Francis Writes an Apostolic Letter on the Liturgy

July 07, 2022

On June 29, 2022, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Vatican published an apostolic letter from Pope Francis titled Desiderio Desideravi, “on the liturgical formation of the people of God.” This letter is intended for bishops, priests and deacons, consecrated men and women, and the lay faithful.

This letter is quite long: 16 pages not counting the notes. The text resolutely enters into the debate introduced by the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, which is referred to by name in the first section, but with the aim of closing it by definitively marginalizing the traditional mass.

It is in fact a long plea for the reformed rite, doing so in a long, indirect way by proposing an analysis of the liturgy as a “place of encounter with Christ.” This implies a daily rediscovery of “the beauty of the truth of Christian celebration.”

This is done through “wonderment before the paschal mystery,” which is described as the essential element of the liturgical act. This requires the appropriation of the symbols of the liturgy, an arduous task today, according to Francis, due to a generalized loss of the very meaning of the symbols.

In Section 31, the pope poses a dilemma to the “Ecclesia Dei” societies by affirming that he does “not see how it is possible to say that one recognizes the validity of the Council . . . and at the same time not accept the liturgical reform .” He affirms in the same number that “the problematic is primarily ecclesiological,” because the new rite is the expression of the new ecclesiology of the Council.

This point may be easily conceded, but it is precisely the crux of the matter. The Pope affirms again – still in the same section – that he “is amazed that a Catholic might presume not to do so,” i.e., not to recognize the validity of the Council.

If it means saying that the Second Vatican Council was legitimately convened, there is no difficulty, but if it is a question of admitting, as Pope Paul VI claimed in a letter addressed to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre on June 29, 1975, that this Council “has no less authority, which in certain respects is even more important than that of Nicea,” it is impossible.

How can a “pastoral” council, which refused all infallible teaching and taught novelties incompatible with Tradition, make such a claim? That's the whole question.

An Acknowledgment of Failure

Francis' text goes on to “give some advice” on the art of celebrating, which requires a renewed and in-depth formation on the liturgy in order to give all its brilliance to the reformed rite. And the Pope asks all those responsible to help in this education “of the holy people of God” so that they can tap into the “premier source of Christian spirituality.”

This is not the first time that they’ve drawn water from the same well: the question of liturgical formation has occupied center stage in the liturgical movement for decades. To what result? An increased desertification of “Sunday assemblies” and an ever deepening ignorance of the very essence of the liturgy. Not to mention the never ceasing deviations.

This letter sounds like an acknowledgment of failure which must seem all the more bitter as the Traditional Mass occupies more and more space and has become unavoidable—something that exasperates the reigning Pope, as he launched in the homily of the Mass on June 29: “may we not fall into the temptation of ‘looking back,’ which is becoming fashionable today in the Church.”

A Fundamental Mistake

What is most notable in Francis’ text is the attachment to the equivocal principles of the Council, particularly concerning active participation. It must be clearly understood that “active participation” for a member of the faithful means uniting with Christ who celebrates through the actions of the priest, whatever he does: whether he serves Mass, sings, or reads certain texts – in the reformed rite. It is necessary to go through a small explanation on the notion of power.

We must distinguish active power, that which can achieve a result by itself: muscular, voluntary, artistic power, etc. And passive power, which consists in receiving something first: the object lifted by the muscles, the limbs moved by the will, or the statue sculpted by the artist.

It is true, as the Pope says in his text, that the faithful have an activity, but this activity is passive in the preceding sense: it is Christ who celebrates through the priest who unites the faithful to Christ by his action coming from the active power that he alone possesses. Ten thousand faithful without a priest are nothing in the liturgical order – excepting the case of marriage. But a single priest celebrates with the whole Church.

The new ecclesiology, particularly in the most advanced form Francis is promoting, synodality, wants to scatter the sacred power of the priesthood – and by this is meant the power of the Church – and distribute it between clergy and faithful. And by sacred power is meant both the power of orders and the power of jurisdiction.

Now, it is by divine right that only he who has received a participation in the priesthood of Christ through the sacrament of Holy Orders can exercise one or the other power. This is why both synodality and the reformed rite can only lead to failure. Usquequo Domine? “How long, O Lord?”