With the vastness of the Roman Communion and the immense diversity of expression within the Roman rite, the Catholic experience of liturgical change can be fraught with emotional and intellectual peril. At its core the liturgy is intended to unite us, but it has historically divided us as often as not. Such division – both real and perceived – leads both Catholics and non-Catholics alike to wonder, “Who’s in charge of liturgy?”
Though such a question sounds as nuanced and as blunt as asking “Who’s in charge of cheese?”– it is, after all, the Holy Spirit who ultimately governs – the need for managerial authority looms large over liturgical dialectics in the life of the Church. Christopher Lamb, Vatican correspondent for Britain’s The Tablet, recently sat down with one such authority, Archbishop Arthur Roche, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, to discuss last summer’s promulgation of Traditionis Custodes and the ongoing implementation of the Second Vatican Council’s Sacrosanctum Concilium in letter and in spirit.
In his short time at the CDW, Archbishop Roche has been no stranger to attention: Traditionis Custodes was issued mere months after his assuming office last May. “Archbishop Roche is well aware of the fury aroused in some quarters by the restrictions being imposed on the use of the old rite,” Lamb reports, and “he says bishops in touch with his congregation have expressed ‘relief’ at the Pope’s decision to return the oversight of the liturgy to them – as Vatican II intended.
“Long before Francis limited the use of the pre-Vatican Council liturgical books, small traditionalist communities had become centres of resistance to this pontificate. The combination of opposition to the Pope, the calling into question of an ecumenical council, and the promotion of the old rite as an alternative liturgical way of life – sometimes even presented as the only truly Catholic form of the liturgy – represented a serious challenge. Roche stressed that the Pope’s intention was to ‘bring unity’ to the Church, and to end the suggestion that there are two different Churches with two different liturgies.”
Roche stressed that the Pope’s intention was to ‘bring unity’ to the Church, and to end the suggestion that there are two different Churches with two different liturgies.”
The discourse of unity makes some nervous, especially those who view both the Church and the world as a zero-sum game of winners and losers. After all, whose unity is it and on whose terms will such unity be? However, the Church’s liturgy is not a territory to be conquered but the living and abiding presence of God-in-Christ in our midst. Its ongoing development requires far more nuance and listening than binary battle lines can muster. Thus our unity seeks no winners or losers, but sisters and brothers — siblings in Christ.
In the trajectory of liturgical development, Lamb affirms “that changes to the liturgy are nothing new. It was Pius XII who reformed the celebrations of Holy Week in the 1950s, while Roche points out that Pius X…wrote in 1903 about the ‘active participation’ of the faithful in the liturgy, something that was to be strongly emphasised by Vatican II. Its liturgical reforms did not come out of a vacuum, Roche reminds [us]; they were all prepared for by a liturgical movement that dates back to the nineteenth century.”
Traditionis Custodes and the further clarifications released by the CDW in response to questions from bishops about its implementation “made clear that confirmations and ordinations according to the pre-Vatican Council liturgies are now banned, and recommended parishes not to advertise Tridentine Masses in their bulletins. Many of those who belong to the small, yet devoted, groups who are attached to the Missal of 1962 are devastated. They complain that the Pope is ‘cancelling’ the form of Mass they love.”
In this, Archbishop Roche stresses the pastoral depth of both the Pope’s and the CDW’s discernment: “’It’s clear that Pope Francis, along with his predecessors, has great care for those who are finding this difficult and therefore it is still possible to use the Missal of 1962,’ he says. ‘But it is not the norm. It is a pastoral concession.’…Traditionis Custodes is [intended] to bring people ‘closer to an understanding of what the Council required.'”
Understanding and implementing what Vatican II requires has been at the center of the Church’s life and work over the past half century. Such unpacking is not willy-nilly, nor is it as simple as “some Catholics having a personal preference for Latin. It goes to the heart of how the Church sees itself and its mission. It is about the old saying, Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi: how we pray, is how we believe. Roche points out that Vatican II’s dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, shifted away from a model of the Church as a ‘perfect society’ to the biblical notion of the Church as the pilgrim People of God.
