What is required in a new Prefect of CDWDS

Our friend Andrea Grillo in a recent blog post reflects on the qualities required for Cardinal Robert Sarah’s successor, under the title “Putting into practice — and not putting obstacles in the way of — active participation“. The original Italian text will be found here. Below we give an unofficial English translation.

Within the structure of the Roman Curia, since 1988 the function of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments has assumed the form of competence to be found in the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus (62-66). The three bullet points which lay out the activity of the Office are very important, as specified in para 64. Let’s read them in their entirety:

Art. 64 — § 1. By effective and suitable means, the Congregation promotes liturgical pastoral activity, especially regarding the celebration of the Eucharist; it gives support to the diocesan bishops so that the Christian faithful may participate more and more actively in the sacred liturgy.
§ 2. It sees to the drawing up and revision of liturgical texts. It reviews particular calendars and proper texts for the Mass and the Divine Office for particular Churches and institutes which enjoy that right.
§ 3. It grants the recognitio to translations of liturgical books and their adaptations that have been lawfully prepared by conferences of bishops.

As can be seen, the norms enunciated here leave no room for doubt: the principal function of the Congregation consists in co-ordinating centrally the process of realization of the Liturgical Reform. This happens in three areas: in the area of “pastoral liturgical activity”, clearly orientated towards a greater “active participation”; in the area of the drawing-up of liturgical texts and calendars; in the area of translations and adaptations carried out by bishops’ conferences.

These are precisely the three objectives which, during the recent decades, have given rise to increasing tensions between the institutional “task” and its concrete implementation. Not only in the case of the latest Prefect, but in a long line of predecessors, the three above-mentioned objectives have appeared in a very sombre light, almost submerged by “other duties”, even contradictory ones. How can we forget that, in the very same year that this constitutional structure was born, an ”alternative competence” appeared in the form of the Ecclesia Dei Commission on the use of the previous Roman Rite, a competence which was enormously augmented from 2007 until its expiry in 2019, but whose responsibilities have been transferred to the CDF when they would normally have fallen within the purview of the SCDW?

It is nevertheless not difficult to observe how with each of the three key points of competence there has been a progressive transformation of those competences with the most recent Prefects:

(a) The active participation of the faithful has been more and more moved to the back burner, while the serious suspicion was raised that “the assembly or celebrating community” was the concrete manifestation of a dangerous “abuse”; and to get rid of this “usage” would be a good way of avoiding abuses in general.

(b) The compilation and correction of liturgical texts and calendars interpreted the role of the Office more as one of a “curator of the museum” rather than one of “someone cultivating a garden”.

(c) As far as translation is concerned, we had to wait until 2017, with the Motu Proprio Magnum Principium, to discover the original meaning both of the unassailable value of “languages as spoken”and the function of episcopal conferences. And the long shadow of Liturgiam Authenticam still makes us feel the weight of a “Latinist” reading of the tradition, which regards spoken languages with suspicion.

Getting out of this triple impasse which menaces the three fundamental tasks of the Congregation will be the job that the next Prefect will have to take on and co-ordinate, without forgetting that Roman congregations are not just stand-alone offices but collegial offices. Prefects are simply those who preside over the workings of an identifiable Office.

The hope is that, in order to guide as delicate a process as the reception of the liturgical reform, the best possible liturgical competence needs to be put in place to co-ordinate the work, without thinking that the good sense of an “institutional man” or his spiritual wisdom would be sufficient in themselves. The logic of the liturgy is not to be understood solely by virtue of its exterior form or the truth of its content. A specific technical, textual and ritual competence is essential. For this reason, it would seem really incomprehensible that those who are not familiar with detailed liturgical niceties would be assigned to take care of such a task, as has unfortunately been the case during the past few decades. If it is normal that an expert in dogma is assigned to direct the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, an expert in diplomacy to direct the Secretariat of State, or for a jurist to deal with the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, then it should also be normal that those who know “from the inside” the ritual form of the life of faith should be called upon to direct the Congregation for Divine Worship. Such a decision, scarcely unreasonable, would once and for all be a way to honour the Second Vatican Council and enlighten the way in which it is received.


  1. I know I am hardly always in sync with Mr Inwood’s desiderata for various parts of the conciliar reform, but I would almost be more pungent than his first item here:

    “The active participation of the faithful has been more and more moved to the back burner, while the serious suspicion was raised that “the assembly or celebrating community” was the concrete manifestation of a dangerous “abuse”; and to get rid of this “usage” would be a good way of avoiding abuses in general.”

    My more pungent perspective is that there has been what in other contexts might be called “backsliding” (in the American religious vernacular), to retreat to framing of the Divine Liturgy primarily as a juridic and cultic performative action of the ministers in the sanctuary. That’s something where the mystical dimension is safely defined and managed (in the same way that Lent can be said in common practice to be lived as an annual sin-management program). (And this framing can find its backsliding mirror image in efforts to increase the performative action of the faithful in the pews, something much more busybody-ish than cultivating and nurturing active/actual participation.)

  2. I don’t know what Mr Grillo means by “Latinist”. But there’s very little in Liturgiam Authenticam, or in the work of the Vox Clara commission, or much of the internet talk about what the Latin “really says” that demonstrates a fundamental understanding of Latin, or even of how languages work in general.

    I have been told that the late Fr Foster, a Latinist if ever there was one, thought that Lit. Auth. and the 2011 mistranslation that was based on it were silly mistakes; and we know that Peter Jefferey, not only a deeply learned scholar but a liturgical conservative, described Lit. Auth. as “the most ignorant statement on liturgy ever issued by a modern Vatican congregation”.

    All this is to say that “Latinist”, as I understand the word, unfairly dignifies Lit. Auth / Vox Clara / 2011, and all their pomps and works.

    [EDITED to note that the Italian has “una lettura “latina” della tradizione”, “a ‘Latin’ reading of tradition” — which makes more sense, and I should have paid more attention to the scare quotes.]

    1. Jonathan,

      In selecting “Latinist” as the dynamically-equivalent word in my working translation, I was aware not only of Grillo’s views on the subject but also that this adjective can have a pejorative sense as well as a complimentary one. It’s somewhat similar to the difference one might detect between “traditional” and “traditionalist”. Most traditionalists espouse a caricature of what tradition really is. In this case, “Latinist” would be used to depict someone with a warped and even obsessive view, based on an inadequate knowledge of Latin.

      I agree that the author of LA was about as far from scholarly in his approach to questions of translation as it is possible to be, and the intention was certainly not to dignify him or his work — quite the reverse.

  3. Would it be too much to ask that the next Prefect should be well-versed in liturgy and have at least a working knowledge of English?

    1. Or, perhaps even better, lacking a working knowledge of English and therefore realizes a lack of competence in it?

      1. Do you perhaps have in mind a certain Spanish-speaking former Prefect whose attitude to the English-speaking Church was positively insulting?

  4. It might be good to have a Prefect who encouraged rather than tolerated more local cultural diversity within the liturgy.

  5. It would, one would think, be important in a global Church, to have a prefect who is well versed in the diversity and beauty of inculturation of the vernacular.

  6. Christopher Lamb in yesterday’s Tablet suggests that one of those in the running could be Bishop Vittorio Viola, Bishop of Tortona in northern Italy. See his bio (in Italian) at https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vittorio_Francesco_Viola He’s a Franciscan, got his liturgy licence and doctorate at Sant’Anselmo, and is only 55. At the time of his episcopal nomination in 2014 he was the youngest Ordinary in Italy.

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