Saturday, October 28, 2006

Address of Mgr Vingt-Trois

Address of His Grace the Archbishop of Paris,
at the Opening of the Colloquium to Mark the Fiftieth Anniversary of the
Institut Supérieur de Liturgie.

Your Eminence, your Excellencies, Rector, Fathers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an honour and a joy for the Archbishop of Paris, Chancellor of the Institut Catholique, to open this university colloquium on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie. This joy and honour are magnified once again, Eminence, by the privilege that you have bestowed on us by your presence. Your active participation manifests the interest of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, of which you are the Prefect, not only in the labours of this colloquium, but above all in the work which has been accomplished over the course of these fifty years by the Institut de Liturgie.
1. At the turn of the century.
The foundation of the Institut must be placed in the larger context of the vast collection of work and research on the liturgy which marked the twentieth century and which is sometimes justly known by the generic name of the “Liturgical Movement.”

In parallel with the secular study of rites and myths, the end of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth were marked by an important investment in historical and theological works on understanding the Latin liturgy. Others, more competent than I will undoubtedly describe the great figures of the Movement, particularly rich in Germany and France.
Largely supported and encouraged by Pius XI and Pius XII, these works, even before the Second Vatican Council, led to a certain number of reforms aiming the better to show forth the sense of the liturgical action, and also to facilitate its accessibility to the faithful. If I may be so permitted, I will simply mention the reform of Holy Week [1], the proclamation of the liturgical readings in vernacular languages [2] and the permission to celebrate the Eucharist in the evening [3], to speak only of the changes most noticeable to the assembly of the faithful. One must also refer to the decision of Pope St. Pius X to call the faithful to frequent communion [4] and to fix the age of first Communion at the age of reason [5] as one of the decisive factors in transforming relationships with the liturgy.
The studies undertaken also allowed, at least for those who wished to refer to them, for a better acquaintance with the successive changes in the liturgical rites and their historical conditions. From the theological perspective, they served to affirm the understanding of faithfulness to a living tradition in a slow development, which is not a simple mechanical repetition of a ritual chosen at a particular period. Thus, the profound liturgical reform of St. Pius V, in the application of the Council of Trent, could be understood as one of the stages of this long development: not the first and not the last. Faithfulness to the original institution could be deepened in integrating a living understanding of the Church’s tradition. The Church, in her Magisterium, has the charge of guaranteeing that faithfulness.

After the first reforms decreed by Pope Pius XII, it became clear that a deepening of historical knowledge and theological reflection on the liturgy constituted a fundamental area of university research. It was the merit of the pioneers to respond to this opportunity in launching the beautiful adventure of the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie. One must mention them all. I must be allowed to mention at least some of those among the first: Dom Botte O.S.B., Father Bouyer of the French Oratory, Father Gy, O.P., and Father Jounel, certainly among others.

2. The liturgical reform.
In the context, pastoral and academic, of the Liturgical Movement of the twentieth century, the young institute sought and found a particular area of work in the liturgical reform desired by the Second Vatican Council, and put into practice with fidelity and perseverance by Paul VI and John Paul II. In the times in which we live, it is perhaps not superfluous to recall some of the fundamental elements of this reform. I do not doubt that this will be done during the course of this colloquium. For my part, having lived the reform as a seminarian and as a priest, I would simply like to draw attention to two aspects which seem to me today to be largely misunderstood.
The first aspect is that of the catechetical and spiritual treasure from which the faithful benefit, and through them, the entire Church. The elaboration of the new liturgical readings, with the continuous reading of the Gospels and the Epistles and the greater access to the basic texts of the first Testament, opens to all the possibility of a larger encounter with the Scriptures, in the heart of the liturgical celebration itself. Further, the Council has not only enlarged the scriptural field of the readings. It has also defined the parameters of a preaching which must offer an actual commentary on these biblical readings: “Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony.” (S.C. 24.)
Beyond these or those questionable or changeable decisions of the reform, who could not see the considerable benefits which have resulted from it for the faithful? The exaggerations and errors which have accompanied its putting into practice must not hide what is at stake. The fundamental question is not that of the language used, but the question of the legitimacy of the Church in determining the forms of her liturgy. Who can fix the authorized readings? Who can define the liturgical calendar? Who can determine the feasts to celebrate, the saints to honour, and so on? What is, in the regard, the responsibility of the bishops in their pastoral office?

