Liturgical Views of the Papabili: Cardinal André Vingt-Trois

by Patrick Prétot, OSB

Born on November 7, 1942, Cardinal André Armand Vingt-Trois was named archbishop of Paris on February 11, 2005. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1969, and was vicar-general of the archdiocese of Paris from 1981 to 1999. Appointed auxiliary to Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger on June 25, 1988, he was ordained bishop on October 14 the same year. After serving as archbishop of Tours from 1999, he succeeded Cardinal Lustiger as archbishop of Paris in 2005. He was created cardinal priest at the Consistory of November 24, 2007, and received the title of Saint-Louis-des-Français. He is a member of the Pontifical Council for the Family, the Congregation of Bishops, the Congregation of the Clergy, and the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Displaced Persons.  He was elected president of the Conference of Bishops of France (CEF) on November 5, 2007.

Cardinal Vingt-Trois has been particularly attentive to the pastoral care of families (see for example: André Vingt-Trois, La famille, Fleurus, “Parole d’Église”, 2002). Over the past few months he has taken an active part in the debate provoked by the bill now before the French Parliament authorizing same-sex marriage. Along with the rest of the French bishops, he has avoided condemning individuals in their legitimate search for personal fulfillment, while drawing attention to the anthropological and societal consequences of such a change. In the same context, on July 25, 2012, he wrote to his fellow bishops, proposing a series of intentions for the well-being of the French nation that could be included in the Prayer of the Faithful on the solemnity of the Assumption (the patronal feast of France, and a public holiday that attracts large Mass congregations).

Ars celebrandi

As far as I know, Cardinal Vingt-Trois has never made public pronouncements on the concrete details of the manner of celebrating the liturgy; however, his speech at the opening of the Colloqium for the Fiftieth Anniversary of the “Institut Supérieur de Liturgie” (ISL) on October 26, 2006 will illustrate the following remarks. His approach is that of his predecessors and of the French bishops generally. The liturgical life of the cathedral of the archdiocese, Notre-Dame de Paris, can serve as an example. Since the promulgation of the 1970 Roman Missal by Pope Paul VI, Mass has been celebrated there every Sunday with Gregorian chant; however, the greater part of liturgical music at Notre-Dame is that of the pioneers of liturgical music in French, like Joseph Gelineau and Lucien Deiss. Liturgical music is chosen with great care, but always at the service of the liturgy and with a view to fostering the active participation of the assembly.

Contemporary art has been at the center of the sanctuary since Cardinal Lustiger invited artists to design a new high altar, ambo, cathedra, and candlesticks at the beginning of his episcopate; Cardinal Vingt-Trois has continued in the same line, with for example, a new reliquary for the crown of thorns. The ars celebrandi at Notre-Dame is solemn, but not sumptuous, ample without falling into the trap of ceremonial overkill. When he presides, the Cardinal avoids projecting of his personality and never adopts the manner of a talk-show host; he relates to the liturgy with sobriety and great discretion. It would not be going too far to say that he gives a living example of noble simplicity, an example that can help us avoid the ceremonial exaggerations that pretend to be expressions of liturgical tradition.

Liturgical Reform: Christian Life and Witness

Like the rest of the French bishops, the priority of André Vingt-Trois has been to help our Christian communities live their faith in the midst of the bleak winter of the deepening and often hostile secularization of French society in the contemporary context. The “Liturgical Question” is not here a matter of standards raised on an ideological battlefield within the Church. Rather it seeks to call forth witnesses of Jesus Christ. The celebration of the liturgy becomes food for Christian living, and leads women and men of faith to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel in today’s world. In this perspective, the liturgy contributes to the New Evangelization desired by Popes John-Paul II and Benedict XVI. As the cardinal pointed out in his speech for the fiftieth anniversary of the ISL, all the liturgical reforms of the twentieth century aimed to open the liturgy to the whole of the People of God so that it could become a source for their Christian life:

With the unfailing support and encouragement of Pius XI and Pius XII, and long before Vatican II, these efforts led to a certain number of reforms that aimed to make the meaning of the liturgical action more clear and to facilitate the participation of the faithful. I will give just a few examples of the most visible changes: the reform of Holy Week, the proclamation of the readings in the vernacular, and the possibility of evening Mass. But it is also important to mention the decision of Pope St. Pius X to encourage frequent communion, and to move the age for first communion to the age of reason; these two reforms were of decisive importance in transforming of the relationship of the faithful to the liturgy.

This reform was made possible by a deeper sense of tradition as a living reality, itself a fruit of the renewal of liturgical studies in the twentieth century:

From a theological viewpoint, this renewal has led to a refined sense of what fidelity to living tradition means. An understanding of the slow development of tradition shows that fidelity does not mean a simple, mechanical repetition of a ritual as it was performed at a given point in time. Thus the profound liturgical reform of Pius V, in application of the Council of Trent, came to be understood as a stage in this long development, neither the first nor the last. Faithfulness to the original institution deepens as it takes in the living understanding of the Church’s tradition.

