The Art of Celebration

The liturgical difference between Francis and Benedict XVI has been one of the most noted contrasts between the new pope and his predecessor.  Since the day he was elected, when he dispensed with the mozzetta at his first greeting of the faithful from the loggia of St. Peters, he has opted for plainer liturgical style for papal functions.  His washing of the feet of girls, one of whom was a Muslim, on Holy Thursday, has been noted by some as the end of Pope Benedict’s reform of the reform.  Likewise, his choice to celebrate in parishes within his own diocese according the liturgical customs of the place, rather than impose the standards of his Vatican celebrations, has been noted as an undoing of Pope Benedict’s efforts to restore lost traditions.  But Benedictine Abbot Michael Zielinski, from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, sees the differences as complementary rather than contradictory.

I think it is worth noting here again that, both in the order of being and in the order of logic, two things or assertions that are different, or contrary, are not for that reason contradictory.  That there might be a greater or lesser degree of solemnity, magnificence, or ritual purity, does not mean that the greater end of the spectrum is reverent and the lesser end irreverent.  This is a distinction that seems to be lost on many who are inclined to be reactive against the differences, rather than responsive to the Vicar of Christ.

Abbot Zielinski notes that Pope Benedict has pointed, not only by his teaching, but also by his actions, to the importance of art, music and architecture in the celebration of the liturgy.  The abbot rightly says that Pope Benedict was all about restoring the ars celebrandi, that is, the art of celebration.  Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI worked tirelessly to put God back into the center of the liturgy.  The liturgy must be what it is, namely, the worship of the true God.  Therefore, its transcendent character must always be clear.

On the contrary (not contradictory), Abbot Zielinski says that Pope Francis has not placed the emphasis of his liturgical celebration on solemnity and magnificence because his focus is on “relationality,” that is on the relationship between God and the congregation in the moment of the celebration of the liturgy.  It is a prayerful experience, but one also that includes an awareness of the present moment, of the concrete.  This approach carries through from the Holy Father’s disposition to celebrate the liturgy according the custom of the place to his manner of preaching, which is almost conversational.

But Francis himself is aware that his choices have been duly noted, and have been found remarkable by many.  And he has not disregarded these concerns.  For Instance, he has said that his choice to retain Monsignor Marini, the man largely responsible for implementing the liturgical style of Pope Benedict, as papal master of ceremonies has the purpose of cross-pollinating the two styles. The term “mutual enrichment,” comes to mind, a formulation used by Pope Benedict in reference to the fittingness of allowing two forms for the Roman Rite, one ordinary, the other extraordinary.  In fact, Abbot Zielinski notes that liturgically Pope Francis is a synthesis of his two immediate predecessors, Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  Blessed Pope John Paul II, was the great advocate of the human person and a man that was continually focused on the concrete and the present.  Pope Emeritus Benedict was and is a proper liturgist and a man of high culture.  I believe that Pope Francis has his eye on the liturgy in ways have a very positive in the long run.

An interesting aside related to this complementarity concerns the alleged exorcism performed by Pope Francis on Pentecost in the Piazza of St. Peter’s Basilica after Mass.  News of the “exorcism” spread because of a convincing looking video of the event.  However, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Director of the Holy See Press Office, denied that Pope Francis had performed the ritual.  This was soon contradicted by the famous exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth, who claimed to have first hand knowledge that the man in question was, indeed, possessed and that Pope Francis had, in fact, performed the exorcism.  In the end, it would seem that this CNA article confirms the factuality of the exorcism.  What is interesting to me is that the confusion seems to center on the fact that Pope Francis was just being Pope Francis.  It was not a formal exorcism.  It was not even planned.  It certainly was not an exorcism “by the book” or even one performed with audible words.  One might say that it was “relational” rather than “rubrical.”  The pope was greeting the sick.  The priest accompanying the possessed man told the Pope that the man needed an exorcism.  The Holy Father responded by laying hands on the man’s head, and the result is visually stunning.   Apparently, this relational stuff really works.

In distinguishing between the liturgical styles of the two popes, Abbot Zielinksi, attributed the promotion of the ars celebrandi, to Pope Benedict who clearly wished his cultured example to influence the manner of the liturgy’s celebration world-wide.  I would humbly suggest that Pope Francis should also be considered to be a promoter of the ars celebrandi.

Perhaps, as a Franciscan, I am more conscious of this than a Benedictine whose liturgical tradition is much higher.  But there is also a theological reason.  For Franciscans the “art” in the ars celebrandi is not in the first place a matter of sophistication, but of reducing all things to their theological principles.  For Franciscans, Christ is both our Philosophy and Eternal Art.  Christ is the liturgy and our “active participation” is our identification with Him.  The ars celebrandi, then, is not in the first place about external signs as opposed to invisible realities they signify, but about the whole concrete act of the liturgy as it is celebrated in the here and now, as it is a human act that joins us to God.

