Thursday, February 22, 2007

Interview with Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith

I realise many people will have read this elsewhere but there may be some who have not. This interview with the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship is very heartening and, I imagine, quite important. Many things are said here which I have long felt to be true. The archbishop`s assessment that the post-conciliar reform of the liturgy has not been able to achieve the expected goals of spiritual and missionary renewal in the Church is a striking admission from a senior Vatican official and a departure from the more common assertion that the reforms in the liturgy since the Council have ushered in a period of wonderful renewal. This is an `Inside the Vatican` magazine interview.


All who are interested in the Church’s liturgy are wondering if the Pope will soon issue a motu proprio allowing the celebration of the "Old Mass," and (if he does), what it will say. One of the Vatican’s liturgists sheds light on the Pope’s plans
ANTHONY VALLE: Your Excellency, you have been generous in giving several interviews to the international press regarding liturgy since becoming the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Some of your statements have been misinterpreted and aroused controversy rather than providing the intended clarity. Would you care to clarify anything?
ARCHBISHOP MALCOM RANJITH: What I wished to insist on in those interviews was that the post-conciliar reform of the liturgy has not been able to achieve the expected goals of spiritual and missionary renewal in the Church so that today we could be truly happy about it.
Undoubtedly there have been positive results too; but the negative effects seem to have been greater, causing much disorientation in our ranks.
The churches have become empty, liturgical free-wheeling has become the order of the day, and the true meaning and significance of that which is celebrated has been obscured.
One has to, then, begin wondering if the reform process had in fact been handled correctly. Thus, we need to take a good look at what had happened, pray and reflect about its causes and with the help of the Lord move on to make the necessary corrections.
VALLE: It seems as if Pope Benedict XVI will release a motu proprio to liberalize the use of the traditional or Tridentine Mass. Some hope that the Pope’s motu proprio will institute a juridical structure enabling priests to celebrate the traditional Mass without being unjustly harassed and persistently thwarted by, ironically, not people of other faiths or secular authorities, but by their own pastors and bishops. Is this hope for a new juridical apparatus realistic? Is such an apparatus necessary?
RANJITH: Well, there is this rising call for a restoration of the Tridentine Mass. And even certain leading figures of the elite have made public appeals for this Mass in some newspapers recently.
The Holy Father will, I am sure, take note of this and decide what is best for the Church.
You speak of the possible realization of new juridical structures for the implementation of such decisions. I do not think that this would be so much of a problem. Rather what is more important in all of this is a pastoral attitude.
Will the bishops and priests reject requests for the Tridentine Mass and so create a need for juridical structures to ensure the enforcement of a decision of the Pope? Should it go that way?
I sincerely do not hope so.
The appropriate question the shepherds have to ask themselves is: How can I as a bishop or priest bring even one person closer to Christ and to His Church?
It is not so much a matter of the Tridentine Mass or of the Novus Ordo. It is just a question of pastoral responsibility and sensitivity.
Thus, if the Tridentine Mass is the way to achieve an even better level of spiritual enrichment for the faithful, then the shepherds should allow it.
The important concern is not so much the "what" as much as the "how." The Church should always seek to help our faithful to come closer to the Lord, to feel challenged by His message and to respond to His call generously. And if that can be achieved through the celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass or the Pius V Mass, well, then space should be provided for whatever is best instead of getting down to unnecessary and divisive theological hair-splitting. Such things need to be decided through the heart and not so much through the head.
After all, Pope John Paul II did make a personal appeal in Ecclesia Dei Adflicta of 1988 to the bishops, calling upon them to be generous in this matter with those who wish to celebrate or participate in the Tridentine Mass. Besides, we should remember that the Tridentine Mass is not something that belongs to the followers of Archbishop Lefebvre only. It is part of our own heritage as members of the Catholic Church.
The Second Vatican Council, as Pope Benedict so clearly stated in his speech to the members of the Curia in December 2005, did not envisage a totally new beginning, but one of continuity with a renewed sense of enthusiasm and a new outlook that better responds to the missionary needs of the time.
Besides, we also have the serious question of the diminishing number of faithful in some of the churches in the Western world. We have to ask ourselves what happened in these churches and then take corrective steps as may be necessary. I do not think that this situation is attributable to secularization only. A deep crisis of faith coupled with a drive for meaningless liturgical experimentation and novelty have had their own impact in this matter. There is much formalism and insipidity visible at times.
