Pope Francis: Liturgical reform is irreversible

Vatican Radio reports that in addressing the the 68th Italian National Liturgical Week, Pope Francis noted that “we can assert with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.”

In his address he focused on three points:

  1. The “living Christ” is at the heart of the liturgical action.
  2. The liturgy is “popular” rather than “clerical”—it is enacted both for and by the people of God.
  3. The liturgy is more about life than ideas.

This last point seems to reflect Francis’s oft-repeated adage that “Realities are more important than ideas” (e.g. Evangelii Gaudium nn. 231-233).

In his remarks declaring that the reform is “irrevesible,” Francis seems to be signaling a couple of things.

  • He is dubious about any resorationist “reform of the reform.” While some elements of the liturgy that were abandoned in the course of the reforms of the 1960s might be reintroduced (e.g. the way the Pentecost Vigil was restored in RMIII), there will be no wholesale movement toward something resembling the Mass of the 1962 Missal (as some “traditionalist” liturgists might hope).
  • The work of liturgical reform is ongoing. But Francis does not seem to conceive of this work in terms of more ritual revision (as some “progressive” liturgists might hope), but rather of continued internalizing the reforms of 50 years ago.

In general, Francis seems to think that we don’t need more “reform” of our liturgies, but rather the on-going reform of the assemblies that celebrate those liturgies. As he says,“it is not enough to reform the liturgical books; the mentality of the people must be reformed as well.” Furthermore, the direction of that reform should be in continuity with the direction set in Sacrosanctum Concillium.

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9 comments

  1. That last paragraph especially resonated with me:
    “In general, Francis seems to think that we don’t need more ‘reform’ of our liturgies, but rather the on-going reform of the assemblies that celebrate those liturgies. As he says,’it is not enough to reform the liturgical books; the mentality of the people must be reformed as well.'”

    I’m a member of the Episcopal Church here in the US, and we’re in the very early stages of revising our Book of Common Prayer (1979). Late last year, out Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music presented four possible ways forward [in short]:
    “Revise Book of Common Prayer
    Create Book(s) of Alternative Services, and leave the BCP 1979 alone
    More talking, listening, researching, and discerning
    Deepening our relationship with the 1979 BCP”
    (Or some variation and/or combination of the above along with “technical fixes.”)

    I’m not saying there shouldn’t be changes made. Some are probably called for. However, I wonder how much we’ve actually internalized the ethos of the Prayer Book in our faith lives as individuals and as a church and let ourselves be formed by it. How much of the push for revision comes from fundamental need for the changes, and how much comes from the all-too-common desire for something new and different that characterizes modern life in America?

    1. Kevin, it is interesting that you mention discussions of Prayerbook revision in the Episcopal Church. Earlier this week I was talking with my brother, who is a bishop in the Episcopal Church, about just this topic, and I was struck by how much of what Pope Francis had to say was germane to the discussion ongoing among Episcopalians.

  2. Well yes, reform of people is needed, however how is this done with the awful language we’re stuck with??!!

  3. The formal portion of the “Liturgy Wars” has apparently ended at least for the present papacy. I am relieved and enormously grateful. I hope that those who had hoped for some kind of “reform of the reform” movement will not despair. They may take some hope from the way that the church (and its liturgy) actually works. It’s all pretty much up to the priest celebrant and his understanding of the sacred liturgy. There’s a lot of traditionalist leaning priests and bishops who will likely pay little heed to the pope’s declaration. C’est la guerre.

  4. “it is not enough to reform the liturgical books; the mentality of the people must be reformed as well.”

    Captain Bligh (“The beatings will continue until morale improves!”) and Bertold Brecht (“Would it not be easier / In that case for the government / To dissolve the people / And elect another?”) spring immediately to mind.

    1. I thought that one of the hoped for outcomes of worship is that those who engage in it should become more holy or transformed and that the world should be transformed through them. When the discourse ignores that I believe we are in trouble.
      It cheers me immensely that the pope wants to draw the attention away from books and direct it towards the people that use them.

  5. The liturgical reform did not began “50 years ago.” The Pope says specifically that the liturgical reforms began with a movement initiated by Pius X. That’s over 100 years ago. I really do hope the liturgical reform is continued to be thoughtfully implemented, casting aside the extremes on both sides, and allowing for all the valid options which the discipline and norms envision. This is the manner in which I personally view the, dare I say it, “r#f@rm of the r*f@rm.” I see the phrase actually as a misnomer. I don’t think the form of “the reform” has to change at all. It’s all in the implementation. It’s an attempt to strike a balance between agornimento and resourcement called for by the Council so as to address the needs of the people of our own time. Call it a “resource-a-mento” if you will. But, it is certainly an implementation of the Council and totally in accord with its spirit.

  6. Unless you are a bishop in the United States who recently commented that he felt “cheated” that he could not celebrate the traditional Latin Liturgy until Pope Benedict said it would be OK to do that.

    Reform of the reform so the Church does not hurt people’s feelings. I appreciate the vote counts for Sacrosanctum Concilium as the bishops of 1962 and 1963 tried to drive a wedge in to the liturgical practice of the day – 2 thousand 1 hundred something to 4. Pope Francis may at lease be trying to bring back unity by pointing to the wisdom of so many not so long ago.

    Maybe full, maybe active, but conscious?

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