Ecumenism: More Important than the Holy Sacrifice?

The pope is scheduled to visit Lund, Sweden, on Monday, for the joint Luthern/Vatican “commemoration” of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant “Reformation”. In a newly-released interview with La Civiltà Cattolica (excerpts of which have been translated by Crux), Francis indicates that he originally did not want to offer Mass in Lund, because he saw it as an obstruction to the ecumenical symbolism of the event:

In the interview with Father Ulf Jonsson, a fellow Jesuit, the pope also discusses his relationships with Lutherans from his days as a Jesuit and later archbishop in Buenos Aires, and said Catholics could learn from the Lutheran tradition in the areas of church reform and Scripture.

Noting how the words “Catholic” and “sectarian” were in contradiction, he said: “This is why at the beginning I wasn’t planning to celebrate a Mass for the Catholics on this trip. I wanted to insist on an ecumenical witness.”

“Then I reflected well on my role as pastor of a flock of Catholics who will also come from other countries, like Norway and Denmark,” he said. “So, responding to the fervent request of the Catholic community, I decided to celebrate a Mass, lengthening the trip by a day.”

By celebrating the Mass on Tuesday, rather than Monday, “the ecumenical encounter is preserved in its profound significance according to a spirit of unity – that is my desire,” the pope said.

All I could think of while reading this was two famous quotes on the liturgical revolt after the Second Vatican council. The first is from Jean Guitton (close friend of Paul VI):

The intention of Paul VI with regard to what is commonly called the Mass, was to reform the Catholic liturgy in such a way that it should almost coincide with the Protestant liturgy – but what is curious is that Paul VI did that to get as close as possible to the Protestant Lord’s supper… there was with Paul VI an ecumenical intention to remove, or at least to correct, or at least to relax, what was too Catholic, in the traditional sense, and, I repeat, to get the Catholic Mass closer to the Calvinist Mass.

The second is from then-Father Anibale Bugnini, principle author of the schema for Sacrosanctum Concilium and creator — as Secretary of the post-conciliar “Consilium” — of the Novus Ordo Missae (New Order of Mass). Bugnini said that his intention in the drafting of the new liturgy was to

“to strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren, that is, for the Protestants.” – L’Osservatore Romano, March 19, 1965

For the most part, Francis has thus far left the liturgy alone. It has always been my theory that it is because it is of little consequence to him; he is neither strongly for nor against good liturgy. His program is about social justice, the “reformation” of doctrine, and the systematic deconstruction of the Church’s ancient theological paradigms.

But in separate reporting today, there is troubling news on the liturgical front:


Pope Francis today appointed a raft of new members to Cardinal Robert Sarah’s liturgy department, choosing a series of pastoral moderates to replace more conservative-minded figures.

The move will be read as the Pope’s attempt to rein in the cardinal who has consistently called for priests to celebrate Mass facing East, something the Pope reprimanded him for earlier this year.

Among the new members of the department – formally known as the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments – are Piero Marini, a long-serving master of papal ceremonies and a key proponent of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

Others named as members, who will effectively oversee Cardinal Sarah’s work and vote on decisions, include Cardinal Pietro Parolin (Vatican Secretary of State) and New Zealand Cardinal John Dew.

Tablet writer Christopher Lamb helpfully reminds us that “Cardinal Sarah, from Guinea, has consistently called for priests to turn their backs on the congregation while celebrating Mass and has struck a very different tone to the Pope’s merciful approach to families in difficult circumstances.”

Returning to the Civiltà Cattolica interview, we see again the most potent reminder of the papal agenda I outlined yesterday:

Asked what the Catholic Church could learn from the Lutheran tradition, Pope Francis said Martin Luther “wanted to remedy a complex situation” but his reform ended up splitting the Church because of the confusion of temporal and spiritual.

But he said reform in the Church was “fundamental, because the Church is semper reformanda (always to be reformed),” adding that prior to the 2013 conclave “the request for a reform was alive” in the cardinals’ discussions about the state of the Church.

Francis has done an excellent job making clear that his spiritual and ecclesiastical inspiration comes predominately from Martin Luther.

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