Saturday, 9 January 2010

Papal Liturgy as celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI

As I write there are two documents available on the internet that have relevance to understanding developments in the celebration of Papal liturgies by Pope Benedict XVI.

The first of these is the lecture given by Mgr Guido Marini, Master of Pontifical Ceremonies, to the conference for priests from the English speaking world. This conference was held in Rome, to mark the Year for Priests. Entitled "Introducing the Spirit of the Liturgy", the lecture reflects in many ways the book by then-Cardinal Ratzinger "The Spiriti of the Liturgy". The full text of the lecture has been posted at New Liturgical Movement.

The second is an interview with  Father Mauro Gagliardi, one of the consultors to the office of Pontifical Ceremonies, and it is published at the ZENIT site. This has been published under the title "Benedict XVI's 'novel' traditions". There is something slightly mischievous in this title, though I don't think that mischievousness should be attributed to the person being interviewed or, perhaps, even to ZENIT. I recall a time when some innovative (in the unhelpful sense) liturgical practices were justified on the basis of being "the tradition followed here" and the saying became that you just have to do something once for it to become a tradition.

Where Mgr Marini takes as a reference point in his lecture Pope Benedict's writings before he was elected Pope, Fr Gagliardi addresses more explicitly developments in recent Papal celebrations. In both cases, the citation of particular passages can give an unfair view of the whole, so I would recommend reading the full texts in both cases. I quote the following question and answer from the interview with Fr Gagliardi because it is the one that has most practical import; I have added an emphasis to one paragraph:
ZENIT: Accattoli cites other changes, which we could say have more to do with substance: A concern for the moments of silence, celebrations facing the crucifix and with the back to the people, and Communion distributed to the faithful on their tongues as they are kneeling.

Father Gagliardi: These are elements of great significance, which, obviously, I cannot analyze here in a detailed way but only touch on briefly. The “Institutio Generalis” of the Roman Missal published by Paul VI prescribes that sacred silence be observed in different moments [of the liturgy]. The papal liturgy’s attention to this aspect, then, does nothing more than put the established norms into practice.

In regard to celebrations facing the crucifix, we see that normally the Holy Father is maintaining the so-called "versus popolum" position both in St. Peter’s and elsewhere. He has celebrated facing the crucifix only a few times, in particular, in the Sistine Chapel and in the Pauline Chapel, which has been recently renovated. Since the celebration of every Mass, whatever the celebrant’s physical position, is a celebration toward the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit and never "versus populum" or the assembly, save for the few moments of dialogue, it is not strange that the celebrant of the Eucharist can also physically position himself "toward the Lord." Especially in the Sistine Chapel, where the altar is against the wall, it is natural and faithful to the norms to celebrate on the fixed and dedicated altar, thus turned toward the crucifix, rather than adding a free-standing altar for the occasion.

Finally, in regard to the way of distributing Holy Communion to the faithful, one needs to distinguish the aspect of receiving it kneeling from that of receiving it on the tongue. In the actual ordinary form of the Roman Rite -- or the Mass of Paul VI -- the faithful have a right to receive Communion standing or kneeling. If the Holy Father has decided to have communicants kneel, I think -- obviously this is only my personal opinion -- that he holds this to be the more appropriate posture to express the sense of adoration that we must always cultivate before the gift of the Eucharist. It is an aid that the Pope gives to those who receive Communion from him, which helps them to consider attentively who He is who is received in the most holy Eucharist.

On the other hand, in “Sacramentum Caritatis,” citing St. Augustine, the Holy Father recalled that in receiving the Eucharistic Bread we must adore it, because we would sin if we received it without adoring it. Before receiving Communion, the priest himself genuflects before the Host -- why not help the faithful cultivate the sense of proper adoration through a similar gesture?

In regard to Communion in the hand, it must be remembered that this is possible in many places today -- possible but not obligatory -- but that it is, and remains, a concession, a dispensation from the ordinary norm that affirms that Communion is received on the tongue. This concession was made to individual bishops’ conferences that asked for it and it is not the Holy See that suggests it or promotes it. And, in any case, no bishop, as a member of a bishops’ conference that has asked for and obtained the indult, is obliged to accept it and apply it in his diocese: Every bishop can always decide to apply the universal norm -- which is still in force -- in his diocese. According to this norm, the faithful must receive Holy Communion on the tongue. If no bishop in the world is obliged to take advantage of the indult, how can the Pope be obliged? In fact, it is important that the Holy Father maintain the traditional rule, confirmed by Paul VI, who prohibited the faithful from receiving Communion in the hand (for further details, see Mauro Gagliardi, “La Liturgia: Fonte di Vita” [Verona: Fede & Cultura, 2009, p. 170-181]).
I think my emphasised paragraph has two implications. One is the need for a catechesis about what we are actually doing when we receive Holy Communion - an act made up of adoration in its two components of acknowledging the greatness of the God who comes to us and of reaching out in an expression of love towards that same God (the stricter sense of the word communion). The second is the part to be played by Eucharistic Adoration outside of the celebration of Mass - as an act of adoration/communion that leads us back, enriched, to the adoration/communion of the Liturgy. Where Eucharistic Adoration is encouraged, so is the celebration of the Liturgy itself.

Fr Gagliardi says, near the end of his interview:
To me it seems that what is being attempted is a wise joining of the ancient with the new, to actuate in spirit and letter, as much as possible, the indications of the Second Vatican Council, and to do this in such a way that the pontifical celebrations are exemplary in all aspects. Those present at the papal liturgy should be able to say: “Ah, this is how you do it! This is how we should do it in our diocese too, in our parish!”

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