ROME (SE): Pope Francis told a gathering of liturgists attending the Italian National Liturgical Week in Rome on August 24 that the liturgical reform is here to stay.
He explained that continuing the work of reform of the liturgy is a forward moving exercise and can never be a retreat back into rethinking what has gone before by reviewing choices.
Vatican Radio reported the pope as saying that liturgical reform was not something that grew overnight, but was the result of a long preparation. Nor was it an idea hatched during Vatican II, as the role played by the council was to bring what had already developed to maturity.
He said that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy followed the lines of general reform responding to the real needs of the people and their concrete hope of moving forward, as the desire of the council was to give a liturgy to a Church that was completely vivified by the mysteries it celebrates.
Nevertheless, Pope Francis admitted that it is not enough to reform the liturgical books, as the mentality of the people must be reformed as well.
He called the texts approved by Pope Paul VI an expression of the desire of the council fathers and the reform of the liturgical books the first step in bringing it to life, but pointed out that the complete process is something that takes time and faithful reception, practical obedience and wise implementation; firstly on the part of ordained ministers and finally all those who involved themselves in the celebration of the liturgy.
“Today, there is still work to do in this direction, in particular rediscovering the reasons for the decisions made with the liturgical reform, overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, partial receptions and practices that disfigure it,” Pope Francis said.
He described the bottom line challenge as a movement forward, not backwards into the past, but of internalising the inspirational principles of the liturgy and observing the discipline that governs it.
“After this magisterial and after this long journey, we can assert with certainty and magisterial authority that the liturgical reform is irreversible,” Pope Francis stressed.
“The liturgy is life through the whole people of God,” he said. “By its nature, the liturgy is popular rather than clerical; it is an action not only for the people, but also by the people.”
He went on to stress that the liturgy is a living reality, not an abstract idea, as it calls people to live out a transformative experience changing the way they think and act—not just straightening out a few ideas on who or what God is.
“The Church is truly living if, forming one single living being with Christ, it is a bearer of life, it is maternal, it is missionary, going out to encounter the neighbour, careful to serve without pursuing worldly powers that render it sterile,” the pope said.
He described the Church in prayer as going far beyond the Roman Rite which, although it is the largest, is by no means the only rite within the Church, as the harmony of the East and of the West, by means of the same Spirit gives voice to the one and only Church praying for the salvation of the world.
In many ways this statement from Pope Francis puts him somewhat at odds with is top liturgical official, Robert Cardinal Sarah, who has been advocating a return to the old form of the Mass celebrated in Latin facing east, or, in popular parlance, away from the congregation.
But it does give some credibility to the liturgical wars of the last decade, particularly in the United States of America on how to translate the sacred texts, as this is a sign of endeavouring to connect the liturgy with the people.