a text that puts into practice the Sacrae Liturgiae Gaudium! And we need to bring to an end these disciplinary and institutional contortions that only result in paralysis and lost time, and that are founded not on joy but on fear, not on hope but on resignation.
Rather than creating “unrealities” – like artificial languages based on Latin that do not exist and will never exist, even by the decree of a Roman congregation – let us heed the invitation to give primacy to reality, to truly step outside the walls we have built around us, to breathe pure air, to speak in living languages, to be among our brothers and sisters, to take in the smell: let us write, now, a new instruction. It is the only way we will be able to restore a little common sense.
Translated and reprinted with permission of Munera. Rivista Europea di Cultura. Andrea Grillo teaches liturgy at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome. He is the author of Beyond Pius V: Conflicting Interpretations of the Liturgical Reform, published by Liturgical Press.