Pope Francis, Liturgist

There is an old joke that teases the Jesuits—that otherwise smart and nimble company—for their allegedly low standards when it comes to liturgy: “A good Jesuit liturgy is one in which nobody gets hurt.” The joke arises from the fact that traditional Jesuit training never placed great emphasis on liturgy in the way that, say, the Benedictines had. There were, to be sure, some hugely influential Jesuits active in liturgy at the time of the Council (e.g. Josef Jungmann and Joseph Gelineau) but they were the exceptions. Most Jesuits took a practical approach.

The liturgical renewal sparked by the Second Vatican Council raised the priority given to liturgy for everyone, Jesuits no less than others. They embraced the renewal. Today there are many renowned liturgists and liturgical scholars among the Jesuits, including North Americans such as Robert Taft, John Baldovin, Keith Pecklers, Bruce Morrill, and others. The contribution of Jesuits to liturgical education in the United States is significant: the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley participates in one of the largest graduate programs in liturgy in the country (at GTU). There is also a thriving international Jesuit organization of those with expertise in liturgy, The Jungmann Society, founded in 2003. More and more, the old joke about “a good Jesuit liturgy” grows whiskers and seems unfair.

Still, as we welcome a new pope who also happens to be a Jesuit, many are wondering what his approach to liturgy will be. Will it be practical or ideological? Will “creativity” be, as it was under Benedict, a negative word, or will it be a positive one? Pope Francis trained as a chemist. He spent most of his career in pastoral and administrative roles, engaging in worship not as a scholarly observer, a critic, or a theoretician, but rather as a pastor whose most passionate concern has been for the poor. What sort of liturgist will Pope Francis be?

As I’ve watched the details of Francis’s first week unfold, and read the reporting concerning his track record as the chief liturgist of the diocese of Buenos Aires, some clues have emerged. Admittedly, it’s early days, but I would say that Francis will stand in the tradition of Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II, more than he will resemble his immediate predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

Pope Paul VI promulgated Sacrosanctum Concilium and carried out the liturgical reforms of Vatican II with a generous pastoral vision. He seems to have attended to the details, yet fearlessly kept the big picture always before him: active participation, noble simplicity, the need for responsiveness to the local churches, as well as the legitimacy of adaptation and diversity. Paul VI refused to wear the papal tiara, that jewel-encrusted symbol of the temporal power of the papacy. He sold it and gave the money to the poor. This way of using symbol, not to lower the prestige of the papacy but to raise it by drilling down to the mission of the Church at its most fundamental level, is just the sort of thing Pope Francis seems keen to do. It’s a very “Vatican II” thing to do. Getting down to basics (ressourcement) was key to the Council.

It is also worth remembering that Argentina is one of the direct beneficiaries of the Vatican II vision of the importance of the local church and regional diversity. Argentina has its own liturgical translation; indeed the Spanish-speaking Conferences of Catholic Bishops have never bowed to the pressure to have a single Spanish translation, as the English-speaking ones have recently done. Although they were persuaded by Rome to adopt a single order of Mass in recent years, there are four different Spanish translations of the rest of the prayers: Spain, Mexico, Columbia, and Argentina.

Like Paul VI, Pope John Paul II also fully affirmed the liturgical reforms of the Council. Before he became pope, he had served on the Congregation for Divine Worship which approved those reforms. He remained supportive of them until his death. John Paul II took a lively interest in the indigenization of the liturgy, which he encountered in his travels and in the regional synods hosted in Rome. He reveled in the dancing of Africans and the music of Latin Americans and more.

Under his leadership, more centralized control of liturgical decision-making was indeed pursued, especially in the last two, very late instructions on the right implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium: on inculturation and on the translation of liturgical texts. Yet the overall liturgical thrust of John Paul II’s pontificate was toward implementation and realizing the implications of the liturgical reform rather than changing its direction. Toward the end of his life John Paul II grieved over “liturgical abuses,” yet the remedy he advocated was a deeper theological and biblical formation of the people of God. In other words, the problems as he saw them arose from human faults, not liturgical flaws.

