RANJITH ALERT! The Archbishop of Colombo issues liturgical directives

His Excellency Most Rev. Malcolm Ranjith rapidly became a WDTPRS favorite during his time as Secretary of the Cong. for Divine Worship.

As Archbishop of Colombo, Sri Lanka, he is remaining true to form.

Archbp. Ranjith issued a set of liturgical directives for his archdiocese especially in reference to the activities of "movements".

I don’t have time to transcribe this, but perhaps you good readers can share some of the bits you appreciate.

It is on the website of the Archdiocese of Colombo.


One reader particularly liked…

1c …. cacophonic exuberance.

1h …. illusion, confusion or misinterpretation.

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  1. DarkKnight says:

    Truly God has heard the suffering of the poor people of Sri Lanka.

    I hope I live long enough to see the day my local bishop takes such a position.

  2. Jayna says:

    I don’t know if I can find just one excerpt. I especially appreciated 1.h, though (the one about liturgical blessings). I like that he made sure to say that even if you are (as a laymen) only praying over someone, adopting gestures that look like you’re blessing them is cause for confusion or misinterpretation. I have brought this issue up more than once in my parish because the EMHCs insist upon either holding their hand over someone or tracing a cross on their forehead if the person does not receive. I’ve been told that this is something they are taught to do in their training.

    And I love that he added “so-called” in front of “praise and worship” and then proceeded to refer to it as “commotion.” Bravo.

  3. Joan M says:

    This is marvelous!

    I particularly like

    1c …. cacophonic exuberance.
    1h …. illusion, confusion or misinterpretation.

    His Grace clearly knows exactly what has been going on in his Archdiocese and is taking steps to improve it. This is just the start, as he notes that in the near future he will be publishing a booklet that will spell out many more things.


  4. cnaphan says:

    The phrase “cacophonic exuberance” is worth the read alone.

    This might make disqualify me as a true “traditionalist”, but I like #2 (about parishes) as well. It is important to reiterate the value in attending the parish where you live and not going to your favourite liturgy within driving distance. I’d imagine people on this blog have different opinions on this, especially when it involves the choice between the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Mass. I suppose if you can’t, in good conscience, attend your parish due to liturgical aberrations, spiritual neglect and impoverishment, the formation of your children, etc… then one must leave one’s parish, but this is a tragedy and we should still strive to find some accommodation in one’s parish and once a minimum is met, re-commence attending there. Anyways, the Archbishop says it better than I.

  5. Konichiwa says:

    I never get tired of hearing truths, facts, and things that make sense. If only this could echo throughout the every diocese. I could hear angels singing! Reading this has made my day.

  6. Konichiwa says:

    BTW, I’m looking forward to his booklet.

  7. Fr. John Mary says:

    This is remarkable, excellent, absolutely on-target.
    As a founding member of a “new community” in the Church, with the proper approbation of the diocesan Bishop, I am so happy to see this very clear and concise directive.
    We have moved to celebrating the EF in our monastic community (sung Mass on Sundays) and celebrate the OF with chant and English for our formal gatherings of all our laity, priests, and religious, following the rubrics and norms of the Roman Rite in this form, ‘ad orientem’ in our Oratory of Cor Jesu. New Communities often have an unfortunate “reputation” of being somehow out of the bounds of traditional Catholic worship and life. But there are groups that are very committed to the Tradition, within the norms of Holy Mother Church, and any groups that are not must make an examination of how they are, in fact, living a Catholic spiritual life if they do not conform to the liturgical directives of the Roman Rite, both in the EF and the OF.

  8. wmeyer says:

    Jayna, I’d love to see some of that spirit trickle into our own diocese, or even our parish.

  9. BLC says:

    I really like:

    1b: “Some of these so-called praise and worship exercises seem to resemble more of the fundamentalist religious exercises than those of the Roman Catholics.”

    and also the comment about receiving kneeling, on the tongue.

  10. Tominellay says:

    I liked the very first paragraph. And everything else followed logically…
    May the Archbishop get good results with this letter; he’s rightfully trying to bring order to his archdiocese.

    I can’t help but draw the parallel to the situation in the Diocese of Mostar-Duvno, with its own assorted paraliturgical exercises cum witness values, and its chief steward trying to implement guidelines.

  11. Dave N. says:

    So is the bishop trying to rein in charismatic celebrations? Or is he responding to just sort of run-of-the-mill abuse? Does cacophonic = praying in tongues?

