Pope Francis and the Cause of Liturgical Renewal

It has become commonplace to say that Pope Francis gives little attention to liturgical questions, preferring instead to focus on pressing social issues such as ecology, family life, youth, poverty, and human fraternity.

But is this now-cliched assumption borne out by the facts?

I would argue that the opposite is true. Pope Francis is interested in liturgy. But he approaches liturgical questions from a different direction than we may expect. He strives to make it easier for people to engage in the liturgy in a positive way that enriches participation. He is oriented toward helping the Church to flourish as a liturgical people. The vibrancy he tries to foster is found in the inner dynamic of faith that informs liturgical practice.

We are all aware of some actions he has taken to enhance liturgical participation. Some of his initiatives have secured the place of women in areas where they have been excluded in the past (washing feet, inclusion as instituted lectors and acolytes). Others have empowered bishops’ conferences (the motu proprio Magnum principium, on translation) and pastors (the pastoral provision on Communion concerning the divorced and remarried, in Amoris laetitia) to discern and judge the best way forward to more fruitful participation in liturgy for their people.

Francis has also been supportive of liturgical inculturation (witness his favorable remarks about the prospect of developing an Amazonian rite) and he has gone on the record in support of the enduring value of the vernacular languages in worship (see his remarks on the anniversary of the first vernacular Mass in 2015).

But that’s not all. He has also been a witness and cheerleader for the Sacrament of Penance. I found this video on the Sacrament of Reconciliation very touching. In it, he says: “The center of confession is not the sins we declare, but the divine love we receive, of which we are always in need.”

With that one sentence, Pope Francis has done much to re-center our approach to the Sacrament. How do we understand what we are doing? How might we reframe how we think about this action, in terms that are life-giving for people of our time. This statement could be very fruitful, if heard and taken to heart.

If the renewal of the liturgy is to go beyond questions of texts and rubrics, I believe this is the sort of probing that will prompt it. It is a concrete example of how Pope Francis is fostering liturgical renewal.

My only question is: Who is listening?



  1. In today’s online NCR, Thomas Reese asserts that liturgical reform is not a high priority for Francis. I disagree with that; Reese never mentions the motu proprio Magnum Principium, which overturns in large part Liturgicam Authenticum. That to me is a pretty significant indicator that Francis does have liturgical reform as a priority.

    1. I suspect he is more in favor of loosening the 1978-2013 restrictions on liturgy and letting it be led locally, not from the curia and the liturgical police. Looks like a Jesuit approach to me

    2. In reading Thomas Reese’s column, he made the point that liturgical reform/renewal has not seemed to be a high priority for Pope Francis, but with Cdl. Sarah’s absence from the Curia, he may very well be setting the stage for it to move up on the agenda.

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