CDW’s Archbp. Ranjith on Pope Benedict’s plan with the liturgy

Today in La Repubblica there was an interview by Marco Politi with His Excellency Archbp. Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments.

There is a lot here that will be familiar to readers of WDTPRS!

"Why Ratzinger is recouping the sacred"

Marco Politi

The signal was unmistakable.  First Coprus Christi in Rome, then seen live all over the word from Sydney.  Benedict XVI is demanding that, before him, Communion be received on one’s knees.  It is one of many reclamations of this pontificate: Latin, the "Tridentine" Mass, celebration with the back to the faithful.

Pope Ratzinger has a plan and the and the Sri Lankan [Archbishop] Malcolm Ranjith, whom the Pontiff wanted with him in the Vatican as Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, lays out with efficacy.

Attention to liturgy, he explains, has the objective of an "openness to the transcendent".  At the request of the Pope, Ranjith states in advance, the Congregation for divine Worship is preparing a Compendium on the Eucharist to help priests to "prepare themselves well for Eucharistic celebration and adoration".

Does Communion kneeling aim in this direction?

"In the liturgy one feels the necessity to recover the sense of the sacred, above all in Eucharistic celebration.  Since we believe that what happens at the altar goes far beyond what we can humanly imagine.  And so the faith of the Church in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species is expressed through adequate gestures and comportments different from those of daily life".

Indicating a discontinuity?

"We are not in front of a political figure or a personage of modern society, but before God.  When the presence of eternal God descends on the altar, we must place ourselves in a posture more apt for adoring It.  In my culture, in Sri Lanka, we ought to prostrate ourselves with head to the pavement as the buddhists and muslims do in prayer.

Does putting the Host in the hand diminish the sense of transcendence of the Eucharist?

"Yes, in a certain sense.  It risks that the communicant feel It to be as normal bread.  The Holy Father speaks often of the necessity of safeguarding the sense of "transcendence" (al di la) in the liturgy in its every expression.  The gesture of taking the Sacred Host and putting it ourselves in the mouth and not receiving It reduces the profound meaning of Communion."

Is there a desire to oppose trends that banalize the Mass?

"In some places that sense of the eternal, sacred or heavenly has been lost.  There was a tendency to put man at the center of the celebration, and not the Lord.  But the Second Vatican Council speaks clearly about the liturgy as actio Dei, actio Christi.  Instead, in certain liturgical circles, either for an ideology or a certain intellectualism as you please, the idea spread of a liturgy adaptable to various situations, in which one had to leave room for creativity, so that it be accessible and acceptable to all.  Then, rather, there were those who introduced innovations without even respecting the sensus fidei and the spiritual sentiments of the faithful."

At times even bishops grap the microphone and go out to their listeners with questions and answers.

"The modern danger is that the priest things that he is at the center of the action.  In that way the rite can take on an aspect of theatre or the performance of a television host.  The celebrant sees the people who see him as the point of reference and there is a risk that, to have the greatest success possible with the public, he makes up gestures and expressions as if he were the main character."

What would be the right attitude?

"When the priest knows that it is not he at the center, bu Christ.  In humble service to the Lord and the Church respecting the liturgy and its rules, as something to be received and not to be invented, it means leaving greater room for the Lord, because through the priest as the instrument He can spark the awareness of the faithful."

Are sermons by lay people also deviations?

"Yes.  Because the sermon, as the Holy Father says, is the way in which Revelation and the great Tradition of the Church is explained, so that the Word of God can inspire the life of the faithful in their daily choices and render the liturgical celebration rich with spiritual fruits.  The liturgical tradition of the Church reserves the sermon to the celebrant.  To bishops, to priests, and to deacons.  But not to laypeople.

Absolutely not?

"Not because they are not capable of doing making a reflection, but because in the liturgy roles must be respected.  There exists, as the Council said, a difference ‘in essence and not only in grade" between the common priesthood of all the baptized and that of priests".

Some time ago Card. Ratzinger was complaining about the loss in the rites of the sense of mystery.

"Often the conciliar reform was interpreted or considered in a way not entirely in conformity with the mind of Vatican II.  The Holy Father defines this tendency as the ‘anti-spirit’ of the Council.

A year now since the full reintroduction of the Tridentine Mass, what is the assessment?

