US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The pope's liturgist

By Bryan Cones | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

The Washington Post fulfilled every liturgist's dream by publishing a story about the two Marinis--Piero and Guido--the pope's former and current master of ceremonies. The coverage is surprisingly decent, given that it is total inside baseball--so much so I'm surprised the Post printed it. It does, of course, overestimate the role of the papal liturgist, who really dpesn't have any canonical authority.

Guido, successor to John Paul II's Piero, decidedly favors the old-fashioned in liturgy, which isn't surprising since his boss does, too. I have to admit, though, that I don't think he really gets the liturgy. If he did, he wouldn't be focusing so much on the list of vestments that priests should be wearing.

I think the mistake that restorationists (such as Guido) make when it comes to making the liturgy more solemn is that they overly focus on incidentals rather than fundamentals, most often in the name of "symbol." But the fundamental symbols of the liturgy are not the priest's vestments or incense or fine metals or what have you. Those are merely decorative. Latin, for example, or Gregorian chant. Fundamental ones are things like the liturgical assembly (usually passive a papal liturgy), its president (presider), the word proclaimed, the bread and wine broken, blessed, and shared, and the places where those things happen (altar, ambo).

Guido says that the criterion for the liturgies he prepares is that they are "beautiful," but that's really in the eye of the beholder. And I also don't see how requiring people to kneel to receive communion from the pope is "beautiful." In fact, since the manner of reception is up to the communicant, I don't think it's even appropriate.

Admittedly, I'm of the Piero school of liturgy, confident that the liturgy can be beautiful, simple, solemn, and inculturated all at once. The Baroque period, from which most of Tridentine trappings come, is just a tad gaudy for my taste, and I'm not sure that the carpenter is well represented when his servants are arrayed in cloth-of-gold.

But, like many things liturgical, these are matters of taste.