15 August 2014, The Tablet

The sign of peace edict has Francis’ fingerprints on it

by Nathan Chase

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


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User comments (4)

Comment by: Sara_tms_again
Posted: 19/08/2014 19:15:30

Surely the important point about this document is that it is a letter addressed to the bishops, not to the rest of us, and it is left up to the bishops' conferences whether to make any changes or recommendations or not? So unless it is picked up by the bishops' conferences of E&W, Scotland and Ireland, it has no force in any of those countries. If it is picked up by the bishops' conferences, it has the force they give it.

I am surprised you seem to have missed the significance of this. This looks to me like Pope Francis burying this document.

Comment by: Bob Hayes
Posted: 16/08/2014 12:00:39

This article seems to be an attempt to put a 'politically correct' spin on Pope Francis' self-evident orthodoxy in this matter. One need only watch footage of the Holy Father celebrating Mass to see his deep reverence and solemnity. For Pope Francis the Holy Sacrifice of Mass focuses our worship of God: it is not a community away-day focused on fellow parishioners.

Comment by: AlanWhelan
Posted: 15/08/2014 22:26:23

I pray that Nathan's interpretation is correct. I fully understand the need to remove distractions from this part of Mass but I would not like to see the removal of any of the impacts of inclusive gestures during Mass. There may well be a case for removing the Sign of Peace to the end of the Penitential and allowing greater informality and inclusiveness at this point of Mass.

Meanwhile I am still trying to persuade my local bishop and clergy to allow an inclusive blessing at Communion time for those too young to receive the Eucharist and those feeling out of Communion.

Comment by: Thomas Woodman
Posted: 15/08/2014 17:31:07

Yet it is still very very old school to propose that the celebrant should stay on the sanctuary at the rite of peace, even at the expense of not coming down to express condolences to the bereaved at a requiem. To many of us this seem like ritual superseding any possible expression of Christ's love and compassion, in other words the Church still putting itself at the exact opposite of the Gospel.

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