Press Roundup: Reactions to Yesterday’s Liturgy Appointments by the Pope

Yesterday Pray Tell reported on the appointment of 27 bishops from around the world by Pope Francis to the Congregation for Divine Worship. Pray Tell mostly stated the facts, suggesting the significance of the move but striving not to exaggerate its implications.

We need not have been so reserved. Other commentators have not been shy in naming the significance of the shift.

Rorate Caeli, which kindly cites Pray Tell in its report, writes:

Cardinal Robert Sarah remains the Prefect of the CDW. However, the new membership of his Congregation makes him virtually isolated; it is hard to see how he can still push forward his hopes for some measure of “Reform of the Reform” in the years left to his tenure (he is now 71) — not that we’ve entertained any hopes for the “ROTR” for a long time. …

Pope Francis, for all of his supposed “indifference” to the liturgy, retains the last say on matters liturgical and will not hesitate to use his authority to enforce a certain line. …This round of appointments is already being reported (and celebrated by liberals) as Cardinal Sarah being “reined in” by Pope Francis and it is hard not to agree with that assessment.

Catholic Culture headlined the appointments as a “complete overhaul” of the CDW, and their report calls it a “stunning move… completely transforming the membership of that body.”

The new appointments give a distinctly more liberal character – as well as a more international complexion – to the congregation. The changes seem likely to curtail the work of Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation, who has been a leading proponent of more reverent liturgy and of “the reform of the reform.”

The more conservative prelates who have been removed from the congregation include Cardinals Raymond Burke, Angelo Scola, George Pell, Marc Ouellet, Angelo Bagnasco, and Malcolm Ranjith.

At The Table, Christopher Lamb writes that “the move will be considered an attempt to rein in the Cardinal,” referring to the CDW prefect, Cardinal Sarah. Echoing Catholic Culture, Lamb sees the pope

choosing a series of pastoral moderates to replace more conservative-minded figures.

At LaCroix (subscription required but definitely worth it!), Robert Mickens writes in his weekly “Letter from Rome” that

Pope Francis has issued a crystal clear sign that he is not in favor of any so-called “reform of the reform” when it comes to the Church’s liturgy.

Of those who were removed yesterday – Scola, Pell, Burke, Erto, Oullet, Ranjith, Bagnasco – Mickens writes,

Almost all these men have been supportive of direction Cardinal Sarah is trying to steer the Church’s liturgy. All were key allies of Benedict XVI, who spearheaded the revival of the Old Mass and the reform of the reform.

Update: added Saturday, 10-29, 2:30 pm.

On the other hand, Ed Condon in The Catholic Herald strikes a note of caution: “A purge in the Vatican’s liturgy department? Not quite.” First, he notes that the assumption is that, with the appointment of such a large number of new people, all the previous members are departing. He considers this to be media speculation until it is confirmed.

While it is true that some of the new members have distinct and forceful thoughts on liturgy, few can contend that they are unqualified for membership. Similarly, while it may come out that some of the more seasoned traditionalists in the CDW have not had their membership renewed, it would be a gross overstatement to insist that there has been some kind of philosophical coup, or that there are not still several loud and authoritative voices to be heard on both sides of the liturgical discussion. Surely the whole point of a global and diverse membership is to have the best of all sides in the conversation.

Well yes, all sides and all that. But this feels like a bit of denial, if not damage control. If we’ve pretty much only had one side previously, then it certainly is a massive change if we now have a diversity of opinion, with so-called progressives (i.e. those who support the Vatican II liturgical reforms) most strongly represented.





  1. I certainly understand how some of these figures have been backward-looking and trouble-making. But have Erdo, Scola, and Oullet acted in a way that merited their ousting? I have read the works of each of these men, and they are certainly not radical traditionalists. In fact, it seems to me, these three are each more progressive than Benedict was on liturgical matters. I have to read this as a very strong repudiation of Benedict’s liturgical priorities. Am I wrong?

  2. At the risk of landing with those who complain about the evolving sense of the word “liberal,” I’d like to state that more important than a perceived “liberal” constitution of the bishop-members of the CDWDS is a hoped-for return to the continuation of conciliar reform. Or maybe this is a timely rotation back to dioceses for those who have served honorably and with the best of intentions.

    It is undeniable that the Catholic Church faces a crisis in identity: museum or field hospital, center or fringes, outreach or navel-gazing–you name it. This crisis impacts our most crucial effort: the Great Commission. My concern with reform2 is that it doesn’t seem to address a crucial issue: how to tell the story of Jesus through ritual and art in such a way so as to inspire faith, attract seekers, and nourish disciples for the mission in the world. Anything that doesn’t address these matters, be they the direction of the priest, classical music, the canvas of banners, clown costumes, or what-have-you, shouldn’t even be part of the bigger discussion.

    We’ve been waylaid by the so-called supporters of Pope Benedict for many years now. It’s time to get back to work. We need to listen with attention and charity to those whose hopes are dashed, and somehow rebuild relationships within the Church to move the whole Body forward. As difficult as evangelization seems to be for us Catholics, reconciliation among our own would seem to be even more difficult.

  3. “Pastoral” is a term of art that’s racking up tremendous mileage these days. I hope it’s getting its regularly scheduled oil changes in.

