Vatican Liturgists Present Proposals for Change to the Pope

In an Article published in the Italian Newspaper Il Giornale Journalist Andrea Tornielli reports that the Roman Dicastery responsible for the Sacred Liturgy met and proposed certain reforms for the consideration of the Pope. I reproduce a translated excerpts of that article here with some of my own thoughts in RED.

ROME. A document was delivered to the hands of Benedict XVI in the morning of last April 4 by Spanish Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. It is the result of a reserved vote, which took place on March 12, in the course of a “plenary” session of the dicastery responsible for the liturgy, and it represents the first concrete step towards that “reform of the reform” often desired by Pope Ratzinger.

 The Cardinals and Bishops members of the Congregation voted almost unanimously in favor of a greater sacrality [sacredness] of the rite, of the recovery of the sense of Eucharistic worship, of the recovery of the Latin language in the celebration, and of the remaking of the introductory parts of the Missal in order to put a stop to abuses, wild experimentation, and inappropriate creativity. [There have been many observations over the decades that Masses in some places have become too informal. In many cases the action of worshipping God seems almost lost. The author of a book I read some years ago summarized many parish masses as “the aware and gathered community celebrating itself.” The personality of the priest and other liturgical leaders also seems exagerated in some celebrations of the Mass. Hence a re-emphasis that the Mass is an act of worship directed to God seems an important reminder and an antidote for mistaken notion that the Mass is really more for the self-actualization of the gathered faithful. However, I think we have to be careful to avoid the tendency that some have to frown upon joyful expression in the liturgy. Reverence doesn’t have to mean that everyone looks like they just sucked a lemon. Different cultures may well be more expressive than others and joyful praise can be very worshipful. The main point is to be sure that God is at the center and that it is He who is being worshipped. As for the liturgical abuses, they are clearly an ugly problem that persists.  I think of them as a sign of pride, that somehow Father or some liturgy committee knows better than the Church. Liturgical abuses are also a form of injustice since they rob the faithful of the Liturgy they are entitled to. Abuses and violations of liturgical law cause division not unity. Hence they are not of God.]

They have also declared themselves favorable to reaffirming  that the usual way of receiving Communion according to the norms is not on the hand, but in the mouth. There is, it is true, an indult which, on request of the [local] bishops, allows for the distribution of the host on the palm of the hand, but this must remain an extraordinary fact.[This may cause something of a stir. But notice that they are not saying the practice of receiving on the hand must end. Rather they state it is not the norm but is a departure that is permitted in some places. But it does seem to start a trajectory away from the practice of Communion in the hand. The Pope, at his Masses usually gives Communion only to the faithful kneeling and on the tongue. Several Bishops aroung the world have revoked the practice of permitting communion in the hand in their dioceses. I have also noticed in my parish, through no suggestion of mine that more people are returning to the practice of receiving on the tongue. I am not sure of the final outcome of this but a clear preference for communion on the tongue has been expressed by the Pope and the Congregation for Divine Worship. That is not something to ignore and it will proabably have ripple effects in the wider Church].

The Prefect of the Congregatoin for Divine Worship, Cardinal Cañizares, is also having studies made on the possibility to recover the orientation towards the east, at least at the moment of the eucharistic consecration, as it happened in practice before the reform, when both the faithful and the priest faced towards the Cross and the priest therefore turned his back to the assembly. [ Here too a pretty radical shift away from current practice. Put in plainer language it means that they are studying the possibility of returning to the practice of the priest standing at the altar with the congregation behind him, but only for the Eucharistic Prayer. It is wrong to say that the priest turns his back on the people. Rather, priest and people all face the same direction. In the early Church it was the practice for everyone to face to the East (looking toward the Light, toward God and toward the direction from whence Christ would come again). As the Church spread, it was not always possible for every Church to be oriented (to the east) so the cross in the sanctuary came to represent a symbolic east. Everyone faced the cross to pray. Although it may seem seem strange today to those who never experienced the older way, consider this example. Suppose a community leader is leading a large group of citizens forward to greet a dignitary. When he speaks on behalf of the group to the dignitary who will he face? It would be strange for him to face the crowd while he spoke to the dignitary on their behalf. No, he faces the person he addresses. This necessarily means he “has his back to the crowd” but no one thinks of it this way. Thus, in the old days, when the priest spoke to God on our behalf he faced God, to the East, or toward the cross.Understood this way it is not all that odd.  The practice of everyone facing one direction for Mass continued all the way to 1965 when altars began to be turned and priests began to face the congregation. Truth be told this is an innovation unknown before 1965 and it has seriously changed the whole tenor of the Mass and tended to shift the focus to the assembly. Many liturgical theologians have strongly recommended that we study and revisit this practice. Where this study will go is uncertain and it is unlikely that we will see any sudden changes in this practice, but here too  the tide seems to be turning].

