Pope Francis’s Major Liturgy Address: The Sources

There are many ways to analyze the address Pope Francis gave today to the Italian liturgy conference, in which he made the blockbuster statement, “[W]e can assert with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible.”

One point of access is a tally of the sources cited by Francis. While this is perhaps not the most penetrating way to get at the substance of this major address, it is nonetheless illuminating.

By my count, the text itself (in the original Italian) names the following sources:

  • Vatican II or the Council: 7
  • Sacrosanctum Concilium: 1
  • Pius X – 1
  • Pius XII – 1
  • Paul VI – 3
  • Catechism of the Catholic Church – 1

In his footnotes Francis cite documents and texts from these sources:

  • Pius X – 3
  • Pius XII – 1
  • Sacred Congregation of Rites under Pius XII – 3
  • Sacrosanctum Concilium – 2
  • Paul VI – 2
  • John Paul VI – 1
  • General Instruction of the Roman Missal – 1
  • Texts of reformed liturgy – 2 (rite of dedication of altar, Easter preface)
  • Francis – 5

By his choice of what sources to use, and also what sources not to use, Pope Francis has given renewed strength to the narrative which has guided mainline liturgical reform and renewal in the Catholic Church since the Second Vatican Council.

That mainline narrative runs roughly like this:

  • Pius X is the great father of liturgical renewal who, at the beginning of the 20th century,  called for active participation and set up commissions to reform the liturgical books.
  • After a dormant period under his successors Benedict XV and Pius XI, the reign of Pius XII saw a growing flurry of interest in liturgical reform in the years leading up to the Second Vatican Council.
  • This activity in the 1940s and 1950s culminated in the greatest moment for liturgical renewal, the Second Vatican Council.
  • The liturgical reform after the Vatican II was carried out in fidelity to the Council by the towering father of postconciliar liturgical reform, Paul VI.
  • John Paul II, while not showing a strong particular interest in the liturgy, affirmed Vatican II and the liturgical reform without hesitation.

In this mainline narrative, which Francis has affirmed and strengthened, the task in the present day is simply to affirm the Council, to affirm the reformed liturgy, and to penetrate more deeply into the spirit of the reformed liturgy in the ongoing (and never-ending) effort to implement more faithfully what the Council intended.

It is obvious just what, and who, is omitted by Pope Francis in today’s major address.



  1. John XXIII? Oh no wait, he summoned the Council …

    More seriously, I see a narrative that goes something like:
    – the church as the people of God (as described by the Council) exists to serve (minister to) to the people of God (humanity, creation) – would Francis describe this as glorifying God?
    – this calls constantly for the reform of “the mentality of the people”
    – the reformed liturgy, as Fritz puts it “popular” rather than “clerical”… enacted both for and by the people of God, is fit for that reform of “the mentality of the people” – so by implication liturgists should struggle with what will best enable that in their local context
    – and emphasis on liturgy or ritual for their own sake is a turning away from the calling of the church

    I hope I’m not putting words into Francis’s mouth. The image that came to mind as I read Fritz’s and your post was his first Maundy Thursday, an inclusiveness he has continued.

  2. “Full, active participation” by the people, who, as a congregation celebrate the Eucharist with the priest presiding, demands, by definition, attention not only to ritual but to celebration: the environment, the gathering, the community, the joint experience (both expressive and contemplative), and the subsequent mission to be disciples in the world (Ite, Misa est!). All of this shows that Vatican II directions intended a very different experience of Mass. It could not know the implications of its decisions, but it clearly knew the direction.

  3. For those in the Church who even take note of this address…for how many Catholics pay attention to such things (sadly or not)…the practical result will be the same as for addresses of Benedict.

    Much of the “liturgy wars” debate is tied up with the question of papal authority. I have noted with bemusement that many of those who would happily ignore Benedict will now argue for the need to obey Francis. And similarly, whose who would trumpet Benedict will argue that Francis can be safely ignored.

  4. Ah, but you didn’t mention that Pope Benedict XVI fully embraced the liturgical reform of the Council. He never offered the ancient use as Pope, but only the reformed Mass. He even added some excellent formulas of dismissal, which I often use as the priest celebrant. It can be argued that he embraced the liturgical reform more fully than those who fixate on the aggornimento and neglect the resourcement called for by the Council. Both are needed for a full implementation.

  5. As a happenstance, the citation of Paul VI in footnote 10, was from an address given at the consistory where Joseph Ratzinger was made a cardinal.

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