Archbp. Cordileone answers some questions

Coming up in November, His Excellency Most Rev. Salvatore Cordileone, Archbishop of San Francisco, will celebrate a Pontifical Mass at the Throne at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Those interested can learn more about the Mass of the Americas at the National Shrine, and the conference to take place afterwards, at

I wrote with questions to His Excellency concerning some elements of celebration of the Holy Mass with the traditional form:

The answers below are from Archbishop Cordileone:

Fr. Z: “In the traditional Roman Rite the vesting prayers recited by a Bishop, and the general attitude in a sacristy during the vesting of the bishop, both set a very different tone before Holy Mass than in the usual lead up to many Masses in the post-Conciliar Form. Has learning the vesting prayers, indeed the whole of the traditional Roman Rite, had an effect on Your Excellency’s self-understanding as a bishop at the altar? On your whole ministry as a bishop?”

Archbp. Cordileone: I learned the vesting prayers already when I was a young priest, and have prayed them every time I put on vestments before celebrating Mass. Or, at least, try to. Yes, you are correct: there is a wide divergence from the rite of the vesting of a bishop in the Traditional Mass, and what usually happens in a sacristy before Mass nowadays.

The noise and small talk that typically takes place before Mass has always been hard for me, I feel it as a deep wound in my soul, and often makes it impossible to recite those vesting prayers.

What makes it more difficult, ironically, is the fact that the people engaging is such small talk are of good faith: They love the Church and they love serving the Church, but they have not been formed well in terms of the sacredness of the liturgical action and the preparation that we should put into it.

I remember one occasion many years ago when I was still a young bishop. I was asked to celebrate an Ordinary Form Mass in a way that reflects continuity with the Traditional Mass (ad orientem, ordinary parts in Latin, sacred music, etc.) for a conference on the sacred liturgy. I had asked my very capable MC to insure that there be silence in the sacristy, so I could prepare, mentally and spiritually, for this solemn celebration. As I entered the church and turned toward the sacristy I did not recall that I had asked him to do this, and as I went to open the door to the sacristy, I was preparing myself for the usual onslaught. When I saw several people in the sacristy, and encountered perfect silence, I was thrown off for a second, until I remembered what I had said to my MC. The sacred silence conveyed a completely different mindset in preparing for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The words of the Good Shepherd Psalm come to mind: “He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.”

The demise of silence in church is yet another crisis the Church is facing insofar as it contributes to a loss of the sense of the sacred, and one which does not receive the attention it demands. Talking in church, especially after Mass concludes, has become the natural expectation. I’ve seen this happen even in Masses I’ve celebrated with a very traditionally-minded congregation.

While the loss of sacred silence is not an inevitable consequence of the change in the form of the Mass, the highly casual mentality that has ensued with the change has created the context for this problem that afflicts the Church now. The traditional form of the Mass does not lend itself to this casualness, given how tightly regulated it is, the use of the Latin as the universal language of the Church (no room for improvisations there!), large spaces of silence within the Mass, and the sacred quality of the music. But with either form of the Mass, respect for the true sacred nature of the Mass reinforces for me my true role and identity as a priest, and now as a bishop.

Fr. Z: “It seems that the demographics of the Church will shrink in the future, in some places rapidly and dramatically. However in many places where the Traditional Roman Rite is used, we see lots of young families with many children. There are also many converts to Holy Church, even in these troubled times, who bring in wonderful gifts and energy. They are now also discovering Catholic Tradition. How does Your Excellency see the role of the Traditional Roman Rite in the future?”

Archbp. Cordileone: I subscribe wholeheartedly to Pope Benedict’s vision of the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Roman Rite. It is very clear in his writings that he sees the Church as having adopted the hermeneutic of rupture after the Council, and especially with the liturgy.

I would say that, even more than with how the liturgical changes were implemented, the actual change in the form itself was something of a rupture. But it is also clear to me that Pope Benedict understands that to restore what was lost, it is important to work gradually and organically, and not repeat the mistake of imposing drastic changes from above upon a people who might not be ready to accept it. Rather, having the traditional form of the Roman Rite a regular part of Church life, easily and readily available to our Catholic people, who can become accustomed to attending Mass in both forms, the sought after “internal reconciliation” that Pope Benedict proposes could come about in an organic way, which is always much healthier in the life of a large community of people.

Yes, it is very clear that traditional Catholic worship is connecting well with many people, especially young people. We need to see this as a powerful tool of evangelization, among others. The days of the old liturgy wars are now soon behind us. Middle-aged Catholics did not grow up immersed in this battle, and especially to young Catholics this is very foreign to them. Two young priests in my Archdiocese who recently assisted me with a Mass for high school boys and their parents at our seminary, in which the choir sang Gregorian chant and beautiful polyphony, asked me: “Why are there people who are opposed to Gregorian chant? It is so beautiful, holy, and reverent.”

We need to recapture the Church’s traditional worship, and especially in music, as a living tradition. It is not something meant to be left behind to history, or relegated to concert halls. This is classical religious music. Do we consider classical secular music as belonging to the past, and no longer pertinent to today? Do not the great orchestras throughout the world continue to perform symphonies by Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, and all of the other great composers throughout the ages? And do not new compositions of classical music continue to be produced?

