Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Quærit semper assigns new tasks to the Roman Rota and to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. On the agenda: new ways to promote the return of Gregorian chant…


Pope Benedict XVI poses for a group picture with the Regensburg Cathedral Choir following an ecumenical vespers service in St. Peter’s Cathedral in Regensburg, Germany

The media largely ignored Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Quærit semper, published on September 27, whereby the Pope restructured certain aspects of the Roman Curia. The main novelty of the restructuring is the transfer to the Roman Rota of the exclusive right to handle cases of marriage which were celebrated properly but not consummated, so that there is just cause for granting a dispensation, and cases concerning the nullity of sacred ordination, which were formerly dealt with by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. According to the dean of the Roman Rota, Polish-born Bishop Antoni Stankiewicz, 76, this is a significant innovation. Why did Benedict XVI decide to remove such matters from the competence of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments? The Holy Father himself answers this question when he writes: “In present circumstances, it has seemed appropriate for the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to focus mainly on giving a fresh impetus to promoting the Sacred Liturgy in the Church, in accordance with the renewal that the Second Vatican Council desired, on the basis of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium.”

In other words, the Pope intended to relieve the Congregation of demanding administrative tasks to enable it to concentrate on the promotion of liturgical renewal, one of the Holy Father’s main concerns.

In order to find out more about the recent changes in the organization of the Curia and the transfer of competencies, I met up with Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera.

Your Eminence, when we met early in 2011, you told me that your Congregation would deal with liturgical renewal as a reaction to a real liturgical crisis within the Latin Church. You called for the launch of a “new liturgical movement” and told me you intended to establish a new section in your Congregation dedicated to sacred art and music. The publication of the motu proprio Quærit semper suggests that you convinced Benedict XVI to remove certain competencies from your congregation so that you might concentrate on the liturgy. Is this so?

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera: It is true that the Holy Father has removed certain competencies from our Congregation so that we might devote ourselves to our main task completely: liturgical renewal in the authentic spirit of Vatican Council II. The motu proprio is a real mandate from the Pope. Now we have to make the main aspects of this renewal known and bring the real meaning of the Church’s liturgy home to people. The General Instruction of the Roman Missal was published long ago, but unfortunately it is not known. If it is not known, it is not applied. It is up to us to make it known all over the world.

That instruction recommends that silence and prayer feature in liturgical celebrations to help the faithful rediscover the sense of the sacred and of mystery. The modern world has lost the sense of the sacred, hence the necessity for the liturgy to help us rediscover it.

Your Eminence, do you speak about these issues with bishops coming from all over the world on their ad limina visits?

Cañizares: Of course I do. Meetings with bishops are intended to promote an understanding of the real spirit of the liturgy following the guidelines of Vatican II. We therefore recommend to all bishops to apply the indications contained in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal to promote the ars celebrandi.

In our previous conversation, you told me that liturgical renewal requires a great effort not only from priests and bishops, but from everybody, seminarians and the laity included. What can your Congregation do in practice here, from the Vatican?

Cañizares: We are working to provide bishops with guidelines on how to carry on the permanent education of all members of God’s people, since we all participate in the Eucharist.

What role could Catholic media play in the process of liturgical renewal?

Cañizares: They could remind the faithful of the teachings of Vatican II. In the Council’s documents, the Eucharist is re­ferred to as God’s work. We are not the protagonists of the Eucharist, it is the Holy Trinity — it is God acting in Christ through the Holy Spirit. The faithful must be reminded that participating in the Eucharist means receiving a great gift from God.

The celebration of the Eucharist also involves interior participation, which requires some moments of silence.

You also told me your Congregation would establish a commission for sacred art. Has this happened?

Cañizares: Since the publication of the motu proprio Quærit semper, our Congregation has been working on a new set of rules that will take into account our new tasks. This new set of rules features, amongst other things, the appointment of a commission responsible for sacred art and music for the liturgy. Art and music will fall within the competence of our Congregation to create a suitable context for liturgical celebrations. We cannot bring about a true liturgical renewal without promoting the type of chant which is appropriate to the Catholic liturgy. In the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II says that the music of the liturgy is above all Gregorian chant.

In your capacity as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, what advice would you give to a parish priest to improve his liturgical celebrations?

Cañizares: A parish priest should, first of all, educate his faithful to a more intense and fruitful participation in the Holy Mass. He should make clear to his parishioners the meaning of every moment in the celebration of the Eucharist. He should be concerned about liturgical music — there is music that favors participation in the Holy Mass, but not all music can be played in church.

Does the Congregation also suggest the training of organists and the creation of parish choirs?

Cañizares: We not only suggest this, we recommend it warmly.

Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera, the Spanish theologian known in Rome as the “little Ratzinger,” who is head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

But don’t you think that Gregorian chant is too difficult for most people?

Cañizares: Gregorian chant is very beautiful, but people are not accustomed to it. Elements of Gregorian chant could be recovered, since this has been the music of the Catholic Church for centuries. I will give you an example: the Holy Mass for World Youth Day featured parts in Gregor­ian chant (Missa de Angelis), the Creed included. I noticed that young people are highly responsive to this type of music, because it speaks to the soul.

We have just visited the exhibition in the Vatican on the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, built by Gaudì in Barcelona and consecrated by Benedict XVI a year ago. Can Gaudì’s impressive church be a starting point for a conversation on religious architecture?

Cañizares: The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia is at once a splendid church and a work of modern art. It is the artistic expression of modernity, but at the same time the work of a believer who makes use of art to announce the Gospel, to praise God, to express His majesty and to invite visitors to meditate on His mystery. It is beauty leading us to God.

Gaudì built the Sagrada Familia as a believer well aware of the function of his artistic creation. Nowadays, many architects build churches ignoring their liturgical function. Thus, avant-garde buildings spring up which look like anything but churches. What should be done in this situation?

Cañizares: There are good architects who build churches which do not meet the requirements of sacred buildings. The task of our Congregation will be to help these architects to understand the liturgical function of a church.

This does not mean limiting their creativity, but using it to meet the needs of the liturgy.

We intend to give artists and architects instructions and criteria as to the building and decoration of churches. Our Congregation also intends to organize courses and meetings to help bishops’ conferences all over the world to assess projects for churches.

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