As I’ve watched video clips of Cardinal Bergoglio washing the feet of women on Holy Thursday (a practice some US bishops have forbidden, out of a strict reading of the rubrics), presiding over a youth liturgy complete with puppets, a children’s mass with dance and clapping, a charismatic gathering at his cathedral, and so on, I am reminded of John Paul II. Like Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis appears to be concerned more about the human and faith dimensions of those celebrating than about critiquing forms or correcting the aesthetics of the liturgy.

Pope Benedict XVI came to the papacy already well known as a critic of the liturgical reforms coming from the Council. Whether one agreed with his criticisms or not, it was clear that he was a critic. In many ways, he did moderate his criticisms somewhat when he became pope. Nevertheless, his pontificate accelerated a dynamic of divisiveness around liturgical subjects. Whether referred to under the rubric of the “reform of the reform” or “liturgical restoration” or “revisionist history” with respect to the effects of Vatican II, Pope Benedict’s pontificate was known for his agenda of change in light of his critical appraisal of Vatican II. Perhaps his greatest change was the announcement, in his motu proprio, Summorum pontificum, that there are “two forms” of the Roman Rite, the ordinary and the extraordinary form—something never before heard of.

Liturgical forms mattered a great deal to Pope Benedict as material signs of continuity or discontinuity with the great tradition of the Catholic Church. I do not think it is an exaggeration to state that he held that the newer liturgical forms, at least in the way they have been implemented, are responsible for a spiritual weakening of the Church in our time. Quite understandably, he therefore sought to change them by act and example. Yet by so doing, he caused a great division between those who shared his view of what was wrong, and those who did not: raising great expectations in the former and great dismay in the latter.

I do not see Pope Francis continuing in the tradition of Pope Benedict with respect to this line of criticism. I anticipate, rather, a return to the human subject and the qualities of the ecclesial community (justice, charity) as the focus, with an acceptance of the Vatican II liturgical forms as a given, and as a gift, rather than as an arena of struggle.

Much has been made of the immediate contrast in apparel between Benedict and Francis. This is perhaps because the sartorial choices and fondness for antique vestments Pope Benedict evinced were widely hailed as indicative of a restorationist agenda. However, I would not put too much emphasis on clothing. Pope Francis could don antique vestments tomorrow, and if his relationship with the liturgy of Vatican II is not one of a critic, it will not make him another Benedict.

Pope Francis inherits a church deeply divided on matters of liturgy. Rather than bringing an end to “the liturgy wars,” the pontificate of Benedict XVI created new and painful divisions, disappointments and displacements for some, with expectations of a great revival among others. What will Pope Francis do in this context? A practical and pastoral approach along the lines of Paul VI and John Paul II seems the one most likely to succeed. Oddly enough, I find myself returning to that old adage about Jesuits with new fondness. Perhaps, if all goes well, no one will get hurt.

24 thoughts on “Pope Francis, Liturgist

  1. “Argentina has its own liturgical translation; indeed the Spanish-speaking Conferences of Catholic Bishops have never bowed to the pressure to have a single Spanish translation, as the English-speaking ones have recently done. Although they were persuaded by Rome to adopt a single order of Mass in recent years, there are four different Spanish translations of the rest of the prayers: Spain, Mexico, Columbia, and Argentina.”

    I’m told by friends who are much more familiar with the continent and the Spanish language than I am that the Spanish of Central and South America is very far from monolithic. I expect there are sound linguistic reasons that Argentina’s translation should be different than Mexico’s. 4,500 miles lie between Mexico City and Buenos Aires – about 1,000 miles more than between New York and Madrid.

  2. An excellent article, worth reflecting on in the coming weeks.

    I am puzzled though (probably my own ignorance) by one item. Brazil has its own Spanish translation of the prayers? As opposed to Portuguese?

    Many thanks!

  3. I was educated by Jesuits in the 1970s, and can recognise the opening sentiment: we had mass all over the building, despite there being five chapels in the school. There was the mass where Fr X played George Harrison for the penitential rite; there was the mass where Fr Y consecrated a piece of pitta bread; there was mass in a field, with Fr Z celebrating in wellingtons. I also remember visiting a J run church in Chaing Mai, where joss sticks burned on the altar, the congregation and celebrant sat cross legged throughout (the altar was about 6″ from the floor) and the tabernacle was mounted above head height out of respect for the blessed sacrament.

