Msgr. Hilgartner on Pope Francis and WYD

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.



  1. What have we learned about Francis from the press conference?

    … I feel myself a Jesuit in my spirituality, in the spirituality of the Exercises, spirituality, the one I have in my heart. But I feel so much like this that in three days I’ll go to celebrate with Jesuits the feast of Saint Ignatius: I will say the morning Mass. I haven’t changed my spirituality, no. Francis, Franciscan: no. I feel myself a Jesuit and I think like a Jesuit

    While the Jesuit General has a great deal of power like the Pope, the General is elected by a General Congregation and is seen as carrying out the program of the General Congregation. Francis seems to have carried this over into the way he sees himself as carrying out the mandate of the Cardinal electors.

    The steps I have taken in these four and a half months, come from two sources: the content of what had to be done, it all comes from the source of the General Congregations that we Cardinals had. They were things that we Cardinals asked for to the one who’d be the new Pope

    HOWEVER true to Ignatius he also sees his own interior life as well as the external circumstances as being a source of discernment.

    The changes … the changes come also from two sources: what we Cardinals requested, and what comes from my personality. You were speaking of the fact that I have stayed at Saint Martha’s: but I couldn’t live alone in the Palace, and it’s not luxurious. The papal apartment isn’t so luxurious! It’s ample, big, but not luxurious, but I can’t live alone and with a small tiny group! I need people, to meet people, to talk with people … And because of this the boys of the Jesuit school asked me: “Why do you do it? Out of austerity? Poverty? No, no. Simply for psychiatric reasons, because I can’t cope psychologically. Everyone must carry his life forward, his way of living, of being.

    Francis also said something of the work of a bishop which also might apply to his papacy.

    But the work of a bishop is good: it’s to help brothers to go forward. The bishop in front of the faithful, to show the way; the bishop in the midst of the faithful, to aid communion; the bishop behind the faithful, because the faithful so many times have the scent of the way. The bishop must be like this

    Francis has criticized the laity for contributing to clericalism by too eagerly taking the lazy way of following the clergy rather than leading themselves because as he says above they have the scent of the way. I suspect he might have similar thoughts about the papacy, that yes he will provide some leadership by being in front of everyone, and some leadership by being in the midst, but I also suspect he expects to follow behind laity, priests and bishops who have “the scent of the way.”

    People both on the left and the right should be pursuing the scent of the way as much or even more than waiting for things to come down from Rome or the bishops.

    Like Francis they should find discernment both in external movements as well as the interior movement of the spirit in their lives.

    Zenit has the most extensive, close to verbatim translation of the press conference in two parts staring here

  2. In regard to liturgy, two nuggets in the interviews

    You asked about the Charismatic Renewal Movement. I’ll tell you something. In the years, at the end of the 70s, beginning of the 80s, I couldn’t stand them. Once, speaking of them, I said this phrase: “They confuse a liturgical celebration with a samba school!” I said this. But I repented. Then, I got to know them better. It’s also true that the Movement, with good advisers, has gone on a good path. And now I think this Movement has done so much good to the Church in general. At Buenos Aires, I met with them often and once a year had a Mass with all of them in the Cathedral. I’ve always favored them, after I was converted, when I saw the good they do. Because at this moment of the Church – and here I lengthen the answer a bit – I think the Movements are necessary. The Movements are a grace of the Holy Spirit. “But how can one stop a Movement that is so free?” The Church is also free! The Holy Spirit does what He wishes

    In the Orthodox Churches they have kept that pristine liturgy, so beautiful. We have lost A BIT of the sense of adoration. They keep, they praise God, they adore God, they sing, time doesn’t count. God is the center, and this is a richness that I would like to say on this occasion in which you ask me this question. Once, speaking of the Western Church, of Western Europe, especially the Church that has grown most, they said this phrase to me: “Lux ex oriente, ex occidente luxus.” Consumerism, wellbeing, have done us so much harm. Instead you keep this beauty of God at the center, the reference. When one reads Dostoyevsky – I believe that for us all he must be an author to read and reread, because he has wisdom – one perceives what the Russian spirit is, the Eastern spirit. It’s something that will do us so much good. We are in need of this renewal, of this fresh air of the East, of this light of the East. John Paul II wrote it in his Letter. But so many times the luxus of the West makes us lose the horizon. I don’t know, it came to me to say this. Thank you.

    Again let me suggest that Francis is much more likely to follow “the scent of the faithful” about liturgy as expressed in various movements than impose something from above.

