Martin Klöckener is professor of liturgy at the university of Freibourg, Switzerland. He was recently interviewed by kath.ch.

martinkloeckenerWhat is the significance of the 27 new members?

Klöckener: That depends on how the Congregation for Divine Worship [CDW] in Rome collaborates with the new members. If the CDW calls upon them regularly, then they must go to Rome once or twice a year for sessions of the Congregation. Then their voice can be heard, including in the operational work of the Congregation, when it is a matter of determining projects, topics, and goals. These contacts make better dialogue possible between the Vatican and the churches in the dioceses worldwide. After all, the recently-named bishops and cardinals come from the most widely varying continents and countries.

Is there such dialogue now?

Klöckener: For the last 15 years the Congregation has involved its outside members very rarely in its procedures and decisions.

How many members in all does the Congregation now have?

Klöckener: This was not communicated. It depends upon whether the previous members retain their appointments or their terms have expired.

Do the new appointments change the direction of the Congregation?

Klöckener: That is difficult to say at this point. The appointment of Archbishop Piero Marini, a notable expert in liturgy who has always advocated decisively for the aspirations of the Second Vatican Council, is significant. Gianfranco Ravasi is interesting because he has done much in the realm of culture as president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. There are certainly also new members who have no particular scholarly competence in the area of liturgy. That Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin is among the new members could be a sign that the CDW is supposed to collaborate more strongly with the new members.

What do you mean?

Klöckener: Parolin represents the opening that Pope Francis also wants. However, he has not yet made any clear direction apparent in the realm of liturgy. It appears that it doesn’t particularly interest him.

How is that?

Klöckener: The recent decrees of the CDW on foot-washing or elevation of the feast of Mary Magdalen are – from purely liturgical perspective – not very important. The latter certainly has a strongly symbolic character with respect to esteem for women in the church. To designate Mary Magdalen as “Apostle of the Apostles” is a programmatic step forward. Pope Francis wanted it to be so.

Also in the foot-washing it means that not only men can participate…

Klöckener: Yes, it’s a new determination of who may participate. But the pope himself has not held to this decree, insofar as he has washed the feet of non-Christians. He has thereby give a sign or where he actually wants things to go: in the direction of a more open church that looks first at people themselves, especially the poor and disadvantaged. There has been opposition to this within the curia and in other quarters. And presumably there are also certain tensions between the fundamental orientation of the pope and the views of Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the CDW.

The foot-washing decree is seen as the clear wish of Pope Francis. So what can the CDW members contribute?

Klöckener: Normally the pope does not intrude in the daily work of the CDW. A congregation has various tasks to carry out, including much ecclesiastical administrative work. In recent years there have been very few important initiatives from the CDW. The situation of the church is also different than previously; many new questions have arisen for which conventional ways of thinking and acting do not always suffice to resolve them.

How was it previously?

Klöckener: The CDW operated differently in the first 20 years of its existence. Up until the 1980s its primary task was the immediate implementation of the constitution on the liturgy and carrying out the liturgy reform. Especially in the first decade after the close of the Council, the CDW cultivated very intense contact with the bishops’ conferences. This contact has greatly receded today.

Is that a criticism from you?

Klöckener: Yes. The CDW, as central authority responsible for liturgical life, must be more innovative and in fact do more to foster liturgical line and not primarily control it. To do this the CDW would have to intensify contact with the liturgy offices of the respective bishops’ conferences – and this in the sense of an exchange in both directions. It should not only be directives coming out from the Apostolic See. The CDW would have to be more deeply aware of what is happening in various places in the life of the church, what necessities and new developments there are. The Apostolic See should respond to these things appropriately, insofar as this is possible at the level of the central church authority.

What influence does this authority have upon liturgy in Switzerland?

Klöckener: In recent years there have repeatedly been documents from the CDW with primarily disciplinary character. The CDW reacts to particular developments which it labels as “abuse” or divergence from the official line.

Can you name examples?

Klöckener: Lay preaching. The Swiss bishops’ conference is regularly told at its ad limina visits to the Vatican that canon law actually prohibits preaching of lay people in the liturgy. As is known, some bishops have reacted to this.

Another example is general absolution. This was customary and permitted in Switzerland since the 1970s. In 2009, under pressure from the CDW, the Swiss bishops’ conference prohibited it. This can be debated theologically; but certainly a valuable and acknowledged element of penitential practice has been lost.

How does general absolution happen?

Klöckener: It took place in liturgical services. First there were Scripture readings and prayers and a communal examination of conscience to reflect upon one’s own life. Then general absolution was imparted to all the faithful present, without their having confessed their sins individually. General absolution is in fact a form of penance foreseen for emergency situations. But it was introduced in Switzerland at that time with a view toward the pastoral situation in the country – moreover, with Roman approval. Thus it was not an act of disobedience. As I say, the CDW revoked the permission.

The CDW also has to make delicate decisions. For example, disciplinary cases, or impediments to ordination for priesthood candidates, or marriage annulments. Do you know of such decisions?

Klöckener: I do not know how the CDW rules in particular cases. I am not any more fully informed about its concrete dealing with marriage dispensations. Regarding this, of course, the pope has established changes. Moreover, in the last restructuring, responsibility for the “discipline of the sacraments” was assigned to the CDW. Previously it only had competency for liturgy.

These measures affect people as individuals.

Klöckener: Yes. Decisions that affect the faith life of an individual are not publicly communicated. It’s a matter of protection of the personal realm. By contrast, if a diocese adds a new saint and the CDW gives approval for liturgical veneration, it is published in a decree.

But decisions about individual cases would be interesting – they oftentimes indicate the direction.

Klöckener: What this Congregation would need, in my opinion, is more understanding of the scholarly field and more opening. This is apparent in the conflict about the liturgical books. Since 2001 the Vatican demands a retranslation of these books according to narrow prescriptions in the sense of greater literalness. This led to quarrels. Only the English Missal is completed. The German-language bishops’ conferences have put a stop to the process after the translations were completed. They held that such a literal translation of the liturgy would ultimately do damage to the life of faith. At the time it is an open question whether the CDW and the French-language bishops’ conferences can come to agreement around the French translation, where similar difficulties have come to light.

Perhaps this is also a reason why Bishop Charles Morerod from west Switzerland and the French bishop Bernard-Nicolas Aubertin were called to be members of the congregation. Aubertin is president of the French liturgy commission. The nomination of both of them could certainly stand in connection to the open question of the future of the new French translation of the missal. The pope would then be strengthening the role of the local churches in this process.

Translated and reprinted with kind permission of kath.ch. Original: “Morerod wurde wegen der Neuübersetzung des Messbuches ernannt.Tr.: awr.

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