Getting to the Bottom of Liturgical Reform

Rome Conference to Gather Experts, Serve as Tribute to Benedict XVI

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A major international conference on the liturgy will take place June 25-28 in Rome in which a large number of highly distinguished and world-renowned speakers will discuss liturgical formation and celebration, and its foundation for the mission of the Church. Cardinal Raymond Burke, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith and Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon, will be among those taking part.

Conference convener Bishop Dominique Rey of the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France, says the liturgy is the point of departure for the new evangelisation. The June meeting, he adds, will be held in the light of the Year of Faith and the 50th anniversary since the start of the Second Vatican Council. Around 300 participants from more than 20 countries are expected to attend “Sacra Liturgia 2013,” which will take place at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. 

To find out more, Dom Alcuin Reid, a monk in the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France, who has been given by Bishop Rey the responsibility for organising the conference, discussed with ZENIT the conference’s main aims, how it could help heal post-conciliar liturgical disputes, and how to register to take part.

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What are the main aims of the conference?

Sacra Liturgia 2013 aims to underline the centrality of sound formation in and the optimal celebration of the sacred liturgy in the life and mission of the Church in the 21st century and to emphasise that these are crucial foundations, not optional extras, as we engage in the imperative of the new evangelisation.

We hope to give further impetus to the “new liturgical movement,” something that has spread throughout the Church in recent years and which encompasses a desire to implement the liturgical reforms called for by the Second Vatican Council more faithfully as well as an openness to the riches of the pre-conciliar liturgy. Both of these have much to give in sustaining our Christian life and mission today, and both have their rightful place in the life of the Church. At the conference we will celebrate solemn Mass and Vespers in both forms.

How could it help heal the post-conciliar liturgical disputes?

These disputes are often caused by reading into the Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy later ideas or enthusiasms, of differing merit, which are simply not there. For example, Mass facing the people, having the entire liturgy in the vernacular, communion in the hand, the introduction of altar girls and of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion are commonplace now, but have nothing to do with the Council itself. Sometimes an appeal to the “spirit” of Vatican II is made to justify these later innovations, but this ignores the authoritative nature of the Council’s texts, dissipates their integrity and relativises them.

If we are to be faithful to the Council, good, careful scholarship is necessary. Scholarship which looks at what the Council said, the context in which it was said, and how faithfully it was or was not implemented.

Then we must ask: are the policies of the Council the best ones for the beginning of the 21st century? We have seen and learnt much in the past 50 years. We need to learn from these experiences, good and bad. For example the place of the vernacular in the reading of Sacred Scripture at Mass has taken root across the world and now is even an expectation of many congregations attending the older rite. We have also learnt that the older rite, celebrated well and respecting its integrity, is highly valued by young people of this century and bears significant fruit in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. So too, generations have been raised with the newer rites, and that is a pastoral reality which must be respected.

It is by taking all the relevant factors into account, rather than by standing behind “party lines,” that such disputes will be left behind as the unfortunate baggage of a liturgically turbulent era that they are. The Conference hopes to help move us forward in this way.

Some argue that liturgical abuses were sown in Sacrosanctum Concilium, others say they began before the Second Vatican Council constitution. What position will the conference take on this, if any?

Individual speakers may examine particulars of Sacrosanctum Concilium and identify influences in its drafting or explore ways its phrases were interpreted. The organisers take no formal position on this other than asking for scholarship that is clear and sound.

I would add personally that a lot of work needs to be done in studying this issue. There was good and bad practice before and after the Council, and there were also key individuals seeking to influence official liturgical reform at both times. Scholarship is needed to assist us in identifying these clearly so that the Church of the future may see whether elements of liturgical tradition were unduly jettisoned and also whether some later developments might be of value to the older rites.

How does the papal transition affect the conference? Does it make it more important and relevant?

The Conference was certainly inspired by the liturgical vision and teaching of Pope Benedict XVI and by the Year of Faith inaugurated by him. He could rightly be called the father of the new liturgical movement to which we hope to make a contribution. We were all delighted when Bishop Rey received Pope Benedict’s “strong encouragement” for the initiative after informing him about it during his ad limina visit last December. Pope Benedict’s resignation left us sad, of course, but it is something that we must accept and respect.

According to God’s Providence different popes address different issues in the life of the Church—and rightly. Pope Francis will, no doubt, be considering what his emphases are to be. In respect of the sacred liturgy much of the fundamental work has been done by his predecessor. The Holy Father does not need to write another Sacramentum Caritatis or Summorum Pontificum. These are already in place and a change of pope does not detract from their magisterial or legal status, just as the teaching and acts of Blessed John Paul II did not lose their import with the election of a new pope in 2005. Pope Francis is in a good position to build on his predecessor’s acts in this area if he wishes. And in many ways, because of the work of his predecessor, he is freer to concentrate on other important aspects of the Church’s life.

Certainly, Sacra Liturgia 2013 will draw richly on the example and teaching of Pope Benedict XVI and will in some ways be a fitting tribute to him and a testament to the ongoing value of his liturgical teaching and example, but not in a way that sets one pope against another. The Conference is in Rome in order to be close to Peter, with whom we hope to be present at the Mass of Saint’s Peter and Paul on June 29th.

What sort of people will be present at Sacra Liturgia 2013? Is it still possible to register for a place?

Registrations are coming in all the time, but yes, there are full and part-time places available. We have delegates from approximately 25 countries around the world (and will, of course, have simultaneous translation available). Bishops, priests, deacons, seminarians, lay men and women and religious are registering from around the world. Some delegates are responsible for teaching liturgy or for sacred music in their dioceses or parishes, others are interested in the issues personally or academically. Some are using the opportunity as a week of liturgical formation. Some simply wish to hear the internationally renowned speakers.

No doubt many new connections will be made between those present and friendships will be formed in June. In this, Sacra Liturgia 2013 will be something of a catalyst
for authentic liturgical renewal in the 21st century.


Full details about the conference and how to register can be found here:

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Edward Pentin

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