First thoughts on Pope Francis’ address to Italian liturgists

His Holiness of our Lord gave a speech to participants at a national assembly of Italian liturgists.  HERE

Given what I have seen and heard in Italy, my mind reels in dread at the very notion of a room full of Italian liturgists.

I’m am not sure who wrote this for the Pope, but I suspect it was not prepared by the Congregation for Divine Worship.  I have my strong suspicions, however.

It opens with a rehashing of various steps in reform of the Church’s liturgical worship in the 20th century.  There follows an encomium of Vatican II and Sacrosanctum Concilium. And then a panegyic of Bl. Paul VI who set in motion all sorts of changes (which, I must observe, went way beyond what Vatican II asked for, but I digress).

Then he says (my emphases):

Today there is still much work to do in this direction, especially in rediscovering the motives of the decisions taken with the liturgical reform, overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, partial receptions and practices that disfigure it.   One isn’t dealing here with rethinking the reform, reconsidering the choices, as much as to recognize better the underlying (sottese) reasons, also through the historical documentation, as if to interiorize the inspiring principles and to observe the discipline (disciplina) as well as the norm (regola).  After this teaching (magistero), after this long journey we can affirm with surety and with magisterial authority that the reform of the liturgy is irreversible.

There is a lot packed in there.  Let’s pull some of it apart.

It first talks about errors that were made which made the Vatican II reforms go astray.  We  could spend months listing those.   It mentions the underlying principles of the legislated changes to the liturgy, and it says that we have to figure out what they were (because, I guess, from the way the Vatican II documents were implemented, you would have thought that they had never been read in the first place).  It states that we have to read the documents: hurray!  It is an over statement to say that we have had a “long journey”: not in terms of the Church as view through the centuries before Vatican II and before the 20th century’s liturgical movement.  This is all in living memory: so it isn’t really much of a long journey… though it might seem long.  However, he also suggests that the liturgical documentation to which he refers is “magisterial” (we can agree) and he seems to invoke the Magisterium is saying that the reform of the liturgy is irreversible.

In a sense, this is not out of keeping with what Benedict XVI said in his letter to bishops explaining Summorum Pontificum… which is also magisterial.  Understood correctly, Benedict wanted none of the things that this Pope distances himself from.  In fact, Benedict’s view is that, yes, liturgy is living, growing changing, etc.  Verrrry slooooowly.  However, what happened with the way that Sacrosanctum Concilium was implemented resulted in an artificial form which stifled the natural organic evolution of liturgical worship.  Summorum Pontificum is about the future, not about turning the clock back.  It is a way to bring what happened (e.g., the deformities mentioned above) back into continuity (which is what SC demanded).

However, read another way, in a cynical way, this seems to be a shot at suggestions about a “reform of the reform”.  Mind you, I think that is what the ghost writer intended.

He goes on to the next section about a “Living liturgy for a living Church”.  This is where things get a little odd.

First, His Holiness of our Lord makes an analogy with a heartbeat.

“Just as there is no human life without a heartbeat, so too without the beating Heart of Christ there is no liturgical action.”

Ummm… well… yeah.  Okay.

I would only point out that we have a resting heartbeat.  Our heart rates speed up and slow down according to activity, etc.  The resting heartbeat is a baseline which is consistent, even, continuous.  When our heartbeat is erratic there are problems.   An arrhythmia can result in cardiac death.  This is probably what happened with the artificial imposition of many liturgical changes after the Council (not actually called for by the Council Fathers in SC): liturgical arrhythmias.  Think of ventricular fibrillation or paroxysmal supraventricular tachycardia: when the heart or part of the heart gets out of sequence and starts doing its own thing… not good. Another heartbeat problem is congestive heart failure: fluids build up around the heart such that it can’t beat properly, blood starts backing up into the wrong places, nasty things result. I suppose that might be like the oppressive constriction imposed by bishops and priests who, for example, failed to implement St. John Paul II’s norms (issued explicitly… without hints or suggestions or cryptic meanings… by his Apostolic Authority (which sounds magisterial) that respect should be shown to those who have the legitimate aspiration to participate in the Church’s traditional liturgical worship and when he called for – by his Apostolic Authority – that the norms should be applied generously.  “Pastors of souls” clamped down hard on the beating hearts of the faithful who desired traditional forms, such that they nearly died of broken hearts.  Another problem with a heartbeat can come from cardiomyopathy, when the heart is too weak to beat well.  I suppose that results liturgically when we, for example, slam shut the treasury of the Church’s sacred music or when we refuse to implement the actual mandates (rather than the imagined mandates) of Sacrosanctum Concilium in regard to the use of Latin, Gregorian chant, polyphony, pipe organ etc.  Hearts can have beat problems because of weak valves, when there is leakage between the chambers and a low ejection fraction.  I suppose that could be like being minimalists in our approach to worship, stingy, avoiding the beautiful and richly noble out of a perhaps pretentious disdain for “triumphalism”.  Cardiogenic shock is a really bad one for heartbeats.  This is when the heart is damaged.  Liturgical abuses can cause cardiogenic shock in the Body of Christ, the Church, like a gunshot or a knife slash.  There is a weakening of the heartbeat caused by lack of potassium called hypokalemia.  This might be likened to culpable ignorance about matters liturgical which could benefit the everyone by making liturgical worship stronger and more regular, after all, regular is the key to ritual which is the essence of worship.

Screw around with the Church’s liturgical heartbeat, and you wind up with what we have seen in the Church for the last 50 years, as virtually every aspect of Catholic life has become enervated, weak, lethargic and even necrotic.

So, I’m all for a strong, healthy, consistent liturgical heartbeat.  Aren’t you?

Next, His Holiness of our Lord says:

Liturgy is the life of the whole people the Church.  By its nature liturgy is, in fact, “popular” and not clerical, being – as etymology teaches – an action for the people (per il popolo), but also of the people.

Well, that’s great, isn’t it?  I would only observe that you won’t get very far liturgically without the clergy, especially priests who share in Christ’s priesthood in a qualitatively different way than the “people”.  That distinction of “people” and “clergy” seems to create a dichotomy.  Clergy are ALSO the people of God!  The two are complimentary.  Children and parents are complimentary too, but they are not interchangeable and they are not, in all aspects of family life, equals.  They are in some, but they aren’t in others.