The liturgy in France remains the first beneficiary of the fruits of the Liturgical Movement (the “Centre de Pastorale Liturgique” was founded in 1943, the journal La Maison Dieu in 1945, and the “Institut Supérieur de Liturgie” in 1956):

By their labors, liturgical culture was able to develop, not only among the clergy and other specialists, but also, though them, among all the Christian people, leading to an improved quality of our liturgical celebrations. May I here express a personal wish? It is that the ISL continue and develop its labors.

However, the very strengths of the liturgical movement in France also came to provoke opposition, although as we shall see, this opposition has specifically French roots that have nothing to do with the liturgy:

The liturgical reform was implemented in our country in methodical and systematic way that was not followed elsewhere. This was in part because it had been prepared well in advance both by historical and theological research, as well as by the vast program of pastoral and apostolic renewal after World War II. This systematic approach permitted the reform to be carried out with remarkable success, but it also led to a number of insensitive or even violent applications of the reform, which may have given rise to the sentiment of a break with tradition.

Liturgical Reform in the French Context

As well as enjoying the fruits of the liturgical movement, France bears the scars of the rejection of the liturgical reform and the foundation of the “Fraternité Saint-Pie X” by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in the aftermath of Vatican II. Cardinal Vingt-Trois has emphasized that this “liturgical question” is the most visible facet of a more general resistance to the whole of the Council’s teaching:

In France, the liturgy has been turned into a weapon for a different combat. Some have claimed to see in certain innovations or liturgical abuses an auto-celebration of the assembly, or even the appearance of a new model of church, in the place of  the celebration of the work of God. Elsewhere, in the guise of the defense of a particular liturgical form, a radical critique of Vatican II has arisen, going as far as an outright rejection of certain of its declarations.  A refusal to accept the newly issued official liturgical books was followed by public denigration of the pope and crowned by acts of violence, like the forcible occupation of a parish church in the heart of Paris, and a failed attempt by the same group to take a second church.

So there is a specifically French liturgical context, one going back to the middle of the twentieth century at least, and probably longer, involving as it does the complex history of an often difficult relationship between the Church and broader society. This context is not always easy to explain to those who do not experience it from the inside or who do not have a good understanding of French history since the French Revolution. The history of French Catholicism and, no doubt, a number of its contemporary characteristics, are inextricably linked to this reality. Both the Church and the society in which it exists are structured by a sort of polarization that goes well beyond the boundaries of the liturgy, and this polarization renders the integration of post-modern pluralism particularly difficult. This is why the symbolic impact of Pope Benedict XVI’s decision to liberalize the use of the liturgical books in force before the liturgical reform (Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, 2007) was very different in France to what it was in Africa, Asia or the Americas.

Liturgy and Ecclesiology

In this situation, the bishops of France sought to maintain the unity of the French Church, while remaining obedient to the Roman Pontiff. This double fidelity is the key to understanding Cardinal Vingt-Trois’ approach to liturgy:

It would not be helpful to call to mind these sad events if they did not possess a capacity to shed light on the present. None of the protagonists of the combats thought or said that the problem was mainly, even less exclusively, liturgical. It was and remains a question of ecclesiology. It poses the question of ecclesial unity in communion with the See of Peter. It poses the question the question of the authority of an ecumenical council and of its declarations, voted by the whole college of bishops and promulgated by the first of the bishops, the head of the college.

This question of ecclesiology is deeper than one of structure, but goes to the heart of the Church’s very identity:

The liturgical reform showed how the liturgy, the sacred action, is not merely the first locus of catechesis; it also functions in the self-identification of the ecclesial community itself, in the expression of its common faith. Different liturgical rites are recognized in the Catholic Church, and each rite constitutes, through the prayer of a given community, the liturgical, theological and spiritual tradition of a particular Church. Seen this way, rite and Church are inseparable… The liturgical controversy served as a screen for another debate precisely because the liturgy reveals the experience of ecclesial communion. It is not a show, whose program is subject to endless criticism and whose script can be constantly corrected. It is the expression of the faith and the communion of the Church. In Christianity, it is the action that constitutes the Church: “Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of his Body which is the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others; no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7).

