Speech by Cardinal Mayer in Rome


Speech by His

Eminence Cardinal Mayer



Conference given by His Eminence Cardinal Mayer, former prefect
of the congregation for divine worship,  on the occasion of the official presentation
of the proceedings of the fourth C.I.E.L. Colloquium, in Rome, March 17, 1999.




The “Centre International d’Etudes Liturgiques,” the name
of which is found recapitulated under the beautiful sign “CIEL” (heaven), today
presents this fourth volume, the proceedings of the colloquium which took place in October
of 1998, in France, in the diocese of Versailles. I would like to make clear, for those
who do not yet know precisely what this Center is, the characteristics of the work carried
out by C.I.E.L.


By whom was it founded? Why was it founded? By what means does it seek to accomplish
its mission? And what a beautiful mission it is!

By whom was it founded? By faithful laity. Permit me to see in this a “sign of the
times,” and a very positive “sign of the times.” Today the idea grows more
widespread that the laity must always be contributing to the life of the Church, by taking
part – just like missionaries, in the proper sense of the term – in
communicating the gift of the faith and the patrimony of the Church, particularly
concerning the liturgy. This is to be done in the strictest collaboration with priests who
are under the guidance of bishops united with the Pope.

C.I.E.L. was founded, then, by laity. But it is necessary to be precise about this.
These are laity who are not rebels, who are not more or less arrogant in the desire for a
new Church, but who are profoundly Catholic. In brief, these are laity who profess the
faith of the Church in its totality, with orthodoxy, and who accept in the spirit of
obedience the entire sacramental, doctrinal, and canonical authority of the Church. They
do not place themselves on the same level as official institutions, do not exercise a
“parallel magisterium,” do not attribute to themselves any kind of right to
regulate and direct the liturgy. But they do, on the other hand, avail themselves of the
provisions contained in canon law concerning autonomous associations of the laity, which
are free, and in a certain sense encouraged, to make known to ecclesial authority their
own desires and perhaps also, sometimes, their own fears.

Why, then, was C.I.E.L. founded? Because these faithful have recognized, sometimes
bitterly, the urgent need to provide better information for the faithful in general,
particularly as regards the liturgy, since they are given to confusion. Though not in the
same way, in all cases, everywhere, but in diverse “strata” of the Catholic
people, this confusion has markedly increased and is sadly apparent. There is practical
and doctrinal confusion – which one can also observe in discerning the
“connection” between the ministerial priesthood and the “royal
priesthood” of all the faithful. This confusion is found addressed in the instruction
dealing with questions concerning the collaboration of the faithful in the ministry of the
priest (published in 1997 and signed by eight heads of Roman dicasteries). The reactions
provoked by this instruction are also very significant, and they have made it apparent how
necessary it was to intervene.

And now, by what means does C.I.E.L. attempt to achieve, to abide by, and to carry out
its mission? By seeking to maintain contact with everyone, in the broadest manner
possible, and in seeking personal contact with numerous bishops. This last must be
emphasized because personal contact is a great help; it opens hearts, and the spirit, to
mutual understanding. In addition, the high-level university professors who participate in
the colloquia, impart a scientific note to the work, as well as an interdisciplinary
character, an avowed and accentuated internationalization, and an
“internationality” of publication. In fact, the proceedings are printed in three
languages, namely, French, English, and German, and thus they benefit from a steadily
broadening distribution.

And so we arrive at this fourth volume, entitled The Ministerial and Common
Priesthood in the Eucharistic Celebration
. It follows the three previous volumes,
which concerned themselves with themes of no less importance. One observes that this lay
association has understood how to bring these particularly crucial themes “up to

The proceedings of 1995, The Liturgy, Treasure of the Church, presents to us the
splendor of the liturgy, and its magnificence. Even if it is sometimes delivered into the
hands of everyone’s own “unauthorized creativity,” the liturgy remains
always a treasure of the Church and consequently must be considered with great veneration
and great delicacy.

The proceedings of 1996, The Veneration and Administration of the Eucharist,
confronts us with the central mystery of ecclesial life.

The proceedings of 1997, Altar and Sacrifice, has a very significant title in
that it makes clear immediately that it concerns not just a “table,” or a
“banquet,” or a “meal,” but an altar, which evokes a sacrifice.

The themes of the colloquia provide a witness to the perception of the
“delicate” problems that concern the Church of today in the domain of the
liturgy and equally in those of doctrine, faith, and pastoral matters.

Needless to say, it is not possible here to evoke all the riches afforded by the
“contributions” to this fourth volume.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to single out the “claim” made on behalf of the
Catholic priesthood which is developed in this fourth volume, where it is a question of
the priesthood of Christ, the unique participation in our ministerial priesthood of the
unique priesthood of Christ. The volume courageously faces the controversy – loud
enough in our time – regarding this priesthood, a controversy coming from the
outside, as it always has come, not diminished, even sometimes more pronounced, but coming
today also from within the Church, which is more painful still.

A three-fold example of this controversy arising from inside the Church was recently
provided by Herbert Haack, Swiss exegete, who has been for long years a professor at
Tübingen. Previously, Haack had published a book entitled Devil’s Leave (Abschied
von Teufel
). More recently, he has “taken leave” of the Catholic priesthood.
According to Haack, the ministerial priesthood of the Church would not exist at all except
for the inculturation of the Church in the Hellenistic world – an assertion already
heard previously from very liberal Lutherans, but which now finds itself repeated in the
Catholic world. According to Haack, in the earliest days of the Church, the Eucharist had
not been celebrated by a priest but rather was “guided” or “directed”
by a president, either male or female.

Obviously, our faith cannot be “sacrificed” to a dubious historical
hypothesis, for it is a living reality in the ecclesial life. It is well that the volume
in question takes great care to describe, starting from the New Testament, the Priesthood
of the Lord Jesus Christ, and, in the living faith of the Church, the ministerial

In the last part, it treats equally of the “royal priesthood” of all
believers, which manifests itself particularly in the liturgical celebration, and in
“active participation” (the key word of the last ecumenical council on the
constitution of the liturgy), an expression which must be correctly interpreted, as the
Holy Father himself has emphasized on numerous occasions. This participation is not
limited to words, chants, and gestures (which enter necessarily into “active
participation”), but must be an interior relation in faith, hope, and charity with
all that Our Lord did; and in this domain, one can be immensely active in silence.

It is in this manner that the relation between participation of the faithful and the
Eucharist becomes apparent, a relation which one sees developing in the first six
centuries, and afterward in the Middle Ages. Besides the radical hypotheses of professor
Haack, there is presently an “inter-ecclesial,” “intra-Catholic,”
tendency which avoids using the term “priest” and substitutes for it
“president,” especially in the English “Presider,” as it was employed
in a long letter issued by eminent bishops in the United States. They speak in general of
the “President” of a democratic society. We are as a consequence aware of the
fact that, with this expression, we enter – whether we desire it or not – into
an interpretation of the “president” who finds himself elected by an assembly
– so as to be deposed by the assembly as well.

Unhappily, the “taste” for this title of president seems to be widespread in
the Church. I once had occasion to hear a certain important Roman ecclesiastic make the
following three assertions:

  • What is the “priestly seat”? – The presidential seat;
  • What is the Eucharistic prayer? – The presidential prayer;
  • What must the priest learn? – The art of presiding.

Before such a deformation of the priesthood one is simply astounded.

We can ask ourselves, in such a context as this, if it would not be preferable to use
the expression “ordained ministers.” Ministers ordained from here, ministers
ordained from there, ministers ordained by us Catholics, ministers ordained in the
Lutheran church. But that usage proposes a spiritual reality which would be equivalent in
the two cases, whereas the word “minister” (or the expression “ordained
minister”) assumes a very specific meaning when it is applied to a Catholic priest,
and a very specific spiritual reality when it concerns a Protestant pastor.

The priest is consecrated, as the proceedings emphasize. Joseph Pieper, the great
philosopher, who died two years ago, used to say “consecrated priest,” and not
merely “ordained.” We understand him thoroughly now, for by itself an ordination
“gives little.” When I accept a duty, that doesn’t change me, whereas a
consecration changes one interiorly, and forcefully. It is a profound spiritual change, a
quasi spiritual identification with Jesus – not perceptible or verifiable
psychologically, but real. Identification with Jesus, who then offers the possibility of
acting “in Christ” (“agere in persona Christi“).

The priest consecrates, and the words of the consecration are not a simple recital of
the institution; they are the words of Our Lord spoken through the intermediacy of the
priest, and it is this identification with the priestly character which the proceedings
vigorously describe.

One last observation: in the Church there is a “sharing”
(“communion”) of diverse gifts, a reciprocal gift between the
“ministerial” priesthood and the common “royal priesthood.”

Please permit me here to refer to an experience I had as Secretary of the Congregation
of Religious, on the occasion of a work managed in common with the Congregation of
Bishops, for the purpose of preparing the document “Institutione Mutuae Relationes,”
This document concerns relations between bishops and religious. The theme was approached
under the aspect of “structure.” What do bishops expect of religious, and what
do religious expect of bishops. One of the members at this time, the cardinal archbishop
of Berlin, declared: “It advisable to modify this structure.” Such a declaration
seems to be much in line with those made by unions and employers, who state what they
expect and what they demand of the other party. In actual fact, it would be more Catholic
to say what the bishops can give to the religious and what the religious can give to the
bishops. And it seems to me, finally, that the proceedings of these colloquia – from
the practical rather than the intellectual perspective – show that between the
ministerial priesthood and the “common priesthood” of the faithful, there exists
a profound “exchange”; and if this exchange is effected on the part of both
parties with faith, with humility, and with greater love, then the Church cannot help but
be enriched.

I thank you.




at the fourth C.I.E.L. Colloquium,


in Rome, March 17, 1999