The liturgy is life and not an idea to understand.  It brings us to live an initiatory experience, or rather and (experience) that transforms how we think and act and not to enrich one’s own baggage of ideas about God.  …  The rites and prayers… for what they are and not for the explanations we give them, become indeed a school of Christian life, open to those who have ears, eyes and hearts opened up to assimilate the vocation and the mission of the disciples of Jesus. This is in line with the mystogogical catechism of the Fathers….

While I get the main idea (we are to be receptive to what is offered in the liturgical action, not as dissectors or mere students of texts and bring what we receive into daily living), this seems confused.  We have to have explanations of the texts.  The texts are not exactly easy.  Without some explanation, how can participation be full and conscious?  This seems to be saying that we shouldn’t drill into them.  But then His Holiness of our Lord invokes the memory of the mystogogical catechism in the time of the Fathers of the Church… when great bishops such as Augustine and Ambrose explained to the newly initiated the meaning of new things they were being taught as Christians.

The rest is the usual sort of thing that these speeches have toward their conclusions.

So, what to say about this?

I need a little more time to think about it.  One thing I can say, however, is that those of us who have taken the Church’s liturgical reforms seriously, and who have availed ourselves also of what Summorum Pontificum opened up as part of Benedict XVI’s “Marshall Plan” for the revitalization of our liturgical lives, can hear in this speech what we have already been doing and seeing for a long time.   That is, people who are attending Holy Mass also in the Extraordinary Form are participating with that full, conscious and active mode of participation which the Council Fathers actually mandated.   Furthermore, they are using the Gregorian chant and Latin that the Council Fathers actually mandated.  In addition, they are learning to sing and to respond in Latin those parts that pertain to them, as Sacrosanctum Concilium required.  They are not doing anything out of harmony with the Church’s tradition, which was specifically commanded in the same Sacrosanctum Concilium.  Moreover, priests who learn the older form, are enriching their ars celebrandi in the Novus Ordo, and the laity who attend the older form begin to understand the newer form better as well.

This is all part of a living process which is strengthened and kept on a healthy course by attending carefully to the mandate of the Council Fathers for full, conscious and actual/active participation.

Finally, I note that Francis’ speech does not cite Benedict XVI a single time, though he had a lot to say about liturgy.  Hence, I assume that his ghost writer left him out on purpose (a hint as to who helped to write it).

Moreover, in the footnotes, His Holiness cites a daily homily he gave at Santa Marta.  That, to me, suggests that this document has perhaps less weight than some might want to think.  Otherwise, the conclusion is that each and every daily sermon he gives are, in some way, weighty contributions to the ordinary papal magisterium.  I wonder if His Holiness of Our Lord intends those to be at the same magisterial level as, for example, a sermon for the Vigil of Easter or the Feast of Sts Peter and Paul.

I’m turning the moderation queue ON for obvious reasons.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Father why are you addressing this pope as his holiness of Our Lord?


  2. NomenDeiAdmirabileEst says:

    I had to explain to someone who saw the article on Francis’ speech over at CRUX that his statements don’t seem to meet any of the conditions for infallibility. But given the sensationalized and misleading headline, “Pope invokes ‘magisterial authority’ to declare liturgy changes ‘irreversible'” (which was featured prominently at New Advent today), combined with a general ignorance on the exact limits of papal infallibility, I’m actually surprised more people haven’t been talking about this line:

    “After this teaching (magistero), after this long journey we can affirm with surety and with magisterial authority that the reform of the liturgy is irreversible.”

    Trying to unpack what exactly this means, I’ve settled on: “we can agree that the liturgical reforms were good. I’m not going to undo them, and you don’t have the authority to. I hope my successors appreciate them as much as I do.” After all, what authority does Francis have to bind his successors to Paul VI’s missal that St. Pius V didn’t when he issued Quo Primum?

    [Look at how Pope Francis gave “faculties” to the priest of the SSPX to absolve sins validly. Was there a document? No. Was there clear legal language? No. There was a fog of law.]

  3. jfk03 says:

    Think if this as a sailboat. Benedict XVI tacked in one direction. Francis in the opposite direction. There is no continuity; it’s deja vu all over again.

  4. juergensen says:

    the reform of the liturgy is irreversible” – What about Christ’s teachings on marriage?

  5. Joy65 says:

    It hurts my heart that the Catholic Church is “divided”. We are the One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church founded by Jesus Christ himself. We are the One TRUE Church! There should be no division.
    I am a cradle to grave devout practicing conservative Roman Catholic. While I know “what” the Traditional Form of the Mass is (beautiful, completely filled with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Mass that always was meant to be) I am not really that personally familiar with it’s particular specifics in its form (born in 1965). The form of Mass I participate in today is the form I’ve always remembered. My parents though “mourn” the loss of the Traditional Form of the Mass because they very well remember it and were raised with it their whole lives. They hurt for what Vatican II did to the Mass and the Catholic Church. I hear about the “wrongs of Vatican II” and the abuses/neglects of the Mass today because of it. If there is a separation in the Catholic Church (however it happened) it needs to be addressed ASAP and fixed. This can NOT be! God must be very sad and very disappointed in what His One True Church has become. Now when I typed a few sentences ago that I was a conservative Roman Catholic I MEANT CONSERVATIVE! I don’t want any wishy washy theatrical watering down of my Catholic Faith or my Catholic Mass. I don’t want the Mass to become a production to entertain or a show to be attended. I don’t want to hear the latest popular music or see anything that does not belong in a Roman Catholic Mass. I don’t want a feel good Mass with no “meat on its bones”. I don’t want a “non Catholic Mass”. I’d walk out if I heard heresy preached from the pulpit. I’d walk out if I saw or heard anything that I know would definitely offend God. I’d walk out if I felt that I was not participating in a Catholic Mass in the Catholic Church. I’d walk out if I felt like the Mass I was attending is wrong. Can someone clarify this for me. Can someone explain is simply to me how we are the Catholics before Vatican II and the Catholics after Vatican II and they are not the same—possibly one not right and the other is right. I don’t mean this to seem to bestate in a child-like or simplistic way but it really concerns me and it does hurt my heart. I am a womb to tomb—-cradle to grave Roman Catholic. I would die for my Catholic Church , my Catholic Faith if called on to do so. If the Catholic Church I belong to today and the Catholic Mass I participate in today is wrong PLEASE explain to me why it is so. God Bless!

