The blogosphere has been alight talking about the new circular letter issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW) on the Ritual Expression of the Gift of Peace at Mass.
The letter has been in the works for some time. At the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist in 2005, the question was raised about whether the sign of peace should be maintained “in its present form” and location. The CDW studied the question and consulted bishops’ conferences around the world before issuing this letter.
What clues does this letter give us about any “Francis effect” at the CDW?
Whereas liturgical concerns were on the forefront of Pope Benedict’s mind, they have been placed on the back burner by Pope Francis. Rumours have abounded since Pope Francis was elected that changes to the leadership of the CDW were coming soon. This has yet to happen. Cardinal Antonio Cañizares Llovera is the only head of a Roman Congregation who has not been confirmed or replaced by Pope Francis. When the letter was issued, some wondered whether Cardinal Cañizares was clearing his desk before a possible departure back to Spain, perhaps Madrid. If true, this might explain its timing.
Speculation has also abounded about whether this was a compromise document that was allowed to be published but without fanfare. There was no mention of its promulgation on official Vatican news services at the time it was issued; however, Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, did confirm the authenticity of a Spanish version of the letter on 1 August after news of its existence broke in the English-speaking world.
Moving beyond the rumours and to the text, it is clear that some of Pope Francis’ social concerns were brought into the document. Nowhere is this more apparent than in section 7:
“Today, a serious obligation for Catholics in building a more just and peaceful world is accompanied by a deeper understanding of the Christian meaning of peace, and this depends largely on the seriousness with which our particular Churches welcome and invoke the gift of peace and express it in the liturgical celebration.”
This section epitomises Pope Francis’ approach to life, the Church, and the sacraments. This suggests that it was either included at the request of the Pope or that it was put into the letter as a tip-of-the-hat to Francis’ “reform programme”. This leads me to think that it is not “business as usual” at the CDW. While the document outlines liturgical abuses, the document is quite tame, at least compared to documents coming out of Rome in recent years. All this suggests that Pope Francis’ reform agenda is affecting the CDW.
The message of the Curia appears to be shifting. Social concerns are being incorporated into official documents, and the rhetoric coming out of Rome is diminishing. Only time will tell how much impact Pope Francis will have on the CDW. In the meantime, I for one am hopeful that the future of the Church and its liturgy looks bright.
Nathan Chase is acting editor of the US-based Pray Tell blog