…..the “propositiones” voted by the Cardinals and Bishops at the March plenary [also]foresee a ….recovery of the celebrations in Latin in the dioceses, at least in the main solemnities, as well as the publication of bilingual Missals – a request made at his time by Paul VI – with the Latin text first. [ This is not a return to ALL LATIN. Rather it is their intent to make the Latin more accessible to the celebrant and encourage more use of Latin espeically at feast days. Today if I want to say the canon in Latin, I have to flip a lot of pages to find it in the missal. The proposal by the Cardinals would make it easier to find and encourage the use of Latin more frequently].

OK. I know these proposals will not be without controversy. Please feel free to weigh in with comments and thoughts. That’s a main purpose of this blog after all, to generate discussion. Fire away.

I’ve posted this video before but it shows the practice of “facing east” during the Eucharistic Prayer.

13 Replies to “Vatican Liturgists Present Proposals for Change to the Pope”

  1. Interesting stuff. I really like the idea of returning to the practice of everyone facing eastwards, if only for a short time. When I do morning prayer I try to face to the East – there’s something quite powerful in it.

    Personally, I’d like to see the return of the communion rail. I’ve been to a few churches that use it and I found myself better prepared to receive communion since I’d had a few moments kneeling before receiving and also it allowed me to linger for a moment afterwards (rather than getting caught up in the “dynamics” of queuing).

    1. Yes, I remember with fondness the practice of kneeling at the rail when I was a youth. You are right, it gave you a moment or two to reflect while kneeling and waiting.

  2. (By-the-way, thanks for providing your commentary on this – on first reading of the document I got the wrong end of the stick on quite a few things)

  3. I believe in a climate where people are running away from the church that this is just what should be done. A tightening of the belt across the board and a return to the tradition of faith. What a better way to celebrate our reverence to God than to make HIM the central theme? Our priest already celebrates some Masses oriented to the east and speaks some of the prayers in Latin. I find these times to be most meaningful and that I leave Mass filled with a fullness of grace and joy.
    After some in depth study and reflection on the Catechism (of my own), I never understood the change from the communion rail and by mouth to receiving in hand. I quickly returned to my taking by mouth and really encourage my children to take by mouth. I find it is more reverent. I HOPE that receiving by mouth does make a firm return in the church!

  4. Thank you so much Msgr. Pope for this posting on the forthcoming English translation of the new Roman Missal and possible changes in the rubrics of the celebration of the Eucharist. I understand completely when you write: “the action of worshipping God seems almost lost” and I have experienced too many times when the Liturgy has become a priest centered activity. These abuses must be dealt with. I believe that many of our Bishops have been negligent in their duties to make sure that the communal celebration of the Liturgy of the Word and Liturgy of the Eucharist are celebrated in a manner fitting the sacredness of what’s happening. I’d like to say, however, that I’m leery of many of the changes. I really don’t want to go back to the Mass being celebrated all in Latin. As a teacher and as a worshipper, I believe it’s essential for the congregation to understand all of what is being prayed. There are so many beautiful Eucharistic prayers in the ‘new’ Sacramentary and so many priests never use them. I’d be very disappointed if we went back to just the Roman Canon. I know this is not what’s being proposed, but I fear it may happen. I also hope and pray that the revised celebration will do away with the ‘private prayers of the priest’. I believe that the congregation needs to hear then. How beautiful would be if we could hear either the priest or deacon pray “By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.” What an amazing confession of faith. I really don’t want to go back to a time, as is evident in the video you posted, when the congregation just sits there, the priest mumbles the prayers to himself, and the choir or servers pray the responses.

    Those are some of my thoughts.

    Peace to you and all who read this!