Thus, we need to recover a true sense of the sacred and mystical in worship.
And if the faithful feel that the Tridentine Mass offers them that sense of the sacred and mystical more than anything else, then we should have the courage to accept their request.
With regard to the timing and nature of the motu proprio, nothing yet is known. It is the Holy Father who will decide.
And when he does, we should in all obedience accept what he indicates to us and with a genuine love for the Church strive to help him. Any counter attitude would only harm the spiritual mission of the Church and thwart the Lord’s own will.
VALLE: Like many Catholics today, my wife and I have found that we leave the celebration of the Novus Ordo Mass on Sunday exasperated and perplexed rather than spiritually invigorated. Why?
RANJITH: In the celebration of the Novus Ordo we have to be very serious about what we do on the altar. I cannot be a priest who dreams in his sleep about what I will do at the Mass the following day, walk up to the altar and start celebrating with all kinds of novel self-created rubrics and actions.
The Holy Eucharist belongs to the Church. Hence, it has a meaning of its own which cannot be left to the idiosyncrasies of the single celebrant.
Every element in the liturgy of the Church has its own long history of development and significance. It is certainly not a matter of private "traditions" and so cannot be the object of manipulation by all and sundry.
In fact, Sacrosanctum Concilium does state that other than the Apostolic See and the bishops, where this is allowed to the latter by the former, "absolutely no other person, not even a priest, may add or remove or change anything on his own authority" (SC 22). Even then, we note much free-wheeling in liturgical matters in some areas of the Church today, basically due to an incorrect understanding of liturgical theology.
For example, the mystery of the Holy Eucharist has often been misunderstood or partially understood, leaving thus the door open to all kinds of liturgical abuses.
In the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, some place too much accent on the presidential role of the priest. But we know that the priest is really not the main agent of what happens on the altar.
It is Jesus Himself.
Besides, every liturgical celebration has also a heavenly dimension "which is celebrated in the holy city of Jerusalem towards which we journey as pilgrims" (SC 8).
Others explain the Eucharist in a way that places the accent on its banquet/meal dimension, linking it to "communion." This too is an important consideration, but we should remember that it is not so much a communion created by those taking part in the Eucharist as much as by the Lord Himself.
Through the Eucharist, the Lord assumes us unto Himself and in Him we are placed in communion with all the others who unite themselves to Him. It is thus not so much a sociological experience as much as a mystical one. Hence even as "communion" the Eucharist is a heavenly experience.
What is more important is the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist. Each time we celebrate the Eucharist we relive the sacrifice of Calvary, celebrating it as the moment of our salvation.
And this very fact also constitutes the unique dignity and font of identity of the priest. He has been instituted by Christ to celebrate the wonderful mystery of turning this corruptible piece of bread into the very glorified Body of Christ and this little bit of wine into the Blood of Christ, enacting the sacrifice of Calvary for the salvation of the world. And this has to be lived, understood and believed by the priest each time he celebrates the Eucharist.
Indeed, Sacrosanctum Concilium placed accent on the sacrificial and salvific effectivity of the Mass. The priest thus becomes another Christ, so to say. What a great vocation! And so, if we celebrate the Eucharist devoutly, then the faithful will reap immense spiritual benefit and return again and again in search of that heavenly nourishment.
VALLE: Some have contended that the solution to the liturgical crisis -- and at bottom the crisis of faith -- afflicting the Catholic Church today would be to implement the exclusive use of the Tridentine Mass, while others maintain that all we really need is a "reform of the reform," in other words, a reform of the Novus Ordo. What do you think?
RANJITH: An "either-or" attitude would unnecessarily polarize the Church, whereas charity and pastoral concern should be the motivating factors.
If the Holy Father so desires, both could co-exist.
That would not mean that we would have to give up the Novus Ordo. But in the interaction of the two Roman traditions, it is possible that the one may influence the other eventually.
We can’t say everything is completed and finished, that nothing new could happen. In fact, Vatican II never advocated immediate change in the liturgy. Rather it preferred change to "grow organically from forms already existing" (SC 23). As Cardinal Antonelli, a much revered member of the Concilium that undertook the revision of the liturgy after the Council, noted in his diaries, some of the liturgical changes after the Council had been introduced without much reflection, haphazardly, and made later to become accepted practice.
For example, Communion in the hand had not been something that was first properly studied and reflected upon before its acceptance by the Holy See. It had been haphazardly introduced in some countries of Northern Europe and later become accepted practice, eventually spreading into many other places. Now that is a situation that should have been avoided. The Second Vatican Council never advocated such an approach to liturgical reform.
