Saturday, September 15, 2007

Interview with Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, on Summorum Pontificum

[The following interview by Alessandro Gnocchi and Mario Palmaro with Archbishop Ranjith originally appeared in Italian in Il Foglio -- and was translated by the kindness of one of our readers. Archbishop Ranjith's comments are in italics.]

ROME. Today, September 14th, comes into force the Motu Proprio of Pope Benedict which "liberalises" the Tridentine Mass, thus allowing the faithful who so desire to participate, in every parish, in celebrations in Latin according to the Missal of St. Pius V. In contrast until now to do so a special dispensation by the diocesan bishop was necessary.

Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith is the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Vatican vice-minister of liturgy.

In this interview he expresses the expectations and concerns of his dicastery in view of the reception which the Motu Proprio "Summorum Pontificum" has had in the Catholic Church. The document through which Benedict XVI has liberalised the Tridentine Mass has in fact aroused a great deal of interest. But it seems that many judge it only in ideological terms in light of the so-called spirit of the II Vatican Council.

For Msgr. Ranjith, however, "the Pope has profoundly esteemed the increasing requests of faithful in favour of the return of the Tridentine rite, and, also taking into account the current results of the post-conciliar liturgical reforms has made his decision.

"What is to be done now is not seeing spectres of divisions or retrograde theologies behind this decision, but to listen attentively and to obey with loyalty. It is not true that the reform of Paul VI is being devaluated. The Pope calls it the ordinary expression of the Mass. I believe that because of this decision some essential values of the liturgy will again be emphasised more, be it in the one or in the other way of celebrating.

"I am certain that above all the bishops, who at the moment of assuming their episcopal ministry have professed their complete loyalty and obedience to the Supreme Pontiff, will accept this decision with sentiments of generous collaboration and will safeguard the faithful implementation of the instructions of the Motu Proprio in the manner in which it is assigned to them, respecting the specific identities of the two manners of celebrating.

"I see that generally, the Motu Proprio has been well received. In any case, to speak of this as a move against the II Vatican Council would not only be a complete misapprehension, but also an attempt to create divisions in the Church. I don't see any reason for such alarmism."


The Pope seems to have made the liturgical question one of the fundamental themes of his pontificate.

"Already since the time of his episcopal ministry in Munich he had shown a great interest for the liturgical question. That on which he, now as Pope, continues to insist is the centrality of the eternal principle lex orandi, lex credendi, and the absolute necessity to know, celebrate and live profoundly the mystery of the liturgy as life-giving principle of the Church.

"The Pope wants that all the faithful enjoy that noble and transcendent as well as profoundly transforming sense of the liturgy. The liturgy is not so much what is being studied, as what is being celebrated, believed and lived."


There are many young priests, under 40, who are interested in the traditional liturgy.

"It's an interesting phenomenon, this demand by the young priests. To me it is a sign of the times and the II Vatican Council advised us to always be attentive to these signs. I see a strong thirst among them to be true to the demands of their vocation. The youth of today who decide to become priests make a choice which entails perhaps more sacrifices than those of yesterday. When we entered seminary, for instance, the atmosphere was more religious than today. I see that in some cases, this search leads them to choose a more traditional sense of the liturgy, to wear the cassock or some priestly or religious insignia, and to be ready to make other choices indicative of their vocation.

"This should not signify a condemnation of others who maybe have thought not to insist so much on these external apsects of their identity. But the times change. The youth want more coherence. The enthusiasm of the youth is always encouraged, not disregarded."


In these years many liturgical celebrations have shown a tendency to an abasement of the divine towards the human instead of the raising of the human towards the supernatural. Do you believe that the traditional liturgy will contribute to remedy this fact?

"Not only the traditional liturgy, but also the one of the Novus Ordo, if it is celebrated with faith, devotion, decorum, a sense of faithfulness to the norms and spirtual rigour, is capable of raising the human heart towards a true adoration of God. As the Pope says, 'the liturgy ... is veritatis splendor'. It (sc. the liturgy) is not something which we are doing, but rather something heavenly to which we are called to conform ourselves also in the external aspects. On the other hand it is the Church who celebrates the liturgy: adoration and praise of its Lord, as his people. Because of this ecclesial dimension, in the words of the Council in "Sacrosanctum Concilium", "no one else at all, be he even a priest, shall add, subtract or change anything on his own initiative in matters liturgical." The current problem is a spirit of disorder in the liturgical discipline, widely spread in different parts of the world. This situation is the result of a defective liturgical formation on different levels. Various priests do not know the true meaning of what is celebrated and propagate a "do it yourself" liturgy.

"Unfortunately, in some cases even the bishops themselves have become immobile and inconsistent, passively tolerating this situation or even, in some rare cases encouraging such attitudes. And then there are rather pedantic attitudes of some theorists, who have unfortunately forgotten that the liturgy is not so much an intellectual act as an act of adoration, and therefore of prfound spirituality and faith."


We are witnessing a flight of the faithful towards two opposite extremes: the search for mysticism at all costs or the banalisation.

"What has happened in the name of the so-called 'spirit of the Council', which has not even been faithful to the instructions of its (the Council's) various documents, has caused grave damages to the Church, above all because of certain liturgical adventurism. This observation must not be interpreted as a criticism of the Council, but as a proposal to link again to what it had really stated. Some of the major changes in the liturgy have never been wished for by the Council. The banalisation of the eternal mysteries of the liturgy, achieved and justified by some liturgists, is now creating a growing demand to abandon altogether the earthly aspects and enter a phase of marked mysticism. A sane sense of equilibrium between the two aspects, i.e. the descendent and the ascendent, as well as a true appreciation of the eternal value of what truly happens in the liturgy, is important. The constant clarifications of Pope Benedict on the true nature of the liturgy are indications for the Church and above all for the bishops and the clergy about that necessary equilibrium. Without such an attitude one risks falling into superficiality and formalism on one side, and on the other side into a spiritualism that does not inspire to make Christian choices in life."

By means of the liturgical errors also doctrinal errors have come to pass. Will it be possible to remedy these also by means of the Tridentine liturgy?

"I believe yes, but the word 'also' is important. We mustn't abandon the attempts to make known to all the eternal value of every form of liturgical celebration, above all of the Novus Ordo. By way of the correction of some of these liturgical exaggerations, which probably the Tridentine Mass will facilitate in the coming years, there will be a further improvement of the Novus Ordo and thus also an overcoming of the theological crisis caused by the banalising tendencies of the liturgy."

Many priests and many faithful seem fearful to request the application of what the Pope has determined to be their right. Perhaps an encouragement is needed.

"I don't see what we need fear, for fear means a lack of faith. Besides, it would be grave in a world which abandons the sense of discipline and suffers because of this, if any shepherd of the Church gave a negative example in this sense, disobeying the Pope. That would implicate a counter-witness to Christ Who humbled Himself, and became obedient to the Father unto the death of the cross."

© Copyright Il Foglio, 14 September 2007