In an audience with members of the Congregation for Divine Worship today, Pope Francis reaffirmed the teachings of the Second Vatican Council on liturgy, including the nature and purpose of the liturgy as reformed in accord with the council. The occasion was a CDW plenary assembly on liturgical formation of the People of God.
Francis noted that Pope St. Paul VI founded the CDW 50 years ago, on May 8, 1969, to publish liturgical books “according to the criteria and decisions of the council fathers.” He stated, “The praying tradition of the Church needed renewed expressions, without losing anything of its millennial wealth, even rediscovering the treasures of its origins.”
Noting the issuance of the reformed calendar, missal, and rites for baptism, marriage, and funerals, he said that these were “the first steps of a journey, to be continued with wise constancy.”
The pope described the relationship between the Holy See and bishops’ conferences as one of “cooperation, dialogue, and synodality.” In a clear move away from the centralism in liturgical matters which grew under Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Francis has followed the Second Vatican Council in giving authority back to bishops’ conferences. He cited his motu proprio Magnum principium, which restores authority in liturgical translations to bishops’ conferences. He intended the motu proprio “to promote…a constant collaboration filled with mutual trust, vigilant and creative, between the Episcopal Conferences and the dicastery of the Apostolic See.”
“The Holy See does not replace the bishops,” the pope said, “but works with them.” He said, “It is a question of harmony.”
Addressing polarization in the church about liturgy, Francis recalled that “the liturgy is life that forms, not an idea to be learned.” Quoting his exhortation Evangelii gaudium, he stated that “reality is more important than the idea.”
In a seeming reference to liturgical traditionalists, Francis opposed “sterile ideological polarizations which often arise when, considering our own ideas valid for all contexts, we tend to adopt an attitude of perennial dialectic towards who does not share them.” Some authors have characterized fundamentalism as a response to trauma. While Francis did not cite such sources, he said something similar: “Starting perhaps from the desire to react to some insecurities in the current context, we risk then falling back into a past that no longer exists or of escaping into a presumed future.”
The pope spoke of the importance of maintaining ecclesial communion, of accepting the liturgy with docility and not giving in to “tastes, recipes and currents.”
Returning to the issue of liturgical traditionalism, Francis used strong words in stating: “When we look back to nostalgic past tendencies or wish to impose them again, there is the risk of placing the part before the whole, the ‘I’ before the People of God, the abstract before the concrete, ideology before communion and, fundamentally, the worldly before the spiritual.”
Turning to the topic of the CDW meeting, the pope stated that liturgical formation is not simply about offering knowledge or promoting “dutiful fulfilment of ritual discipline.” There must be attention to “symbolic language, including art, song and music in the service of the mystery celebrated, even silence.”
The pope called for ongoing formation of clergy and laity, especially liturgical ministers.
Echoing the liturgy constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, which taught that the liturgy is the font and summit of all the Church’s life, Pope Francis told the assembly that “the liturgy is in fact the main road through which Christian life passes through every phase of its growth. You therefore have before you a great and beautiful task: to work so that the People of God may rediscover the beauty of meeting the Lord in the celebration of His mysteries.”