VALLE: Lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi ("The law of praying (is) the law of believing, (is) the law of living"). Is it true that how we worship and pray influences what we believe, and that what we believe influences how we live? In other words, liturgy ultimately influences our moral life, does it not?
RANJITH: Yes. How can we convince the faithful to make sacrifices in their ethical and moral options, unless they are first touched and inspired by the grace of God profoundly? And such happens especially in worship when the human soul is made to experience the salvific grace of God most intimately. In worship, faith becomes interiorized and brims over with inspiration and strength, enabling one to take the moral options that are in consonance with that faith. In the liturgy, we should experience the closeness of God to our heart so intensely that we in turn begin to believe fervently and are compelled to act justly.
VALLE: What are some contemporary liturgical trends or problems that need correction?
RANJITH: One of these, as I see, is the trend to go for ecumenical liturgies in replacement of the Sunday Mass in some countries, during which Catholic lay leaders and Protestant ministers celebrate together and the latter are invited to preach the homily. Sunday Liturgies of the Word with the distribution of Holy Communion, which form is allowed in cases where a priest cannot be present, if turned into ecumenical events can give the faithful the wrong signal. They may get used to the idea of the Sunday without the Eucharist.
The Eucharist, as you know, makes the Church (Ed E. 21) and this is central to us Catholics. If it is so easily replaced by Liturgies of the Word, or worse still by so-called ecumenical prayer services, the very identity of the Catholic Church would be in question. Unfortunately, we hear also of cases whereby the Eucharist itself is being celebrated under various guises along with the Protestant pastors. This is totally unacceptable and constitutes a graviora delicta ("more grave offense") (RM 172).
Ecumenism is not something left to the ad hoc choice of individual priests. True ecumenism, such as the one espoused by Vatican II, comes from the heart of the Church. For example, the path to true ecumenism begins with serious reflection on the part of those who are deemed competent to engage in that type of reflection, such as the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity and the Holy Father himself. Not everyone has the competence to know in what way this delicate search for unity is to be perceived. It needs much reflection and prayer. Hence, liturgical novelty in the name of ecumenism should not be tried out individually.
A second disturbing trend is the gradual replacement of the Mass celebrated by a priest with a paraliturgical service conducted by a lay person. This of course can legitimately happen when no priest is available and facilities for the fulfillment of Sunday obligation are scarce. However, this is an exception, not the rule. What is dangerous is to marginalize the priest even when he is available and some lay pastoral leader team arrogates to itself tasks that are reserved for the priests. I mean by this the trend to get the lay leader to preach the homily instead of the priest, even when he is present, or to distribute Holy Communion, leaving the priest to sit idle at the altar.
We have to stress here that, as the Second Vatican Council affirmed, the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial priesthood "differ from one another in essence and not only in degree" (LG 10). And so it is gravely abusive to relegate to the laity the sacred obligations reserved to the priest.
What is unfortunate is the increasing tendency worldwide to laicize the priest and to clericalize the laity. This too is contra mentem ("against the mind" or "against the intention") of the Council.
There is also an increasing trend to shift the Sunday Mass to Saturdays almost as a "normal" practice. Rather than Sunday being the true day of the Lord, and so a day of spiritual and physical rest, there is a move to reduce its importance, making it become a day of worldly distractions. In Dies Domini, Pope John Paul II warned against this disturbing trend.
A final point I wish to make here concerns some practices introduced in mission territories, for example, in Asia, in the name of change, which are counter to its cultural heritage.
In some Asian countries we see a trend to introduce Communion in the hand which is received standing. This is not at all consonant with Asian culture. The Buddhists worship prostrate on the floor with their forehead touching the ground. Moslems take off their shoes and wash their feet before entering the mosque for worship. The Hindus enter the temple bare-chested as a sign of submission. When people approach the king of Thailand or the emperor of Japan, they do so on their knees as a sign of respect. But in many Asian countries the Church has introduced practices like just a simple bow to the Blessed Sacrament instead of kneeling, standing while receiving Holy Communion, and receiving Communion on the hand. And we know that these cannot be considered practices congruent with Asian culture.
Besides, the laity whose role today is being enhanced in the Church are not even consulted when such decisions are made.
All these situations do not augur well for the Church and we need to correct these trends, if the Eucharist we celebrate is to become, as St. Ignatius of Antioch affirmed, "medicine of immortality and antidote against death" (Eph. 20).
Anthony Valle is a theologian and writer who lives in Rome