    1. Yes, I don’t think there is envisioned a whosale reutrn to latin. Rather just the encouragement that we use more of it. There WOULD be a period of time when the faithful struggled to understand it. But if it is used more then there will be greater familiarity. Further, it would seem that the Eucharistic prayer is especially envisioned by these Cardinals for more widespread Latin. Surely not the readings etc. It remains true that most of the faithful will never fluently understand the Eucharistic Prayer in Latin, but recall, it is directed to God the Faher and He speaks Latin very well. I like you value the frequent use of the vernacular for the reasons you state, but Latin enshirines other values that we should not totally neglect either.

  5. To worship the Lord our God is the best possible number ONE priority to participate in the Mass!

    I wonder what Robert DeNiro is doing these days. If he could see himself again at this beautiful scene what would he feel! It is very well done!! We get the sense of awe and holiness. I wonder if he is Catholic.

    I recently went to a Latin Mass to celebrate the Feast of the Ascension. My intention that day was really to hear the scriptures of the feast day. This was only the second Latin Mass in my life and I became distracted. I was born after Vatican II and I grew up listening to the readings, the hymns and the prayers in my language. After the reading of the gospel, and a few prayers asking the Lord for help to participate worthily, I had a strong sense that my focus at this Latin Mass could just be to worship in silence. That satisfied my longing and gave me peace of mind to remain in celebration mode. The atmosphere that the Latin Mass creates is truly conducive to worship.

    Father, could you remind us of three other priorities that we should keep in mind as we participate in the Holy Mass?

    1. How about these:
      1. In the Mass the Passion Death And Resurrection of Jesus are made present to us and their fruits applied to our lives. How about that for medicine and the best “time machine” in the world. !
      2. In the Eucharistic Prayer the priest is speaking to God the Father he is not simply reminding the congregation of holy things.
      3. In every Mass the true High Priest is Jesus Christ. Fr. Smith or Jones are only his ministers But it is really Jesus who is the celebrant of every Mass. Not bad. Next time some one calls a rectory asking what priest is celebrating the 9:00 am Mass the receptionist should say “Jesus!”

      1. “Next time some one calls a rectory asking what priest is celebrating the 9:00 am Mass the receptionist should say “Jesus!”

        I love it!!!!

    2. By the Way Robert DeNiro indicated in an interview about this movie that he considered himslef to be a method actor and so he sudied the entire old Mass very carefully under the guidanance of an older priest and that he learned almost the whole Mass. He considered it an important duty to fulfill this role of celebrant with great exactitude and he took it very seriously. Method Actors are not content to memorize lines they try to become experts in what they portray. DeNiro did this for other moives too. He reached professional standard on the saxophone when preparing for NewYork New York, and became a rated middleweight boxer when training for Raging Bull.

  6. The resurgence of Latin doesn’t surprise me. I’ve said for some time now that it could be the norm in very diverse parishes where not everyone speaks the same language. To choose a language for mass is to choose to emphasize a particular culture, not by trying to exclude anyone purposefully, it’s just an unintended consequence. Latin has the advantage of being the language of none of us but perhaps the culture of all of us. 😉

  7. What about the “sign of peace”? I thought I’d heard that consideration was being given to moving this gesture to another part of the mass. I came over from the Greek Orthodox Church recently, and I have to say that I’ve found this part of the mass to be astonishingly disruptive, especially when one is preparing to receive the eucharist. The thought of kissing someone during the mass (as spouses and family members commonly do as a sign of peace) struck me personally as quite irreverant behavior. In the eastern Christian traditions, kissing in church is traditionally avoided because it is perceived to invoke the “Judas kiss” of betrayal. Still not quite used to all the back slapping and hand pumping before communion…

  8. I think it’s great if whoever proposed the document believes these changes will help them experience the mass in a more meaningful way. However, the sweeping intended effect of “recovering sacrality, reverence, and appropriate creativity to mass” has to be put into context (as I think Msgr. did). For some cultures and some people, a solemn, formal service in Latin is an irreverent, inappropriate way to express their faith and to experience God in Church. To others, like those who proposed the changes, it is the way to go. It’s a very important distinction to make when discussing this sort of thing, as others might get the impression that God / Jesus, deep down, really prefers the Latin mass to the African-American or Vietnamese mass, European culture to African or Asian culture, and so on. God is surely bigger than that.

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