Of course this means, that the liturgy must be celebrated as Christ wills, according the mind of the Church, but it also means, that any particular liturgical act cannot be analyzed simply by comparing it externally with an ideal standard.  Arguments about the objective superiority of magnificence over simplicity, and therefore, of the greater amount of glory to God and grace to man, miss this point.  In other words, the ars celebrandi is fundamentally “relational” because it is real individual men who offer and participate in the liturgy.  To focus on an external limitation, whether it is based on ignorance, culture or talent, or to write off or look down on a group of people simply because they do not share the preoccupations of the liturgical elite, I would argue, is to misunderstand the ars celebrandi.

Considered as a concrete whole, the ars celebrandi is partly about objective ritual, considered strictly as external signs, and partly about the way the whole liturgy comes together in the concrete, in this place, at this time among these men.  In its complete context, the worship that God deserves, that is, the best that we have to offer Him, may or may not include high art.  The fact, that this particular celebration is low as compared with another tells much less about the character of the liturgy than the elitists would have us believe.

We are all artists, and we are called offer to God the best that we can make.  Some of our best creations are external, physical artifacts, but much of what we make is also relational, because the artifacts are created by men as signs understood by men.  In fact, as we all know, the best that we have to offer, is not carved out of some physical material but is spiritually conformed to the life of Christ.  When Pope Francis connects with the people, not through the sentimental showmanship characteristic of modernist liturgy, but through the charism of his ministry and the sincerity of his regard for the people in whose presence he celebrates the liturgy, this is also the ars celebrandi.  That he should give us an example of this, by placing the emphasis, not on things but on people, is no less important than the essential lesson we have learned from Pope Benedict about the external beauty of the worship of God.

This is liturgical continuity at its finest.

13 thoughts on “The Art of Celebration

  1. My opinion is that these two views are really needed at this time in church history. The larger church is rich in tradition that goes back to the beginning but the smaller church (local churches or ethinic churches) are also rich in tradition that goes back to the beginning of when they were introduced to Christianity. Neither of these can be ignored. An example that comes to mind for me is the ancient Celtic Church that was so rich in its cultural heritage and had its own traditions but were different from the the Roman Church of the time. To bring it in line with Rome the Council of Whitby was called and the Celtic Church was made to conform to the way of the Roman church. This was a tragidy and I don’t think this would happen today especially with our new Pope. The cultural and ethnic traditions of local churches bring a richness and life to the church and combined this with our ancient traditions I think we are well positioned to face the challenges of the 21st century.

  2. Father, how many interesting things you have said. I like learning about liturgy. I have to say I wouldn’t be able to conect the both liturgical styles of these Popes. But I like to learn what you said.
    I particulary like more Benedict XVI’s style, but I have do admit that Pope Francis has give to us a important lesson about liturgy. And that’s the point you have commented that I uderstood bether. I have seen that the tradicionalist are extremely attached to the solemnty and pageantry in liturgy (pompa litúrgica). But in many parts of the world, the local people are very poor. So how can they afford a so expensive liturgy? By the other hand, there are many places on earth, that people are very rich and they can afford a very expensive liturgy. So why not? I eve think that that rich people should suport that kind of liturgy. Of course, without being negligent to help the poor!
    I think Pope Francis’ choice for a plainer liturgical style is very concerned to his choice to live a hard ascestic lifestyle as a testemony of his vow for poverty as a jesuit and on behalf of the poor. I think that’s a little profetic in these days whey poverty are growing fast!

  3. John, what you said is good, but there is a great risk that this principle principle or rule of inculturation (inculturação. I’m not sure if this expression is used in English) end up in syncretism (sincretismo). In Brazil, sincretism has become a great religous problem. I just mentioned this topic because we have seen in my country many problems because of a misunderstanding of the norms for adapting the Liturgy to the culture and traditions of peoples. See Sacrossactun Conciliun, n. 37 and following:

    37. Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community; rather does she respect and foster the genius and talents of the various races and peoples. Anything in these peoples’ way of life which is not indissolubly bound up with superstition and error she studies with sympathy and, if possible, preserves intact. Sometimes in fact she admits such things into the liturgy itself, so long as they harmonize with its true and authentic spirit.

    http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19631204_sacrosanctum-concilium_en.html

  4. Alex,
    Follow the mind of the Church! God’s saving plan is for ALL of His chidren to come to His banquet. You’re too caught up on the dinner menu!