    My question is how long is it going to take to release creative energy at the grass roots? Both on the left and right, I see a lot of papism which like clericalism waits on those above to show the way. Certainly papism and clericalism were evident in the interview above. Let just wait on the Pope to act, and see what his appointments will do.

    And here for convenience is the direct link to Part II of the press conference:

  3. Without for a moment doubting or wishing to de-emphasize the Pope’s “psychiatric” reason for staying at St Martha’s, I’m surprised that I haven’t heard anyone posit another reason: the imposition by then-Pope Benedict of his right hand man as his successor’s Master of the Apostolic Palace. A Pope who is pursuing psychiatric health might well want to avoid having his household run by someone who lives with the previous Pope and shuttles daily between them.

  4. After the fact, we learned what stress Paul VI was under. He required It became known after the fact that Pope Paul Vneededsome considerable counseling…and who would not? It takes super human person, not just a saint to hold up under all those pressures espcecially if the person is trying NOT to sh ow the pressures. Do not let them see you sweat would be the motto of most church leaders.
    The same goes on a tiny scale goes in the parishes. The guy may look like he is enjoying the bowling or the golf and even the free rides but he knows he is being watched and judged by the friendly colleagues and benefactors buying the meal. And God help them if they start to have second thoughts about whether such perks were or are worth it all. Strunk and White discouraged the use of ” and” around words other I would have used them for perks and for Friendly and For Colleagues. I have noticed even Lay stafff need support but are afraid to get it because the supporter may be using them to climb the latter.

  5. And speaking of pressure we say Monsignor Hilgartner carefully avoid the question of what happened to the congregational accalamations that are in the Brazilian Eucharistic prayer and were approved by English speaking bishop for the ICEL prayer? And what happended to the alternative scripture prayers at the opening that were allowed in Italy and approved for the US and other English speaking countries by ALL the english speaking bishops Surely they did not have Rome being suspicious of them and unwothy to have changes and additions given to Spanish speaking and Portuguese speaking Bishops? If they did not they could have prepared better for the obvious questions that would emerge after the World Youth Day. But maybe we are not owed a direct explanation considering the unequal treatment?

  6. Herb, Msgr. Hilgartner is a very capable individual but he works for the company. Everything associated with the ’98 translation was scuttled when the Vatican ordered a coup at ICEL and foisted upon us the notorious LA as the basis for translations of RM3. Italian, German, and Portugese speaking bishops are apparently better than the English speakers when it comes to dealing with the dicasteries. If Francis succeeds in setting a new tone, perhaps one day someone over there will come clean and actually begin issuing regrets if not apologies. Under the previous “tone”, what the officers say goes and please don’t ask any questions. This is why after decades of declining numbers of priests and seminarians, no bishop that I know of has ever thought to convoke an assembly of his priests, deacons, religious, and laity to ask them for suggestions how to address this issue OTHER THAN by closing and consolidating parishes. They don’t encourage openness because they know that everyone other than the company men will ask why bishops couldn’t petition the Vatican to ordain some mature married men. They are so committed to insisting on the connection between celibacy and priestly ministry, they will stand by while parish after parish disappears.

  7. The problem, Halbert, is that the Romans think that the Roman Missal is God. Until they realize its manifest failings and inadequacies, nothing is going to change. It’s up to bishops’ conferences to persuade them of that, but few of those conferences seem prepared to do so at the moment.

  8. Well said, Paul! I believe that “worship of the missal” is what characterizes the Tridentine form of Mass. Its advocates speak of its words as if they were Verbum Dei, passed down from on high sometime during the post-Constantinian church and to be preserved thereafter. This helps explain why they take such umbrage from the very notion that the missal could be reformed. Why celebrate it in a language which priests and people understand when the Mass is “for God” and not really for us? If the priest just pronounces the words in black and follows the rubrics in red (redundant, I know), then God will be praised and pleased and we can get back to our life in the world with little or no bother or engagement.
    I have always maintained that a principal reason for the decline in Mass attendance since the reform is that the NO engages the worshipers in such a way as they know they are being called to be transformed so as to grow in holiness. Faithful priests seeking that same holiness of life pray the Mass in a way that models fervent and heartfelt prayer but without coming across as holier than thou. The principal change that cultural Catholics expected to occur in the Mass was in the bread and wine. Those who couldn’t bear well with the notion of their being changed through the faithful and frequent reception of Holy Communion opted out. I intend no offense towards those who have a love for the EF. I am speaking about the large numbers of people who bailed out after VII.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *