web analytics
Pope Francis Daily Mass

Pope Francis on Liturgical Formation

Pope Francis Daily Mass

Pope Francis has issued a wonderful Apostolic Letter, Desiderio Desideravi (do take the time to read it in full). It was published on 29 June, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, and comes a year after the publication of the Motu Proprio Traditionis custodes which restricted the use of the Traditional Latin Mass.

In a wonderfully direct way, Francis writes deeply about the liturgy – especially the Eucharist, highlighting that the beauty of the liturgy, of the Eucharist comes not primarily from external, secondary elements which may vary, but from the heart, the core of the celebration which Jesus has left us.

This letter deserves not only to be read, studied, and discussed by those who are in full communion with the Bishop of Rome; I would hope that it is read reflectively by Anglican (and other denominations) lay faithful, clergy, and studied and discussed by those in seminaries and theological colleges. If the liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is the source and summit of all that we do as Christians, then here is a starting point for how this can be a reality for us in our contemporary context.

With my interest in worship and spirituality, I regularly find people who assume that liturgy is about majoring on minors. Either people assume this is the case and reject the whole liturgical package – (wrongly) throwing out the major because they realise (rightly) that the minors ARE minors (“gnats and camels” Jesus). Or they assume that, because of my interest in liturgy, that I am obsessed with rules and rubrical minutiae, and wanting to engage with me at that level.

Let me publicly align myself with the approach of Pope Francis:

[it is important that we not confuse] simplicity with a careless banality, or what is essential with an ignorant superficiality, or the concreteness of ritual action with an exasperating practical functionalism [22] [we need to guard against] rigid austerity or an exasperating creativity, a spiritualizing mysticism or a practical functionalism, a rushed briskness or an overemphasized slowness, a sloppy carelessness or an excessive finickiness, a superabundant friendliness or priestly impassibility. [54]

The model that Francis uses is of liturgy being an art: “The ars celebrandi cannot be reduced to only a rubrical mechanism, much less should it be thought of as … creativity without rules.” [48] It is akin to the model that I have often used is of learning the grammar of liturgy. I believe that my book, Celebrating Eucharist (freely available digitally here) is a contemporary resource for a community’s celebration of the Eucharist (which, obviously written for a New Zealand Anglican context, you can adapt its principles into your own cultural or denominational context).

Francis urges study, training, and formation both for the liturgy and by the liturgy.

I will pick up in future blog posts my reflection as I sit in the pews as I travel around and see liturgy done in ways that certainly would not reflect what Pope Francis is writing (I am being as polite as I can be) – I wonder, looking at the people who endure this week after week: why are these people here?! One answer is provided by the title of Francis’ letter, a quote which he expands on: “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.” (Luke 22: 15).

Before our response to his invitation — well before! — there is his desire for us. We may not even be aware of it, but every time we go to Mass, the first reason is that we are drawn there by his desire for us. For our part, the possible response — which is also the most demanding asceticism — is, as always, that surrender to this love, that letting ourselves be drawn by him. Indeed, every reception of communion of the Body and Blood of Christ was already desired by him in the Last Supper. [6]

I am at the Eucharist, these people are at the Eucharist, not firstly because of our desire to be there – firstly is Christ’s desire for us to be there.

A final point from me: Pope Francis clearly loves the thinking of Romano Guardini (as does, incidentally, Pope Benedict XVI). Whilst he did not complete it, Francis began doctoral dissertation on Guardini. He quoted him eight times in his 2015 encyclical Laudato si‘. He quotes him five times in this letter – I think I’m correct that this is, other than the Council, the Bible, and saints, this is the only author quoted.

In conclusion: I urge you to make time sit and read and reflect on the Pope’s letter, discuss it; I urge your parish or worshipping community to reflect and act on it; I hope that it is carefully studied and implemented in theological colleges and seminaries of all denominations – well beyond Roman Catholicism.