  5. Father,
    I just watched a YouTube video about Pope Emeritus Benedict: “I live like a Monk.” The tail end of the interview said that Benedict XVI is “in complete agreement with Pope Francis’ magisterium”.
    I would like to know if this is the continuity that you keep writing about. I don’t understand the word magisterium in this context. And, most importantly, when is the scourging going to stop regarding those sects who have been disobedient to the Vicar of Christ? So far everything looks good in print, and in the sound bytes. Do you see tangible changes coming to unify Holy Mother Church?
    (BTW, there was supposed to be a smiley face at the end of my last post. It looks rude without it.)

  6. Marie, if Fr. Angelo allows me, I would like to answer your question. (Father, If I’m wrong, please correct me.)

    Perhaps you might become a little confused because of the word used, magisterium. This word is a latin word. It is in the plural and means teachings.

    When Benedict XVI said he is in “in complete agreement with Pope Francis’ magisterium”, he is giving a message for those who have fear that Pope Fracis might be a “heretical” Pope. (I know that adjetive I used is very strong, but some people are afraid that, mainly the tradicionalists.) He is saying that Pope’s Francis teachings are correct. Of course, the orthodoxy of Pope’s Francis do not depend on the aval of Benedict XVI, but as a theologian as he is he can give his testimony on truth.

  7. Forgive my ignorance, but I still don’t understand the gripe the Tradidtionalist have within the Church. I know that they have issues with some of the documents/teachings of VII, but even that I don’t understand. If they believe all that the Bible teaches then how are they able to take the stance that they do? Don’t they see the harm that is being done to the children of God?
    It says in Scripture:
    “He who hears you hears Me.” ~ Jesus to St Peter. The first Pope. This goes for all the Popes. Listen to My representative on earth!
    “The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” ~ Our Lord’s promise that Holy Mother Church will be unharmed throughout time.
    “I shall not leave you orphans.” ~ Fatherhood at its best!
    “I shall send you the Paraclete/Advocate who will teach you.” The Holy Spirit is with us to teach and guide us. I mean, really, do the Traddy’s believe the Spirit took a siesta during parts of the VII Counsil??

    It’s as if these individuals have no trust/confidence in the Father’s salvific plan for His children.

    “Father, may they be one as We are one.” ~ It won’t happen as long as this stubborness continues!
    Ave Maria!

  8. Correction: Holy Mother Church will be unharmed ..
    Our beautiful Church is being harmed, scourged, just like Jesus was persecuted and scourged. But She will be victorious, just like Her bridegroom!

  9. There are 164 followers to this blog and they are all practicing ‘holy silence’ tonight! Anybody wish to answer my questions….like, explain ‘continuity’…..

    As for the two styles (Benedict and Francis), I think it’s wonderful how God considers the different ways to ‘grab’ our attention….sort of like a beautiful garden!

  10. Marie, I love talking to you! I just didn’t answer to because I found it would be better to give a chance to other people say something.

    Staying in a beautiful garden is very good. The nature helps to feel the majesty of God! :-)

  11. Alex,
    May God bless you on the feasts of His Most Sacred Heart, and tomorrow on the feast of our Mother’s Immaculate Heart.
    Now….back to Father Angelo’s topic, or find a livlier discussion elsewhere….I can hear the grass growing staying on this site! :)

    For love of the Two Hearts!

  12. Amem, Marie! May God bless you too! :)

    About your question, I think the bigest problem of the tradicionalists are that they seek in the holy minister of the Church a perfection that is impratical or practically impossible to be achieved on earth. Of course, the scandals that come from priests and religious are much more grave than those that might come from the laity, because of the religious vows that they made. But why am I saying that that might have anything with the topic? Actually there is a connection with that tradicionalists’ attitude with their view of the liturgy. They think the liturgy developted after the Concil Vatican II is bad because of the mispresantation of the rites of mass made by some priests that commite many liturgic abuses and also because of the bad life of many priests. Here in Brazil, the mispresatation of liturgy has been a huge problem and has disfigured the autentic meaning of the sacred liturgy. Maybe my comment may seem a little bid anti-clerical or against the clergy, but, belive me, it isn’t! In order to confirm what I have said I will quote Remptionis Sacramentum and Pope Francis’ homily. Actually he has preached with a big insitence on the necessity of the clerics to give up all desire of power, they have to give up all kind of careerism. I said many things in this comment. So I’m going to try explain better point by point.

  13. I don’t think the priests and religious are entirely to blame; the laity could do a better job of offering up prayers and sacrifices for religious vocations to be as holy as God intended them to be. We are ‘our brother’s keeper’ in this way.
    I’d like to continue this conversation, but at a later date, and at another location. Facebook, Catholic sites where there are more people willing to share.
    I was just told that my disabled grandson (15 mo) is now on a feeding tube. I need to concentrate my energies in helping my daughter-in-law and my son now.
    God bless you for being kind enough to answer when no one else would.

    ~love the Two Hearts!

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