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Cdl. Cantalamessa during the Lenten homily he gave, March 24, 2023.Screenshot/YouTube

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Delivering a homily to Pope Francis and the Vatican curia, the Papal preacher recently attacked the traditional liturgy, arguing that “clericalization” had prevented the Church from having a proper liturgy for over 1,500 years.

Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM, made his comments as part of his fourth Lenten sermon of 2023, preached to Pope Francis along with assembled clerics and staffers from the Vatican. Focusing on the liturgy and contrasting the “reformed” liturgy of Vatican II with the Church’s traditional liturgy (the Latin Mass), Cantalamessa’s sermon formed part of his series which is designed to make “a small contribution to the work of the Synod.”

Addressing the liturgy as the “most common … experience of the sacred in the Church,” the cardinal made a veiled reference praising the liturgical upheaval which followed the Second Vatican Council, stating:

The Catholic liturgy underwent a transformation from an action with a strong sacred and priestly imprint to a more communal and participatory action, where all the people of God have their part, each with their own ministry.

Cantalamessa cited a trend of restoring the Church’s buildings and liturgy to their “original structure and style,” claiming that “the Second Vatican Council was a decisive moment in this process, but not the absolute beginning. It gathered the fruit of much previous work.”

He contrasted the liturgy of the early Church of the “first three centuries” with that which came after, saying that the modern Mass represents the early liturgy more closely than any other liturgy of the “centuries behind us.”

At the beginning of the Church and for the first three centuries, the liturgy was truly a “liturgy,” that is, the action of the people (laos – people – is among the etymological components of the word leitourgia). 

From St. Justin, from the Traditio Apostolica of St. Hippolytus, and other sources of the time, we obtain a vision of the Mass that is certainly closer to the reformed one of today than to that of the centuries behind us.

Continuing his criticism of the traditional liturgy, Cantalamessa blamed “clericalization” for having prevented Catholics from authentically following in the footsteps of the early Church:

What happened? The answer is an awkward word which, however, we cannot avoid: clericalization! In no other sphere was it more conspicuous than in the liturgy.

Cantalamessa next praised how the liturgy had supposedly gone “from being an action of the people into being an action of the clergy” due to the liturgical alterations of recent decades which he referenced. Catholics for “centuries” had not understood the Mass, he stated:

For centuries, the central part of the Mass, known as the Canon or Anaphora, was pronounced by the priest in a low voice, in Latin, behind a curtain or a wall (a temple within a temple!), out of the sight and hearing of the people. The celebrant only raised his voice at the final words of the Canon: “Per omnia saecula saeculorum,” and the people replied, “Amen!” to what they hadn’t heard, let alone understood. The only contact with the Eucharist, announced by the sound of the bells, was the moment of the elevation of the Host.

Describing such a liturgical scenes as a “return” to the “First Covenant” style of worship, Cantalamessa stated that Jewish worshippers were “overwhelmed by the sense of God’s tremendous holiness and majesty.” 

“The sense of the sacred is at its highest here, but, after Christ, is it the right and genuine one? This is our crucial question,” he added.

The papal preacher also repeated often-issued accusations against the traditional Mass, by stating that the modern liturgy has more Scriptural content — a topic that numerous liturgical scholars have addressed, highlighting how modern liturgical texts often omit “difficult” moral passages: 

We have at our disposal some means that were not available in the past to enhance the Liturgy of the Word and also make it an occasion for an experience of the sacred. Thanks to the progress that the Church has made in many fields in the meantime, we have a more direct access to the Word of God. It can resound with greater richness and power than in the past.

Writing last year, liturgist Dr. Peter Kwasniewski responded to such an argument, commenting that:

The view that the early Christian Mass was more “authentic,” more in keeping with what Jesus intended—free from all the medieval clutter, repetition, bowing and scraping, pious mumbo-jumbo, devotionalism, and even superstition that grew up around it later—is precisely the view that unites the original Protestants with their latter-day descendents in the radical wing of the Liturgical Movement that produced the Novus Ordo.

Fellow liturgical scholar Matthew Hazell also highlighted the discrepancy between Cantalamessa’s statements in his homily, and the liturgical reality.

He questioned Cantalamessa’s arguments, querying how “If the liturgy was only ‘truly a liturgy’ before c. 400 AD and after 1969 AD, what exactly was the Church doing for the best part of 1,600 years, then?” 

Cantalamessa’s comments echoed those made by Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, Cardinal Arthur Roche. Only days before, on March 19, Roche had argued that “the theology of the Church has changed.”

READ: Cdl. Roche says Latin Mass needs to be restricted because the ‘theology of the Church has changed’

“Whereas before the priest represented, at a distance, all the people – they were channeled through this person who alone was celebrating the Mass,” said Roche. 

Yet while the arguments of the “priestly people” have been much proposed since Vatican II, chiefly by those looking to eradicate a difference between priests and lay, Pope Pius XII noted clearly the difference in their respective actions, as outlined in his 1947 encyclical Mediator Dei:

The fact, however, that the faithful participate in the eucharistic sacrifice does not mean that they also are endowed with priestly power. It is very necessary that you make this quite clear to your flocks…