Some online articles (off this site) about Desiderio Desideravi:
Liturgy must not be ‘exploited’ in service of ideology (Tablet)
Don’t be sloppy or pernickety during mass, Pope tells priests (Church Times)
Pope Francis Pens Letter on Liturgy After ‘Traditionis Custodes’ (National Catholic Register)

Similar Posts:

7 thoughts on “Pope Francis on Liturgical Formation”

  1. Diego de Jódar

    Beautiful post, Bosco! And beautiful letter!

    However… correct the name fast, fast: Desideravi, and not Desiderata. These autocorrect keyboard feature can be traitorous at times.


    Diego de Jódar

    1. Thanks so much, Diego, for pointing out the autocorrected error – hopefully fixed now. Blessings.

  2. Hi Bosco,
    Thank you once again for giving your time and energy to keeping your finger on the pulse of the Church and then encouraging us to engage with the most important beats. Francis writes for the whole Church. I agree with you that we should all read, digest and discuss this most important letter. As an Anglican priest and educationalist I would join with you to encourage our teachers and those who compose the curriculum of our theological training institutions to include the letter within the syllabus of all students. In our situation (Anglican in New Zealand), where liturgical formation seems to be deemed unimportant, it appears as a timely and wonderful resource.
    I also liked the plug for the theological teaching of Romano Guardini.
    Thanks again,

    1. Thanks, as always, for your encouragement. I’m pleased your comment came through, Peter. I am finding that the spam filter seems to filter out more than spam 🙁 and so hope that those reading this realise that I am NOT censoring comments – every (genuine) comment I receive is through onto the site. Anyone who can help correct my WordPress filter would be much appreciated. Blessings.

  3. Thank you for the link to this letter. Praise for it has appeared in several places with which, and from several people with whom, I have some contact.

    Particularly helpful in my reflection was section 54 – and the description of how a celebrant at the Eucharist may in some way derail the power of the mystery by over-personalisation. The couching of “superabundant friendliness” between “excessive finickiness”, and “priestly impassability” spoke like a dagger to me. Like he suggests, navigating the two extremes is an art, and one that may take a lifetime of lifetimes to perfect. I know where I have probably landed often, and I know others who equally at the other extreme have likewise, according to his definition, made it “the me show”.
    The antitode as I have read it, is the real power of the Spirit – poured out at Ordination and present in the hearts of the faithful (including the celebrant) gathered. Reflecting on a number of comments (on this letter) I have seen coming from within the Anglican Communion, and ACANZP in particular about the need for this to be discussed in seminaries (our seminary), which are not the least subtlety veiled attacks on our formation, I wonder.

    If the antidote is partly the Spirit poured out at ordination, and Anglican Orders are not acknowledged, Apostolicae curae, then we might talk, study, practice the technique etc of the art until the cows return, but a necessary ingredient will be missing always. Is it worth remembering this as we breathe down derision on our formation programs? For all Pope Francis’s ecumenical swagger – Apostolicae curae has not been withdrawn, quite recently rather endorsed.

    Also, whilst there is reference to being watched over by Mary and therefore not needing a rule to know how to act, I am confident there are prescriptive rubrics in the Roman Missal and associated texts to give priests a cheering direction or two even under Mary’s gaze. I know not what to make of being “protected in the womb of the Virgin” and am sure I would not be alone in my tentativeness towards knowing what that means?
    In ANZPB it seems there is a breadth precisely to allow for variation, which may be based on a congregation’s desires, or more realistically the personal whim of the celebrant. What gestures, tonality, movements, vestments are we directed towards – it seems every man (and lets not forget…to the Anglican Church’s credit women) for themselves. Wear a stole, wear a chasuble, genuflect, go for a walk up the back mid thanksgiving to check the zip is on for the cuppa, where does the artform begin and end? Who decides? Not Pope Francis! We don’t have a magisterium, nor a confessional statement beyond Jesus is Lord. There are priests who don’t like being called priests, there are priests who seem to belong to some esoteric club passing down ‘the good oil’ from generation to generation, is it Anglo-Catholicism? Not according to Apostolicae curae it’s not.
    You have championed common worship for decades – but in ACANZP this is thin on the ground. We used to say BCP does what it says on the cover, ANZPB has done what it said in the contents: “Liturgies of the Eucharist Ngā Hākari Tapu” – it’s plural as in nga rather than Te. And let’s not start you off down the Liturgies of Communion rabbit hole.

