Where is Pope Benedict’s liturgical vision getting traction?

The gentlemanly Sandro Magister has an interesting piece on Chiesa today about how liturgical vitality is found somewhere other than in Eurocentric regions.

Ratzinger’s Best Pupils Are in Sri Lanka and Kazakhstan

They are the bishops Ranjith and Schneider. They follow the pope’s example in the liturgical camp more and better than many of their colleagues in Italy and Europe. [To the European bishops’ ongoing shame…] One revealing test is the manner of giving communion at Mass

by Sandro Magister

ROME, October 14, 2010 – In Sri Lanka, the bishops and priests dress all in white, as can be seen in the unusual photograph above: with the entire clergy of the diocese of Colombo, the capital, diligently listening to its archbishop, Malcolm Ranjith, who is likely to be made a cardinal at the next concistory. [Perhaps.  I hope so.]

Michael Uwe LangIn his diocese, Archbishop Ranjith has proclaimed a special year of the Eucharist. And to prepare for it, he gathered all of his priests for three days of intensive study in Colombo, where he brought in two outstanding speakers from Rome: Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, prefect of the Vatican congregation for divine worship, and Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, a member of the same congregation and an adviser for the office of pontifical liturgical celebrations.


MosebachNot only that. In order to offer more insight to his priests during the three days of study, Archbishop Ranjith brought in from Germany a Catholic writer of the first rank, Martin Mosebach, also the author of a book that has raised a great deal of discussion: “Eresia dell’informe. La liturgia romana e il suo nemico.” And he asked him to speak precisely on the Church’s disarray in the liturgical field.

All of this for what ultimate aim? Ranjith explained this in a pastoral letter to the diocese: to rekindle faith in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and to teach how to express this faith in appropriate liturgical signs.

For example, by celebrating the Mass “facing the Lord,” by receiving communion on the tongue instead of in the hand, and by kneeling to receive it. In short, with those actions that are distinctive traits of the Masses celebrated by pope Ratzinger. [Exactly.]


The striking thing about this and other similar news is that Benedict XVI’s work to restore vitality and dignity to the Catholic liturgy seems better understood and applied on the “outskirts” of the Church than in its European center of gravity[Again, to the ongoing shame of the bishops in Europe and other places which are closely associated.]

It is no secret, for example, that Gregorian chant is today more vibrant and widespread in some countries of Africa and Asia than it is in Europe.

Among the guidelines given by Archbishop Ranjith for the Eucharistic year in the diocese of Colombo is, in fact, that of teaching the faithful to chant in Latin, at the Mass, the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus, the Agnus Dei.

In the same way, Benedict XVI’s decision to liberalize the use of the ancient missal alongside the modern one – for a mutual enrichment of the two forms of celebration – seems to be understood and applied in Africa and Asia better than in some regions of Europe[The shame compounds.]


Another proof of this concerns the way in which communion is given to the faithful: in the hand or on the tongue, standing or kneeling.

The example given by Benedict XVI [Pope Benedict prefers to give an example rather than directives.] – on the tongue, and kneeling – finds very few imitators above all in Europe, in Italy, and even in Rome, where almost everywhere communion is still given in the hand to anyone who approaches to receive it, in spite of the fact that the liturgical norms permit this only in exceptional cases.

In Palermo, where the pope went last October 3, some of the local priests refused to get in line to receive communion from him, simply to avoid taking part in an action with which they do not agree. [To their everlasting shame.]

The rumor has also spread that at the Masses celebrated by the pope, people kneel because they are before him, and not to adore Jesus in the most holy sacrament. [A particularly vicious rumor.] A rumor that finds a hearing even though for some time communion has also been given to the faithful on the tongue and kneeling by the cardinals and bishops who celebrate under the pope’s mandate.

It is no surprise that the article that www.chiesa dedicated in mid-September to the meaning of kneeling in adoration before God and the Eucharist raised protests from various readers, including some priests. [To their shame.] The main argument brought out against kneeling for communion is that the model and origin of the Mass is the Last Supper, where the apostles were seated and ate and drank with their hands. [It is far more likely that they reclined.  Moreover, we are not 1st century Jews.  We are 21st century Catholics who have since the 1st century learned a thing or since about what the Lord did for us.]