The second aspect which I would like to discuss is the following. The reform has brought to light that the liturgy, the sacred action, is not only the primary locus of catechesis, but also the moment of identification of the ecclesial community itself, the expression of its common faith. In the Catholic Church, if there exist different rites which are equally recognized, it is to express liturgically, in the regular prayer of the community, the liturgical, theological and spiritual tradition of a particular Church. In a certain sense, the rite is inseparable from a Church.
In this perspective, the work of liturgists, such as is conducted in this Institute, is not first of all a technical or practical specialism which can be juxtaposed with a speculative theological reflection. It is an organic act of Christian reflection upon the common faith.
This central dimension of the liturgical act for the identity of the Church and the whole community within her can undoubtedly explain why the liturgical debate arouses such passions. It touches the very awareness of what it is to belong to the Church. It is the reason why this debate has taken on among us a particular acuity, to which the French are especially attentive and – dare I say it? – Parisians most of all.
In our country, the liturgical reform has been applied with a systematic method which one does not find elsewhere. One of the reasons for this was that it had long been prepared for by historical and theological researches, and also by the vast effort of pastoral and apostolic renewal in the post-War period. This systematic approach, and the remarkable effects which it enabled, has also driven some applications which have sometimes been inappropriate or brutal, which enabled the impression to be given of a breaking of the tradition.
It is more serious, in fact, that the sadness and wounds that this behaviour has provoked. Among us, the liturgy has become an instrument in a debate of another order. Under some fantasies or some liturgical trends, one could discern a self-celebration of the assembly itself, substituted for the celebration of the work of God, even the proclamation of a new model of the Church. On the other hand, under the pretence of a mobilization for the defence of a liturgical form, there has been a radical criticism of the Second Vatican Council, which one has witnessed, even to the outright rejection of some of its declarations. The refusal of liturgical books regularly promulgated has been followed by public offence done to the Pope, and crowned by acts of violence such as the taking by force of a parish church in Paris, and a second tentative abortive attempt on the part of the same actors.
It would be of no use to recall these sad events, if it were not necessary to clarify the present context. None of the protagonists in these battles has believed or said that the problem was primarily, or still less exclusively, liturgical. It was and it remains an ecclesiological problem. It poses clearly the question of ecclesial unity in communion with the See of Peter. It poses clearly the question of the authority of an Ecumenical Council and its declarations voted upon by the assembly of the Episcopal college, and promulgated by the first of the bishops, head of the college.

If I allow myself to recall these underpinnings of the liturgical debate, it is because they seem to be me to constitute a theological and spiritual moment in our experience of the Church. If the liturgical controversy has also played strongly the rôle of wind-break for another debate, it is indeed because the liturgy is also a revealer of the experience of ecclesial communion. It is not a show, of which one may criticise at one’s leisure the programming and the cast, and correct the score. It is the expression of the faith and of the communion of the Church. It is, in a Christian system, the action which is constitutive of 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.” (S.C. 7.)

3. The future.

I have expanded a little upon the upheavals of the past forty years, first of all to salute the fidelity of the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie to the doctrinal and pastoral orientations of the Magisterium. This fidelity – must I recall it here – has never sought to appeal from one Council to another, from one Pope to another, or from one bishop to another.
Allow me therefore first, in my own name, and I believe that I can speak in the name of the bishops of France, to express my recognition of all the collaborators of the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie past and present, for their distinguished services which they have rendered to the Church. By their labours, liturgical culture has been developed, not only among specialists and clerics, but also, and thanks to them, among the assembly of the Christian people, and the liturgical quality of celebrations has progressed. Allow me also to formulate a vow for the future: that this institute follow upon and develop its own works.
In conclusion, I would like to share with you a hope: that the permanent efforts of our Church to reunite her children in one sole people and one sole praise be crowned with success. Since the sad year of 1988, the successive Popes have not ceased to stretch out their hand to those of their children who have sought to become their judges. No doubt today, the gulf has been enlarged, and the bridges are more difficult to put in place. That is an additional reason not to delay in acting with all our heart. Your bishops will continue to work peaceably and serenely for the necessary reconciliation in fidelity to the Pope and in communion with him.
For my part, I have inherited from Cardinal Lustiger a generous ecclesial putting into practice of the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei Adflicta. I am fortunate that this situation would allow sincere Christians to remain in ecclesial communion and to have their place as they are in the pastoral life of the diocese. I think that communion will advance more largely again if one would renounce anathemas and hyperbole. A sign of this progress would undoubtedly be if all could celebrate the Eucharist following the same liturgical calendar and the same lectionary. How unity would progress if we all heard every Sunday the same Word of God, if we all celebrated together the same feasts of the Lord and if we honoured together the same saints!

+André Vingt-Trois
Archbishop of Paris

[1] Decree of 9 February, 1951, then of 16 November, 1955.
[2] Response of the Holy Office of 17 October, 1956, authorizing the proclamation of the Epistle and of the Gospel in Latin and then in the vernacular language.
[3] Pius XII, Apostolic Constitution Christus Dominus, 6 January, 1953; Directory for the pastoral celebration of the Mass for the use of the Dioceses of France (November, 1956).
[4] St. Pius X, Decree Sacra Tridentina Synodus, 30 December, 1905.
[5] St. Pius X, Decree Quam singulari, 8 August, 1910.

Acknowledgements and Translator's Notes

I am grateful to Rorate Caeli for drawing this text to my attention, as part of its ongoing coverage of various responses to the Holy Father's expected freeing of the traditional Roman Rite. The original French text is available on the website of the Archdiocese of Paris; those who read French are encouraged to consult this!

I apologize in advance for any errors in my translation, which has been completed quickly, in an attempt to increase understanding of the contemporary situation. This address strikes me as instructive in a number of ways that I hope will be explored fully in discussion.

Friday, October 27, 2006


Although it is not my custom to be swayed by fashion, I am not above taking account of such useful developments as may occasionally occur in the benighted era in which we live. Accordingly, I have decided to follow the example of some of my friends and brethren who have established for themselves such places as this.

This will serve as a repository of my musings on various, but primarily liturgical, subjects. I hope that it will promote the clarification of my own ideas and perhaps enable me to contribute more effectively to the broader conversation which is taking place at this particularly interesting moment in the history of the Church.

As an initial gesture in that direction, I have translated into English the recent address of Mgr Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, at the Colloquium marking the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Institut Supérieur de Liturgie, from which some translated extracts have been published. I hope to publish this myself tomorrow.