A document on liturgical formation is being prepared in Rome

In a wide-ranging interview on May 9, in the Spanish magazine Omnes, Archbishop Arthur Roche, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, revealed that a document on liturgical formation is currently being prepared in Rome, to assist the world’s bishops in rising to the challenge of liturgical formation for all the baptized, not only priests and seminarians.

The necessity of this deepening of liturgical formation of the People of God is a direct corollary of the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, he explained. The normative vision set forth by the conciliar reform is that all participants in the liturgy have their role to play and all are called to participate in the prayers and actions of the liturgy fully and consciously.

Fidelity to this process of liturgical formation is also a logical necessity of the affirmations Pope Francis made in his recent motu proprio, Traditionis custodes, restricting the use of the older rites. The reformed liturgy embodies “today’s ecclesiology” the Archbishop said, and therefore is formative of the church’s life and mission.

Regarding the forthcoming document, Archbishop Roche said it will aim to go beyond rubrics to reach the reasons why we celebrate, and the Mystery that we are celebrating:

I think that at this moment there is a lack of liturgical formation. It is very interesting to remember that in the years prior to the Council there was a liturgical movement, with a patristic, biblical and ecumenical foundation; and the Council offered the possibility of a renewal of the Church, also regarding the liturgy.

I think that at this moment the aim is only to comply with the rubrics of the Liturgy, and that seems a bit poor to me. Theologically, the reason was the celebration of the Mystery.

For this reason, two years ago the Holy Father asked this Congregation to hold a plenary meeting of all its members to discuss liturgical formation throughout the Church: from bishops to priests and laity. And indeed, a document on this matter is currently being prepared. Possibly it will materialize in a letter to the Church on the importance of formation. What do we do when we meet every Sunday for this celebration? What is the point of that assembly? Not just an obligation to do something every week, but what do we do? What do we celebrate at that time?

The Prefect also commented on inculturation and beauty in the liturgy as important themes.

You can read the whole interview here. 

Pray Tell readers, if you had a say in what should be included in a document on liturgical formation, what would be your own ideas? What priorities you would want to see set forth?




  1. I don’t think this is exactly new.

    I don’t have the text to hand but I recall that ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’ stressed the importance of what we now call ‘Liturgical Formation.’

    Strange that it has taken so long for the penny to drop!


    1. Ha!
      Good point, Alan. We are playing catch up. Even the sad fact that this subject was raised two years ago and is only now inching forward now, suggests this has been no priority at all.

      Still, better late than never!

      1. I have no academic degree that makes what I say here authoritative, but I have lived it. In the fall of 1963, when I was in the 8th grade, our parish (in Atlanta) was changing over to English. The weekly Mass for our school every Friday before lunch used a student (me) to be a leader and read from the scripted responses for the congregation so that we could all learn the responses and actions. The previous year I was an altar server who knew the Latin, and I was happy in that role, but I could immediately see that there was more I had been missing. There were many more changes until about the early 1970s when it seemed to me we had a mostly universal liturgy in the US. What we have experienced in the last 20 years is a regression to what some seem to think are the ‘good old days’.

        So, I don’t think we are ‘playing catch up’ so much as just experiencing a dialectic that happens when changes occur. It’s a good time to pray for inspiration from the Holy Spirit.

      2. Are we overlooking the liturgical formation that was and is being offered for decades through NPM, FDLC, and many other organizations?

      3. Fr. Jack, thank you for raising this point. I would not want to minimize those efforts at all. In fact, I would add to them the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, the Southwest Liturgical Conference, St John’s conferences on liturgy and music, etc.. But I also see NPM shrinking, the NA Forum closed in 2013, Form/Reform is no more, diocesan liturgy offices have closed or are understaffed, fewer regional events are hosted on liturgical themes, and so on. Where do the faithful get a dose of good, sound, hands-on liturgical formation? Many parishes can no longer afford to send their people to conferences or events even when they are offered.
        Liturgical formation in the U.S. was hit by three successive crises: the abuse crisis and its financial costs, the splintering of direction arising from Reform of the Reform and neo-Tridentine revival (incompatible goals and methods), and then the pandemic. Gathering our people, setting a practical pastoral direction with a positive and unified message, and following through with support and funding will all be critical.

      4. And don’t forget generational turnover. Which will be ongoing, as it always is.

  2. I think it vital not to focus mainly on the Mass, and for Mass not mainly on the Sunday celebration. Liturgy includes, obviously, the Liturgy of the Hours but also six other sacraments, and popular devotions (even private prayer). Drawing out the commonalities between these various forms of worship, and also some very important distinctions.