“In the former, Roche says, it was the priest who ‘represented the intentions of the people’ and took that to God in the liturgy. Vatican II changed that. ‘With the understanding of the priesthood of all the baptised it’s not simply the priest alone who celebrates the Eucharist, but all the baptised who celebrate with him,’ Roche explains. ‘That surely has to be the most profound understanding of what ‘participation’ means. That we’re not just reading, we’re not just singing, we’re not just moving things around in the sanctuary or coping with children or whatever it is, but we’re actually entering deeply into the divine life, which has been made manifest to us in the Paschal mystery…the liturgy is not incidental to our identity…the liturgy is the womb of the Church, which gives birth to Christians and which nourishes the Christian life.'”
‘With the understanding of the priesthood of all the baptised
it’s not simply the priest alone who celebrates the Eucharist,
but all the baptised who celebrate with him,’
That surely has to be the most profound understanding
of what ‘participation’ means.
The importance of formation cannot be stressed enough in the ongoing implementation of the Council. For “while the liturgical and ecclesiological shifts at Vatican II were approved overwhelmingly by the bishops that took part, Roche believes the reasoning behind the reforms is still not ‘fully understood.’ Formation, he says, has been ‘very lacking’ in certain areas of Catholic life, and nowhere is this more true than in seminaries, where there are strong currents pushing for a return to pre-Vatican II styles of dress and liturgy.
“Roche’s congregation is calling on seminaries to teach the ‘richness of the liturgical reform called for by the Second Vatican Council,’ and any newly-ordained priest wishing to celebrate the Mass using the pre-Vatican II liturgical books will need permission to do so from the Holy See. ‘The Holy Father is concerned about formation,’ Roche says, and two years ago he asked the members of his congregation, who include bishops and cardinals from across the world, to discuss the issue. ‘All of them thought that formation was pretty inadequate within seminaries in general as well as within the life of the Church,’ and as a result a document is being prepared that Roche says will address the issue.”
And what about those attracted to the 1962 Missal? Is there still room for authentic dialogue between them and the CDW? Throughout this first year as Prefect, Roche has met with groups advocating for pre-conciliar forms. Indeed, Pope Francis himself has “met with a traditionalist fraternity of priests and gave them a concession to continue celebrating the sacraments in the old rite.” Even so, Roche affirms, the CDW “can’t all be about responding to the liturgical preferences of one group. ‘The Church gives us the liturgy. We pray as a Church community and never simply as individuals, nor as a matter of personal preference.’
“We pray as a Church community and never simply as individuals, nor as a matter of personal preference.”
Though both John Paul II and Benedict XVI “made pastoral concessions to those unable to accept the liturgical reforms of the Council, Roche says that the survey of the world’s bishops had shown that what had been a concession had turned into a ‘promotion to return to what existed before the Second Vatican Council.’ This ‘couldn’t be tolerated because the Council had changed the way in which we’re going forward. That’s just a simple matter.’ It had never been Benedict’s intention to encourage these divisions in the Church. Benedict had also hoped that his concessions would bring back those ‘operating beyond the curtilage of the Church,’ but, as Roche points out, there’s not much evidence that this has happened (he’s talking about the Society of Saint Pius X established by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre).”
As it continues its important work, the CDW “is already implementing the synodal style of Church that Francis is trying to bring about. In 2017, the Pope issued a ruling, Magnum Principium, which gave bishops more authority over liturgical translations, and Roche says he works with them in a collegial manner. ‘We’ve changed the way in which we work with bishops to when I first came to the congregation.'”
What might the synodal style of Church might mean with regard to future translations, adaptations, or usages of the Roman rite? That remains to be seen. As Roche explains, “’We’ve spent the last 50 years translating, the next phase will be facing adaptation…[it’s a] delicate matter.'” Vatican II clearly understands this delicate matter to be work for us all, not only for upper and middle management. Joining with Pope Francis, Archbishop Roche, and the whole people of God, we all have a part to play in liturgy’s development. We are all a little in charge.
Christopher Lamb’s full article can be found here.