"The Tridentine Mass has its very profound internal values which reflect the whole tradition of the Church.  There is more respect toward the sacred through gestures, genuflections, the times of silence.  There is greater room reserved for reflection on the action of the Lord and also for the celebrant’s personal sense of devotion, who offers the sacrifice not only for the faithful but also for his own sins and his own salvation.  Some important elements of the old rite can help also a reflection on the manner of celebrating the Novus Ordo.  We are in the midst of a journey.

Some day in the future is there foreseen a rite that takes the best of the old and of the new?

"That could be, … but perhaps I don’t see that.  I think that in the coming decades we will move toward a comprehensive evaluation both of the older rite and of the new, safeguarding whatever is eternal and supernatural happening at the altar and reducing every desire to be the in the limelight so as to leave space for effective contact between the faithful and the Lord through the figure, but not predominantly, of the priest."

With alternative positions of the celebrant?  When the priest would be turned around toward the apse?

"You could consider the offertory, when the offerings are brought to the priest, and from there all the way to the Eucharistic prayer, which represents the culminating moment of "transsubstantiatio" and "communio".

The priest who turns his back disorients the faithful.

"It is a mistake to speak in that way.  On the contrary, he is turned to the Lord together with the people.  The Holy Father, in his book The Spirit of the Council, explained that when people are sitting around looking at each other, a closed circle is formed.  But when the priest and the faithful together a looking to the East, toward the Lord who comes, that is a way of opening up to the eternal".

In this view you put also the rehabilitation (recupero) of Latin?

"I don’t like the word ‘rehabilitation’. We are implementing the Second Vatican Council, which explicitly affirmed that the use of the Latin language, except in the case of particular law, was to be preserved in the Latin Rites.  So, if room was also left for the introduction of vernacular languages, Latin wasn’t to be completely abandoned.  The use of a sacred language is a tradition in the whole world.  In Hinduism the language of prayer is Sanskrit, which isn’t in use anymore.  In Buddhism Pali is used, a language which only Buddist monks study.  In Islam the Arabic of the Koran is used.  The use of a sacred language helps us to a lived experience of "transcendence (al di la)". 

Latin as the sacred language of the Church?

"Of course.  The Holy Father himself speaks in his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis in paragraph 62: "In order to express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church, I wish to endorse the proposal made by the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the directives of the Second Vatican Council, that, with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, it is fitting that such liturgies be celebrated in Latin."  Of course, in during international gatherings."

What does Benedict XVI want to accomplish, giving new force back to the liturgy?

"The Pope wants to offer the possibility of arriving at the wonder of life in Christ, a life that in the very living here on earth already leads us to sense the freedom and the eternity belonging to the children of God.  And this kind of experience is lived powerfully through an authentic renewal of the faith which presupposes a foretaste of the heavenly reality in the liturgy one believes in, one celebrates and one lives.  The Church is, and must become, the powerful instrument and the means for this liberating liturgical experience.  And it is her liturgy that makes it possible to spark such an experience in her faithful".


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. TJ says:

    Once again the critical question goes unasked: when will the Pope publicly offer the Extraordinary Rite? Until that happens a few times the Church will continue to just nibble around the edges of regaining what it has nearly lost.

  2. I would make one point on these remarks. The classical liturgy can, I think, be viewed as theater…theater where the deus ex machina who saves fallen man is, in fact, real and not some actor on a crane impersonating a god the classical playwright probably didn’t even believe in to begin with. I understand the common complaint that the Mass shouldn’t be theater refers to something very different from what Aeschylus and Sophocles were up to, but as part of how Christianity fulfilled the dreams of pagans, the Mass is a sacred drama that has replaced the (in fact religious) theatrical “rites” of classical antiquity.

  3. Garrett says:

    What does +RANJITH mean when he says of the future theoretical melding of the Old and New Forms of Mass, \”I think that in the coming decades we will move toward a comprehensive evaluation both of the older rite and of the new, safeguarding whatever is eternal and supernatural happening at the altar and reducing every desire to be the in the limelight so as to leave space for effective contact between the faithful and the Lord through the figure, but not predominantly, of the priest.\”

    That\’s pretty unclear to me. How does that differ from the two forms melding?

    Oh, and was he really suggesting Sri Lankan Catholics prostrate at the Consecration?

