Was the recent letter of Pope Francis to Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, really a ‘slap down’? Or is there another way of looking at it?
Richard Gaillardetz takes a deeper look at the significance of the Motu Proprio of Pope Francis (Magnum Principium) that ‘started’ this particular skirmish in the ongoing liturgy wars that have inflicted the Catholic Church since the completion of the Second Vatican Council, and sees there a desire of Pope Francis for the fullness of that Council to finally be brought to life. As Gaillardetz notes right at the beginning of his article
This is not about ecclesiastical one-upmanship. It is simply one more example of Francis’ consistent determination to implement the vision of the Second Vatican Council. If his actions continue to surprise us, it is because, five decades out, there remains a substantial gap between the council’s reformist agenda and its concrete realization in the life of the church.
The letter to Cardinal Sarah, and indeed the motu proprio itself, is embracing the kind of structures that the Second Vatican Council seemed to intimate, a more collegial structure that recognised that it wasn’t always in the best interest of the Church – institutionally and as the People of God – to have a monolithic, top-down kind of structure that had existed before the Council. If the call of the Church was to be missionary – and it was and is – than the Church needs to be prepared to adopt a more flexible and collegial structure that allows the ‘local church’ (by which is meant not only a diocese but groupings of dioceses in a particular area) to respond in the most appropriate way to the demands of proclaiming the Gospel in their local context.
And that applies to the liturgy as well.
As Gaillardetz concludes
We are over four and a half years into this pontificate and yet this pope can still surprise us. He surprises us by his refreshing return to the simplicity and joy of the Gospel and he surprises us by his conviction that St John Paul II was right: Vatican II is “a sure compass,” guiding our church on the path of reform and renewal.
The direction is sure, and Pope Francis seems determined to follow that direction.