    1. @Richard Malcolm:
      I enjoy your witty writing, but I sense this is a larger philosophical issue with the word “pastoral.” Hmm, it’s all over the place in church documents and theological writings. Do you wish to say more?


    2. @Richard Malcolm:
      It’s less a term and more an adjective. It derives from “pastor,” a rather broad notion that church leaders exist not for themselves, but for others. The ancestor word comes from French for “shepherd,” a noun that is indeed getting a lot of mileage. Don’t know how useful a vehicle with an internal conbustion engine is in the sheep-herding business. Seems to me it’s more a matter of mileage put into one’s shoes.

  4. The constant Liberal-Conservative, Who’s in-Who’s out, Benedict Bad-Francis Good (or vice versa) that Catholics read on many sites (not necessarily @ PrayTell) is not a good thing. 95% of Catholics do not care at all about the liberal/conservative battles in the church.

    I believe that all the overwhelming majority of Catholics want is that mass (The mass of Paul VI) is celebrated properly with good music and preaching. Properly means according to the Church’s rubrics.

    1. @DJ Corlew:
      You are correct that the majority of Catholics do not identify with liberal or conservative liturgical movements. But they do, often with great enthusiasm, voice their preferences for more or less formality in ritual, incense, organ/choir, guitar/drums, styles of preaching, silence/reverence, casual conversation/hospitality, on and on. Hardly a week goes by in my parish without someone coming to me with some spirited persuasion to start doing this or stop doing that. So while average Catholics may lack the theoretical framework and terminology, they still have strong feelings on and often conflicting ideas of what constitutes “good music and preaching.”

      1. @Scott Pluff:

        Well put Scott. I agree with your post totally. I just wish both sides would try and appreciate, even if they don’t agree with, a different opinion.

        Case in point. Our parish has instituted a more “upbeat” mass with drums, different instruments, etc that begins right after CCD ends. More people, especially families, and even some non-Catholics now attend. The Mass is very reverent in all respects. The other masses are more traditional. Who is to say either mass is more “Catholic”?

        I think more people should hang out at the PrayTell—-they’d learn a lot.

      2. @Scott Pluff:
        Just to add that most towns (and many parishes) have a spectrum of masses to suit all tastes. And most people go to “their” mass for a variety of reasons not all of which are about the style of worship. And most are able to do that without succumbing to the desire to take pot shots at those who prefer something different.

  5. To construe “supporting the liturgical reforms of Vatican II” as “liberal” is to dilute the notion of liturgical progressivism pretty substantially. There are many people who believe that the reforms of Vatican II did not go nearly far enough.

  6. There’s been a rotating door of those “in” and “out” of the Roman Club in matters of liturgy and music since at least 1903. While strong and positive openings (the wide use of the vernacular, the more fitting inculturation of rites, &c.) have been made through the process, I cannot help but feel sorry for these generations of faithful whose sense of liturgical stability has been shattered by five generations of successive “restorations” and “reforms,” not to mention those scholars, musicians, & educators who have devoted their lives to promoting what they believed to be lasting improvements in liturgical praxis and catehesis in accord with the manifest mind of the Church on the matter, only to have their life’s work overturned by the next major overhaul to come from the top down. I think, for instance, of the many, many people involved in the chant revival after the Motu Proprio, who worked earnestly and tirelessly, and not without some success (I have an aunt who remembers growing up in rural Arkansas, learning two complete Ordinaries and the entire Proper of the Requiem by heart), only to have the ground cut out from beneath them, and watch their work of 50 years evaporate in less than 5.

    I sincerely hope that this is not yet another drastic and jarring shift in direction. We need to find peace and unity in liturgical matters very, very soon. “Jingoism” won’t cut it; the Holy Spirit is operative in hearts and minds on both sides of this divide.

    What always appealed to me about the RotR was the idea that a wider appreciation for, knowledge of, and actual use of the common heritage from which the abundant local traditions now in use were derived could help us seek a place of unity. In my work as a parish musician, I always felt that, if I could foster a musical environment in worship where a piece of Gregorian chant could feel at home next to a piece of music composed within the last decade in a congregational style, then perhaps, in some small way, the gap had been bridged.

    O quam bonum et jucundum…

    1. @Sean Connolly:
      “In my work as a parish musician, I always felt that, if I could foster a musical environment in worship where a piece of Gregorian chant could feel at home next to a piece of music composed within the last decade in a congregational style, then perhaps, in some small way, the gap had been bridged.”

      Indeed. You speak of an eclectic yet middle-of-the-road place that was only possible after a settling of the upheaval of 1962-1970. Yet some might speak of your utopia as a pipe dream or a sellout, and I’ve heard both. I for one am glad to see reform2 put to rest somewhat, as I saw it as a step backwards from this ideal, and even from the sensitive scholarship and creativity that people like Paul Ford have offered to the Church through an effort like BFW.

  7. I wouldn’t assume that all the previous members of the CDW have been removed. The congregation has had over 40 members in the past, even up to 46 members.

  8. The earlier report (October 28) claims that with the announcement, Cardinals Pell, Burke and Piacenza will no longer serve.

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