  4. Felicitas says:

    Why do they refer to the Holy Father as “Ratzinger” and “Pope Ratzinger”?

  5. Larry says:

    The mention of Mass “facing the people” in the Missal of PaulVI/John Paul II is perhaps the singular most important problem. The concept of Mass “facing the LORD” is the correct formula even if the priest happens to be facing the people as well. If this is the focus then if Mass is said with the priest and people facing the same physical direction, as in the TLM, then it is as being on pilgrimage heading to the LORD. If it with priest and people facing each other then it is the Church gathered around the LORD. The problem is greatly diminished as long as the LORD is the focus of the celebration under either form.

    As far as the concept of theatre goes even if we are not speaking of Sacred jestures it is clear that the EF is preferable because of the order it displays. Too often in the OF the various ministers are like actors who don’t know where they are to be and disturb the peace of the ceremony by their constant motion or sudden moves because they are not where they should be. Beyond this it is true that Mass is a Sacred Drama that is indeed real far beyond anything we witness in our day to day lives.

  6. Ioannes Andreades says:

    The interviewer was kind of all over the place. Abp. Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don did a fairly good job following him, IMHO. I found his statement, “Then, rather, there were those who introduced innovations without even respecting the sensus fidei and the spiritual sentiments of the faithful,” particularly well said.

    Am often struck by the use of some dramatic words in Latin applied to the mass: actio, actuosus, persona. Of course, the words have acquired additional significance. It’s notewrothy that in the Greco-Roman world, drama was not a secular phenomenon, it took place around religious festivals.

    Only the reporter uses the Holy Father’s previous surname; the archbishop never does.

    I’m not sure either whether there will ever be a total melding of both forms of the Roman rite. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some cross-polination. In Summ. Pont., the Holy Father apparently allows for the proclamation of the readings in the vernacular in the E.F. There may be other modifications to the Bl. John XXIII missal down the road, but I don’t think one has to read Abp. Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don’s remarks as saying there will likely be a melding.

    I don’t agree with the statement “[T]hat the EF is preferable because of the order it displays.” I find many of the gestures, such as the kissing and moving of the missal (symbolic though they are), very distracting. Of course, I didn’t grow up with the E.F. When done with the “noble simplicity” demanded by Sarc. Conc., I find the economy of the O.F. preferable, but de gustibus…

  7. Monica says:

    This is great, especially for those who may have a Bishop or priest that takes the initiative to actively implement the Spirit of the Liturgy as taught by our Holy Father and Catholic tradition; however, for those of us who live in a diocese that fosters hide-and-go-seek tabernacles, anything-but-Gregorian Chant Masses and priests or parish leaders who lecture us about why we should NOT genuflect or kneel….this gets difficult. I live in a diocese where you have to travel all the way to Chesapeake or Richmond, Virginia if you want a Catholic Mass without a vernacular circus. The laity should not be told to “find another church if you don’t like the way we do things”. It is unacceptable that the many of the laity who DO give a damn are isolated to two small parishes in a 33,000 square-mile diocese. It appears that the vast majority of Catholics in this diocese go along with the anything-but-Roman style of the liturgies that it’s no wonder why the parish leaders and priests roll their eyes when anyone voices concern for the lack of traditional Roman Catholic identity. Is there any such thing as a Novus Ordo Mass that has Gregorian Chant and reverence? If so, why is this the only diversity that is not tolerated in most of the parishes of my diocese?

  8. HQD says:

    I think that the Abp was saying that in the future the two forms won’t “meld” because we as the faithful are re-examining what we lost, what really happened Post VII, and how to recover the sacred. In so doing, I think, we will gradually return to the trappings of the Usus Antiquior, if not flat out use it exclusively. In other words, perhaps the next edition of the Roman Missal will be a closer rendition to that of the 1962 book (which makes it, in a sense…a prequel edition?…I digress).

    After reading this interview, I must say, I am absolutely frustrated by the lackadaisical and cavalier attitudes of our present shepherds. We always think we are being faithfully taught principles of Vatican II, but in fact, no one seems to really know the documents! What I am trying to say is that the Holy Father is being very explicit in his instructions which remain faithful to Sacred Tradition, Magesterial Teaching and Vatican II, yet no one seems to be heeding his word. In Western European countries, SP seems to have fallen on deaf ears (with clearcut examples of resistance or sheer lack of concern). The issue (and decisive action of His Holiness) concerning pro multis seems to have been settled but has been largely ignored; has the USCCB heeded the decision? Naw, they’re too busy bemoaning the ineffability of the gibbet of the Cross. What about implementations of Sacramentum Caritatis? It seems that the Pope is reminding us of the real wording of Vatican II’s documents yet no one wants to listen. I’ve yet to see any documents or decisions of implementation concerning Sacramentum Caritatis in my diocese and surrounding dioceses.