    Surely the point at which we converge is that liturgy must be “fitting for God”, and it is easy to *either* limit this to aesthetic considerations *or* to insist that it depends only on what is in the heart of the worshipper. Of course, both matter, but we as humans can’t see the insincere expression of beautiful song while we *can* hear the sincere expression made unskillfully and in (to our ears) poor taste.

    Still, I remember a Jesuit ordination from some years ago. Afterwards an elderly J was complaining about the pair who’d been singing and strumming guitars after communion. One of the group told him “Ah, you see Father, you’ve got to bridge the generation gap” to which he swiftly retorted “It’s not a generation gap, it’s a taste gap”.

    And finally, it was a guitar accompanied telling of the story of the Road to Emmaus, sung by Fr Tom McGuinness SJ, which permanently connected this most important gospel story to my inner faith.

  4. I concur with all the previous compliments.
    Thanks so much for the wonderful post.
    I hope it “goes viral,” as they say!

  5. I was a Jesuit Novice right before Vatican II.

    Actually the Novitiate was rather progressive, probably for Jesuits, and maybe as seminaries were at that time. We had a Rector (Novitiate shared building with Juniorate) who had been educated by the Benedictines and who loved Gregorian chant. So we had quite a bit of chant, however mostly sung by a rather large schola. We had sung Latin Compline on Sundays and Feast days. There was much diversity among the Jesuit priests. Some of the older ones mumbled through their private Masses in 15 minutes. Others had a Latin dialog Mass with the server. One was very much into outdoor Masses and as much English as possible. The standard practice was to have Jesuit novices preach twice during novitiate, one at an outdoor setting, the other in the chapel (but not during Mass). The Novice Master astounded the conservative novices when he had a novice who was subdeacon at a Solemn Mass in a parish preach the homily! (We were on a bus outing).

    Given the liturgical diversity already in this pre-Vatican II setting, I can easily imagine the chaos that likely reigned after Vatican II among Jesuits.

    A favorite Jesuit saying is “If you want be in a community, don’t become a Jesuit.” This is true even though there is a great sense of being “one of ours.”Ignatius recruited a band of knights for Christ, not an army (although right before Vatican II it had come to resemble an army).

    It is not that Jesuits are individualist in an inward way, they are individualistic in an outward way in creatively trying to serve others. So when they create or build community, you are likely to get as many different communities as there are Jesuits.

    I would not be surprised if Francis adapts his liturgical style to different settings. Jesuits are supposed to go in other people’s doors so as to bring them out their (“our”) door. Francis seems to prefer respect and persuasion in dealing with others; however he also knows what he wants. I suspect he will more likely tell people the end goals (e.g. get the Mass done within 2 hours) and let other people find the means. Incidently while in some cases he might set a time limit (e.g. for the TV audience), I suspect in other cases (Eastern, and some cultures) he might be very content to let the liturgy go on for a long time.

  6. Then there’s the story of the Jesuit coming back from a conference, and a confrere asked about it. The reply:
    “Well, you know how it is when you get 200 Jesuits together – at least 400 different opinions!”
    Vive la différence!

  7. My hunch is that he will not impose his own preferences on the rest of the church, but instead look to national bishops’ conferences and language groupings to decide matters of local impact, as SC called for and as was done in the decades after the Council. I would watch carefully for signs of where we are headed, such as: (1) the pace of language reform in Italy and other non-English speaking countries and which body directs it; (2) the fate of that priest’s manual that Canizares is sponsoring, not to mention the continuation of Canizares himself as prefect; (3) the ongoing agenda or even existence of Vox Clara; (4) the integration of the CDW by personnel trained at Sant’ Anselmo and other liturgical study centers; and even (5) the convocation of a synod to deal with the proper role of center and local churches in settling liturgical and other matters.

    1. @Paul Schlachter – comment #10:
      From your lips to God’s ear, Paul!
      It’s been a long time since I’ve read postings filled with such hope! Do we dare? As a former archdiocesan director of worship, my faith has been shaken but now, my hope has been rekindled.
      And Rita, thank you as always for your insightful writing.