It is the same argument adopted by the Neocatechumenals to justify their “convivial” way of celebrating the Mass and taking communion, to which they continue to adhere in spite of the fact that that Church authorities – among whom, however, they boast some supporters, like substitute secretary of state Fernando Filoni – have ordered them to respect the liturgical guidelines. [This is a good reminder.  Their liturgy was corrected by the Holy See.  They have, for the most part, yet to comply. I had a conversation about this very thing a few days ago with some people who are pretty familiar with them.]

Here as well, to find the parishes, the dioceses, the priests and bishops who act and teach in full harmony with Benedict XVI, it is easier to go looking on the “outskirts” of the Church: for example, in remote Kazakhstan, in ex-Soviet central Asia.

Dominus EstThere, in the diocese of Karaganda, all of the faithful receive communion on the tongue and kneeling. And there is a bishop there, the auxiliary of Karaganda, Athanasius Schneider, who has written a little gem of a book on the subject, entitled: “Dominus est – It Is the Lord! Reflections of a Bishop of Central Asia on Holy Communion.”

The book is in two parts. The first recounts the heroic life of those Catholic women who during the years of communist rule brought communion to the faithful in secret, defying the prohibitions. And the second explains the faith that was at the origin of that heroism: a faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist that was so strong as to be willing to die for it.

And it is against this background that Bishop Schneider revisits the Fathers of the Church and the history of the liturgy in the West and in the East, shedding light on the origin and reinforcement of this adoring manner of receiving communion kneeling and on the tongue.

When pope Ratzinger read Bishop Schneider’s manuscript in 2008, he immediately ordered the Libreria Editrice Vaticana to publish it. And it did, in Italian and Spanish.

The English edition of the book has a preface written by the archbishop of Colombo, Ranjith.

It seems to me that a great deal could be accomplished toward “the new evanglization” were these liturgical strategies adopted widely.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. pfreddys says:

    Yes, it’s been obvious that the resurrection of the Church is coming from the third world. Perhaps the only way we in the west will get our heads on straight is that we will have to suffer persecution.

  2. dominic says:

    That is wonderful.

    I wish that more Catholics in England would recall the sacrifices that our own ancestors knew during our “penal years” (instead of, to quote an expression v. popular in my diocese, seeking to bring about the “empowerment of the laity) – and realise how those generations of Catholics kept their faith alive when there were only a small number of priests (far smaller than today). The Catholics of Kazakhstan (who, presumably, are mostly ethnic Poles or Lithuanians – a lot of both peoples were deported there under Stalin) are very much closer to that mindset, often involuntarily, having in many cases experienced such deprivation themselves; although the fact that this also meant that they were spared the interpretations of the post-Vatican 2 reforms, and the social liberalization that happened in much of the West in the 1960s/70s, must also be a factor.

  3. irishgirl says:

    Bravo to Archbishop [hopefully soon-to-be Cardinal]Ranjith and Bishop Schneider!
    They know how to be ‘true shepherds’!

  4. JosephMary says:

    I am a little jealous! I wish we had some bishops in the U.S. declaring a Year of the Eucharist and so forth, following the examples of these two stellar bishops.

  5. RichR says:

    In regions of the globe where people are content, complacent, and comfortable, what need do they have for hard liturgy? Isn’t the goal of liturgy to make us comfortable with God…..to see him as our pal…some one that is just like us? Shouldn’t liturgy drag the heavenly down to our mundane existence? Shouldn’t we look at liturgy as nothing special as compared to our daily lives?

    Or…..is it possible that in those areas of the world where people are seeing hard living, difficult times, death and violence all around……maybe they actually want to be reminded that there is a glorious eternity awaiting Christ’s Faithful sheep? How better to convey that glorious, hidden reality than with visible signs in our worship?

  6. asperges says:

    At the (UK) Latin Mass Society’s training conference for priests in Ushaw earlier this year, in April, Arch Ranjith sent two of his clergy from Sri Lanka to learn the Old Rite and sent a most charming letter of encouragement to all those attending.

