Sacra Liturgia Conference in Milan to feature Cardinals Sarah, Burke; focus on Ambrosian liturgy

Interest in the international conferences, says organizer Dom Alcuin Reid, continues to grow, especially “amongst young people, men and women, and amongst young clergy and religious.”


From June 6-9 Sacra Liturgia will hold its fourth international conference in Milan, Italy, continuing the work begun in Rome (2013), in New York (2015) and London, England (2016). The international panel of speakers features Cardinals Raymond Burke and Robert Sarah amongst others (the Milan conference will be in both Italian and English with simultaneous translation of all presentations). CWR spoke with Sacra Liturgia’s international coordinator, Dom Alcuin Reid, about the upcoming conference in Milan.

CWR: Is this the first Sacra Liturgia conference in Milan? Why Milan? Is there a particular theme or themes the conference will focus on?

Dom Alcuin Reid: Yes, this is our second conference in Italy—the first was the inaugural conference in Rome in 2013—but our first conference in Milan.

We wanted to come to Milan so as to draw from its rich liturgical and cultural heritage and so as to give our delegates not simply the opportunity to spend four days praying and studying the liturgy together with others from around the world, but also the opportunity to experience something of the life of the ancient Church of Milan, of Saint Ambrose, of Saint Charles Borromeo, of Blessed Ildephonse Schuster, etc.

And from the outset the Archbishop of Milan, His Eminence, Cardinal Scola, and his officials, as well as those of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart, have been gracious and warm in their welcome and support. Milan has so much to offer culturally and liturgically—in particular its own venerable liturgical rite (the “Ambrosian rite”)—that those attending will, we are sure, come away profoundly enriched.

CWR: So Sacra Liturgia Milan will feature the Ambrosian rite liturgy?

Dom Alcuin Reid: Yes, as at all our conferences the celebration of the liturgy is at the heart of what we do and because we shall be in Milan those celebrations, naturally, will be in the Ambrosian rite. The opening Solemn Vespers will be celebrated in the historic Basilica of Saint Ambrose; His Eminence, Cardinal Tettamanzi, has kindly agreed to celebrate for us.

So too, one of the conference Masses will be celebrated there in the modern Ambrosian rite by its Bishop-Abbot, Bishop DeScalzi, who has been very welcoming to us. His Eminence, Cardinal Scola, has facilitated our use of the beautiful church of St Alessandro for our celebration of Holy Mass in the ancient Ambrosian rite, and the conference will conclude in the Metropolitan Cathedral with Solemn Vespers, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and a statio at the altar of Blessed Ildephonse Schuster, the famous liturgist and Archbishop of Milan from 1929-1954. The Archpriest of the Duomo, who has also been very welcoming, will celebrate Vespers for us.

CWR:  What will the Milan conference offer culturally?

Dom Alcuin Reid: Simply spending some days in Milan one cannot but imbibe its culture. However we are conscious that our conference delegates will need some time for that also and we have left one afternoon of the conference free for cultural visits. We are organising visits to the splendid Ambrosian library founded by Cardinal Frederico Borromeo as well as tours of the Duomo. We would also recommend taking time to visit the monastery of Saint Maurizo—sometimes known as “Milan’s Sistine Chapel”—located very close to the Catholic University, where the conference will be held. In truth, there is so much to taste that we recommend that where possible delegates spend some days doing so also before and after the conference.

CWR: Robert Cardinal Sarah is once again a presenter; what will he be speaking on? Will his talk touch on the some of the matters he discusses in his new book, The Power of Silence?

Dom Alcuin Reid: His Eminence is speaking on “The Sacred Liturgy—Our Encounter With God: A Christological and Ecclesiological Perspective”. I cannot imagine that he would speak of our encounter with Almighty God without reflecting on the necessity of a fruitful silence and receptivity on the part of the Church and of each of us as we contemplate God’s saving action in the liturgy. But we shall have to wait and see what he says. Certainly the question of liturgy and ecclesiology is an important one and has been discussed quite a bit in recent years.

CWR: Another well-known cardinal, Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, will be presenting as well. What is the focus of his address?

Dom Alcuin Reid: Cardinal Burke is speaking, ten years after its promulgation, about Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum and is presenting an assessment of those ten years as well as a prospective view of the future of the usus antiquior, the more ancient form, of the Roman rite. It promises to be an important address both in its analysis and in its vision for the years to come.

CWR: Who are some of the other presenters and what other topics will be presented and discussed?

Dom Alcuin Reid: Because we are in Milan we have invited a number of experts on the Ambrosian liturgy to address the conference, notable amongst them Monsignor Innos Biffi who recently won the Ratzinger prize. Monsignor Timothy Verdon will present on “Sacred Liturgy and Art.” Father Vincenzo Nuara will speak on “Liturgy and Young People”. Professor Jennifer Donelson of Dunwoodie Seminary in New York will speak on the renewal of Sacred Music fifty years after Musicam Sacram. Abbot Christopher Zielinski will address “The Liturgical Formation of the Human Person—Awakening the soul of contemporary man.”