    If all this seems like a straw man I’m taking down, then I just want to reiterate the letter itself is very good. In places I am profoundly moved by the beautiful elegance in phrase, in other places it seems to me so removed from rationality it loses some power- you cannot endlessly quote three tier universe saints of first six centuries, or for that matter those of the earlier twentieth (Guardini), as the answer to individualism, materialism, and post-modernity.
    He did not write it for me I know, I wonder why so many within our polity feel he wrote it for them?

    1. Thanks, Cameron, for adding a contrasting reflection – opening dialogue rather than simply unquestioning accord. Certainly accord should not be granted simply because it is signed by the Pope, the Bishop of Rome.

      Important in your comment is that Apostolicae curae strips Francis’ letter of much of its value. You state that Apostolicae curae has recently been endorsed. I am only aware of the opposite: that Apostolicae curae is being seriously discussed in The Malines Conversation Group with the possibility of it being re-visited with a positive eye on Anglican orders. “We are very happy”, said Bishop Brian Farrell, secretary of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, “that the question of Anglican orders is being examined in the wholly different ecumenical context of today, when so much has been achieved in Anglican-Catholic relations.” This shift is seen in conditional ordination of clergy changing denominations from Anglican to Roman Catholic. In any case, I do not see it bearing on the actual content of Francis’ letter. Anglicans do not recognise the orders of many other clergy – but, if excellent Anglican writing was produced on ministry, the points in such a document would be no less important or helpful for such simply because if a minister from such a denomination joined ours needed ordaining by one of our bishops.

      As to our formation – I am quite explicit: I think the liturgical study, training, and formation in NZ Anglicanism can be significantly improved.

      That our NZ Prayer Book allows for the presiding priest to “go for a walk up the back mid thanksgiving to check the zip is on for the cuppa” simply highlights that what we have agreed on is not sufficient. I was recently at a Eucharist with three altars – the senior priest who has trained many others presided from the middle one on the chancel steps while the communion elements were on the third altar in the middle of the nave half way down the church building.

      May I affirm your point about the changing approach, by quoting from my own Celebrating Eucharist:

      Services in The Book of Common Prayer have often been likened to “meals on wheels.” They were centrally prepared, and then warmed and dished up locally. One began at the beginning of the service, reading most of it until one reached the end of it. Services in A New Zealand Prayer Book are more like “frozen peas,” or maybe a basket of groceries and a recipe book. A core of essential material is provided with some further resources, other content is added locally. Many will be surprised that the obligatory material from any of the eucharistic liturgies (pages 404-510) takes only about six minutes to recite. Most of the rest of the service is locally chosen. The quality of the meal is now much more dependent on the local “cook”! (Chapter 1)


  4. Father Ron Smith

    What a wonderful exposition of the place of the sacraments in the life the of Body of Christ, The Church. Each and every one of the points made by Pope Francis is so amazingly insightful, that I found it hard to choose one that would encapsulate the whole understanding of the grace made available to us ALL. The one I have chosen that might help to crystalize the teaching about both Baptism and Eucharist in the life of the Church is this one:

    “42. This existential engagement happens — in continuity with and consistent with the method of Incarnation — in a sacramental way. The Liturgy is done with things that are the exact opposite of spiritual abstractions: bread, wine, oil, water, fragrances, fire, ashes, rock, fabrics, colours, body, words, sounds, silences, gestures, space, movement, action, order, time, light. The whole of creation is a manifestation of the love of God, and from when that same love was manifested in its fullness in the cross of Jesus, all of creation was drawn toward it. It is the whole of creation that is assumed in order to be placed at the service of encounter with the Word: incarnate, crucified, dead, risen, ascended to the Father. It is as the prayer over the water at the baptismal font sings, but also the prayer over the oil for sacred chrism and the words for the presentation of the bread and wine — all fruit of the earth and work of human hands.”

    I go to preside at our Mass at SMAA today with renewed enthusiasm! Thank you, Bosco.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.