It has been a year since Archbishop Arthur Roche became Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, where he had already been working since 2012. In this year, much of the Dicastery's work has revolved around the new norms restricting the possibility of using the pre-reform liturgical form of the 1960s (the "Tridentine Mass"), and the creation of the new lay ministry of catechist. Now, Bishop Roche has received Omnes at the headquarters of the Congregation, and takes stock of these and other issues.
Almost a year ago, "Traditionis Custodes" limited the possibilities of using the liturgy prior to the Council's reform. The document explained that its goal was to "seek ecclesial communion." Has progress been made toward that goal?
- We must begin by saying that the reason that motivates this decision is the unity of the Church, and this is what has moved the Pope. The previous Popes, John Paul II or Benedict XVI, had never thought that the existing possibilities were intended to promote the Tridentine rite, but only to assist people who have difficulty with the new form of prayer of the Church.
But, in the end, we are formed by the liturgy, because the liturgy carries in itself the faith and doctrine of the Church. "Lex orandi, lex credendi". I think that, in reality, this is not only a difficulty for the liturgy, but a difficulty for ecclesiology, for doctrine. For the first time in history, since the Second Vatican Council, we have in the magisterium an insertion of the nature of the Church, because it is the first time after two thousand years that we have a dogmatic constitution like "Lumen Gentium". "Lumen Gentium" carries with it that it is not only the priest who celebrates Mass, but all the baptized. Obviously, it is not possible for everyone to do what concerns the consecration of the Eucharistic species without the priest; but all the baptized, like the priest, have a position to celebrate. All participate in the priesthood of Jesus Christ and for this reason, as "Sacrosanctum concilium" reminds us, they have the right and the duty to participate in the liturgy. This is in contrast to the rite in the 1962 missal, where the priest was seen as the representative of all others present at the celebration of the Mass. This is the great difference between the two forms: the Church as it is understood in today's ecclesiology, and the nature of the Church as it was conceived by previous ecclesiology.
At the same time, Traditionis Custodes emphasizes the continuity between the current rite and the ancient rite: it states that the new Roman Missal "contains all the elements of the Roman rite, especially the Roman canon, which is one of the most characteristic elements".
- Of course, continuity must also be emphasized. The liturgy is a living gift that the Church has received. But we must not canonize the old for old's sake, otherwise we would find people who want to go back to things simply because they are older, and that could mean going back to liturgical expressions that predate even the Tridentine ones, for example. In reality, the point where we are now, with the new missal of Paul VI, means that we have had the possibility to study all the most fundamental elements, to take advantage of the sources of the liturgy, which were not known during the Tridentine Council in the years 1545-1563.
Pope Francis has said that he is "pained by the abuses" of some current celebrations. What do you think?
- I believe that at this moment there is a lack of liturgical formation. It is very interesting to remember that in the years prior to the Council there was the liturgical movement, with patristic, biblical, ecumenical foundations; and the Council offered the possibility of a renewal of the Church, also with regard to the liturgy.
I think that at this time, the intention is only to comply with the rubrics of the Liturgy, and that seems to me to be a bit poor. Theologically, the reason was the celebration of the Mystery.
For this reason, two years ago the Holy Father asked this Congregation to hold a plenary meeting of all its members to discuss liturgical formation in the whole Church: from bishops to priests to laity. And, indeed, a document on this matter is currently being prepared. Possibly it will take the form of a letter to the Church on the importance of formation. What do we do when we come together every Sunday for this celebration? Not just an obligation to do something every week, but what do we do? What do we celebrate at that time?
Will it be easy to get the contents of this letter across to the laity, to the people in the broadest sense?
- As you know, on the occasion of the publication of the motu proprio "Traditionis Custodes" Pope Francis wrote a letter only to the bishops explaining what they should do. I believe that, at this time, we in the Congregation have a responsibility to think about how to reach a wider audience.
The "mystagogical" catechesis, which introduces the celebrated mysteries, is one of the instruments of liturgical formation. A special occasion are sacraments such as baptism, communion or marriage. Do they fulfill this role?