  6. tho says:

    Prior to Vatican II beauty permeated every Catholic church. We believed and shared in a miracle at every mass and our surroundings testified to that. With few exceptions, our clergy strived for sainthood and exhorted us to do the same.
    After Vatican II it seemed to me that Andy Warhol was in charge of the aesthetic makeup of our churches and I love you, you love me was the extent of our desires.
    Pope Benedict raised all of our hopes and in Summorum Pontificum, he did deliver, but his resignation and the elevation of Pope Francis leaves us hanging on by our finger nails.

  7. JabbaPapa says:

    Here — — the Catholic Herald has stated “Pope Francis has invoked his “magisterial authority” to declare that the liturgical reforms following the Second Vatican Council are “irreversible”.

    I’ve no idea about any other aspects at the moment, but on this particular point, it’s basically a restatement by the Pope of one of the doctrines of Trent, declaring that Liturgical Forms and Rites are established by the Roman Pontiff.

    It’s the exact same doctrine used by Pope Benedict XVI to point out that the TLM, because it was permanently established by Pope Saint Pius V, cannot therefore be “abolished”.

  8. Kerry says:

    A room full of Italian liturgists vs. Father Z & Father Hunwicke. No contest.

  9. Mike says:

    The integrity of marriage, the Sacraments, and the liturgy have been under attack from the heart of the Church for the better part of a century. This latest salvo should engender little surprise.

    Father Jackson’s “Nothing Superfluous,” well and generously praised in this space, should set unquiet hearts at ease, reminding us (as does the Holy Mass of which it treats) that the fretful waywardness of fallible man is no match for the eternal constancy of Our Lord’s redeeming Sacrifice.

  10. Aquinas Gal says:

    “The liturgy is life and not an idea to understand.” This sounds like one of the 4 principles that Pope Francis takes from the Argentinian dictator (as Tracey Rowland explained in her book): “Reality is more important than ideas.” However, without ideas, the realities of life can’t be explained. Liturgy is done, either well or badly, according to the ideas one has about it. Without a true Catholic idea of liturgy, it’s not Catholic liturgy.

  11. Rich says:

    The liturgy is “of the people”… as long as the people aren’t neurotically taken up by certain forms of liturgy merely for nostalgia’s sake…RIGHT???

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  12. Dirk1973 says:

    This has the signature of Piero Marini all over it, no doubt about that.

  13. jameeka says:

    Brilliant turning of the stethoscope, Dr Zuhlsdorf.

  14. CPz says:

    I am slightly confused… exactly how authoritative are the Pope’s comments?

  15. Pingback: FRIDAY CATHOLICA EDITION | Big Pulpit

  16. asburyfox says:

    It’s a funny thing to call the liturgy irreversible, when the Missal of Pope Paul VI, the new Mass, wasn’t even juridically promulgated to begin with.

  17. SWP says:

    This reminds me of the myopia with which he described “rigid young Catholics” — as though the liberal establishment weren’t the ones in the corridors of power determining outcomes.

    It is precisely because the younger generation has undertaken such careful reading of the documents of Vatican II that it finds the current state of things so much in need of reform. To suggest that careful reading would lead to an embrace of the current state of things, seems so very…myopic.
    He is much celebrated as being so “in touch” –yet he demonstrates consistently that he is nowhere near in touch with the reality on the ground. Young people who were liturgically abused are being drawn with beating hearts to liturgical transcendence rather than milquetoast minimalism.

  18. Riddley says:

    The references to “magesterial” statements seem rather spurious to me. The key statement that it’s linked to is that the reform is “irreversible”, which is a prediction of future events rather than a statement of fact about faith or morals, and hardly counts as prophecy.

    In any case, what is “the reform”? Is it Sacrosanctum Concilium? That’s “irreversible” already by virtue of being a Council document. Is it the introduction of the Novus Ordo? Fine, nobody expected it to be suppressed any time soon. Is it altar girls and Shine Jesus Shine? No.

    This seems simply to be a case of Pope Francis taking the opportunity to endorse the Novus Ordo, without saying anything very specific about whether or how it could/should be reformed, or about related liturgical questions.

    Now, what I think is interesting is that he bothered to say it. His Holiness is not known to be very interested in the liturgy, and (with respect) he hasn’t added anything very new to the debate. Could it be that the Novus Ordo’s future is being discussed at the councils of the mighty, and that the liberal party is starting to worry that it might be repealed under some future pope? If so, this could be a pre-emptive move in its defence.

  19. Mike says:

    As we’ve seen in other areas (morals, canon law) this pontificate isn’t especially sharp in its levels of communicating to the faithful. It seems to me the Holy Father uses the lingo in order to move his agenda forward, alas. But as Benedict XVI said, the only agenda a Pope should have is to be a faithful servant of what’s been handed on from Our Lord to the apostles and their successors.

  20. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    An entire volume of the Ratzinger Omnia Opera is liturgical writings. The omission of Ratzinger quotations represents a sort of cachophanous silence which is challenging not to interpret as intentional.

  21. drforjc says:

    The simple fact of the matter is that if Sacrosanctum Concilium can trump Quo Primum (and I believe it could), then any future pope or Council can override Francis. Invoking magisterial authority concerns doctrine and the preservation of Church teaching, not the precise form of the liturgy at any given time. “Legitimate authority” the term used for this type of pronouncement, and it only lasts as long as he is pope. He can’t bind his successors or future Councils on merely prescriptive stuff, even more so when the principles on which they were base are less than 50 years old.

