Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith on the Sunday Liturgy: Circular Concerning Various Movements and Services

Most Reverend Dr. Malcolm Ranjith
By the grace of God and the favor of the Holy See
Archbishop of Colombo

Liturgy Circular-No. Lt Cr/01

Circular Concerning Various Movements and Services

To all Reverend Fathers, Brothers, Sisters, and lay faithful of the diocese of Colombo

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Of late a number of Catholic renewal movements and individuals have been conducting many paraliturgical exercises outside the normal parish liturgical time-table. While appreciating the many conversions, witness values, the renewed enthusiasm for prayer, vibrant participation and thirst for the Word of God, I, as the diocesan bishop and chief steward of the mysteries of God in the particular church entrusted to my care, and being therefore, the moderator, promoter and guardian of the whole liturgical life of the Archdiocese of Colombo, solicit your kind attention on the liturgical and ecclesiological aspects connected to this new situation, and earnestly urge you to adhere to the guidelines set forth in this circular with immediate effect.


I. The Eucharist is the celebration of the Paschal Mystery par excellence given to the Church by Jesus Christ Himself.  Jesus Christ is the beginning of all liturgy in the Church and therefore all liturgy is primarily of divine origin.  It is the exercise of His priestly office and therefore, is not certainly mere human enterprise or wishful innovation.  In fact it is inaccurate to call this a mere celebration of life.  There is much more to it than that.  It is the source and summit of all from which all divine graces flow into the Church.  This most sacred mystery was handed down to the apostles by the Lord, and the Church has painstakingly been guarding the celebration of this mystery over the centuries, thereby giving rise to a sacred tradition and a theology which do not yield to an individual or private interpretation.  Therefore, no priest, be he diocesan, religious, or someone invited to conduct special religious programs from outside the Archdiocese or from any other country, is allowed to change, add, or subtract anything in the sacred rite of the mass.  This is nothing new and was stated in the Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Dogmatic Constitution of the sacred liturgy of the Second Vatican Council in 1963, No. 22/3, and later repeatedly reiterated in documents such as Sacramentum Caritatis, No. 55 of His Holiness Benedict XVI, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, No.  55 of Pope John Paul II of revered memory.

Certain elements should be specifically stated in this regard:

  1. Priests are not permitted to change or improvise the Eucharistic Prayer or other immutable prayers of the Mass, even if it is meant to elaborate on an already existing element therein, by singing various choruses or various explanations.  We need to understand the liturgy of the Church is strongly linked to its faith and tradition: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi; the rule of prayer is the rule of faith!  It is the Lord who gave us the liturgy and no one else; therefore no one else has any right to change it.
  2. The so-called “Praise and Worship” elements are not allowed during the entire rite of the Mass.  Inordinate and loud music, clapping, long interventions and gestures which disturb the sobriety of the celebration are not permitted.  It is very important that we understand the religious cultural sensibility of the Sri Lankan people.  Majority around us are Buddhists whose culture of worship is thoroughly sober; and Muslims and Hindus too do not create commotion in their worship.    In addition, there is a strong opposition to the Fundamentalist Christian sects in this country, and we as Catholics, have been striving to explain that Catholics are different from these sects.  However, some of these so-called praise and worship exercises seem to resemble more of the Fundamentalist religious exercises than those of the Roman Catholics.  Let us respect our cultural diversity and sensitivity.
  3. The Word of God prescribed cannot be changed haphazardly and the responsorial psalm must be sung without replacing it with meditational hymns.  The contemplative dimension of the Word of God is of utmost importance.  In some of the para-liturgical services people nowadays tend to become extremely verbose and vocal.  God speaks, we need to listen; and listening needs more silence and meditation than cacophonic exuberance.
  4. Priests should preach the Word of God and on the Liturgical Mysteries celebrated.  Lay preachers are strictly prohibited to preach during liturgical celebrations.
  5. The most holy Eucharist must be administered with utmost care and reverence only by those who are authorized to do so.  All such ministers, both ordinary and extraordinary, must be vested with proper ministerial vestiture.  I would recommend all faithful, including the religious, to receive Communion reverently kneeling and on the tongue.  The practice of self-communion is prohibited, and I would humbly request any priest who are allowing people to come and receive on their own, to immediately suspend this practice.
  6. All priests are expected to keep the stipulated rite of the Mass, so that there is no room for people to compare and contrast Masses celebrated by some priests as superior to other Masses said by the rest of the priests.
  7. The Tetragram YHWH is not to be pronounced in prayers or hymns because of its sacred nature (Holy See Decree “NAME OF GOD” Prot. N. 213/08/L).  This takes into account the sensitivity of the Jewish community in this regard, from whom we inherited much into our worship.
  8. Liturgical blessings are reserved only to liturgical ministers; i.e., bishops, priests and deacons.  Anyone may pray over another.  But it is earnestly recommended not to use gestures that lead to illusion, confusion or misinterpretation.

