The Pope's MC

The Washington Post has an interesting profile of Msgr. Guido Marini, the Vatican's Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, a Vatican post whose influence lies in, among other things, its capacity to influence liturgical practices worldwide, given how closely papal Masses are watched, and even studied. 

A tall, reed-thin cleric with a receding hairline and wire-framed glasses, Marini, 45, perched behind the pope's left shoulder, bowed with him at the altar and adjusted the pontiff's lush robes. As Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, he shadows the pope's every move and makes sure that every candle, Gregorian chant and gilded vestment is exactly as he, the pope and God intended it to be. "The criterion is that it is beautiful," Marini said.


But beauty, especially when it comes to the rituals of Roman Catholic liturgy, is a topic of great debate between conservative and liberal Catholics, who share differing views on everything from the music and language of the Mass to where a priest should stand and how he should give Communion.

Some of the key trappings of the Mass - the vestments and vernacular, the "smells and bells" - have taken on a more ancient air since Benedict succeeded John Paul II, and since Marini succeeded Piero Marini.

Piero, 68, is a gruff Vatican veteran, a progressive who advocates a more modern ritual that reflects the great church reforms of the 1960s. The younger and more punctilious Guido, who is not related to Piero, has argued for more traditional liturgical symbols and gestures - like the pope's preference that the faithful kneel to accept Communion - that some church liberals interpret as the harbinger of a counter-reformation.

The coincidence of their shared last names has resulted in YouTube links like "Battle of the Marinis." ("These things on the YouTube are fun but not important," said Marini the Second.) But within Vatican and wider liturgical circles, the Marini schism is actually a profound one about the direction of the church.

The liturgical changes enacted under Guido Marini are "a great microcosm for broader shifts in the church," said John Allen, a veteran Vatican watcher with the National Catholic Reporter.

Since the Marini II era began in October 2007, the papal Masses clearly have a stronger traditional element. Guido Marini, who has degrees in canon and civil law and a doctorate in the psychology of communication, caused considerable consternation among some progressive Catholics in January when he talked to English-speaking priests about a "reform of the reform."

In an interview Thursday, he argued that the changes should not be seen as a liturgical backlash to modernity but as a "harmonious development" in a "continuum" that takes full advantage of the church's rich history and is not subject to what he has called "sporadic modifications." Liturgical progressives, like Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., are concerned that Marini considers the reforms of the 1960s ecumenical council known as Vatican II as being among those sporadic modifications.

At most papal Masses, a large crucifix flanked by tall candles is now displayed on the altar, even though many progressives say the ornaments block the view of the priest and the bread and wine. They argue that this obstructs the accessibility urged by liturgical reforms associated with the Second Vatican Council.

Read the rest here.

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Thomas Piatak
6 years 10 months ago
I applaud the focus on beauty in worship.  Too much beauty was thoughtlessly tossed aside in the wake of Vatican II, contrary to the actual mandates of Vatican II.  Let us hope that Benedict XVI succeeds in bringing such beauty back.

Mr. Smith is right to mention the Puritans.  The Church has always understood that people are moved by more than words.  Catholics should never seek to follow the example of those who smashed stained glass, burned statues, tore down altars, and outlawed the Mass.  The spirit of Calvinism is antithetical to Christian worship.
David Pasinski
6 years 10 months ago
I watched the Pope's Midnight Mass while wrapping gifts after having returned from our inner city parish's 5:00-6:45 wonderful litugy that included members of deaf community, Native Amrican community, L'Arche community, a few Protestant pastors and marreid Catholic clergy, inner city folks and suburban "expatriates" and  the usual nativity re-enactment with a gorgeous dance by about 10 1st -3rd grade angels, a terrifc homily, and exxtensive kiss of peace, wonederful singing - both folk and meditative - and the general sense of "Christ is born." It was magnificent! 
As for Rome...dull, stilted, some nice singing, boring homily, good prayers of the faithful, and I was done with presents and had no need to watch moves me not (though. in fairness, the hour had something to do with it!)... and I was an MC at a Cathedral for four years... and 9 years of singing Midnight masses as choir boy in the 50's and 60's with happy memories...
I am no longer in that space and the Roman celebration seemed in a distant galaxy, far, far away...I'll take our robust, unorthodox celebration anytime...
6 years 10 months ago
"I wept at the beauty of Your hymns and canticles, and was powerfully moved at the sweet sound of Your Church’s singing. Those sounds flowed into my ears, and the truth streamed into my heart: so that my feeling of devotion overflowed, and the tears ran from my eyes, and I was happy in them".

