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.