  3. There’s a little program in Southern Indiana that I’ve had the honor of directing for the past 10 years. One Bread One Cup welcomes about 300 teens and 100 adults each summer to focus on liturgical leadership. Participants experience excellent catechesis at our 5-day conferences and our major themes follow the parts of the Mass: Gathering, Word, Sacrament, Mission. A team of 20 college aged interna help facilitate the liturgical ministry training and the theological reflection groups each evening. The results are incredible. We see vocations springing forth as a direct result of the experience here. There are several priests, a few religious sisters and several holy marriages, the seeds of which were planted and nourished by engaging so deeply in the liturgical experience. We do it all! Mass, liturgy of the hours, devotions. It’s amazing to see the teens take the leadership roles after only a few days of catechesis. The adults always ask for a conference for them, one that focuses on this very idea. We are planning for that already.
    Happy to see movement in this area as I am convinced that an authentic encounter with Christ through liturgy is the single most important solution to disaffiliation.

  4. Several years ago, in the San Antonio Archdiocese, we had a “Year of Liturgy.” Each week, in every bulletin, in all languages, an aspect of the GIRM was discussed, as well as the General Instruction for each Sacrament. This has been brought up again, and I think something like this – from Rome – would be a great asset to everyone. Of course, we will have to see how it is written. But putting this in front of the people is extremely valuable. I disagree with the thought that this is too late, or somehow “behind”… we have many who come into the Church each year who have no idea of the history or rubrics of the Liturgy. I have worked with many couples regarding their marriages – good, faithful, Church-attending Catholics – who have never taken the time to note everything that happens to make the Liturgy come together. And for those of us who think we know everything, a good reminder, a rephrasing of something, can help us as well.

  5. I would ask that a Vatican document on liturgical formation adopt an encouraging tone of hope about the “ever-increasing vigor” that already exists in the Christian lives of the faithful. Recalling this optimistic opening of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, it’s discouraging when conversations about liturgical formation begin with perceived deficits instead of proven strengths. In the interview, Archbishop Roche lists “many difficulties” the church faces in realizing the vision of liturgical renewal: “individualism,” “liberalism,” “loss of the sense of sin,” “lack of training for priests,” an approach to liturgy that aims “only to comply with the rubrics,” and finally a deficit in “holiness” that causes the church to “lack an authentic voice to preach the Gospel.”

    When may we speak instead about the strengths on which the church can build in this moment? The proposed document should celebrate renewed vigor and reinforce strengths that have grown over the past sixty years. Instead of treating inculturation and beauty as problems to solve, we should marvel at the vast expansion in cultural expressions of God’s beauty in music, art, and architecture. We should celebrate the growth in women’s leadership, especially in catechesis, evangelization, and liturgical ministry. We should be grateful for priests trained to offer good counsel before pronouncing absolution. We should recognize evangelical fervor and Christlike compassion in generations that have grown up with balance between the “two tables” of the Holy Scripture and the Holy Eucharist.

    In 1964, Romano Guardini was right to worry that liturgists satisfied with solving “a mass of ritual and textual problems” might neglect the slow, multi-generational work of liturgical formation. But that work is not mainly a matter of correcting problems and remedying deficits. Liturgical formation—especially if it claims to be mystagogical and not merely intellectual—must look for where the vigor of Christian life is increasing and build upon the strengths we find.

  6. Words aren’t enough. Examples, living examples, by way of video and sound are needed for proper liturgical formation. Sunday’s canonization with Pope Francis as celebrant is a good example to follow in terms of his style and the basic elements of a Sunday liturgy. There are other examples from parishes throughout the world. But, now with video live streaming of Masses from around the world, there are too many to name bad examples of what not to follow. Teaching by negative and positive concrete examples would help. And yes, what are Catholics like in various parishes. Examples of discipleship and not just churchy things, but basic Catholicism in the world would help too. Are people being led to an active Catholic life in this world and the world to come–meaning the process of everlasting salvation in the Risen Christ?

  7. I think Archbishop Roche touches on the essence of formation in the liturgy when he says: “It’s not just a matter of doing things or participating in certain parts of the celebration, but of celebrating worthily with a deep and active participation, as the Council reminded us. Through words and gestures we attain the mystery. Instead of carrying out activities, such as reading the readings or other activities, we need to be looking for a deep, quasi mystical participation in the contemplation of the liturgy.”

    To express it slightly differently, we need to be imbued with the spirit of the liturgy, and it can take years to achieve that. Rather than carrying out rituals as if we were liturgical marionettes, we need to live the liturgy as we celebrate it, and also live the liturgy in our daily lives.

    1. Ah yes, mystery/mystagogical awareness. Truth is much deeper than words and rules. Rubrics can be the enemy or ally of contemplative depth, depending on motivation. I am so tired of lifeless, “correct” liturgies. No wonder we are experiencing a massive exodus of members!

  8. Perhaps something most commonly overlooked is formation in Liturgy of the Hours particularly as prolongation of The Eucharist. In 8 years, all 72 million baby boomers will be over 65. As mobility issues preclude pew attendance, the importance and the role of Liturgy of the Hours as liturgical celebration may become a deep consolation as the time between receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist lengthens. It is my experience that Liturgy of the Hours seldom, if ever, is included in Liturgical Formation for laity.

    1. Thanks for the tip, Todd! I haven’t read beyond the first paragraphs yet, but will weigh in with some observations after I’ve had a chance to read and consider the text in full. Looks good to start with!

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