  22. Benedict Joseph says:

    What makes anything papal – exhortations, proclamations, or a passing thoughtless notion, irreversible, when the current occupant of the Chair of St. Peter is “reversing” anything that is contrary to his fancy?
    The attempts to reimage the papacy while simultaneously wielding it to confect an ecclesial entity which suits ecumania will in the long run fail. Signs of that are presently before us. Who listens to self-absorbed clerics wrapped up in their own genius? Those like us who out of conscientiousness recognize the fraudulence of this enterprise; those who are supportive of their academic hedonism – who can be characterized as ultimately uncommitted and entirely sterile when it comes to handing on the faith. Surely not the vast swath of baptized uncatechised Catholics who have no awareness of anything at all that is going on.
    The Holy Father’s disregard for the responsibility of his office will make his “magisterium” entirely reversible and risks eradicating his credibility for the faithful who follow us into the future.
    “For the holy Spirit was promised to the successors of Peter not so that they might, by His revelation, make known some new doctrine, but that, by His assistance, they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation or deposit of faith transmitted by the Apostles.”
    – “Pastor aeternus,” chapter 4, section 6, of Vatican I

  23. hwriggles4 says:

    I remember the effort that was done around 2010 to revise the responses in the Novus Ordo with the more precise translations. There was also an effort to minimize liturgical abuses. Quite a few parishes (mine for one) had laminated crib sheets in the pews for months, and our pastor and parochial vicar prepared our congregation in advance for the change. IMHO, these updates helped with making a more reverent Mass.

    I hope Holy Mother Church doesn’t return to the Masses I attended as a kid around 1977 or 1983, (even later as a 21 year old in 1990, when I knew better) when it seemed like a Catholic could go to Mass across town and say, “was that Mass? It was so much different than at our registered parish?”

  24. Amerikaner says:

    My initial thoughts were that this could be read two ways. Tired of the opacity.

  25. Sonshine135 says:

    Not to dissect what the Holy Father said too much, but I find this statement disconcerting:

    “By its nature liturgy is, in fact, “popular” and not clerical, being – as etymology teaches – an action for the people (per il popolo), but also of the people.”

    Ask 50 people what active participation in the liturgy is, and you get 50 different answers. Not being a Pre-Vatican II Catholic, I often ponder what the intention of “active participation” was. I get the feeling , pre-VII, the Pope felt that many of the faithful either learned prayers, hymns, and psalms in Latin, but didn’t really understand them, so the push towards the vernacular. Maybe, even the intention was to familiarize the laity with the English to better understand the Latin. As a side note, I have a 1957 Missal my Grandmother used that is 100% in English- no Latin- Pre-Vatican II.

    With SC, you do see that the document called for “active participation” in the form of the non-clerical functions for the laity during the Mass. For me, this is where everything goes off the rails. It devolved into a lot of the nonsense often discussed here.

    But Liturgy being an “action of the people” seems to me to be a break with Catholic Tradition and 100% non-biblical. The “action of the people” is not necessary for the Mass to take place. It is the actions of the cleric performing the instituted sacrifice that makes the Mass. No matter how badly I want to, I cannot turn ordinary bread and wine into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. Thus, I see the Priest really as the chief negotiator of the covenant- in the same way that Moses went up the mountain.

    In short, I don’t like the implications of further “active participation”.

  26. robtbrown says:

    When I first read the text yesterday morning, I was struck by:

    After this teaching (magistero), after this long journey we can affirm with surety and with magisterial authority that the reform of the liturgy is irreversible.

    Whatever “affirm with surety and magisterial authority” might mean, the pope thinks that the authority of what he has said will last beyond his papacy. Even more important is that he has unwittingly strengthened the argument of those who insist that Quo Primum–not merely a speech but an Apostolic Constitution–is still binding.

  27. TonyO says:

    Today there is still much work to do in this direction, especially in rediscovering the motives of the decisions taken with the liturgical reform, overcoming unfounded and superficial readings, partial receptions and practices that disfigure it.

    I find this sentence virtually impossible to set out as having real meaning. The motives of the Council Fathers are well set out in the documents of VII, and while we might have to GET BACK to those motives, we don’t need a lot of work to discover them. The motives of the committee members of the actual reform, the Consilium, are not determinative for the Church, for they are not the Magisterial body that authoritatively determined the committee results would be used. In any event, their motives are also well understood, and (given that many of those motives are effectively incompatible with the motives of the Council Fathers), we do not need to “rediscover” them so much as re-dedicate ourselves to suppressing those contradictory motives as determinative for any liturgical behavior we now engage in. The “decisions taken” were not taken by the Council Fathers, hence they cannot partake of the authority of the Council directly, and thus they cannot command our religious assent (as being “good for the Church”) merely because they were the results produced by the Consilium. They can command our obedience in a practical sense because, and only because, they were then commanded to be put into practice by the authority of the Pope – which authority in no way extends to the conclusion “these changes in practice are good for the Church”. Such juridical commands from the authority of the Church only bear the protection that “the Holy Spirit will not let such decisions destroy the Church completely” – a very limited protection indeed, and not one of rightness.

    The phrases of “unfounded and superficial readings” again suffers from the ambiguity of to what object can it be referred?” If it is the unfounded and superficial readings that comprise the false theories of “reform” trumpeted after VII by many – including the ACTUAL reformers in the Consilium – then the phrase has a meaning that makes sense. If, however, the phrase refers to unfounded readings of the ordo produced by the Consilium and implemented by Paul VI, it is difficult to say what could be recognized as “unfounded” when the worst such practices were ones often explicitly approved by people, like those in the Consilium who were in contradiction to the motives of the Council Fathers, who were promoting the resulting new ordo itself. That is to say: if the practices were carried out by the very people who created the new ordo, they could hardly be called “unfounded” as to the intent of those reformers. As is common in group-think committee writings, though, in order to give the phrase in itself any actual meaning, it is necessary to give a meaning that unhinges from the general tenor of the sentence.

  28. TonyO says:

    After this teaching (magistero), after this long journey we can affirm with surety and with magisterial authority that the reform of the liturgy is irreversible.

    This sentence suffers from the same difficulty: the “reform” mentioned is ambiguous as to what is being referred to. The “reform” demanded by the Council Fathers in VII, coming from an Ecumenical Council, bear an extremely high level of warrant. The reform actually produced by the Consilium and 50 years of further tinkering can be altered authoritatively by any later pope, and no current pope has any more authority to lay down what practices a future pope can change than the future pope can limit the current one’s choices. Otherwise, Pius V’s implementation of the Mass of Trent would be fixed for all time as being unalterable. When you look at the subject and the predicate of the sentence, you cannot make them match up with any real consistency of meaning.