The Unity of the Church and the Society of St. Pius X

The above quotations are all from a speech given before the Motu Proprio Summorum pontificum of July 7, 2007, as is the following, where Cardinal Vingt-Trois speaks of his hope for reconciliation. His words have not lost any of their relevance, and indeed possess a particular resonance today:

Since the sad events of 1988, successive Popes have constantly reached out to those of their children who set themselves up as their judges. No doubt the breach is wider today, and it is more difficult to build bridges. This is another reason to lose no time to do so with all our heart. Your bishops will continue to work in peace and serenity for the necessary reconciliation, in fidelity to and in communion with the Pope. For my own part, I have inherited from Cardinal Lustiger a generous and ecclesial application of the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei Adflicta. I am happy that this has allowed sincere Christians to remain within the Church’s communion, and to find their place, just as they have their place in the pastoral activity of the diocese. I think that communion will make progress even more if anathemas and exaggerations are left behind.

It may seem that this contribution has paid a disproportionate amount of attention to this refusal of the liturgical reform. After all, it concerns only a small minority of believers, and has little impact on the everyday life of the vast majority of Christian communities in France. However, the particular place that it occupies in the French ecclesial landscape, and the nature of the issues that it raises, show that more is at stake than quarrels about the placement of candlesticks or the length of a maniple-fringe. The real issues it raises, which go well beyond the properly French context, remain unresolved today. Cardinal Vingt-Trois, as we have just seen, has a clear understanding of their significance.

Sunday: the Lord’s Day

As president of the CEF, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois has engaged with other important aspects of liturgy and pastoral care. This was the case in the important closing speech he made at the end of the annual meeting of the French bishops in Lourdes in November 2011. He raised two questions that are connected to the liturgy: the celebration of Sunday, and the relationship of the faith with contemporary art (text published on the CEF website).

The question of the celebration of Sunday is of decisive importance for Christian communities. It has a particular complexity because of the current evolution of French society:

A Christian community is founded by and renews its strength in the sacramental offering of Christ’s sacrifice. We express our belonging to our Church by participating regularly at Sunday Mass, as we unite all the aspects of our existence to the love of God. It is there that we receive his Word as light for our way and we welcome the Bread of Life that Christ gives us to unite us with him. Without this Sunday assembly, the Church wastes away, and fails in its mission to all humankind.

But the Cardinal also calls attention to the concrete pastoral difficulties today:

We know that the members of our Church have not yet taken stock of the new limitations imposed by rural depopulation and by an excessive quantity of Sunday ministry borne by many priests.

For these reasons he invites “all who can to offer their help to facilitate transport,” [when Mass is not celebrated in a village church within walking distance] and he encourages liturgy preparation teams to “maintain their efforts to improve the beauty and spiritual quality” of celebrations. At the same time, because the French countryside continues to be marked by a time when Catholicism permeated the whole of the social fabric, he underlines the importance of not allowing “our village churches to be abandoned,” and invites Christians to bring their churches to life by gathering there for prayer.

This concern for Sunday is far removed from an inward-looking concern for purely Christian practices, for the “renewal of Sunday” can be one of the Church’s distinctive contributions to the construction of a better society. The combat for Sunday frees us from “the idolatry of consummation,” helps to reinforce social and family structures, defends and promotes a common rhythm in the wider community. This is why the Cardinal points out that:

We hold these objectives in common with many who do not share our faith. For our part, as we celebrate the Creator, we testify to a sense of moderation and of responsibility towards creation, we say that we are its stewards, not its owners.

Faith and Contemporary Art

In France in the recent past, a number of believers have reacted with vigor, even a degree of violence, towards certain artistic realizations that called into question visible signs of faith. Faced with this situation, the Cardinal has sought to favor an attitude that leaves the Church open to dialogue with contemporary society. Although he does not deny that some contemporary art can wound the sensitivities of certain Catholics, the Church cannot close itself off in a bunker:

We understand the concern of many when faced with works that are difficult to interpret. We need to confront these events, which recur from time to time, without closing ourselves off in a kind of debate where the Church would defend itself in the manner of a minority in a pluricultural or even hostile society.

He underlines that this attitude is not simply an invitation not to respond to provocation, but is founded on an “incarnational logic”:

In Jesus, God delivered himself into the hands of humanity. Our faith in Christ calls us to follow him in his own manner of confronting adversity, violence and hatred. Beyond the two plays in question, we are invited to reflect seriously on our relationship with cultural creations whose intentions or realization offend our love of Christ.

If certain works “are provocative” or if “their provocations wound a good number of spectators, whether they are Christians or not,” he invites believers to “search within themselves and to seek what questions such works pose, what type of search for God they manifest.” In this way, he invites Christians to change what seems to be a lack of respect for their convictions into a source for the deepening of their faith:

In this dialogue between faith and art can be found the riddle of human suffering. This suffering remains acute today: where is hope to be found? Does the crucified one of Jerusalem still have something to say? How does his cross announce something good for humanity: salvation? To recognize these questions and enter into dialogue is our first task as Christians. We must not pick the wrong battle. It is above all a battle with ourselves. The true battle that Christians have to fight is to be always more true to their faith within a contemporary society that suffers from the crisis of meaning that we are all familiar with. The best way of fighting it is to imitate the Lord as closely as possible, in living his endless forgiveness. This is the witness that we, as Christians, are called to give. For the face of Christ can be best seen in his disciples, today as yesterday.