  8. Rita, as others have said, this is a wonderfully written, well balanced article and I thank you for it.
    I spent 3 months in Rome celebrating liturgy with Jesuits (Keith Pecklers and Gerald Blaszak[sp]) both of whom were very fine liturgists and preachers and that is really the only extended exposure I have had to Jesuit liturgical style.. My hopes are high!!

  9. Thanks for this, Rita.

    As one who studied with John Baldovin in Berkeley at JSTB, I’ve been pained at some of the stereotypes trotted out regarding Jesuits and liturgy.

  10. As to Jesuits and liturgy: I cannot but give thanks today for the life and work of my Jesuit uncle, Fr. Francis X. Weiser, SJ (born March 21, 1901 in Vienna — died Oct 1986 in Weston, MA) whose pastoral-liturgical books continue to mean a lot to me.

    1. @Teresa Berger – comment #14:
      Teresa, did your uncle know Fr. Jungmann? And what amazing life experiences must your uncle have lived through during his long life. Do you have many stories?

      1. @Rita Ferrone – comment #15:
        Rita: my uncle studied with J.A. Jungmann in Innsbruck, and was very much influenced by him. He came to the U.S. in 1938, after the Nazis invaded Austria. And yes, I have a number of wonderful stories about him, including a hilarious one I will tell you when we see eachu other next (I don’t quite dare put it in writing, and entrust itI to the blogosphere).

  11. Thank you so much Rita, for a great reflection, particularly in the shifting reality of Jesuit liturgical engagement. I had the delight and honor of studying with Jesuit liturgists too – thanks John – and the delight of chairing an MA thesis this morning which continues that tradition into another “generation”! Might I make one small correction – it is not JST that has the large liturgical graduate program, but the GTU, of which JST is part. We have six liturgical studies faculty, and an ecumenical ‘gaggle’ of MA and PhD students who are wonderful, joined by the STL and STD students of JST proper!

  12. “As I’ve watched video clips of Cardinal Bergoglio ”
    I think this is the proper way to get a reading on where Francis might go liturgically.

    What has he been doing in terms of candles and crosses on the altar?

    Has he been following the crowd of chalices rule or using a large container poured out at the Fraction?

  13. The list of Jesuits deeply involved in liturgy should include Fr. Fessio, SJ. It seems to me that the terms used today, EF and OF did begin with Benedict but the reality of the two forms predates the use of these terms. The EF never really went away after 1969. Given that reality the pope was just identifying something we already knew to be true and his charity served to heal division not foster it. No longer can anyone pretend that there is anything wrong with the EF for what was good for our forebears remains right for us too and cannot be considered harmful. I also get the impression from the pope’s writings that the two forms will enrich one another over time suggesting that their independent existence is temporary. Perhaps we will see something similar in our rite to what we already see in the Byzantine rite with its two liturgies.

  14. Fr. Fessio seems to have done everything possible to create divisions.
    He also seemed to fail in showing humble submission to the teachings of the church.
    In being a strong advocate for his preferred form of public prayer, he failed to show understanding of liturgical theology and remain attached to a merely devotional format of prayer, inventing verbal gymnastics to avoid the clear and apparent meaning of “full, conscious, and active participation.”

    The fact that eventually a pope had the same tastes as he does not mean that either of them were competent liturgists.

  15. Tom,

    A little charity can go a long way. From where I stand (to borrow a phrase), Fr. Fessio has helped to heal division not foster it. By the way,
    Fr. Fessio is reported to be thrilled with the election of his fellow Jesuit Pope Francis. There is no reason to be so ill-at-ease with the Church’s liturgical diversity.

  16. Daniel,

    In the paragraph above I was listing “renowned liturgists and liturgical scholars.” Although I left it open (“and others”), I would not say that Fr. Fessio is among them, and I think that he would share that evaluation. His degree is, I believe, in systematic theology. He has nothing like the expertise in liturgy possessed by the priests I named. This is not a slam on him or his opinions, it’s just a fact.

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