  29. Nan says:

    Did you know that Andy Warhol was both a Byzantine-Ruthenian Catholic and daily communicant?

  30. Imrahil says:

    With all due respect to the Holy Father, and without, I admit, having read this article or the Papal speech it refers to in any detail, let me put it this way:

    I am quite tempted to give in to the (I know, not unproblematic) attitude: “As far as Rome is concerned, wake me up when a dogma or a direct order to me personally is forthcoming.”

  31. robtbrown says:


    I’ve no idea about any other aspects at the moment, but on this particular point, it’s basically a restatement by the Pope of one of the doctrines of Trent, declaring that Liturgical Forms and Rites are established by the Roman Pontiff.

    Disagree. Francis is saying that the reform is irreversible. He’s not promulgating a Missal or Breviary

    It’s the exact same doctrine used by Pope Benedict XVI to point out that the TLM, because it was permanently established by Pope Saint Pius V, cannot therefore be “abolished”.

    BXVI said that it was never abrogated, not that it could not be abrogated.

  32. robtbrown says:

    The pope’s reference to Magisterial Authority about something only indirectly related to the Magisterium indicates, IMHO, that he and his boys are theological voluntarists in the matter of Papal Authority. That means that he considers the pope’s teaching authority to be merely a subset of his power to govern.

  33. TNCath says:

    Irreversible? Kind of like the Council of Trent?

    I’m starting to hear in the distance Bill Murray’s chant from that old classic movie Meatballs: “It just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter. It just doesn’t matter.”

  34. I reached a turning point yesterday after reading articles about Archbishop Fernandez’s recent comments about Amoris Laetitia and the above directives from Pope Francis. It dawned on me that I’ve spent the better part of 4 years waiting for the other shoe to drop with this pontificate, and I just can’t do it anymore. I’m drawing back from being curious about what’s going on in the “engine room of the Church.” Instead, I’m remembering the Pontiff in my daily prayers, staying true to the perennial teachings, and getting on with my own call to holiness and seeing how I can assist those that God puts in my path. My hat is off to you, Fr. Z, for being able to keep up with everything and not allow it to affect your peace. You’re in my prayers, good sir.

  35. Gerard Plourde says:

    I think there is a larger point that Pope Francis is making, namely, that the way the faithful attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass today is markedly different from the way they did at the inception of St. Pius X’s pontificate. At that time, most of the faithful would practice private devotions, like saying the Rosary for example, disconnected from the action of the celebrant. The effort begun by St. Pius X and furthered by Ven. Pius XII sought to unite the congregation with the celebrant by encouraging their participation. This is why efforts were made to make the use of hand missals more common as well as encouraging the celebration of the Mass of St. Pius V with the congregation making the responses. My first daily Missal, which I received for my birthday in 1962, cited Ven. Pius XII’s encyclical Mediator Dei and explained the various levels of participation the Church desired, dependent on the congregation’s facility, from the simple responses i.e. “Et cum spiritu tuo”, “Deo gratias”, and “Gloria tibi, Domine” as the basic responses the congregation could make but anticipating that some congregations could eventually become proficient enough in Latin to join the celebrant in all of the server’s responses and including reciting the Gloria and the Creed. The fact that active participation of this sort is encouraged in both the Ordinary Form and the Extraordinary Form speaks to the irreversible change noted by His Holiness and sought and encouraged by his predecessors.

    (I should make clear that in saying that private devotions such as the Rosary are not appropriate during the celebration of Mass, I am not saying that they are not powerful forms of prayer, just that during Mass one’s attention should be focused on the perfect form of the Unbloody Sacifice that Our Lord mandated we make in worship.)

  36. wolfeken says:

    So, divorce, birth control, sodomy and women deacons are all on the table for discussion, but the novus ordo is now some sort of dogma?

    Thankfully this entire pontificate is reversible.

  37. Anneliese says:

    The Holy Father’s explanations are about as clear as Lonergan’s writings.

  38. Geoffrey says:

    If His Holiness of Our Lord means the reformed liturgy as it was always meant to be (plenty of Latin, with the faithful knowing their parts of the Mass in Latin, Gregorian Chant as the pride of place, praying the texts of the Mass, i.e., using the proper antiphons, fidelity to the rubrics, instituted ministers, ad orientem, etc.), then I joyfully applaud him.

    If His Holiness of Our Lord means the reformed liturgy as it is most often celebrated in the average parish (liturgical abuses, the four-hymn sandwich, banal music, non-instituted laymen and women crowding the sanctuary, etc.), then sadly I cannot applaud him.

    His Holiness of Our Lord has once again left himself open to all sorts of interpretation. Have you checked out the Pray Tell blog and Rorate Caeli?

  39. ogn.i.zhupel says:

    It seems to me that Pope and his circle honestly don’t understand why are we, young people, attracted to Tradition, discipline and beauty. And thats’s unlikely to change, since none of them is in their forming years.

  40. Imrahil says:

    As for the sentence quoted by the dear robtbrown,

    after this teaching (magistero), after this long journey we can affirm with surety and with magisterial authority that the reform of the liturgy is irreversible.

    that is obviously an exercise of the Papal (fallible) magisterium.

    It also is obviously a case where this magisterium is not only fallible in theory but erroneous in actual case.

    Proof: Even granting that the question whether the liturgy Reform should be reverted covers a large area of discussion, “irreversible” means “cannot be reverted” or at least “cannot be reverted without sinning against God’s law”. It is thus easily falsified by the principle that what Popes have done (other than in directly executing the Divine law) Popes can undo. In this specific case, the liturgy Reform not only can be undone, but – though partially and only w.r.t. a subgroup of the Church’s faithful, but w.r.t. them very much so – has been undone, by Pope Benedict’s Summorum pontificum. To summarize, even assuming the Pope were right to wish the liturgy reform not to be reverted, it is in any case not irreversible and that’s a fact. Hence, the Pope, though trying to exercise his Magisterium, has erred in this point. ?

    Which we always knew was within the realm of possibilites.

  41. Imrahil says:

    (The “question mark” at the end of my second but last Paragraph was intended to be a Halmos symbol. Didn’t know that that sign couldn’t be represented – it was in the preview – or I’d have left it out.)