  9. Jacques says:

    “In the liturgy one feels the necessity to recover the sense of the sacred”
    Hence “one” feels that this sense was somewhat lost.
    “One” should wonder where this loss is originating from, don’t you think so? This would avoid a big waste of time and head toward the essential to recover it.
    I remember this quote of a prot pastor who said once something like: “If the Catholics truly believed their Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ, the Son of God, they would go to Communion crawling, not even kneeling.”

  10. pelerin says:

    Monica asks ‘Is there any such thing as a NO Mass that has Gregorian Chant and reverence?’

    I do hope she finds one but how sad that she should have to ask this question. I too began to wonder as attending Mass became for me a duty. Being in different locations at weekends over the last few years, I still attended Sunday Mass in various parishes in Britain and France. Most times I found myself wondering what was going to happen next instead of ‘praying the Mass.’

    But I did not give up and remained in hope. I have now found a parish
    in my town with both ‘Gregorian Chant and reverence’. Regular weekly Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament is followed by Mass celebrated ad orientem. And this week the Parish Priest has been attending the course in Oxford learning to celebrate the EF.

    I no longer feel ‘lost’ and attend Mass whenever I can, no longer as a duty but because I sincerely wish to – so don’t give up hope Monica.

  11. Monica said: The laity should not be told to “find another church if you don’t like the way we do things”

    This in here lies the problem, the Liturgy has become about us. You are exactly right, no one should have to travel to find a reverent Mass (I travel 30 mi myself to get to my Liturgical Abuse free Parish in Alhambra, Ca when there is a parish 1 mile from my house)

    You are right that the Laity who care so much about doing things correctly shouldn’t be isolated, but yet again, being Faithful to Rome is not looked kindly upon where I live (and I’m sure where you live as well)

    I serve both forms (EF and OF) and do prefer serving the EF. Wheever I serve the NO, I TLM it as much as possible (3 bells, Sanctus, etc).

    If we can just get rid of Versus Populum Masses that’d be great in of itself. (Except for places where the altar is on the west end of the biulding of course)

  12. zgietl says:

    Fr. Z,
    With rumors of either that Cardinal Llovera may replace Cardinal Arinze at CDW, do you think it is possible that HE Ranjith might replace Cardinal Castrillon at PCED?


  13. Brian Mershon says:

    I believe we have just heard from the future new head of the CDW–and perhaps the Ecclesia Dei Commission as well.

  14. Deacon Nathan Allen says:

    Monica, there are parishes where the Novus Ordo is celebrated reverently and in Latin. My own parish, St Agnes in St Paul, Minnesota USA, has a Novus Ordo High Mass every Sunday at 10 am. Fr Z’s sung the Mass for us in the past when he’s been in town. For half the year, we have a choir and orchestra assisting by performing Mozart or Haydn or other composers’ Mass setting in their proper context: the Church’s liturgy. The rest of the time (Advent, Lent, and summers), we have a schola singing the Gregorian chant. Come visit us sometime!

    And, by the way, we ordain a priest a year out of our parish.

  15. Alessandro says:

    Dear zgietl, it is not customary in the Roman Curia for the secretary of a Congregation to remain in the same Congregation as cardinal prefect. So it is quite unlikely that Ranjith is going to be the prefect of CDW. Beside we know well that he is eagerly waited back in Sri Lanka as Archbishop of Colombo.

  16. zgietl: I suspect we will know toward the end of November.

  17. Alessandro: We’ll see. I don’t buy it myself.

  18. Chris says:

    Does putting the Host in the hand diminish the sense of transcendence of the Eucharist?

    “Yes, in a certain sense. It risks that the communicant feel It to be as normal bread. The Holy Father speaks often of the necessity of safeguarding the sense of “otherness” in the liturgy in its every expression. The gesture of taking the Sacred Host and putting it ourselves in the mouth and not receiving It reduces the profound meaning of Communion.”

