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Two weeks ago I attended the 2013 Sacra Liturgia conference held at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. The conference was organised by Bishop Dominique Rey of the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon as an opportunity ‘to study, promote, and renew appreciation for the liturgical formation and celebration’. I hope, over the next few weeks, to write up some more comments on the excellent talks and papers that were delivered, but I also wanted to simply make note of a few of the particular highlights of the conference whilst they are fresh in my mind.

First, I must say that there was a real sense of common purpose amongst those in attendance. This certainly wasn’t simply a gathering of liturgical scholars, but an opportunity for priests and lay faithful to consider seriously the place of the Sacred Liturgy in the work of the New Evangelisation. There wasn’t an over-emphasis on one or other Form of the Roman Rite, but an openness to the will of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the Holy Father as to the way forward for the ‘new liturgical movement’ which regained momentum under the pontificate of Benedict XVI. This was encouraging, not least in dispelling any negativity that might be felt after losing such a strong advocate of liturgical reform from the Chair of Peter.

The pontificate of Pope Francis – at least from the beautiful Papal Mass I concelebrated with him this past Sunday – is not going to see a reversal of the liturgical renewal of the Church which Pope Benedict brought about; rather I believe we are seeing a moment of settling – giving people with less of a liturgical interest the chance to catch up. How many of those who have discovered a new found love of papacy since the election of Pope Francis (which is a wonderful gift!) have looked deeper than his decision to wear a simple cross and use the ferula of Pope Paul VI? Have they noticed the elegance of the simple vestments he has chosen, or the prominent cross on the altar, or the continued use of fitting music and the privileged place of plainchant? The papal liturgy remains exemplary in its celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, and none of the major points of the ‘Benedictine Reform’ have disappeared from it. Pope Francis celebrates the Mass with a profound reverence and dignity, and his words in talks and homilies confirm him to be a man with a courageous and priestly heart, who is in love with Christ, and passionate about evangelisation.

Secondly, I would like to highlight four talks which I believe are of particular note from the conference itself. Bishop Peter Elliott’s masterclass on ars celebrandi was a tour de force of sound liturgical principles for the priestly practitioner. He outlined a number of suggestions for the improved celebration of both Forms of the Roman Rite, with a particular concern for the gestures and decorum of the celebrant in the Ordinary Form. Chief amongst these was his suggestion for the mandatory use of official vesting prayers  as a proper means of preparation for the celebrant and ministers at Mass.

Fellow Australian, Professor Tracey Rowland, gave a typically thrilling and enjoyable paper on ‘The Usus Antiquior and the New Evangelisation’, focussing on beauty as a transcendental in the life of the Church and with particular reference to the work of Benedict XVI. She rightly sees the Extraordinary Form as part of the renewal of the liturgy, but with a profoundly sensible view of how it can be most effective (essentially, reform not return).

That view – reform not return – also played into the paper of Mgr Andrew Burnham who, due to illness, could not attend. The paper was delivered by Mgr Keith Newton, Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham (my boss!) who began with his own opening remarks, stating that the Ordinariate needed to have ‘a distinct, rich, liturgical life’. Without revealing too much of the content of the paper or the revised Ordinariate Use for Mass, it seems that what the Personal Ordinariates will be using in the near future is exactly what the liturgical reform of Pope Benedict has been aiming for – a point of mutual enrichment from both Forms of the Roman Rite, only with distinctive Anglican texts included also. This is surely a significant reference point for any future reform.

Finally I wish to highlight the contribution of Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland, Oregon. Archbishop Sample spoke about the role of the Diocesan Bishop as the ‘governor, promoter, and guardian’ of the liturgical life of the diocese, with particular and practical suggestions for the implementation of liturgical renewal at the heart of the New Evangelisation in the local church. This was an excellent and timely paper, which examined the theological and canonical responsibilities of the Diocesan Bishop with regard to the liturgy and the pastoral life of the jurisdiction. It was exemplary in every way.

I hope to write more about each of these, and about the other talks which were given. I was pushed to find a single slot to get out into Rome – not wanting to miss any of the superb papers – and I am seriously looking forward to the publication of the papers in the coming months. A truly exhilarating and enthusing week at the heart of the Church.