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Today has been a beautiful spring-like day. I had a more relaxed start than on a normal Sunday as it is the weekend for the parish visitation at St Aidan`s, Benton and the episcopal vicar, Fr Jim O`Keefe, said the 9.30 Mass there, so my first Mass was the 10.30 at St Mary`s. After that I jumped in the car to go back to my old parish of St Joseph`s Gateshead as the parish priest had asked me to say the midday Tridentine Mass which I was more than glad to do. It was a low Mass and there was an element of urgency as I had asked Fr Jim O`Keefe for lunch after the visitation but I was back here by 12.55 in time for lunch at the New Coach Inn. We were joined by Fr David Milburn and as both had been many years at Ushaw there was some conversation about the origin of the game of cat which alas was only the stuff of legend by the time I turned up at Ushaw, despite the modern recreation in the picture.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Catholic Herald

In this weekend`s Catholic Herald, there is an inspiring article about the development of liturgical music at the parish of St Wulstan’s in Wolstanton, Staffordshire under the direction of the husband-and-wife musical team, David and April West. They now have children singing Gregorian chant and polyphony. It shows what can be done with enthusiasm and knowledge. The parish priest is Fr Anthony Dykes, to whom I once spoke on the phone as we were both working on Phd`s on Prudentius at the same time. I`ll be going into our primary schools after half-term armed with the music of Mass XVIII!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Today`s Times

The front page of today`s Times announced in an article by Ruth Gledhill, the Religion Correspondent: `Catholics set to pass Anglicans as leading UK church`. The gist of the story is that attendance at the Catholic Church in this country has exploded with recent immigration. It makes the claim:

From being an Irish-English church in a mindset of managing steady decline, the Church has within the space of 12 months found itself having to countenance an unprecedented expansion and change in its ethnic make-up.

One comment on Ruth Gledhill`s blog, which seems to have disappeared now I have gone back to look for it, pointed out, with the figures, that for quite a while now the number of practising Catholics has exceeded the numbers of practising Anglicans in this country. I have spoken to priests in other parts of the country whose congregations have increased dramatically through Polish immigrants but, so far as I am aware, they haven`t showed up here. St Aidan`s and St Mary`s are pretty full anyway at a weekend, but we could do with some Polish newcomers at SS Peter and Paul`s! A priest friend tells me that the future of the Catholic church in this country lies with immigration. I just hope that after a generation or two, our new arrivals have kept the faith and haven`t fallen prey to the high lapsation rates prevalent among Catholics today.
Many thanks to Ruth for the mention of Forest Murmurs on her blog.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Many Thanks

It was quite a surprise to see this blog in the nominations for the category of Best New Catholic blog in the Catholic Blog Awards for 2007! Many thanks to whoever submitted the nomination!

UPDATE 16.02.07 Thanks to both of people who voted for this blog! The results are now available. Glad to see Rorate Caeli and the Hermeneutic of Continuity did well.