It is for this reason that the Benedict the XVI Institute for Sacred Music and Divine Worship, which I founded five years ago, has begun to commission new compositions of sacred music that can speak to contemporary society but also with a sense of timelessness to it.

The first such composition by our composer in residence, Frank LaRocca, was written to celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception last year in our Cathedral, which was also the day on which the whole Archdiocese celebrated Our Lady of Guadalupe. It incorporates the melodies and sounds of the popular music the Mexican people sing to honor our Lady of Guadalupe, but within the context of sacred polyphony. Even a special set of vestments was commissioned for this Mass. We have entitled the Mass, “The Mass of the Americas,” and we are beginning to “take it out on the road,” so to speak, in what we are calling a “Marian unity tour.”

It will next be celebrated at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC on November 16, but this time in an Extraordinary Form version of the Mass.

The music was adapted to this form of the Mass, and I will celebrate it as a Solemn High Pontifical Mass. The idea is to build up unity in the Church, in two senses: Our Lady as the Mother of all of God’s children who unites us into one family of God, and unity in the Church’s worship and witness. The Mass of the Americas, originally celebrated in the Ordinary Form, will now be celebrated in the Extraordinary Form with the same music and even the same vestments.

We see this as a wonderful opportunity to show that the Church’s traditional worship is a living, developing tradition, one in which great works of sacred music are yet to come. We are therefore also holding a conference after the Mass featuring speakers from different areas of art, music and literature, such as renowned choral conductor Richard Sparks (who will be conducting the choir at the Mass), award-winning artist Andrew de Sa, and Villanova professor and award-winning poet James Matthew Wilson, whom Dana Gioia calls “the future of catholic letters in America.” James Matthew Wilson has also written a song cycle commemorating the Mass of the Americas, published as a book entitled, “The River of the Immaculate Conception.” (Wiseblood Press, 2019), The conference will conclude with a book signing with Professor Wilson.


Be sure to check out One Mad Mom‘s post about Archbp. Cordileone and how he is being attacked by catty, gossipy, probably effeminate priests of that Archdiocese via – what else – the National Schismatic Reporter.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I eagerly await his condemnation of the pachamama debacle.

  2. scrchristensen says:

    My (young) family recently attended an event in the archdiocese. We had the privilege of speaking with him, uninterrupted, for a few minutes before the event kicked off. We told him how much we appreciate his work in the diocese. Toward the end of our exchange he looked at my wife and me and said, very genuinely, “*you* are what keep us going.”

    To hear a prelate so *genuinely* compliment his diocese’s families took me aback. It wasn’t that I thought he doesn’t care for us, not for a second. Rather, it was surprising simply in that families are barely thrown a bone in the Catholic world today. We lowly Catholic families seem to be the hobbits of the world, laboring away in silence and keeping society’s gears turning.

    For all his strengths, putting on a face and yucking it up ain’t one of them (thanks be to God!). Hearing that compliment, entirely genuine, moved me. It was good to know that we are not forgotten in our labors.

    Please pray for our Archbishop.

  3. If you readers are in D.C. on Nov. 16, do attend the Mass of the Americas. It should be spectacular. Here is a link to the Benedict XVI Institute page with images and a description of the beautiful vestments that were designed specifically for the Mass (Fr. Z should especially appreciate the maniples):

    This is the sort of thing that the Church should be doing everywhere–blessings for Archbishop Cordileone. (Full disclosure: I’m a contributing writer for the Benedict XVI Institute’s zine Catholic Arts Today.

  4. JustaSinner says:

    And in San Transcisco no less! AWESOME!

  5. SanSan says:

    Yes please pray for Archbishop Cordileone. He is doing the heavy lifting of righting the ship in San Francisco and with little support. Our Catholic schools depend on his leadership. Our future priests depend on his leadership. Also, thank God for priests like Father Joseph Illo. We are so blessed to have his great example of what one determined priest can do to save souls. God bless them both.

  6. adriennep says:

    This Heart of a Lion is doing more to strike a mortal blow to any pagan heart with this Extraordinary Form event in the capitol. Kind of like Rush doing a live show on the floor of Congress. Except this one will sing to Heaven. I am sure EWTN will broadcast. But also note from article how this is part of SF’s special Our Lady of Guadalupe tour with a Mass of the Americas commissioned by them. By centralizing the Guadalupe image they are pagan squashing on a grand scale, just as Our Lady did in Mexico to supplant the native’s pagan worship. So don’t think this won’t be duly noted by those who planted a stupid tree in the Vatican gardens.

  7. majuscule says:

    I just finished watching a livestream of a Solemn Requiem All Souls Day Mass offered by Archbishop Cordileone at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. It was offered ad orientem. In his homily he had mentioned the symbolism of facing East…

    The Benedict XVI Institute Choir sang a very beautiful late Renaissance setting by Duarte Lobo.

    However, much was missing that would have been included in an EF Requiem. (Not complaining, just make if an observation!)

    You can watch the Mass here:

  8. jaykay says:

    Thank you for that link, majuscule. A beautiful Mass. That is a very fine choir, and a lovely setting.

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