Coming: Congregation for Divine Worship Plenary

Pray Tell as learned from multiple sources that a plenary session of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) has been called. It is reported that this meeting will take place in February, 2019.

Plenary sessions of the CDW are rather infrequent. The most recent such session was in March 13, 2009, when Benedict XVI delivered an address on eucharistic adoration. Prior to that, John Paul II spoke to a plenary session on translation and popular devotions in 2001, and in March, 2005 – less than a month before his death – John Paul sent a letter on the “ars celebrandi” (manner of celebrating) to be read out at a plenary session.

The CDW currently has 21 cardinals and 18 bishops from around the world in its membership. For a plenary session, all 39 of these members are called to Rome. The CDW currently  has 23 consultors.

Since his election in March, 2013, Pope Francis has gradually but resolutely reshaped the roster of personnel in the Vatican liturgy offices. Already in September, 2013 he dismissed all the consultants of the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and appointed new members. This “sea change” was seen as a move away from the “Reform of the Reform” movement which was well-represented among the previous consultors. Francis has also replaced most of the members and consultors of the CDW, with new appointments made in October, 2016 and January, 2017.

The prefect of the CDW is Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea. He was appointed to a five-year term as prefect in November, 2014, and he finds himself presiding over a congregation that is increasingly out of sync with his own views. He has repeatedly been contradicted publicly by Pope Francis, for example when he called for all priests to celebrate Mass ad orientem (facing “east,” away from the congregation)  in July, 2016, and when he claimed that Rome retained control over liturgical translations in October, 2017. The 2016 incident resulted in a statement from Holy See that the expression “reform of the reform” is best avoided.

Barring a transfer, Cardinal Sarah will still be prefect of the CDW in February, 2019.







  1. It’s difficult to say what exactly the role of this body is, since they meet so seldom. It does not seem to be directive or collaborative. Is it purely honorific? Having a group of consultors to the Congregation suggests that they need advice about decisions to be made. But if they make no decisions, it all seems like a bit of window dressing for an enterprise that’s entirely run by a handful of people in the curial office, and the pope.

    The two examples of the times when Popes have called this body together suggest that the Holy See intends for them to have a function in the implementation of the Pope’s liturgical interests, but this has happened only in a weak and rather informal way. The two topics: adoration and ars celebrandi, might have been chosen off the editor’s spike, just to have something to say. Does anyone remember a sustained effort at ars celebrandi after that intervention from John Paul II? It was one of the best-kept secrets of his pontificate. Liturgy in service to the new evangelization had fine recommendations — all totally ignored or given the nod in such a pro forma way that I daresay nobody felt the difference.

    What I will be looking for in this meeting, therefore, is what Francis will do that is different from past precedent. He has been surprising before. I really do wonder what he has in mind now. He may have some actual agenda items that would make the world sit up and listen. At least that is what I hope. The force of inertia is so strong, it would take a lot to get even the Congregation to take in something new. But there’s always hope.

  2. View from the Pew
    Regarding: “Having a group of consultors to the Congregation suggests that they need advice about decisions to be made.” (from Rita Ferrone’s entry)
    – Mayhap, with hope, the bishops will tell the CDW that they have lost their way, and that too much energy is expended in trying to validate that all things liturgical can only come from Rome.

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