    Maybe I’m misreading but I hope the bishop knows that the liturgy didn’t drop out of the sky–that part was a little misleading. No I don’t think the priest has the right to change the prayers but attributing them to divine authorship isn’t a good way to establish credibility.

  12. I think the archbishop’s argument is:

    1. Jesus gave us, the Church as a whole, the Mass.

    2. The Church, as a whole, has the authority to change it, but no individual or small group of members of the Church has the authority to just up and change stuff on whim.

    He just left out part of the argument.

  13. Well, actually, when I looked at the paragraph, it was all there.

    Re: reining in charismatic celebrations, or something else?

    The bit about monstrances on people’s heads doesn’t sound like any run of the mill charismatic movement stuff! I think it’s likely that Sri Lanka and surrounding areas are having some very different stuff going on than what we mean by charismatic, although it may be descended from the same roots.

  14. Emilio III says:

    Most Rev. Dr. Malcolm Ranjith


    To all Rev. Fathers, Brothers, Sisters and the lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Colombo

    Dear brothers and sisters,

    Of late, a number of Catholic renewal movements and individuals have been conducting many paraliturgical exercises outside the normal parish liturgical time-table. While appreciating the many conversions, witness values, the renewed enthusiasm for prayer, vibrant participation and the thirst for the Word of God. I, as the diocesan Bishop, the chief steward of the mysteries of God in the particular Church entrusted to my care, and being therefore the moderator, promoter and guardian of the whole liturgical life [1] of the Archdiocese of Colombo, solicit your kind attention on the following liturgical and ecclesiological aspects connected to this new situation, and earnestly urge you to adhere to the guidelines set forth in this circular with immediate effect.

    I. The Eucharist is the celebration of the Paschal Mystery[2] par excellence given to the Church by Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus Christ is the beginning of all liturgy In the Church and therefore all liturgy primarily is of divine origin [3]. It is the exercise of His priestly office [4] and therefore, is not certainly mere human enterprise or wishful innovation. In fact, it is inaccurate to call this a mere celebration of life. There is much more to it than that. It is the source and summit of all from which all divine graces flow into the Church [5]. This most sacred mystery was handed down to the apostles by the Lord, and the Church has painstakingly been safeguarding the celebration of this mystery over the centuries, thereby giving rise to a sacred tradition and a theology which do not yield to individual and private interpretation. Therefore, no priest, be he diocesan, religious or someone invited to conduct special religious programs from outside the Archdiocese or from any other country is allowed to change, add or subtract anything in the sacred rite of the Mass. This is nothing new, and was firmly stated in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the sacred liturgy of the Second Vatican Council in 1963, No22/3, and later repeatedly reiterated in many documents such as Sacramentum Caritatis, No. 55 of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI, Ecclesia de Eucharistia No.52 of Pope John Paul II of revered memory.

    Certain elements should be specifically stated in this regard:

    a. Priests are not permitted to change or improvise the Eucharistic Prayer or other immutable prayers of the Mass, even if it is meant to elaborate on an already existing element therein, by singing various choruses or adding explanations. We need to understand that the liturgy of the Church is strongly linked to its faith and tradition: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi ; the rule of prayer is the rule of faith! It is the Lord who gave us the liturgy and no one else; therefore no one else has any right to change it.

    b. The so-called “Praise and worship” elements are not allowed during the entire rite of the Mass. Inordinate and loud music, clapping, long interventions and gestures which disturb the sobriety of the celebration are not permitted. It is very important that we understand the religious cultural sensitivity of the Sri Lankan people. Majority around us are Buddhists whose culture of worship is thoroughly sober; and Muslims and Hindus too do not create any commotion in their worship. In addition, we know that there is a strong opposition to Fundamentalist Christian sects in this country, and we as Catholics, have been striving to explain that Catholics are different from these sects. However, some of the so-called praise and worship exercises seem to resemble more of the Fundamentalist religious exercises than those of the Roman Catholics. Let us respect our cultural diversity and sensitivity.

    c. The Word of God prescribed cannot be changed haphazardly and the responsorial psalm must be sung without replacing it with meditation hymns. The contemplative dimension of the Word of God is of utmost importance. In some of the para-liturgical services people nowadays tend to become extremely verbose and vocal. God speaks, we need to listen; and listening needs some silence [6] and contemplation than cacophonic exuberance.

    d. Priests should preach the Word of God and on the Liturgical Mysteries celebrated. Lay preachers are strictly prohibited to preach during the liturgical celebrations.