    I have to disagree with the Archbishop here. This has not been my experience as a priest (of course all priests recieve communion by ‘putting it ourselves in the mouth’) nor beforehand. In my parish we were well prepared to ‘make a throne for Christ’ with our hands. I found it then, and still do, far more reverent than recieving on the tongue. What we do need is good and clear catechesis on the Eucharist, in whichever lawful way it is recieved.

  19. Newminster says:

    I just love:
    “Often the conciliar reform was interpreted or considered in a way not entirely in conformity with the mind of Vatican II.”
    Reminds me of the Japanese Emperor’s surrender speech in 1945:
    “The war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage,”

  20. Rob says:


    They’re such big words. I think I need an ICEL translation of this article.


  21. Jason Keener says:

    I see the CDW is preparing yet another document. Summorum Pontificum, Sacramentum Caritatis, and Redemptionis Sacramentum are already being largely ignored in too many places. (When is the last time anyone heard Gregorian chant and Latin at the typical suburban parish?) What is the point of all of these documents if no one is going to enforce them?

    Personally, I would love to see the CDW and PCED send delegations to different dioceses and parishes around the world to make sure these liturgical norms are actually being implemented. Maybe these visits could be something like the seminary evaluations that took place a few years ago. As a part of their visits, representatives of the CDW and PCED could hold town-hall meetings in each of the dioceses where ordinary lay people could ask questions and learn about their rights to the EF and a properly-celebrated OF.

    It gets frustrating seeing barely any changes made in the typical suburban American parish year after year. We don’t only need documents. We need serious plans to implement them.

  22. Steve says:

    The Archbishop seems to have all these points already well formulated. Could it be that this document is already written? So is this Advent season going to be something big Fr. Z? You would know;) I think it’s a perfect time to highlight the need to turn toward the Lord who comes, the Light of the World who will scatter the darkness, the sol invictus! Cristus Vincit, Cristus Regnat, Cristus Imperat!

  23. I found it then, and still do, far more reverent than recieving on the tongue.

    We shouldn’t necessarily assess how a particular individual finds such things, but rather whether a practice instills a greater sense of reverence in the faithful.

  24. John Anderson says:

    Mr. Leonardi,

    I’m not sure I understand the distinction you’re making. I think that proper catechesis can make a great deal of difference in how a practice instills a sense of reverence. I say this as one who prefers kneeling but has also watched the disorderly rush at communion time for the communion railing during TLM’s.

    For me, one of the drawbacks of standing for communion is that there is a sense of rush to get out of the way. When you’re kneeling, nobody cares if you take a second or two to get your bearings and vacate your place along the rail, as there is plenty of time for the communicant behind you to take you place.

  25. Byzshawn says:

    My first comment on Fr. Z’s blog:

    God Bless Archbishop Ranjith. We need more like him.
    Two things I wish he would have clarified: 1) full prostrations (the practice of kneeling down and touching one’s forehead to the floor) is an ancient, venerable tradition of the Eastern Churches (Catholic and Orthodox). The Muslims borrowed this practice from us(Garrett, please take note.). Incidentally, this is why most Easterners really dislike pews, which I believe are Protestant in origin, anyway.
    2)Another sacred language of the Church is Church Slavonic, which is used only in the sacred rites of the East.

  26. Chris says:

    I find the idea of a ‘sacred language’ very odd. All languages, including Latin, are human products. The Gospels, surely the most sacred words we have, are written in Koine Greek, the language of the marketplace. For an English speaker English is a sacred language when used for prayer and worship. This doesn’t exclude other languages, including Latin, Greek and Aramaic but it does mean they are neither necessary nor preferable as languages for prayer.

  27. Michael says:


    Until recently, I shared your view about the sacred language, but then I came across with an explanation, which made sense.

    All sacred languages used to be vernacular, but as the time went on they ceased to be vernacular and yet continued to be used in worship, and were closely associated with what in all religions is not merely worship but the sacred worship – thus the name: sacred language. They give to worship certain sense of sacredness exactly because they are not in everyday’s use, and furthermore they give a sense of a living continuity of a religious community of anyone time with that of the by-gone ages. They simply add to the worship something that the vernacular can’t offer because it is changing all the time.

Comments are closed.