- Mystagogical catechesis is very important. There is a paragraph in "Sacrosanctum Concilium", number 16, which says that liturgical formation is among the most important subjects in the formation of seminarians, and that teachers of other subjects must take it into account when they teach biblical, patristic, dogmatic, etc. subjects.
There is an abbey in America, Mount Angel, near Portland, where all the subjects of theological formation in the seminary period always have the focus on the liturgy of the day. Everything is oriented according to the great seasons of the liturgy, the liturgical calendar. We have to consider this also in relation to formation: that it is about celebration. It is not only a matter of doing things or participating in some parts of the celebration, but of celebrating worthily with a profound and active participation, as the Council recalled. Through words and gestures we reach the mystery. Rather than engaging in activities such as reading the readings or other things, we should strive for a deep, quasi-mystical participation in the contemplation of the liturgy. It is a matter of identifying with Christ through the words and gestures of the celebration.
The sacrament of Penance is a reference point for this pontificate. Francis has spoken of mercy and forgiveness from the beginning; he has invited to celebrations of confession, and has shown similar gestures. How to revalue this sacrament?
- I think obviously the sacrament of Penance is, in a sense, in a period of crisis at the moment, because there is a loss of a sense of sin. Sins are no less today than they were before, but there is a lack of knowledge of individual sin; I think that is a challenge for so many people. The Pope as a great pastor, before his election as Pope, has evidenced this in his diocese, in the parishes and in his pastoral work.
I will tell you an interesting experience: some years ago I received an invitation from the Sacred Penitentiary to give a conference for the deacons who were preparing to receive priestly ordination. When I arrived and saw that there were 500 people, I asked Cardinal Piacenza: are there so many to be ordained this year? This was not the case, but almost two-thirds of those attending were already ordained priests and had come to this course, in some cases after many years of ordination, to learn again how to celebrate the sacrament of penance. This speaks to us of a lack of formation of priests. In particular, for the sacrament of confession, the availability of the priest is important, but not only in terms of dedication of time, but also as the availability of a person who welcomes penitents, who speaks of mercy, who speaks as a father to a person who is in need of reconciliation with God. All these elements are very important, but they are also integral elements of formation.
How is the ministry of catechist, which was established on May 10 last year, evolving in its first steps?
- At this time the most important thing is for the Episcopal Conference to define who the catechists are. It is a ministry, and not only a participation in the ministry as we have in all the parishes of the world, where some people prepare the children for the first communion, confession, etc. This is a more important ministry, but one that needs to be defined. The person who receives this ministry is a point of reference in the diocese, for the organization of the programs, of the levels, etc., but it depends on how the bishop makes the definition: this is now the responsibility of the bishops' conferences.
There are, for example, some religious women who carry out their apostolate as catechists... but this ministry is not foreseen for them. Even more important: neither is it foreseen for seminarians, who are in preparation for the priesthood. They receive the acolytate, the lectorate, and then the diaconate, but this ministry of catechist is not foreseen for him: it is only for the baptized in general. For the Church, it is a sign of the importance of the laity announcing the Gospel and forming young people.
Let's talk about other aspects of the work of the Congregation for the Liturgy. The Constitution "Praedicate Evangelium" stresses that it promotes the liturgy "according to the renewal undertaken by the Second Vatican Council".
- Certainly, one of its tasks is to promote the liturgy. At the same time, it is also to become a point of reference for all the bishops of the world in their relationship with the Petrine ministry. The Congregation (in the future, the Dicastery) is to serve not only the Supreme Pontiff, but also all the bishops of the world, in the liturgical field. And this is a dimension that we must consider carefully. It is an opening of the Roman Curia, which should not be understood as a bureaucratic structure, but as a service to the universal Church.
How do you collaborate with other Dicasteries?
- With regard to its competencies, it collaborates with all the organisms of the Curia, from the Doctrine of the Faith to the Clergy and almost all the others. Even the new evangelization, the missions, the practice of charity and all other activities have a liturgical aspect. For the liturgy is the life of the whole Church; it is the soul of the Church.
