People are beating me black and blue in email asking what I think about the major changes made by Pope Francis to the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. As earthquakes rock Italy, earthquake Francis rocked the CDW.
What came to mind after I saw the long list of new names, and the lack of old names on it, was the story in Herodotus of the advice requested of Thrasybulus, the 7th c. BC ruler of Miletus. Periander, tyrant of Corinth, sent a message to Thrsasybulus asking about the secret of his success as a ruler. Thrasybulus took the messenger into a wheat field, drew his sword, and whacked off the tops of the tallest stalks of wheat until they were all the same height.
There’s no question about who is in charge!
Allow me to remind you that Congregations are extensions of the authority of the Roman Pontiff in certain defined areas. The Pope can’t do it all. He delegates his own authority to bodies, such as congregations. It is only logical that he would choose as members of those bodies, such as congregations, those whom he thinks will carry out his will. Of course, being human, they become also very political. They wind up being parking places for prelates or stepping stones for ecclesiastics. They can help and then can thwart. They can push or they can delay. In the Roman Curia, as a matter of fact, cunctando regitur mundus.
So, does it surprise me that Pope Francis has changed up the members of the Congregation for Divine Worship? Not at all. What surprised me was the extent of the change. Usually a Pope will change a few members at a time, leaving some continuity in the congregation. This time, he swept the deck. Along with others, out are Cardinals Pell, Ranjith, Bagnasco, Ouellet, Scola, and Burke. BAM. In are other names from the past, but seemingly on the other end of the liturgical spectrum. Call it “deRatzingerization”.
Not all members of the CDW have been experts on liturgy, by the way. But some are. Congregations also have juridical sections, with a staff of canonists. A blast from the past comes in the form of a new member, the one time dogsbody of liturgical revolutionary Annibale Bugnini, Archbp. Piero Marini, olim Papal MC. He was the one who inserted to Masses oddities such as the Mexican shaman exorcising St. John Paul II in Mexico. A book came out over Marini’s name a few years back, A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal. In this thinly veiled attack on Benedict XVI Marini recounts how the members of the Consilium were so excited to get their mandate from Paul VI because they knew that what they were going to do was not only change perennial worship, but also doctrine.
Reason 8 for Summorum Pontificum.
Clearly the “purge”, as Italian vaticanista Marco Tosatti called it, is a signal, just as the selection of new American Cardinals was to Catholics in these USA. The consistory names seem to signal that Pope Francis doesn’t want “culture warriors”. The names of the new CDW members might mean that Francis doesn’t want tradition to be… well… tradition… that’s is, something handed on. What does the Pope want for worship? That’s a little hard to determine. He is, first and foremost, a Jesuit. They aren’t famous for being deep into liturgy. Quite the opposite. That said, he has kept Benedict XVI’s MC by his side. You can say what you want about his vestment choices – I, for one, am not impressed – but he hasn’t been doing anything weird. He just gets on with things and says Mass.
Cardinal Sarah, the Prefect of the CDW, is going to be even more alone now than he was when quite a few of the old guard were removed from the middle levels of the Congregation. Members of the congregation can’t do much on their own. They can create obstacles for the Prefect.
Keep in mind that Card. Sarah called strongly – not as Prefect, but as a concerned churchman – for priests to begin saying Mass ad orientem again. Card. Sarah is an impressive and compelling figure.
Tosatti, in his piece wrote (my translation):
With this extraordinary purge (a removal and substitution of this scope are an absolute exception in the praxis of the Roman government), Cardinal Sarah seems to be very alone, and there aren’t appearing any voices who can be liturgically discordant in respond to the dominant politically correct liturgical vector. After having laughed at liturgists with (Anglican) Primate Welby, the Pontiff decided to made some of them weep.
So, what do I think? Hey! It’s the Pope’s congregation. He can use it as he will. I feel for Card. Sarah, who will now have a harder time as Prefect, with less support from the members of the Congregation than before. I don’t like the idea of a return to influence, even the tiny dab of influence he’ll have, of Archbp. Marini.
However, this might galvanize some Catholics to get off their backsides and do something in favor of the liturgical revival we so desperately need. Card. Sarah sent out a clarion call to priests. Fathers! Let’s get going! Moreover, as I have written before, and I now write on the closing day in Rome of the Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage, Benedict XVI gave us clear and sound liturgical teaching and direction. He gave us the stupendously important tool of the aforementioned Motu Proprio, the “emancipation proclamation” for all the priests of the Roman Rite. It has been 9 years since SP went into force. It is time for us to take off the training wheels and ride the damn bike!
Do not be flustered. Do not be paralyzed with anxiety. Do not run in circles, panting and tearing at your clothing. Pontiffs come and pontiffs go. You, on the other hand, are called to influence your corner of the world according to your vocations, God’s plan for you. So, form alliances, create a solid group with a vision and goal, discern your tactics to carry out your strategy. Examine your consciences. GO TO CONFESSION! Get to work. Don’t sit around in your wilted flower bed and wring your hands, waiting for priests to do everything for you. Not. Gonna. Happen. YOU have to make things happen.