Pope Holds Two Hour Meeting with Roman Clergy

Speaks Briefly on Homiletics, Engages in Open Discussion With “His Priests”

While many newspapers have reported solely on comments regarding ‘married priests’, there is much more to Pope Francis’ address during his annual meeting with the clergy of Rome today. The Bishop of Rome spent almost two hours with hundreds of priests, speaking briefly on homiletics and the Ars celebrandi (the art of proper celebration). However, he spent most of the time engaging in an open discussion with the clergy saying: “I am more interested in your questions.” The Pontiff’s intentions weren’t on giving a lecture, but in conversing directly with “his priests.”

After the opening greetings given by Cardinal Agostino Vallini, the Vicar General of Rome, the meeting began with discussions on an address given by the Holy Father to the plenary assembly of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments on the theme of the Ars celebrandi on March 1st, 2005. The text was distributed to the participants and was republished today by L’Osservatore Romano. Still, the centerpiece of today’s audience were the questions by several priests, including some not programmed, to which the Pope did not hold back and was ready to respond. Furthermore, in order to allow for more freedom to speak, the Holy Father requested that no television cameras be present in the Paul VI Audience Hall.

However, some excerpts of the Pope’s discourse were released thanks in part to several priests who spoke to the press following the meeting. Some even managed to record the Pope’s words. In addition to several phrases reported by a few Italian news agencies this morning, the 78 year old Pontiff touched upon the theme, for example, on the “traditional rite” with which Benedict XVI granted to celebrate Mass. Through the Motu Propio Summorum Pontificum, published in 2007, the now Pope Emeritus allowed the possibility of celebrating the Mass according the liturgical books edited by John XXIII in 1962, notwithstanding that the “ordinary” form of celebration in the Catholic Church would always remain that established by Paul VI in 1970.

Pope Francis explained that this gesture by his predecessor, “a man of communion”, was meant to offer “a courageous hand to Lefebvrians and traditionalists”, as well as to those who wished to celebrate the Mass according to the ancient rites. The so-called “Tridentine” Mass – the Pope said – is an “extraordinary form of the Roman Rite”, one that was approved following the Second Vatican Council. Thus, it is not deemed a distinct rite, but rather a “different form of the same right”.

However, the Pope noted that there are priests and bishops who speak of a “reform of the reform.” Some of them are “saints” and speak “in good faith.” But this “is mistaken”, the Holy Father said. He then referred to the case of some bishops who accepted “traditionalist” seminarians who were kicked out of other dioceses, without finding out information on them, because “they presented themselves very well, very devout.” They were then ordained, but these were later revealed to have “psychological and moral problems.”

It is not a practice, but it “happens often” in these environments, the Pope stressed, and to ordain these types of seminarians is like placing a “mortgage on the Church.” The underlying problem is that some bishops are sometimes overwhelmed by “the need for new priests in the diocese.” Therefore, an adequate discernment among candidates is not made, among whom some can hide certain “imbalances” that are then manifested in liturgies. In fact, the Congregation of Bishops – the Pontiff went on to say – had to intervene with three bishops on three of these cases, although they didn’t occur in Italy.

During the beginning of his address, Francis, spoke on homiletics and the Ars celebrandi, calling on the priests to not fall into the temptation of wanting to be a “showman” on the pulpit, perhaps even by speaking in a “sophisticated manner” or “overt gestures.” However, priests shouldn’t also be “boring” to the point that people “will go outside to smoke a cigarette” during the homily.

To this end, the Holy Father – in the few minutes of his speech that was broadcast in the Holy See Press Office – recalled three personal anecdotes that occurred in Buenos Aires that dealt with “the challenges” of delivering homilies. For example, when several friends enthusiastically told him that they found “a Church where the Mass is done without a homily”, as well as another occasion where a niece complained of having heard “a 40 minute lecture on St. Thomas’ Summa Theologica” instead of a homily.

In short, the homily – the Pope highlighted – is pronounced with the intention of helping the faithful to enter “into the mystery of faith.”

“If I am an excessive columnist and rigid, that is not good. And if I am a showman, they do not enter into the mystery,” he explained.

The Pope said that he understood this concept well after several years, during a plenary in 2005, where following an address, he was corrected by both Cardinal Joachim Meisner and the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger for not having said that in the Ars celebrandi, one needed to above all, “feel in front of God.”

“And they were right,” the Pope said, “I did not speak about this.”

During the open time for questions, Fr. Giovanni Cereti, a theologian at various Pontifical universities, spoke. Fr. Cereti is the author of the book “Divorce, Remarriage and Penance in the Primitive Church”, in which he states that in the first millennium, people in adultery were readmitted into the community after a period of penance and were able to receive communion while in a new marriage.

Today, Cereti (who has received dispensation after he married) asked the Pope if in the future, married priests can be readmitted to celebrating Mass after obtaining dispensation. “It is a problem that does not have an easy solution”, the Pope said. However, the Holy Father said that the he and the Church have the question at heart.

The issue, he continued, is also being looked into by the Congregation for the Clergy, who have conceded to the practice of dispensation only in rare cases of former priests who are elderly and have asked to celebrate Mass, in private, before dying. Regarding the problem in itself however, the Pope stressed: “I am not sure if it can be resolved.”

[Translation by Junno Arocho Esteves]

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