There is an interview with Dr Joseph Shaw, the Latin Mass Society representative for Oxford on the Cornell Society for a Good Time blog which is very interesting regarding the situation of the indult Mass in the UK.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

St Aidan`s, Benton

Half a mile away from SS Peter and Paul`s is St Aidan`s Benton. I am also responsible for this church as moderator of the cluster which also includes St Teresa`s, Heaton where, mercifully, the church is looked after by Fr Kellett, the parish priest. Father shares the weekend Masses at St Aidan`s with me. St Aidan`s is the oldest of the parishes I run, being founded in 1906. The area is middle class. For many years there was a temporary church until the present building was put up in the early 1960`s. It was built as the church hall but for reasons I don`t yet understand the church was never built and the hall was converted a church. It is a building of little charm. Recently I had occasion to show the church to two local Anglican clergymen. The younger said " Oh you Romans do things so well!. This confused me somewhat and I wondered whether he was being serious! The other expressed an interest in the sanctuary bells and the newly-acquired gong in such a way that I thought here was someone who talked the same language!
The parish has a good attendance. The previous, very popular, parish priest, Fr Kennedy, established a 5pm Saturday vigil Mass which is always packed with people standing who can`t get a seat. When he took over the parish the Mass attendance was very low whereas Ss Peter and Paul`s was a thriving parish. Whether it was the introduction of the 5pm Mass or the stability of tenure by Fr Kennedy while Ss Peter and Paul had a rapid turn over of parish priests, St Aidan`s has now become a well attended parish while Ss Peter and Paul`s languishes with a small congregation. St Aidan`s has no school. It suffers from a lack of young people: on a Sunday there are no altar servers although there are three at the vigil. In the picture on the right of the sanctuary is a fairly new statue of St Aidan installed for Fr Kennedy`s 40th anniversary of ordination. I only say Mass here twice a week and only since September so nothing has changed yet in the liturgy except that I bought the Luzar starter kit of Gothic chasubles as the vestments on offer did not appeal very much. There is potential for improved music as at present Masses consist of four hymns. The Sunday organist used to run a good choir at St Teresa`s Heaton until 1993 when it was axed but he unfortunately appears very reluctant to try any Gregorian chant now.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

SS Peter and Paul`s Longbenton

When I was moved from St Wilfrid`s, Gateshead in 2005, as well as St Mary`s in Forest Hall I was also asked to look after the parish of SS Peter and Paul, Longbenton. This is in an area of Newcastle that has had its fair share of social problems but which has been the recipient of much regeneration planning recently. The parish probably saw its heyday in the 1970`s and 1980`s when it was a centre for charismatic renewal. In recent years there has been quite a rapid turn over of parish priests and the parish has gone into something of a decline. At present there is one Sunday Mass at 9.15 attended by about 80 people, most of whom are elderly. At least SS Peter and Paul`s looks more like a church than the other two venues in which I say Mass at the weekend although the large black marble altar is rather daunting. As I only say Mass there on a Friday night apart from the Sunday I haven`t applied myself much to thinking what could be done with the sanctuary. I hope to have some tabernacle veils made soon. The altar might benefit from a frontal and some different candlesticks. What I like about the parish is that it reminds me in many ways of St Wilfrid`s in Gateshead where I had ten relatively happy years in that the congregation and area is quite similar, although they do not have the traditional devotions ( such as the Forty Hours and May Processions) that were a normal part of life at St Wilfrid`s and which are so hard to re-introduce once it has been decided to scrap them. I have introduced weekly exposition of the Blessed Sacrament for an hour before the Friday evening Mass. The presbytery is the home of the remarkable Fr David Milburn, author of the History of Ushaw College and president of the North East Catholic history society, who provides valuable help in both parishes. Here are some pictures of the sanctuary. The figure above the altar I find hard to love but haven`t come up with a replacement as yet.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Good News continued

Hebdomadary asks whether they really built the horrific Westgate house next to the Victorian Union Rooms ( currently a Wetherspoons pub). Indeed they did. The first picture gives another view. The next building to the west of the Union building is one of the medieval churches of Newcastle, St John`s, Grainger Street. The second picture of the church gives a glimpse of Westgate house looming in the background