    e. The most holy Eucharist is to be administered with utmost care and reverence only by those who are authorized to do so. All such ministers, both ordinary and extraordinary must be vested with proper ministerial vestiture. I would recommend all faithful, including the religious, to receive Holy Communion reverently kneeling and on the tongue. The practice of self-communion is prohibited, and I would humbly request any priests who are allowing people to come and receive on their own, to immediately suspend this practice.

    f. All priests are expected to keep to the stipulated rite of the Mass, so that there is no room for people to compare and contrast certain Masses celebrated by some priests as superior to other Masses celebrated by the rest of the priests [7].

    g. The Tetragam YHWH Is not to be pronounced In prayers or hymns because of its sacred nature ( Holy See decree “NAME OF GOD” Prot. N.213/08/L ). This takes into account the sensitivity of the Jewish community in this regard, from whom we inherited much into our worship.

    h. Liturgical blessings are reserved only to ordained ministers; i.e. bishops, priests and deacons. Anyone may pray over another. But it is earnestly recommended not to use gestures that lead to illusion, confusion or misinterpretation.

    2. The Sunday Eucharistic celebration of the parish community is to be considered the most central liturgical exercise of the Catholics [8]. Pope John Paul II exhorted in his Apostolic Letter Dies Domini of 1998 to uphold and cherish the Sunday Eucharist as the central event that binds all faithful of the local community together. [9] An Important teaching therein is to know that Dies Domini is the Dies Ecclesiae. [10] Therefore, all priests, religious and lay faithful within the parish boundaries should strive to attend the Sunday Mass of their parish church, without seeking “convenience Masses” or special Masses celebrated by special groups or movements outside their parish boundaries.

    Religious movements, even if they are approved, should not organize any parallel celebrations on Sundays within the same parish. Religious houses which have Masses on Sundays due to the sick and the elderly inmates, or because of the enclosed religious communities, should earnestly urge the lay and religious attending those Masses to return to their parish community Masses. Pope John Paul explains the reasons for not allowing small groups to have their own celebrations on Sundays. [11] Under the guise of seeking better and more vibrant liturgies the integrity of the parish community is seriously damaged and gradually destroyed. Parallel Sunday services indirectly nurture personality cults and thereby lead to cracks and divisions in the main body of the Lord in the parish. GIRM 2002 No. 95 says ‘Thus, they (lay people) are to shun any appearance of individualism or division, keeping before their eyes that they have only one Father in heaven and accordingly are all brothers and sisters to each other”. [12]

    All movements functioning within the Archdiocese should extend their fullest cooperation to foster and nourish the Sunday parish liturgy, and not be concerned with building up of their own little kingdoms. Where there is division there is sin! [13] The ‘Breaking of the Word’ celebrations which end with Eucharistic benedictions are not substitutes for the Sunday Eucharist. In this regard I very clearly request priests of the Archdiocese to obtain permission from me personally to assist at these services to impart Eucharistic benediction. Of late, some have begun to take the Eucharistic Lord exposed in a monstrance from house to house, as if He is a statue which is taken round. Eucharistic benediction is to be celebrated with utmost care and with reservation, and is not to be misused to give a ‘Catholic appearance’ or camouflage something which may not look very Catholic at the end of a long-drawn session. Placing the monstrance on the head of the faithful is strictly forbidden.

    In the same line of thinking religious movements and groups are not allowed to form their own children and youth groups. The parish and diocesan structures already provide for these needs and the existing structures are to be made use of without multiplying parallel structures, lest they give rise to comparison and even dissension. In all these we need to passionately safeguard the unity of the Church. Jesus prayed for the unity of all his people; He prayed that they may all be one (John 17.21 cf.).

    In the near future I hope to publish a booklet which will spell out in greater detail many more things about the liturgical life of the Archdiocese of Colombo. I humbly and respectfully request all priests, religious and the laity of the Archdiocese of Colombo to extend your cooperation in safeguarding the sacredness of the liturgy in this local church. I am sure that these instructions will be put into immediate effect, so that some of the urgent liturgical concerns will soon be addressed.

    Thank you and may God bless you!

    With prayers and my cordial blessing

    Yours devotedly in Christ.

    + Malcolm Ranjith
    Archbishop of Colombo 07th October2009

    [1] General Instruction of the Roman Missal – GIRM, 2002, No. 22.
    [2] Sacrosanctum Concilium – SC 1963, Nos. 5,6, and CCC No. 1067
    [3] Mediator Dei – MD 1947, No. 20
    [4] SC No. 7 and MD, No. 20.
    [5] SC No. 10.
    [6] SC No. 30.
    [7] SC. No. 23.

