12 September 2008
by Fr. Uwe Michael Lang
To understand the thinking and action of Cardinal Giuseppe Siri upon the sacred liturgy, one must return to his years of training as a seminarian and as a young priest in Genoa . In the first half of the twentieth century, the metropolis of Liguria emerged as an important centre for the Liturgical Movement. In 1903, Archbishop Edoardo Pulciano in Genoa began teaching liturgy as a separate discipline. In 1914, there was founded the "Liturgical Review" (Rivista Liturgica), a joint project of the abbeys of Finalpia in Savonese, and Praglia. The presentation of the new journal stated its purpose was to study and explain the sacred liturgy to both the clergy and faithful as "public worship that the Church makes to God.
The key figure who emerged was that of Monsignor James Moglia (1881-1941), founder of the liturgical apostolate, to which the young Siri was very attached. (...) In a major speech in 1981 he called him "one of the greatest promoters of the liturgical renewal in Italy ." The Liturgical Apostolate was founded in 1930, and its first initiative (...) was the weekly publication of Sunday leaflets with different parts of the Mass in Latin and Italian translation, "so that all the people might understand, follow, participate." At the school of Bishop Moglia , Siri learned the principle that "the worship of God remains the first duty of man and the Church."
Here I would like to submit in brief three elements characteristic of his liturgical vision, which have found expression in his long ministry as archbishop of Genoa: the liturgy as a supernatural reality, the solemnity of the liturgy and the ecclesial dimension of divine worship.
In his many contributions on the theme, Cardinal Siri insisted the supernatural character of the sacred liturgy, because the celebration of the sacraments is intimately linked to divine revelation. In keeping with the encyclical Mediator Dei of Pius XII and the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, Siri stressed that the liturgy is the action of Christ the High Priest (...) Therefore "the divine liturgy is stimulus, source, and cause of the supernatural spirit and life" in the soul of the faithful. The worship of God is "the prime act to which men are bound (...) and the prime ordinary instrument for the salvation of souls (...) with the divine liturgy, especially if understood and followed, everything is sanctified and elevated."
Siri conceived the liturgy as the visible expression of the Faith (...) For the cardinal, the importance of worship cannot be overestimated, because it "represents for most people, in a large part of life the main source, often the only one, of the Faith kept, of the grace of God, and of eternal hope," as he noted in a pastoral letter to clergy in the archdiocese in 1977. “The custody of orthodoxy of the Faith involves the careful custody of orthodoxy in the liturgy." In this context, Siri often reaffirmed the need for catechetical preparation. (...) A conception of the liturgy that would disregard its revealed content would risk to become merely a "spectacle", as Siri often stresses in his speeches on the subject.
In his long liturgical ministry he has always encouraged and promoted the participation of the faithful, not in the sense of an external activism – for Siri, the distinction between the ministerial priesthood and the lay state was crucial in the life of the Church - but in the sense of prayer, meditation and understanding of the sacred mysteries that are celebrated within the liturgy. A fruitful participation in worship then manifests itself also in a commitment that includes every aspect of Christian life.
The participation of the faithful in the liturgy goes beyond just the intellectual, because the liturgy with its symbolism is "an instrument of translation into figurative elements more accessible to the human capacity to understand." In the debate over the use of Latin in Catholic worship, Siri expressed his conviction that "in the liturgy before and beyond language, there is the dogmatic content and meaning, there is the direction, the choreography, the symbolism, the gesture, the song, the setting, the people, the vestments. "
In the liturgy, through signs and gestures, one feels the presence and majesty of God. (...) "Solemnity – he said in 1981 - wants to realize the great even in the small, the decorous in the miserable, the harmonious even in the storm, dignity even in the humble." Solemnity is also the foundation of sacred art and sacred music. On many occasions during his long Episcopal reign, Siri enunciated standards and guidelines for the design and construction of new churches within the diocese, a particularly urgent task in the years after the war in Genoa. The Cardinal personally favored a sacred and essential continuity in line with the traditional vocabulary of the sacred, but not excluding the modern style, provided it corresponded to the criteria of monumentality, normality, theological idea, ascetic intent and liturgical consistency.
As for of sacred music, Siri never ceased to promote Gregorian chant as the great heritage of the Roman Rite. The archbishop wanted the faithful learn a repertoire of simple, essential chants from the Graduale Romanum. At the same time, he encourages other music of quality and dignity, in particular those which are traditional, and the use of musicians for the performance of polyphonic music and to support the singing of the faithful.
Finally, the ecclesial dimension of the liturgy. For Cardinal Siri, this was the foundation of his liturgical vision. The words used in one of his speeches commemorating Bishop Moglia can also be applied to him: "For the Church the liturgy was its breath, for the Church the liturgy achieved the great spiritual unity, within it the adopted children of God felt united and connected." In its action of adoration and praise to God, the Church is joined with the communion of saints, celebrating the heavenly liturgy in the presence of God. Participation in the choir of the Heavenly Jerusalem is manifested especially in the Divine office, which was always very dear to Siri. The cardinal archbishop of Genoa considered the celebration of vespers an element of the sanctification of the Lord's Day and the celebrations of the liturgical year, encouraging the faithful to participate.
The ecclesial dimension of the liturgy also shows itself in a respect for the law of the Church. For Siri, obedience to liturgical norms and law was a requirement of priestly spirituality. The Cardinal reiterated that the aggiornamento of the liturgy must proceed only under the guidance of the competent authority, especially of the Holy See. The "Romanitas" of Siri is expressed in this attitude of absolute loyalty to the Successor of Peter, even in times of great trial.
Although during the Second Vatican Council Siri showed some reservations (...) on the document dedicated to the Sacred Liturgy, his opinion on Sacrosanctum Concilium was very favourable. (...) He was however very concerned about the application of the liturgical reform. In his archdiocese, he responded to this situation with a reading of the Second Vatican Council in "a hermeneutic of continuity" (Benedict XVI). Moreover, since the early years of his episcopal reign, Siri was employed prudence in the liturgical field, and with this prudence he also received the post-conciliar reform, be it of the liturgy itself, particularly in the Mass and in the worship of the Most Holy Eucharist, be it in the field of architecture, of sacred art and of sacred music.
Originally published in Italian in L'Osservatore Romano on the 11-12 September 2008