    At a second training course later, in August, at Downside abbey, we had the honour of welcoming Bishop Schneider who celebrated Pontifical High Mass (Old Rite) at the faldstool. His presence was extraordinary. I have rarely met a Bishop so impressive, clear and – not a word I would use usually – charismatic in the true sense. We should pray daily for these two prelates, who are very worthy of their offices and an example to their brethren. Would that there were more of their ilk.

  7. TMA says:

    It is very encouraging to read about these good bishops.
    Fr. Z – I love your comments. Thank you for assigning shame where shame is due!

  8. Jayna says:

    “Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, prefect of the Vatican congregation for divine worship, and Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, a member of the same congregation and an adviser for the office of pontifical liturgical celebrations.”

    Man, talk about some heavy-hitters. Would that every diocese could be lucky enough to get people like this to do talks. Of course, Arbp. Ranjith has the connections to pull this off.

  9. Thanks Father and Sandro!

    I sob at reading the article! I don’t know why, but the thought of any recognition being given to those, such as Bishop Schneider-who do not crave recognition but only holiness and devotion and humility!-

    Magistro’s earlier article was widely discussed on the USCCB’s cheerleading blog, …
    from a ‘Raymond Lull’ post on praytellblog (Lull got booted off — it took Fr. Ruff a looong time to figure out that Lull was probably not his nee name!! he finally told Lull he had found him out –“Lull was a medaeval English cleric” -someone had told him-close but still wrong, Father!)

    >>>The lands where latin-rite Catholics still kneel for Holy Communion are largely former Soviet Union republics…e.g. Latvia, Estonia, Kazakhstan. I have visited Latvia but know only second hand of the others.

    If one were to think about what Catholics from these countries do not have in Common with the U. S. Catholics, the elephant in the room would be that one group has endured intense persecution for their Faith and the other has not.

    Bishop Athanasius Schneider, of Kazakhstan, is most certainly the reason we are even having this discussion. He is the man who convinced the pope to re-introduce the Communion kneeler into papal liturgies. For Bishop Schneider the act of kneeling conveys a message from your body into your soul. That message is dependence like that of a child who waits to be fed, and intense gratitude, like that of the one leper who bothered to come back to our Lord and fell on his knees before Him to thank Him! Does not the word eucharist mean gratitude?<<<

    Let's identify ourselves with those, such as Bp. Schneider who have suffered for the Faith!! Their's is not 'have a nice day' or 'don't make waves'. They know doing the right thing seldom makes you rich or famous. Their Faith has been tried, and it is the of 'our fathers'.

  10. Andrew says:

    He is the man who convinced the pope to re-introduce the Communion kneeler into papal liturgies.
    Thank you for bringing this up. Interesting that something like this gets 8 comments in two days but if there was a scandal there might have been a 100 comments by now.
    Another notable fact: Kazakhstan is bigger than all of Europe.

  11. Andrew says:

    … western Europe that is … not all of Europe.

  12. dominic says:

    Andrew, that’s true, but large parts of the country are unpopulated, and its total population (15 million or so) is smaller than that of London and Paris combined, and its Catholic population (around 175,000, according to the Annuario Pontificio) less than that of some English dioceses….

    None of which is to decry the very good work that Bishop Schneider is doing but the fact that it is in a land that is geographically remote and in which Catholics are a small and marginalized minority does mean that its influence on the wider culture of the country is likely to be limited (still, the expression “creative minority” is not without meaning…). Indeed, the remoteness of Kazakhstan, and of Catholicism within Kazakhstan, means that the focus on what goes on there from outside is all the more desirable.

  13. Joe in Canada says:

    “In Palermo, where the pope went last October 3, some of the local priests refused to get in line to receive communion from him, simply to avoid taking part in an action with which they do not agree.” I don’t understand this. Priests who concelebrate with a Bishop receive the Sacred Host from him in their hands, and then consume It; I presume the Pope does not expect concelebrant Bishops and Priests to receive Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue. If they weren’t concelebrating, and were offended by the Mass, why were they there at all, or why did they go up for Holy Communion at all?

  14. john_207 says:

    Thanks for the article, Father. But…

    Is it just me, or is that a shirtless guy in the picture, sitting with the nuns, a little left of center? What’s up with that?

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