Father Uwe Michael Lang and myself will present papers on historical topics, and there will be a presentation by a young professional from Milan on “Lay Participation and the Liturgy.” A full list of speakers and topics can be found on the conference website. We hope that this will be both an interesting and rewarding programme that will play its part in advancing the new liturgical movement of our day.

CWR: What has been the response to the Sacra Liturgia conferences since they began? Has interest grown? What have been some of the fruits of these gatherings?

Dom Alcuin Reid: Interest has certainly grown, yes—that is why we are holding a fourth international conference. This is particularly the case amongst young people, men and women, and amongst young clergy and religious. There is a thirst for sound liturgical formation, academic and practical, which sometimes is lacking in dioceses, parishes or seminaries and other centres of formation. There is also a desire to connect with the wider liturgical apostolate or movement of the twenty-first century, and our conferences facilitate something of this by bringing together people from many different countries: for Milan there are people from more than 10 different countries registered already.

In terms of fruits, we hope that Sacra Liturgia has done something, something important to advance what broadly goes under the heading of “the new liturgical movement”—that movement “toward the right way of celebrating the liturgy, inwardly and outwardly,” for which Pope Benedict called as a cardinal. We hope it has provided some of that formation necessary for sound liturgical practice and indeed that the publication of its proceedings (the third volume, from the 2015 London conference, should be available in Milan) has contributed to academic study of the liturgy, both historically and in respect of contemporary issues.

CWR: In his address at Sacra Liturgia London last summer, Cardinal Sarah suggested that Catholics consider a return to worship ad orientem. Overall, in hindsight, what sort of response was there to those remarks? What did those responses indicate to you, as someone who has been studying liturgical reform for many years?

Dom Alcuin Reid: Well, as we know, the responses were many and varied. Some—including responses from people in authority—were incredible in their naivety and lack of understanding of what the Cardinal actually said and indeed of the relevant ecclesiastical regulations. Nevertheless his message was not drowned by the noise created by its ill-informed critics. It reached the ears of those whose ears were indeed prepared to listen.

I understand that Cardinal Sarah has received many, many messages of support from around the world and that these far outnumber any criticisms he has received. And one continues to hear of more priests and parishes adopting his proposal to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy ad orientem; I have even seen reports of priests commencing this at the beginning of Lent because they judged it necessary to take a longer period to provide the catechesis necessary in their parish. This seems very wise and prudent.

In spite of the “dictatorship of noise” that attempts to rule liturgical discourse at times, His Eminence’s calm and considered message has in fact reached many people who are quietly getting on with the business of enriching the liturgical life of the Church according to a hermeneutic of continuity and not of rupture. His “still small voice” (cf. 1 Kings 19:12) rings true in the hearts and souls of many, and in time it will bear more fruit.

All in all, in my opinion, the various reactions to Cardinal Sarah’s multifaceted address (and people should read and study it – it contains a great deal worth consideration) indicate that there are still some people of a certain generation and mindset for whom any, and I mean any, reform or enrichment of the modern rites is so out of the question. One detects, not without a certain irony, the presence of a rigidity in the face of change, or even an idolatry towards the modern liturgical forms themselves, of which such people have sometimes accused others. Really, they need to be more open to the legitimate progress and development in matters liturgical that the genuine good of the Church in our day requires (cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, 23).

CWR: Can you tell us something about the practical arrangements for Sacra Liturgia Milan?

Dom Alcuin Reid: The conference opens on Tuesday afternoon June 6th and will be held at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart (“the Cattolica”) in central Milan, adjacent to the historic basilica of Saint Ambrose. The university authorities have graciously placed their aula magna and its attendant rooms at our disposition, ensuring a large and comfortable space for delegates and exhibitors. The conference concludes on Friday afternoon June 9th.

The conference will be in two languages—Italian and English—with simultaneous translation of all presentations. Full-time registration is now open on the conference website. Part-time registration will be available after Easter when the full conference programme will be released.

Delegates need to organise their own accommodation, though our Secretariat does have some suggestions provided by the local organisers. Similarly, meals during the conference are the responsibility of delegates, though the University has a number of suitable cafés and so on for lunches. Coffee, etc., will be provided in the morning and afternoon session breaks.

CWR: How can readers support the aims of Sacra Liturgia and its initiatives?

Dom Alcuin Reid: Firstly, they can help by spreading the word about our initiatives; this year the Milan conference we have talked about, and then the annual summer school in France. Inform people who may be interested, particularly clergy, seminarians and young men and women. They can follow us on Facebook to receive regular updates.

And they can donate of course, particularly to help us keep the costs of registration as low as possible for students and poor clergy and religious. In past years people have been very generous in donating a number of student registrations, which we have been able to allocate to those who need them. This year we have even received a request from a bishop who wishes to attend but whose diocese is poor and very far from Italy and who needs help in covering his airfare. To date we have not been able to send him the help needed. We would welcome any help, large or small.

We are profoundly grateful to our sponsors whose support has enabled us to hold international conferences of a high standard, and we are always happy to hear from others. We do not have paid staff or any income other than what people give us, but in God’s Providence Sacra Liturgia continues, we hope, to promote the Sacred Liturgy as the source and summit of the life and mission of the Church in our day. Your readers’ help in continuing that work, and their prayers, would be profoundly appreciated.

Thank you. God bless you.

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