Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith obtained wide renown (and with some crowds, notoriety) in Rome and abroad as Secretary of the (Sacred) Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments. He has since been appointed Archbishop of Colombo in his native Sri Lanka, with much speculation on what the move could mean.

Many “progressive” identifying Catholics and commentators saw this as a vindication of their convictions, with some crying that the “traditionalist firebrand” had been banished to far-off Asia, where his influence will be much diminished. Some “traditional” identifyng Catholics and commentators tempered this charge by saying that Abp Ranjith was simply the best man for the (formidable) job that awaited in Sri Lanka, a place where tensions between Muslims, Hindus and the Christian minority frequently spill over into violence and destructive vandalism.

With this in mind, see now how the next scene in this play is unfolding. Abp Ranjith has just issued a brief circular letter to the members of his diocese (priests, religious and laity) concerning liturgical practices. Bearing in mind that he was just recently the third-highest authority on liturgy in the material universe (after the Pope and the prefect of the CDW), this humble blogger thinks his letter is worth reading beyond the domain of his personal jurisdiction.

I think the first and most important thing to notice is that the Archbishop does not create any particular norms for his own diocese. He imposes no local canons (laws), instead explaining clearly the instructions of the Holy See on various questions and requiring they be applied. In this way, his letter really is worthy of consideration for all Catholics anywhere who are in positions of leadership (including, and especially, lay organisations). The theme running throughout this letter is of cohesion, a visibly and spiritually unified Catholic people, the undivided Body of Christ.

It is for this reason Abp Ranjith has asked religious movements to refrain from organising parallel Masses on Sunday, which draw people away from their own parishes, as well as requiring that all children be formed within the organs of the local Church (rather than in special formation programmes within their own movement). He has instructed priests to adhere strictly to the prescribed Order of Mass and introduce no innovations, so preventing the faithful from comparing one priest to another and judging one “superior” in his performance.

Lastly, there are some abuses which seem prevalent which he has mentioned briefly, and reiterated their prohibition. The use of the tetragrammaton in worship, the misuse of the Blessed Sacrament, lay preachers at Mass, “self-communion” and inappropriately dressed ministers, and protestantised “praise and worship” style liturgies are all mentioned, and swiftly struck down.

Please go an read the merely two page letter (in English and, I think, Tamil). You will immeditely notice that he is on the one hand utterly unreserved in reiterating what has been prohibited by the Holy See, but on the other hand absolutely humble when asking change of his flock. As the Ordinary he has the right to demand obedience on matters of divine law, especially when such matters involve the defence of the sacred mysteries and the cura animarum (the care of souls). Instead, he chooses to “humbly ask” that his priests and religious change their ways. May his example in Colombo be met with marvellous results, and imitated elsewhere.

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