Martin Klöckener in Interview: Was Missal Translation an Issue in the Naming of the 27 New CDW Members?

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

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 Original: “Morerod wurde wegen der Neuübersetzung des Messbuches ernannt.Tr.: awr.


  1. A good interview. It’s important to remember that the role of episcopal conferences vis a vis the CDW wasn’t always a one way street. I also appreciated the history on rite 3 in the Order of Penance in Switzerland.

    As for translations, I think he’s right. The new appointments set the stage for a reconsideration on the points of tension in our current translation policy. My gut reaction is to assume Pope Francis wants the members he appointed to have a real role in policy, to meet and not just rubber stamp. It would be part of his vision of synodality.

  2. The conferences of bishops should have full authority to approve liturgical translations, with appeals to the Holy See allowed only on points of doctrine. Why should English-speaking Catholics be told by Italian or Spanish-speaking prelates in Rome how to pray in their own language? What would happen if English-speaking prelates tried to tell the Italians how to pray in their own language? A certain Italian gesture of contempt comes immediately to mind.

    1. @Robert Addington:
      Robert Addington +1

      Elizabeth, I wonder if that remark reflects the fact that his appointment of Cardinal Sarah is so much at odds with other things he says and does. Sarah has presumed to speak for the Pope and says many things that don’t match. If Francis cared a lot, he would have not let this situation go for so long.

      1. @Rita Ferrone:

        Hi Rita~

        about Cardinal Sarah: Pope Francis did intervene to correct Sarah when he crossed the line. I don’t think Francis has ever done that before — to publicly and promptly rebuke and correct a curial cardinal over something he said.

        Besides, Sarah is hardly alone in presuming to speak for the Pope, or saying things that don’t match Francis’s vision. Should Francis “fire” and replace them all with people who think and speak exactly like him? No, I don’t think so, cause, you know, unity not uniformity, and “fuss-to-funds ratio” and all that.

        On a more practical note, what is Francis to do with someone like Sarah? He sure as hell is not going to send Sarah back to Guinea because he — and on this, I have no doubt! — cares about the Guinean people too much. No way he’s going to entrust his beloved St. Mary Major to Sarah. See, there really aren’t other viable options. So, Francis is stuck with Sarah, and so is, IMO, CDW, and so are we — for at least four more years.

        Regardless, I think we can rest assured that Pope Francis is not going to let Sarah and his ilk do anything that might challenge, undermine and/or undo the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, or any Catholic teaching for that matter.

      2. @Elisabeth Ahn:
        Hi Elizabeth, thanks for your analysis. I think there is a lot in what you say. The part that puzzles many observers is why Francis appointed Sarah to liturgy in the first place. He has no background in liturgy at all. He lost his previous job in a reorganization, and Francis needed a place to park him? Well, to think that Liturgy is a good parking spot is to assume that liturgy is either not very important to Francis or he wants to downgrade it, which is where I think Martin K.’s comment is coming from. I mean, there is no shortage of people who actually do have a background in liturgy and could have done this job.

        The one point you raise which I may disagree with, though I am open to changing my mind, is that returning Sarah to Guinea would be bad for the local church. He seems like a kindly individual at heart, and I wonder if a pastoral position would not actually be better for him than a curial position. It would be an adjustment, but I wonder if he were put in charge of some charitable works whether he wouldn’t do very well — doing something useful instead of being touted as a candidate to be the next pope, and patronized by the reactionaries who see him as some sort of hero for opposing Pope Francis and condemning the modern world. Just a thought.

        What may have happened, as long as we are speculating, was that Francis finally woke up to the fact that as prefect of the CDW Sarah could cause problems, as he did in his London talk, and that’s what prompted the Pope’s action in changing the slate of the Congregation wholesale. I agree with you totally, that Francis now has his eye on that whole enterprise, and is not going to be blindsided by whatever Sarah does next.

      3. @Rita Ferrone:

        The part that puzzles many observers is why Francis appointed Sarah to liturgy in the first place.

        Sarah is a curious choice for sure. But, allegedly — and there was a post about it here, if I remember correctly — he wasn’t Francis’s first pick; Marini was. But, someone whom Francis cares about and respects, like, a lot, objected because Marini would be too divisive a figure for the job, or something like that, and so, Francis relented.

        And then, apparently, Sarah was his next best thing. When his appointment was announced, many people went all, WTH, and some people posited that Francis maybe chose Sarah not just because he was available and needed to go somewhere, but precisely because he was not a liturgy person with all the polarizing baggage that Marini allegedly had, and with the right people who know liturgy supporting him, he could be a good prefect.

        And so, Sarah as head of the CDW happened, and here we are. Well, that’s what I think happened anyway.

        As to how Cardinal Sarah might fare as a diocesan bishop in Guinea, if his speeches at the Family Synods are any indication, I’d say nope, he’s not going to be a good pastor to his people.

        Otherwise I’m with you, including on this:

        …that’s what prompted the Pope’s action in changing the slate of the Congregation wholesale.

        Yep. And we shall see how that goes.

  3. …he has not yet made any clear direction apparent in the realm of liturgy. It appears that it doesn’t particularly interest him.

    I don’t understand this.

    Pope Francis has made it clear, again and again, that he wants the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council to continue, that it must continue, that there is no going back, and now we know that he also thinks the talk of the so-called Reform of the Reform is wrong.

    How is that not a clear direction on where he wants things to go in the realm of liturgy? I mean, what does Klöckener expect Francis to do? To issue specific, detailed directives on what to do, or not do, in any given local church?

    Cause that’s just not going to happen, because that’s not how Francis governs, liturgically or otherwise.

  4. Rita,
    In my professional milieu, which is Pentagon budgeting, one hears the phrase, “fuss-to-funds rato”. It refers to the judgement call as to whether the amount of money you would save by eliminating some particular bureaucratic idiocy is worth all the ranting and rioting and broken crockery that would come about in the course of making the change.

    It may be that Francis decided that the more promising route to change was just to let Sarah wander off begging priests to celebrate Mass in Latin, with their backs to the civilians, wearing a fiddleback — y’know, just like they did it at the Last Supper.

    Nobody outside the Sacred Circle of cognoscienti pays a lick of attention and, meanwhile, most communities get on with salvaging the Eucharist and the footwashing rite etc. For their legitimate purposes.

    1. @Pat Towell:
      Thanks for this, Pat. I am going to take “fuss to funds ratio” into my vocabulary for future use — it’s an expression that captures so much (especially the riots and broken crockery)!

  5. @Elisabeth Ahn (#9): On a more practical note, what is Francis to do with someone like Sarah? He sure as hell is not going to send Sarah back to Guinea because he — and on this, I have no doubt! — cares about the Guinean people too much.

    Not that Cardinal Sarah needs me to defend him, but I will point out that he was Archbishop of Conakry for 21 years before his first curial appointment.

    Shouldn’t we all be above this sort of lazy stereotyping-by-inference?

    1. @Matthew Hazell:
      Somewhat agreed with you on this one. That said, Cardinal Sarah’s focus on clergy and peripherals is rather worrying. I’m sure the HF would rather see his brother bishop in a satisfying and fruitful spot. I think a lot of prelates who otherwise bungled high office had very fruitful ministries in other areas. JP2 was a horrific administrator, but excellent with young people and in pastoral care. I have to say that in my subjective experience, conservative clergy seem to do much better in pastoral work than their progressive brothers.

      As a Jesuit, Pope Francis values discernment: putting people into places that permit their best gifts to flourish in service in the best way. Huge contrast to the previous two papacies where too many people were put in the wrong places, or ejected completely from meaningful service.

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