  42. Traductora says:

    Several commentators have mentioned the opacity or ambiguity of the statements, but that’s a well-known Francis technique, no doubt gleaned from years of steeping in opaque, ambiguous VII documents. But Francis and his mysterious advisers have become past masters at it.

    I found the reference to his own “magisterium,” however, to be quite disturbing, because I think it was meant to extend the term and counter the objections of critics that the views expressed in his private communications, speech and even actions is not part of the “magisterium” and thus not enforceable.

    However, that’s a two-edged sword: if he says that his statements of heterodoxies through the above means has the status of magisterium – then suddenly he’s on the hook for their contents, since he is saying that they are no longer just private opinions or informal statements. In other words, they are the same as proclaiming heterodoxy formally. And there are consequences for that.

  43. WarriorSpirit says:

    I am by no means as eloquent as many who have posted replies and especially not as eloquent as Father Z., but I do know that when the heart is damaged, it ceases to work well. With the onslaught of Vatican II and all the ‘implementation errors’ associated with it, and particularly the current Holy Father’s continually confusing statements and determined lack of desire to completely explain his thinking, part of the larger heart of our Catholic Faith has suffered much damage and has not worked well since, to the current point of services almost being completely UNrecognizable as Catholic. In addition, when converts are brought into the Catholic Faith now days, so many of them are truly not being taught the Catholic Faith. They are getting a watered down version that has to leave them more confused than not. They have no clue what the Faith truly is…unless they realize something is amiss and attempt to teach themselves. No wonder so many of new converts eventually leave the Faith. How badly does this damage and wound the Heart (and Body) of our Lord – whose Heart is and should be the very center of our Faith? I can only imagine that it wounds the Heart of hearts so deeply as to resemble the wound of the lance once again. Rhetorically, why is it so ‘bad’ for so many to want to worship under the ‘Extraordinary Form?’ Until the Holy Father decides to truly teach and expound on his writings/statements more confusion is on the way.

  44. scholastica says:

    Love the heart analogies! Wish I could give you a gold star:)

    Thank you, Father, thank you for trying to sort out this incredibly confusing and ambiguous speech. My son thought I was crazy listening to my giggles over, ” well that’s just great” .That part of the speech had me completely perplexed…a popular vs. clerical Mass?

    I’m still rather confused about the references to Pius XII and his pronouncements against reverting to a table form altar and suppressing individual priest’s saying Mass at individual altars. It seemed odd that he referred to those situations which are very much a part of the “reform”.

  45. Plebs Sancta Dei says:

    Does the fact that this speech was likely ghostwritten have any bearing on its authoritative nature?

  46. HighMass says:

    Yes lets keep moving further and further from the sacred, and invent the new N.O. or whatever you would like to call it.

    Fact of the Matter is, Pope Benedict, saw/sees the need of more of the Latin Mass (EF) in the N.O. Misse

    I remember the first blend of Latin and English Masses, while the council was going on. Those Masses of course were closely related to the Mass of St Pius V. When all is said and done in the future I bet the N.O. will be a blend with the Latin Mass, hopefully would love to see it. Mass said Ad Orientem in the N.O. is beautiful, I still prefer the Latin Mass, but by changing a few of the errors that happened, it will make all the difference in the world
    God Help Us

  47. Ariseyedead says:

    I *heart* the Extraordinary Form!!!!

  48. christopherschaefer says:

    According to Pope Francis, these changes came to fruition with 1963’s ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council
    —a document which then essentially was ignored by the Consilium: the committee that was given the task of implementing ‘Sacrosanctum Concilium’ and headed by “’the criminal and unctuous’ Annibale Bugnini, secretary and factotum of that same body, a man ‘as devoid of learning as he was of honesty’” Rev. Louis Bouyer
    Pope Francis said “the liturgy must work as a school of Christian life… that transforms how we think and act and not to enrich one’s own baggage of ideas about God…”
    Correct! This sums up the ancient maxim”Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi’. And this is where the committee-fabricated Order of Mass—which was REJECTED by the very first Synod of Bishops in 1967, but promulgated in 1969 anyway!—has been a complete failure.
    Perhaps the greatest problem of the last century has been the distorted, incorrect understanding of papal authority and Church ‘Magisterium’. The Magisterium does NOT include every utterance of a pope. And papal authority does NOT include the power to suppress and replace the entire liturgical heritage of the Roman Rite. Even Pius IX, who presided over Vatican I which defined the dogma of papal infallibility, would have been shocked at the suggestion that a pope has the authority to obliterate a liturgical heritage which has evolved “organically” over two millennia.

  49. Vincent says:

    Disappointed by the comments here: (not Father’s, they’re very interesting).

    His Holiness has the right to declare whatever he wants – as the line in Brideshead Revisited goes; “what would you say if the Pope declared it to be raining”. “Well then, I suppose it should be raining, in a spiritual sense”. Of course, that’s slightly mocking. But the point remains, if the Pope wishes to declare something as ‘magisterial’, we should probably take note. Likewise, when the Pope declares something with his authority, Canon law doesn’t really come into it – because the Pope, as the arbiter of Canon law, is not necessarily bound by it.

    However, is that a reason to be bothered? I don’t think so. The ‘magisterial statement’ that the reforms of the 20th Century are irreversible is an historical statement. We need not make much more of it than that. Things can change in the future without it being any denial that the reforms happened and that they had an effect on our Church. Even (although by no means an extreme) SSPX-goers would not deny that in any way.

    Secondly, I actually completely agree with His Holiness on the matter of ‘the liturgy as life’ because it is. We’re not supposed to be Catholics just on Sunday – or whenever we’re in church – we’re supposed to live like Catholics and express our Catholicism through our manner of living. You could meditate for a lifetime on just the Mass and you still wouldn’t ‘understand’ it I suspect. On the other hand, where His Holiness is unclear is on the matter of the laity/clergy at Mass. Very simply – the Mass is about clergy. You don’t go and watch an England v Australia Test Match (that’s cricket, a much superior game to ‘baseball’, for those in the US) match because you wish to join in – you watch it because you are admiring the talents of those who can partake at a much higher level than you. Mass is like this. I can be MC for a Pontifical Mass but that doesn’t mean I’m partaking in that Mass in the same way as the Bishop and his priests – I’m the coach who tells them where to go, but they do the doing. We have to understand that the Mass is ‘on behalf of’ the people, but it is done, ‘by the priests’. It is most certainly a clerical thing.

