The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has declined to comment on reports that the Vatican is considering a “reform of the reform” of the liturgy, but a formal statement on the matter is expected soon.
An official in that department told the Register Sept. 8 that “everything is under study and is progressing” but added that he could say no more until Cardinal Antonio Llovera Cañizares, prefect of the congregation, or the Holy See Press Office, issued an official statement.
On Aug. 22, the reliable Vatican watcher Andrea Tornielli reported that cardinals and bishops of the congregation voted almost unanimously at their plenary meeting in March “in favor” of 30 proposals aimed at increasing reverence in the liturgy. He said these included “a greater sacrality of the rite, the recovery of the sense of Eucharistic worship, the recovery of the Latin language in the celebration, and the remaking of the introductory parts of the Missal in order to put a stop to abuses, wild experimentations and inappropriate creativity.”
Tornielli also wrote that the bishops had reaffirmed the importance of receiving Communion on the tongue rather than the hand, and that Cardinal Cañizares was studying the possibility of “recovering” the practice of celebrating Mass with the priest facing ad orientem (literally “to the east”; i.e. in the same direction as the people).
However, there are conflicting reports over whether these last two proposals were included in the propositions that Tornielli reported were delivered to Pope Benedict XVI on April 4.
The deputy director of the Holy See Press Office, Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, played down the report, saying at the end of August there were “no institutional proposals in existence regarding a modification of the liturgical books currently in use.”
However, in an Aug. 29 blog post, Tornielli stood by his story, saying that a period of “study had begun” on what will probably amount to long-term reform after plenty of consultation. He said he did not mention “institutional proposals regarding a modification of the liturgical books currently in use” but rather referred to “more precise and rigorous indications regarding the manner of celebration with the existing books and in some cases those just published.”
Clarity on this issue has been difficult to obtain on this story, partly because of the absence of senior officials — most notably Cardinal Cañizares — who have been on vacation. The Spanish cardinal was expected to return to Rome in late September. Also, the congregation’s secretary, American Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, has only recently been appointed and was not yet willing to comment on the cardinal’s behalf.
“We’re waiting for the cardinal to return at the end of the month,” the Vatican department’s official said. “Then there will be a statement from the press office or the cardinal himself.”
It’s not clear when the Vatican will issue that statement, and it may be a long while coming; there had been no communiqué when the Register went to press.
Cardinal Cañizares, who is affectionately nicknamed “the little Ratzinger” because his views closely coincide with those of the Holy Father, is known to want to move forward decisively on retrieving a truer interpretation of Sacrosanctum Concilium, the liturgical constitution of the Second Vatican Council.
In a recent interview with the Italian monthly journal 30 Days, the cardinal said: “At times, change was for the mere sake of changing from a past perceived as negative and outdated. Sometimes the reform was regarded as a break and not as an organic development of Tradition.”
The Pope has long held this view, which he made known when he was cardinal. On the subject of the priest celebrating Mass facing the people, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote in his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, published in 2000, that the council said “nothing about ‘turning to the people.’”
Today’s celebration versus populum (facing the people), he wrote, is based on a misunderstanding of the significance of St. Peter’s basilica (which changed the orientation of the altar because it faced west instead of east) and an inaccurate interpretation of the Last Supper.
Reservations about Communion in the hand and celebration versus populum were also voiced by Cardinal Cañizares’ predecessor, Cardinal Francis Arinze, most notably in an interview with the Register in March 2007. However, he thought it “unwise” at the time for his department to enforce changes.
The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, sought to dampen speculation of possible “reform of the reform” in an interview with the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano Aug. 27.
He said the Pope does not intend to roll back the conciliar reforms, and he encouraged observers to instead focus on the actual actions the Pope has undertaken since his election.
Cardinal Bertone said the Pope does have a plan for “reform of the Church,” but it’s one that focuses on personal holiness and fundamental questions of faith.
He also stressed the Pope’s main priority in his messages is to restore a sense of awareness of God in the world and in society.
Edward Pentin writes from Rome.