Anti-Latin Mass ideologist: “Liturgy must never become an ideology”

Bernhard Eckerstorfer: “Liturgy must never become an ideology”- from 2022

The Austrian Benedictine monk Bernhard Eckerstorfer (50) is rector of the Sant’Anselmo University in Rome. A conversation about the role of Swiss Catholics and what influence Benedictines had on “Traditionis custodes”.

Centre and front

Father Bernhard, you have been rector at the Pontifical Athenaeum Sant’Anselmo in Rome, the international university of the Benedictine Order, for two years. What fascinates you most about your work?

Bernhard Eckerstorfer*: We have students from 70 nations at our university. You get to know the universal church in everyday life, for example when a nun from Myanmar sits next to a Coptic monk at a lecture and a student from Ecuador sits behind her. We are a small university, but we can make our mark at the center of the universal church in our Benedictine way.

Students from 70 nations at the university meet for joint church services in the Church of Sant'Anselmo.

Are there currently students from Switzerland at your university?

Eckerstorfer: Not this academic year. Next year a reformed Swiss woman is coming to us for a research project.

What role does the Swiss Benedictine Congregation play in the global Benedictine community today?

Eckerstorfer: A very big one. Financially, Switzerland is an important factor for our university. The Swiss Benedictines are a very lively congregation. The Benedictine way of life has a long tradition in Switzerland. I perceive a strong commitment there and at the same time an openness to the world, which is also reflected in the surprisingly large number of entries in some monasteries.

“Church is more than the German-speaking area.”

Is the Swiss Catholic Church perceived in Rome?

Eckerstorfer: In my humble opinion, only marginally. The Germans have a completely different weight in this regard. The Austrian Catholic Church is also not such an issue in Rome. What I learned in Rome is that the church is more than just the German-speaking area. A lot of things are put into perspective. I like to call it resizing. This can be very healing.

What do you think of the Synodal Process?

Eckerstorfer: What the synodal process can certainly do is position the church more broadly. In Italy, I notice how the parishes here come into conversation and discuss topics of faith intensively. As Benedictines, we also have a long experience with the synodal principle: One of Saint Benedict's mottos is that everyone should be asked about important decisions in the monastery, because the Holy Spirit often shows the young people what's going on. I think it's great that Pope Francis takes this approach. That is why I am very hopeful about the global synodal process.

“We as Benedictines have a long experience with the Synodal process.”

Is there anything else that worries you?

Eckerstorfer: I notice how a new clericalism is emerging among the young priests. When I was ordained a priest, the Brazilian missionary bishop from my monastery told me: “You are being ordained to serve the Holy People of God.” Priesthood is always a service. And the liturgy must never become an ideology. The liturgy is a divine gift and should be the starting point for unity, not separation.

At the age of 29, Father Bernhard Eckerstorfer entered Kremsmünster Monastery in Upper Austria.

Are you playing on the traditionalists who often see the Old Mass as the only true form of worship?

Eckerstorfer: I would not deny anyone from maintaining the old rite from the outset. There is also a diversity of views in Sant’Anselmo. But – and this is also important to Pope Francis – representatives of the Old Rite should also be open to the renewed liturgy. There is definitely a danger that only the Old Mass will be named as the correct rite. Pope Francis wanted to prevent this with the motu proprio “Traditionis custodes”. It is crucial that traditionalists also recognize the new Rite.

The online portal gives the Benedictines and the Pontifical Liturgical Institute of Sant’Anselmo significant weight in the creation of “Traditionis custodes”. What do you think?

Eckerstorfer: Sant'Anselmo did important work in the processes of the Council and the renewal of the liturgy. And we still stand for reforms in the course of a reconsideration of tradition. But Sant'Anselmo is massively overrated if one thinks that the Pope would commission a university to produce such a document, or be persuaded by an academic institution to do so. The creation of papal texts is an intensive and complex process involving different people and entities.

"Critics did not dare to criticise Pope Francis' decision."

One does not do justice to the Pope if one believes that a university delivers a finished document. Or even that there was a "pressure group" from here. Those who claim this have not understood how Vatican texts are created. Something was constructed that does not correspond to reality. Those responsible were sought because the critics of "Traditionis custodes" did not dare - at least not at first - to criticise Pope Francis' decision.

In your opinion, how should one now deal with the traditionalists?

Eckerstorfer: It is understandable that some traditionalists feel hurt or disappointed because of the document. Therefore, it is important to support them pastorally.


* Bernhard A. Eckerstorfer (50) studied theology and geography in Salzburg, Vienna and the USA after his Matura. At the age of 29, he entered the Upper Austrian monastery of Kremsmünster in 2000. Since January 2020, he has been Rector of the Pontifical Athenaeum of Sant'Anselmo in Rome and Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and Monastic Studies.


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