    After all, what would be the point in saying Mass for no-one? Shepherds need sheep or else they have little purpose.

  50. cl00bie says:

    My guess would be the “reform is irreversible” as long as the current pope lives. The next pope could also exercise “magesterial authority”.

  51. PanOrganista says:

    There is a sense, though, in which the Lord Pope is correct in referring to the liturgy as a work of the people: it is, after all, what the Greek “leitourgos” means: A public work, a work for/of the people. Also, that the normative form of the Mass is, was, and ever shall be, the Solemn Mass, with the assistance of Sacred Ministers, Scola cantorun, &c.

    Additionally, there is a tendency to reduce the Sacred Liturgy to the Mass; the Holy Mass is only one liturgy (though, obviously, the most important) of many in Holy Church which were re-/de-formed after the Council–the destruction of the Divine Office is especially regrettable.

  52. Fr. Reader says:

    It is a bit strange for me that some are surprised about the expression “rigid young Catholics” as if they don’t exist. Certainly there is rigidity everywhere, among those more “liberal” and among more “conservative” and also among “traditionalists”, whatever these words mean.
    Recently I saw a youtube video of a Mass in the extraordinary form, and a certain user, apparently young, commented that the priest omitted some particular gesture at some point during the Mass. That is not necessarily rigidity, but could be (I should give him the benefit of the doubt) a narrow vision of existence. I have also met some traditionalists that ignore completely many important aspects of spiritual life, but insist in the purity of their rites.
    Regarding the mutual enrichment of the rites, many traditionalist would never accept any of the changes in the liturgy: “it is terrible that there is more variety in the readings of the Mass, because…,” “it is the destruction of Christianity that the words “mysterium fidei” were moved…,” “the new text of the offertory is masonic, while the one of Trent is the summit of the theology of the sacrifice…,” “new Saints should not be added because there are less saint that the older saints…” Certainly many people on the other extreme (yes, extreme), would suffer by seeing one sign of the Cross added to the Mass because Trent represents all that was wrong in the Church.
    But, certainly, there are “rigid young Catholics.”

  53. PTK_70 says:

    To my way of thinking, with this speech, His Holiness is implicitly acknowledging the strength of the movement to make Catholic worship reverent again. If we can think of the development of the liturgy, especially since Sacrosanctum Conciliun, as a “journey”, then the pope is here putting up a road sign which says: whatever happens, don’t relegate the laity to the role of spectators. I don’t see it as much more than that. It is a proscription much more than a prescription.

  54. Gervic says:

    I treasure my recent discovery of the Traditional Latin Mass as one of the greatest blessings in life. I hope the ‘irreversible declarations’ would not lead to the reversing of the Summorum Pontificum in the immediate or even distant future.

  55. APX says:

    I am slightly confused… exactly how authoritative are the Pope’s comments?

    As one traditional priest told me, they’re not, and not worth getting worried over because the next pope can just come along and overthrow it all.

  56. fminook says:

    This sounds like the Pope is laying the ground work to limit the Extraordinary form again. I remember traveling 50 miles or more to attend the Latin Mass. I can not do that anymore because of age. I think the Third Secret would have revealed what is happening to Jesus’ Church today. It was supposed to be revealed in the 1960s but has not been done. I would suggest that the 100 year reign of the Devil is upon us just by the events happening in the world. Pray the Rosary daily.

  57. Kevin says:

    The speed at which Novos Ordo attendance rates are falling isn’t reversible either, so no worries.I figure the EF will in my liftime thereabouts, with very few exceptions be the only Holy Sacrifice left.

  58. JabbaPapa says:

    robtbrown :

    Disagree. Francis is saying that the reform is irreversible. He’s not promulgating a Missal or Breviary

    I cannot remember suggesting that Francis is the Roman Pontiff who promulgated the reformed Mass …

    BXVI said that it was never abrogated, not that it could not be abrogated

    But that’s precisely my point — Francis has done something very similar to what Benedict XVI did.

    BTW, the promulgation of the TLM itself specifically states that this Mass cannot be abrogated.

    Apostolic Constitution Quo Primum : This ordinance applies henceforth, now, and forever, throughout all the provinces of the Christian world, to all patriarchs, cathedral churches, collegiate and parish churches, be they secular or religious, both of men and of women

    Pope Francis has basically clarified that this same principle also pertains to the Novus Ordo.

    So that if a Roman Pontiff were at some time in the future to promulgate another revised Liturgy, people would still be able to use the NO Liturgy just as the TLM can be.

  59. Warren says:

    Many of the comments resonate with me. Most of all, those comments which identify problematic attitudes and behaviours which are common to both the Ordinary Form and EF camps.

    Perhaps it is necessary to break free of mere binary thinking and for Catholics to explore the other options available. In particular, if readers will pardon an obvious enthusiasm which is about to be expressed, there is one option that comes to mind. Within the Roman Rite itself, there is a third option which OF and EF Catholics routinely (and unfortunately) miss: the Ordinariate. Divine Worship, the Mass of the Ordinariate, can be (and is!) a true via media between the vernacular and the Latin, given that many if not most Ordinariate parishes celebrate with English and Latin sacred polyphony, English and Latin chant, English and Latin Mass settings, and glorious traditional hymns in English. The language of the Mass is what some call sacred English, or Shakespearean or Elizabethan English. Whatever you want to call it, it is beautiful. Add to the aforementioned blessings the fact that Mass is, in nearly all cases, celebrated ad orientem, the Ordinariate Mass could be a source of real hope when an issue such as the current one presents itself.

    Most congregants in our local Ordinariate community are cradle Catholics. Prior to joining the Ordinariate, I was an Ordinary Form Catholic for some 30 years with a brief three year stopover with our EF community. We have EF enthusiasts join us for daily Mass most weekdays since there is rarely a daily Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Perhaps people might keep in mind, when addressing issues associated with the Sacred Liturgy, that a very helpful guide exists to help scaffold conversation in a constructive direction: Divine Worship: the Missal. The Ordinariate, mustard seed that it is, might be a helpful bridge—via media, even—to liturgical renewal that the other two camps desperately need, whether they want to admit it or not.