Indifference, incomprehension, ignorance or rejection of Christ or of the faith touch us all in our love of the Lord and in our love for humanity. This wound should not and cannot turn into verbal violence, even less into physical violence. It must nourish our prayer, both personal and common.  It must motivate our desire to make known the true face of Christ, the face that is revealed in his passion and crucifixion. He told Peter to put his sword back into its sheath. He told the women of Jerusalem to weep over themselves and their children. He kept silence before the powerful who set out to judge him and the soldiers who struck him. Upon the cross, he prayed for his executioners. Let us follow his example as we pray for those who do not recognize him or who mistreat him, and also for those who are wounded in their love for him. It is in this way that we are in communion with Christ.

There is certainly more to say about the approaches to the liturgy indicated by Cardinal Vingt-Trois. I cannot deny that this presentation is influenced by my respect and esteem for his person, for the bishop that he is, and above all for his courage as he confronts difficult situations in a delicate context.

Patrick Prétot OSB, was born in 1956, and is a monk of La-Pierre-Qui-Vire Abbey. He is professor of theology in the Catholic University of Paris, and served as director of the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie (ISL) from 2001 to 2010. He became editor of La Maison-Dieu in 2010. Elected in 2011 as president-elect of Societas Liturgica, he will serve as president for the period 2013-2015 and its 2015 Congress in Minneapolis.

Translated by Christopher Lazowksi OSB, a monk of St. Wandrille Abbey.





5 responses to “Liturgical Views of the Papabili: Cardinal André Vingt-Trois”

  1. Jim Pauwels Avatar
    Jim Pauwels

    “the priority of André Vingt-Trois has been to help our Christian communities live their faith in the midst of the bleak winter of the deepening and often hostile secularization of French society in the contemporary context. The “Liturgical Question” is not here a matter of standards raised on an ideological battlefield within the Church. Rather it seeks to call forth witnesses of Jesus Christ. The celebration of the liturgy becomes food for Christian living, and leads women and men of faith to proclaim the Good News of the Gospel in today’s world. In this perspective, the liturgy contributes to the New Evangelization desired by Popes John-Paul II and Benedict XVI. ”

    This resonates strongly with me. In my view, this is the right approach for the United States as well.

  2. Claire Mathieu Avatar
    Claire Mathieu

    En novembre 2008, le cardinal André Vingt-Trois, président de la Conférence des évêques de France et archevêque de Paris, interrogé sur la place des femmes dans l’Eglise, répond en ces termes : « Le tout n’est pas d’avoir une jupe, c’est d’avoir quelque chose dans la tête. »

    Translation: In November 2008, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, president of the Bishops Conference and Archbishop of Paris France, was asked about the place of women in the Church and replied in these terms: “The main thing is not to have a skirt but to have something in the head.”

    That caused an uproar and led to the creation of the association “Comite de la jupe”, linked to above. He later clarified and nuanced his thought, but too late for many of us. So much for sensitive pastoral language.

    I realize that this is not really about liturgy, but for many Parisian Catholics it’s the defining quote from Cdl Vingt-Trois…

  3. Jordan DeJonge Avatar
    Jordan DeJonge

    Claire, what did he say in the clarification?

    Is it possibe that what he meant by this was we should value a woman for her intellectual contribution and not, for example, whether or not she is “dressing like a woman” or “representing feminity”.

    Since I’m assuming you know more about this than me and have been offended, I’m assuming he didn’t mean that quip in a progressive sense. But from the quotation itself without further context, I’m not certain I would have interpreted that negatively had you not presented it as being so.

  4. Claire Mathieu Avatar
    Claire Mathieu

    November 2008: Mgr Vingt-Trois, interviewed in Lourdes on the radio about the role of women in liturgy. More specifically, he was asked about the possibility of giving women the responsibility of proclaiming the Word of God in an official ministry, when currently only men may be given that ministry. He answered: “The most difficult thing is to have women who have been formed/educated [formées]. The main thing is not to have a skirt but to have something in the head.”

    He later expressed regrets for his “awkward wording [maladresse de son expression]” and assured that “in the exercise of his responsibilities”, he “never hesitated to call women to positions of responsibility when they were able to assume them.”

    1. Jim McKay Avatar
      Jim McKay

      @Claire Mathieu – comment #4:

      Perhaps his comment was meant to be about liturgy:
      “The main thing is not to have a skirt but to have something in the head.”

      So often the question of liturgy seems to come down to skirts and lace instead of anything in the head.

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