  15. Emilio III says:

    Father, I’m afraid that, being in a hurry, I misunderstood your request and attempted to transcribe the whole thing. Please delete my comment if it doesn’t belong here.

  16. Jordanes says:

    Dave N. said: Maybe I’m misreading but I hope the bishop knows that the liturgy didn’t drop out of the sky—that part was a little misleading. No I don’t think the priest has the right to change the prayers but attributing them to divine authorship isn’t a good way to establish credibility.

    Yes, you’re definitely misreading. He isn’t attributing the prayers of the Mass directly and immediately to divine authorship (apart from those that come from Scripture or the Tradition given to the Apostles by Christ, such as the Our Father). You will notice that he supports what he says about all liturgy being primarily of divine origin and that Jesus is the beginning of all liturgy by citing authoritative Church documents in his endnotes. Pope Benedict said the same thing in his “Spirit of the Liturgy.”

  17. Central Valley says:

    How we need a Sheperd like this in the diocese of Fresno, Ca. This document is probably banned in most diocese in the United States.

  18. Peggy R says:

    It seems that the goal here was described well in 1f.

    –All priests are expected to keep to the stipulated rite of the Mass, so that there is no room for people to compare and contrast certain Masses celebrated by some priests as superior to other Masses celebrated by the rest of the priests [7].–

    This is the biggest problem of division among the faithful. We have acquired different “tastes” in what we want a Mass to be and shop around–honestly, we must say EF-preferring faithful do too. We need quality control and consistency in the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. I don’t consider the liberalization of the EF to be divisive, let me be clear. The existence of the OF which is not celebrated consistently in the Church and the rubrics of which are abused, is the genesis of the problem. I say scrap the OF, which is dubious in its genesis, anyway, and let’s get united behind the EF, 1962.

  19. Dave N. says:

    @ Jordanes & Suburbanbanshee:

    Yes, I did take a look at the footnote (including MD, 20) but didn’t really see how it related other than in a very broad way. The documents speak about the nature and role of the Divine Liturgy in general and the Bishop is speaking (specifically in “a”) about the wording of prayers (again, I’m hardly advocating that priests change prayers). It still seems confusing or a little sloppy. Liturgy itself is of divine origin, the wording of the prayers (other than what you’ve noted, Jordanes) is not. I agree with Suburbanbanshee that he’s left something out here. Hmmm, oh well.

    Picky? maybe; but this blog always highlights to me the critical importance of precision and accuracy of language in teaching and worship. It’s often where things begin to go wrong. Just my opinion.

  20. Dave N. says:

    Thanks too, Suburbanbanshee for weighing in on the Charismatic movement. I think the phrase that lead me to think in this direction was “renewal movements”–but you’re right, probably something else specific to the culture. Would be interesting to know what these movements are and what they advocate in addition to worship outside of Mass.

  21. Correct me if i am wrong, but I believe there may be more to “e) All such ministers, both ordinary and extraordinary must be vested with proper ministerial vestiture.

    This is not clothing, it is also seemingly not professional[sic] or regualrly scheduled EMHCs [oxymoron]. This may actually pertain to those of true ministry: bishops, priests, deacons (as mentioned in “h”) and instituted Acolytes who have primacy for Eucharistic ministry. This is a practice followed by the Good bishop His Excellency Bp Bruskewitz in Lincoln, NE.

    Father, do you have any enlightened insight into such concepts in the reform of the reform dialogue?

  22. Jordanes says:

    Dave, last night I heard a talk from our diocese’s director of divine worship. Monsignor emphatically made the same point as Archbishop Ranjith: “It is the Lord who gave us the liturgy and no one else; therefore no one else has any right to change it.” Monsignor said the priests and bishops and popes are not proprietors of the liturgy, but servants of the liturgy, custodians of the liturgy, which belongs not to them but to God who gave it to the Church and thus it is a grave offense when anyone starts ad libbing the Mass or changes the words the Church asks us to pray.

    Compare what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in “The Spirit of the Liturgy,” pp.21-22:

    “Man himself cannot simply ‘make’ worship. If God does not reveal himself, man is clutching empty space. Moses says to Pharaoh: ‘[W]e do not know with what we must serve the LORD’ (Ex 10:26). These words display a fundamental law of all liturgy. When God does not reveal himself, man can, of course, from the sense of God within him, build altars ‘to the unknown god’ (cf. Acts 17:23). He can reach out toward God in his thinking and try to feel his way toward him. But real liturgy implies that God responds and reveals how we can worship him. In any form, liturgy includes some kind of ‘institution.’ It cannot spring from imagination, our own creativity — then it would remain just a cry in the dark or mere self-affirmation. Liturgy implies a real relationship with Another, who reveals himself to us and gives our existence a new direction.”