II.  The Sunday Eucharistic celebration of the parish community is to be considered the most central liturgical exercise of the Catholics.  Pope John Paul II exhorted in his Apostolic Letter Dies Domini of 1998 to uphold and cherish the Sunday Eucharist as the central event that binds all faithful of the local community together.  An important teaching therein is to know that Dies Domini is Dies Ecclesiae.  Therefore, all priests, religious and lay faithful within the parish boundaries should strive to attend this Sunday mass of their parish Church, without seeking “convenience masses” or special Masses celebrated by special groups or movements outside their parish boundaries.

Religious movements, even if they are  approved, should not organize any parallel celebrations on Sundays within the same parish.  Religious houses which have masses on Sundays due to the sick and elderly inmates, or because of the enclosed religious communities, should earnestly urge the religious and lay attending those Masses to return to their parish community Masses.  Pope John Paul II explains the reason for not allowing small groups to have their own celebrations on Sundays.  Under the guise of seeking better and more vibrant liturgies the integrity of the parish community is seriously damaged and gradually destroyed.  Parallel Sunday services indirectly nurture personality cults and therefore lead to cracks and divisions in the main body of the Lord in the parish.  GIRM 2002 No. 95 says “Thus they (lay people) are to shun any appearance of individualism or division, keeping before their eyes that they have only one Father in heaven and accordingly are all brothers and sisters to each other.”


All movements functioning within the Archdiocese should extend their fullest cooperation to foster and nourish the parish Sunday liturgy, and not be concerned with building up their own little kingdoms.  Where there is a division, there is sin!  The Breaking of the Word celebrations which end with Eucharistic benedictions are not substitutes for the Sunday Eucharist.  In this regard I very clearly request priests of the Archdiocese to obtain permission from me personally to assist at these services to impart Eucharistic benediction.  Of late, some have begun to take the Eucharistic Lord exposed in a monstrance from house to house, as if He is a statue to be taken round.  Eucharistic benediction is to be celebrated with utmost care and reservation, and is not to be misused to give a ‘Catholic appearance’ or camouflage something which may not look very Catholic at the end of a long-drawn session.  Placing the monstrance on the head of the faithful is strictly forbidden.

In the same line of thinking religious movements and groups are not allowed to form their own children and youth groups.  The parish and diocesan structures already provide for these needs and the existing structures are to be made use of without multiplying parallel structures, lest they give rise to comparison and even dissension.  In all these we need to safeguard the unity of the Church.  Jesus prayed for the unity of all His people; He prayed that they may all be one (John 17:12, c.f.)

In the near future I hope to publish a booklet which will spell out in greater detail many more things  about the liturgical life of the Archdiocese of Colombo.  I humbly and respectfully request all priests, religious and laity of the Archdiocese of Colombo to extend your cooperation in safeguarding the sacredness of the liturgy in this local church.  I am sure that these instructions will be put into immediate effect, so that some of the urgent liturgical requests will soon be addressed.

Thank you and may God bless you!

With prayers and my cordial blessing

Yours devotedly in Christ,

† Malcolm Ranjith

Archbishop of Colombo

Source: Archdiocese of Colombo website

Fr. Louis Bouyer: how Cardinal Annibale Bugnini deceived Pope Paul VI on the New Mass

Father Louis Bouyer (photo): I wrote to the Holy Father, Pope Paul VI, to tender my resignation as member of the Commission charged with the Liturgical Reform. The Holy Father sent for me at once (and the following conversation ensued):

Paul VI: Father, you are an unquestionable and unquestioned authority by your deep knowledge of the Church’s liturgy and Tradition, and a specialist in this field. I do not understand why you have sent me your resignation, whilst your presence, is more than precious, it is indispensable!

Father Bouyer: Most Holy Father, if I am a specialist in this field, I tell you very simply that I resign because I do not agree with the reforms you are imposing! Why do you take no notice of the remarks we send you, and why do you do the opposite?

Paul VI: But I don’t understand: I’m not imposing anything. I have never imposed anything in this field. I have complete trust in your competence and your propositions. It is you who are sending me proposals. When Fr. Bugnini comes to see me, he says: “Here is what the experts are asking for.” And as you are an expert in this matter, I accept your judgement.

Father Bouyer: And meanwhile, when we have studied a question, and have chosen what we can propose to you, in conscience, Father Bugnini took our text, and, then said to us that, having consulted you: “The Holy Father wants you to introduce these changes into the liturgy.” And since I don’t agree with your propositions, because they break with the Tradition of the Church, then I tender my resignation.

Paul VI: But not at all, Father, believe me, Father Bugnini tells me exactly the contrary: I have never refused a single one of your proposals. Father Bugnini came to find me and said: “The experts of the Commission charged with the Liturgical Reform asked for this and that”. And since I am not a liturgical specialist, I tell you again, I have always accepted your judgement. I never said that to Monsignor Bugnini. I was deceived. Father Bugnini deceived me and deceived you.

Father Bouyer: That is, my dear friends, how the liturgical reform was done!

Source: Fr. Z