  60. moon1234 says:

    The reasons are many and I can fully understand that if you did not know what came before, you would not understand what all the fuss is about. Sort of like food. If you have never tried it, you don’t know what your missing. Until you experience it yourself, it has the perception of not being real.

    I think the best summary to come up to speed quickly is the Michael Davis Trilogy. He wrote three books that cover the details of the changes from the 1600s through today. He details how the Protestant revolution has influenced the world and the Church.

    I will warn you that if you read these books, you will be asking yourself a lot of questions. You will need to read the history on this blog to form proper opinions about the questions you will ask yourself. Read the additional sources that Fr Z. Frequently mentions.

    Cranmer’s Godly Order by Michael Davies

    Pope John’s Council

    Pope Paul’s New Mass

  61. @Fr.Reader, as if it matters but if I could high five you, I would. Yes, there is rigidity on both sides of the spectrum. Mind boggling rigidity which brings about stark contradictions in actually living out the spiritual life, which, we are always doing whether we know it or not. Now, back to my own plate. I pray God has mercy on us all.

  62. jbazchicago says:

    The fact is, the Liturgical Reform has been a brilliant success!!!!

    That is to say, the renewal of the Liturgy was a success for the Old Mass! Today it is celebrated with much more diligence and fervor in general, than it was before the Council. The Missa Cantata (High Mass) is celebrated more frequently. Solemn High Masses are also celebrated more frequently. And the Low Mass is no longer celebrated in 10 minutes, “amice to amice”

    Just sayin’

    [I think the 10 minute thing is mostly a myth, and a way to bad mouth the traditional form. I’ve been saying the traditional form now for 26 years as the regular for that I say. My Latin is really good. I don’t think I could say Mass in 10 minutes if I went full blast without also simply leaving things out. So, no… unless there were serious abuses, I don’t see it.]

  63. TonyO says:

    A few things come to mind. First, an address to a group of terrorists (oops, I meant “liturgists”) is not a pope speaking to the whole Church. So any statement he makes is not a statement that participates in the protection from error when the pope speaks “on faith and morals to the whole Church…” .

    Secondly, the Pope is careless. He has said it himself, and it is abundantly clear in his comments for the last 4 years that he is careless. It is hardly unlikely that his speech here included some careless phrasing.

    Thirdly, the past is irreversible. Nobody can change the past. So, insofar as the reforms that have ALREADY happened took place, nothing can be done to reverse them (in the past). But this says nothing about the future.

    Fourth, the Pope cannot bind his successors in juridical matters. If they want to continue to reform the Mass, even as Paul VI, JPII, Benedict, and Francis have gone on to make changes, they will. So it is silly to even speak of a specific (momentary) status of the Novus Ordo as being “irreversible”, when Francis himself might change something tomorrow that he doesn’t like. And so it’s not that the Ordinary Form of Mass as it it is in the Roman Missal of August 2017 is unchangeable, and if Pope Francis meant that then his words are careless and not protected from error.

    It seems to me that the true sense that can be given to Pope Francis’s words about being “irreversible” is that that the Church undertook to reform the Mass is irreversible historical fact, and the sense that he would LIKE to be true (and wants everyone else to *think* is true) is that the reform product the Church issued under Paul VI that is now the “Ordinary Form” will actually remain the ordinary form of the liturgy without any significant “reversals” in the future. Because this wish is subject to the changeable authoritative decisions of his successors, what they will do is entirely contingent, and it would no make sense for anyone to assert the claim “is true” in any definite (or magisterial) sense, and invoking a magisterial attitude about his successors’ actions seems just another example of his being careless.

    It seems to me that we can thank God (again) that this Pope has no appetite for invoking the power of Peter by using of authoritative language (like “by the authority Christ invested in the chair of Peter”, and “to strengthen my brethren” and “to settle all doubt on a matter of faith” and “must be held definitively” and “for the Universal Church in every place and time”), with regard to statements of what could be doctrinal truth. That he makes a careless hand-waving attempt to invoke something of the nature here where the subject isn’t the sort of thing of which there even can be magisterial teaching authority is par for the course.

  64. JabbaPapa says:

    Father Z :

    I think the 10 minute thing is mostly a myth

    What I’ve read from reports of priests giving Mass in extreme circumstances, such as on battlefields, in secret locations hiding from Communist or Jihadi oppressors, in Soviet prisons, and so on, is that even the most speedily conducted “emergency” Mass takes at least 15 minutes.

    There is indeed no way that any ordinary Low Mass in non-emergency conditions could be that short.

  65. Rich says:

    We must be on our guard, sisters and brothers, about becoming so disturbed by our own deep-seated tendencies, that we take refuge in rigidity, in hiding behind the rules and regulations of Sacrosanctum Concilium. It is in times like these, when we are faced with those who may think or worship differently than we do, that we must remember our Lord’s own example. What did our Lord do when faced with the woman at the well, she who worshiped differently than his people? Did he impose the law on her? No! He said, Woman, come to me. Come to me. Come, and I will give you living water. And, you will never thirst. Never thirst again. What did our Lord do? He showed her mercy! Mercy!

    When we impose our own rules on others, we shut out the working of the Spirit, because we lack discernment. Yes, the directives laid out by Sacrosanctum Concilium represent legitimate law of the Church, but when we exercise discernment we remember that they are applicable in different ways and to varying degree depending on the complex circumstances we all face. So, do not use the reforms of the Second Vatican Council as a cudgel! To drive people away and belittle them! No! We recognize the dignity of the Lord’s child who worships differently than we do, and know that above all we must accompany them. Accompany them along their journey of worshiping and praising God, because the way that I want them to worship may not be way the way along which our Lord is leading them. Let us ask the Lord for this grace of true discernment – discernment to recognize the way in which our Lord is leading our sisters and brothers in the Lord, and, above all, to accompany them along the way.

  66. Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam says:


  67. TonyO says:


    That’s very…rich irony. Great job, I love it.

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