This past Saturday Pope Francis travelled to the parish of Ognissanti (All Saints) in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the first vernacular Mass celebrated there by Pope Paul VI in 1965. Immediately following the Mass, the Holy Father exited the church to address the faithful gathered in the courtyard:
“Let us thank the Lord for what he has done in his Church in these 50 years of liturgical reform. It was truly a courageous gesture for the Church to draw near to the people of God so that they are able to understand well what they are doing. This is important for us, to follow the Mass in this way. It is not possible to go backwards. We must always go forward. Always forward (applause)! And those who go backward are mistaken…”
Taken at face value, the pope’s words are troubling to say the least and seem unnecessarily provocative. They also appear to dismiss the “reform of the reform” of the Roman Rite sought by his predecessor and embraced by a whole new generation of priests and faithful. The view expressed by Pope Francis seems inconsistent with that of Pope Benedict who (when addressing the world’s bishops upon the release of Summorum Pontificum) said:
“What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”
Indeed, rediscovering our rich liturgical tradition, in many ways epitomized by the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, cannot simply be dismissed as going “backwards”. If there is one overriding lesson we should have learned from the papacy of Benedict XVI, it is that the Church is always moving forward-and toward the Lord-when the sacred is restored to the liturgy.
As I read the Holy Father’s comments from Saturday, a variety of images entered my mind. Pictures like the ones below, illustrate better than any words possibly could the liturgical reality of the post-conciliar years, and the possibility of what can be for those who have rediscovered what was lost.
“Let us thank the Lord for what he has done in his Church in these 50 years of liturgical reform…”
“It is not possible to go backwards. We must always go forward. Always forward (applause)! And those who go backward are mistaken…”
We always “go forward” when we restore the sacred to the liturgy.