    In Christ, God has shown us how we can worship him — giving us the liturgy of the Eucharist. The Apostles and the successors did not just invent the Church’s liturgy — they received it, guarded it, cultivated it, and handed it on. As Archbishop Ranjith said, “Jesus Christ is the beginning of all liturgy in the Church and therefore all liturgy primarily is of divine origin.” Pius XII in Mediator Dei nos. 17-22 expounds upon that truth and how it is lived in Christ, in His Body the Church.

  23. Mickey says:

    As a military nomad I’ve seen my share of liturgical abuse…sure like to email tis to some of those bishops! Of course, I won’t…but I sure wanna…

  24. TNCath says:

    The more great things I read from [arch]bishops like Archbishop Ranjith, Bishop Nickless, and others, the more I realize what a liturgically, theologically, and canonically disastrous place my diocese is.

    From that great hymn “Sweet Sacrament Divine”:

    Save us for still the tempest raves,
    Save lest we sink beneath the waves.

  25. Dave N. says:


    Everything you’ve pointed out is true of course. But note the Pope’s extremely careful, precise and artful wording in the quote you’ve posted–truly exemplary–where he speaks of liturgy (as the work of the people/worship), not THE liturgy as in the sense of the published, authorized wording of prayers for the Roman or any other specific rite–same for MD.

    My point was that Abp. Ranjith is mixing categories by making it SOUND as if he’s asserting that priests can’t change the wording of the prayers in the Rite because the wording of the prayers has a divine origin. (Actually, a priest shouldn’t change the wording of the prayers simply because he has no authority to do so. If you say that bucking this authority is essentially disobedience to God, then we would agree.)

    Thus I think Abp. Ranjith comes up with an unfortunate non sequitur that doesn’t state his case as well as it should have been–and I think that language is vitally important, especially when you’re trying to get the clergy and faithful of your diocese to toe the line. I also think someone who has been Secretary of the CDW could do much better, that’s all; his motives are very commendable. Perhaps there is a translation problem too.

    The prayers of THE liturgy (e.g., the Roman Rite) have of course changed a great deal over the history of the Church as everyone knows; prayers added, deleted, altered–ICEL is likely changing prayers as I type, although maybe not on a Friday afternoon :) Hopefully changing them for the better. Liturgy is given by God; THE liturgy is subject to the authority of the Church and the Church obviously has the right to change the prayers, since it does so. But no individual priest has that right.

  26. Jordanes says:

    My point was that Abp. Ranjith is mixing categories by making it SOUND as if he’s asserting that priests can’t change the wording of the prayers in the Rite because the wording of the prayers has a divine origin.

    But he nowhere says or implies that the wording of all the prayers has a divine origin.

  27. Apparently, all Sri Lankan Christian groups have suffered a lot of religious persecution in recent years. (Not something that really happened before their civil war.) There was a lot of radicalization of Buddhists (yes, they do persecute people sometimes) and Muslims, and of course a lot of Tamil/Sindhal hostility got taken out on congregations containing the ‘wrong’ ethnic groups.

    Meanwhile, although Catholicism has been around for hundreds of years, there are also many newer Christian groups that came in at some point. Foursquare Gospel, Vineyard, stuff like that — not mainline Protestant, apparently.

    Shrug. I’m sure there’s a lot to be learned about the Sri Lankan religious situation, but a search engine only takes us so far.

    If you want to see something happier, the 400 year old shrine of Our Lady of Madhu has a new life-sized set of statues for the Stations of the Cross. They’re made out of fiberglass, but they look pretty good, actually. If you click on the photo, you can see a big version of it.


  28. Here’s a news story about an Assumption procession of Our Lady of Madhu. Clicking to get the big version of the photo of the procession is well worth it.


    Here’s what the shrine church looks like:


    Apparently, during the war a lot of refugees fled there, and some of them were killed there by the warring sides. It got so bad that the priests took the statue away and the church was abandoned for a year or so. Now the statue’s back, the mines around the church have been removed, and the Church is trying to make the shrine a safe place for everyone.


    More Assumption pilgrimage pictures.

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