St Augustine -Confessions

I had this experience at the National Shrine in DC on Christmas day. Cardinal Wuerl concelebrated Chistmas Mass. There is no substitute for true and sacred beauty. The beauty of the ancient traditions and art of the Catholic Church has been the fuel of countless conversions...
Bill Collier
6 years 10 months ago
I'm still early on in the new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas, but Bonhoeffer's description of the Roman Catholic liturgy he encountered during a semester in Rome as a young college student parallels the feelings exptressed by St. Augustine in the quote from the Confessions provided by Maria Byrd. Bonhoeffer was so enamored by the beauty of the liturgy that he became something of a liturgy junkie during his time in Rome, attending multiple Masses and other sevices on any given day. His attraction to RCC liturgy wasn't enough to sway a conversion (he comments on that), but he left Rome with a deep appreciation for the RCC's historical, religious, and cultural contributions to the "Church," a concept  that began to assume a more expansive meaning for Bonhoeffer as a result of his frequent encounters with Catholicism while in the Eternal City. He somehow arranged to be part of an audience with the pope, but his expectations (perhaps unreasonably high) were dashed when the pope appeared to be overly formal and detached. Bonhoeffer loved St. Peter's, however, taking one last wistful look at the basilica before boarding his train to return home.    

The biography was favorably reviewed a few months ago in America; on the basis of the 60 or so pages I've read so far, I highly recommend it.  
David Pasinski
6 years 10 months ago
I appreciate the comments following my own about the beauty of the liturgy. I have experienced that at times throughout my life from those pre-Vatican II liturgies as a youth through a number of other adult experiences from the barrios of Latin America to the cathedral where I served four years at solemn ceremonies as an MC.  But I think some of what changed (besides everything!!!) was what 'liturgy" meant to me as it became less performance - though good planning and well executed roles are essential- and personal. The factors that may have moved my own spirit from near ecstatic experiences of personal transcendence to a "communal transcendence" are worth a more learned commentary. Some traditional hymns, garments, incense, ceetain prayers are yet sometimes evocative, but it is not the same - often only a wistful nostalgia. What moves me and involves me is something else... not better than what you write about, but quite different. Seeing all of those different folks in a communal setting, smiling at the little angels and hearing the Story well-proclaimed and explained and applied,  sharing many minutes of greetings of peace, and solemn yet very joyful Eucharist...liturgy at it's best for me...
6 years 10 months ago
The Conversion of Charlie Rich, Hasidic Jew

Charlie Rich was born in 1899 to a devout Hasidic family in a small village in Hungary.  As a child his schooling was entirely religious, and he had a prayerful, pious nature, spending many hours alone in the woods around his home in loving contemplation of God.  But after his family emigrated to the United States and settled in a Jewish ghetto in New York City, Charlie lost the faith of his childhood and became an atheist.  He retained, however, an intense thirst for philosophical and religious truth, and during his twenties spent hours a day, day after day and month after month, in the public library studying philosophy and religion.  Let us continue in his own words:

"At the age of thirty-three I had read every important literary work held famous in the eyes of men... And yet... there was distress in my spiritual and intellectual make-up, so much so that I thought of suicide as a way out of the misery, spiritual and intellectual I was failed me, and I felt that without supernatural faith I could not go on living and this in the same way as anyone would soon die if he was not given food to eat...I actually went to the Bronx Park with the intention of hanging myself.  I had picked out a tree and had a rope in my hand, when someone passed by and courage failed me....Anyway, I one day passed a Catholic Church - it was a hot summer day, and I felt weary and exhausted.  So I thought if I went inside I could cool off...I went inside and found myself completely alone... "

There, seated in the shadows in the empty church, he looked up to a stained glass window depicting Jesus stilling the waters during the storm (Luke 8:22-25) and said to himself:

"If only I could believe with the same assurance as those who come to worship here believe! that the words in the Gospels are really true, that Christ really existed, and that these words are exactly those that came from His own mouth, were uttered from His own human lips, and that they are literally true.  Oh, if this were only a fact, if I could only believe that this were a fact, how glorious and wonderful that would be, how consoled, happy and comforted I would be, to know that Christ was really divine, that He was God's own Son come down from another world to this earth to save us all!  Could it be possible, I felt, that that which seemed too wonderful to be true actually was true, that it was no deception, no fraud, no lie?  All of a sudden something flashed though my mind and I heard these words spoken in it. 'Of course it is true, Christ is God, is God come down to make Himself visible in the flesh.  The words in the Gospels are true, literally true".
He lived as a contemplative witht he Jesuits in New York.