It will soon be 60 years since Sacrosanctum Concilium. This Council document on liturgy wanted the paschal mystery to become the center of Christian life. How is this approach being considered today?
- Sixty years is a short time in the history of the Church. After Trent, there was a great period in which there were difficult circumstances for the whole Church to receive the reform -a reform is a serious thing-; but also now we have many difficulties.
A major difficulty in the Church is the rise of individualism. People express their desires as individuals, but not as a community. Now, the Church is precisely a community, and she celebrates all the sacraments in a communitarian sense; among them, also the Mass, because it is not intended to be celebrated without the presence of another person, and normally the faithful congregate in large numbers.
At this time the liberalism, the individualism that exists in this society is a challenge to the Church. It is easy to think of my personal preference, of a specific type of liturgy, of a particular expression of the celebration, of this priest rather than that priest; but this individualism is not in the character of the Church. And we must consider the effects of these influences on the spiritual life of the Church, as is clearly underlined in "Sacrosanctum Concilium", but also in "Lumen Gentium".
Has the pandemic reinforced the tendency towards individualism?
- I think that this tendency will not last forever, because we know that the need to relate to God and to others is within us, and it is not something that we have the possibility of pushing away indefinitely, by means of television or the internet. We need to be present at the celebration, since the sacraments are about a personal relationship with Christ, and are not a program or a movie. Online or on television we follow something for a moment, but we are not there; we can see everything, but we are not present, and this is the most important thing: the presence of the people.
Let me mention two particular aspects of "Sacrosancutm Concilium". The first is liturgical inculturation.
- The point is that there are some cultures, in certain societies outside Europe, especially in mission countries, in which the Roman rite can be enriched with the genius of each place, which is not always easy.
On this subject, I have often told the bishops that we have spent the last fifty years preparing the translation of the liturgical texts; and now we must move on to the second phase, which is already foreseen by "Sacrosanctum Concilium", and that is the inculturation or adaptation of the liturgy to the other different cultures, while maintaining unity. I think that this work should begin at this time. But I would like to point out that today there is only one liturgical "use", not a "rite", and that is in Zaire, in Africa.
It is important to understand what it means that Jesus has shared our nature, and in a historical moment. We have to consider the importance of the Incarnation and, if we can say so, of the action of grace being incarnated in other cultures, with various expressions that are completely different from what we have seen and appreciated in Europe for so many years.
The second aspect is beauty, especially in sacred architecture. The Pope says "the Church evangelizes and evangelizes herself through the beauty of the liturgy" ("Evangelii Gaudium", 24).
- Beauty is a part of God's nature, and a part of human existence. It is very important for man, because it attracts him: we are attracted by beauty. And it speaks to us not only in a unique way, but also individually.
This aspect of the liturgy, also with regard to the church, was foreseen by the documents issued immediately after the approval of "Sacrosanctum Concilium" and also endorsed by the bishops participating in the Council. These texts indicated what was to be taken into account in the configuration of the church so as to assist the celebration, and the significance and importance of the various elements. I am thinking, for example, of the altar, which signifies the Body of Christ; for the Orthodox it is the tomb, whence the resurrection belongs to the celebration of the Eucharist. Or in the importance of the ambo, by itself and in relation to the altar. In our celebrations we have two "tables": Sacred Scripture and the Holy Eucharist; but without Sacred Scripture we do not do the Eucharist. The two are in balance, and both are the same thing. The Word leads to the Eucharist and the Eucharist is deepened and understood by the Word.
Do you wish to add anything else?
- Yes, I think it is very important that at this moment we think once again about the voice of the Council to the whole world, a prophetic voice for the future of the Church. May we deepen what "Sacrosanctum Concilium" contains, and also the other documents, but above all "Lumen Gentium", about the holiness of the Church and our vocation, because without holiness we will lack an authentic voice to preach the Gospel.