Too long probably, but such a great example...
Jim McCrea
6 years 10 months ago
Deck chairs.
Kang Dole
6 years 10 months ago
<insert joke about old skool M.C.s here>
Knud Rasmussen
6 years 10 months ago
I'm impressed that the Washington Post would offer such a fair-minded profile as this. Msgr. Marini clearly knows what he is doing, and I think he's doing a very fine job.

I have one comment on a possible point of contention, found in this paragraph:

"At most papal Masses, a large crucifix flanked by tall candles is now displayed on the altar, even though many progressives say the ornaments block the view of the priest and the bread and wine. They argue that this obstructs the accessibility urged by liturgical reforms associated with the Second Vatican Council."

Liturgical 'progressives' do themselves no favors when they offer arguments like these. It would be silly to pretend that the crucifix and candles completely prevent the congregation from seeing the liturgical action, as that isn't the case. If the argument is that doing so partially "obstructs" the view of the congregation in a way that is unacceptable, that also seems quite weak - every time that I have seen this arrangement, either in person or in pictures or video, the liturgical action has still been plainly visible.

One may be able to make an aesthetic argument against the 'Benedictine' arrangement favored by Msgr. Marini - suggesting, perhaps, that it makes for an unnecessarily cluttered altar - but the ostensibly theological arguments cited in the Post article strike me as unpersuasive.
Anthony Ruff
6 years 10 months ago
The eucharistic sacrifice clearly is offered to the Father. The entire mystery of our Lord's passion, death, and resurrection is memorialized and made present in the Sacrifce of the Mass. As a priest-celebrant, I cannot fathom why one would want to gaze upon the crucifix. It places the focus on just one aspect of the paschal mystery and on the 'wrong' person of the Trinity, so to speak.
6 years 10 months ago
"Deck chairs.

I would counter this with "Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi".

I think Marini II has been a mixed bag.  Some of the "returns" seem trivial to me (such as the carryings on with the Pope's cope, etc.), some more bothersome (those outrageous thrones), but some positive (I think of some of the garish vestments Marini I had both JP 2 and B16 in and flinch).  The biggest mistake in the article as I read it is the implication that this is all Marini's doing.  That greatly misunderstands Benedict's keen liturgical emphasis for years.  And I do think this "Vatican II versus Old Ritual" line is a bit exaggerated.  The documents themselves speak of treasuring the old, such as Gregorian chant, which has totally disappeared in this country.  Its the one area the Episcopalians put us to shame.
Knud Rasmussen
6 years 10 months ago
Fr. Ruff,

The argument that you present is much better than the one referenced in the article - it's an argument worth taking seriously, unlike the risible "ornaments block the view" argument (which I suppose could be put at the service of arguments like yours, insofar as the focus you speak of may be more readily apparent without the ornaments - but I don't think the "block the view" argument can stand on its own).


I don't have a problem with the thrones. In a larger way, though, I agree with you that this isn't all Marini's doing but reflects what the Pope has been doing for years. I also hope that this stylistic shift leads people to realize that the "Old Ritual" elements you speak of have a place in the contemporary Church.

It also seems to me (and I think this speaks to Jeff's Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi point) that proponents of greater simplicity and a less "ornamental" approach to worship have tended to ignore the essential relationship between aesthetics and belief. How we pray does have an effect on what we believe, but the aesthetic dimensions of the worship experience are a key element of this. I've yet to read an argument for greater simplicity in vesture, church architecture, etc. which deals with this issue in a satisfactory way. On the contrary, the view that we should go for maximal simplicity so as not to 'distract' people from 'what prayer is really about' seems to assume a sort of Cartesian dualism by which we can simply focus on God mentally and ignore our bodies and physical environment entirely. Thankfully, the present Pope and Msgr. Marini have a keener appreciation of the role of the senses in helping us to pray and to come to a richer and deeper faith.
David Pasinski
6 years 10 months ago
A dictatorship by "liberals" is no less a dictatorship than that by "conservatives." However,I think that this is not a solid argument to recognize the "reforms" (itself a fighting word!) of Vatican II. I am all for diversity of expressions and  perhaps even heterodoxy. No one need attend the liturgy that moves me, but please don't tell me that I am less "Catholic" for it comparatively. The binding force of "Eucharist" deserves and has many expressions as our neglected attention to so many Eastern rites demonsrates.
David Pasinski
6 years 10 months ago
So reform is impossible? Surely there is always to be conflict with any proposed change, but I don't see it always as zealotry.
Jim McCrea
6 years 10 months ago
"That no image is more central and appropriate to the sacrifice of the Mass than the crucifix?"

How about a simple cross without corpus that reflects the Risen Christ?  That fact is as much a part of our salvation - and what we recognize in the Eucharist - as is the crucified Christ.


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