Benedict XVI's "Novel" Traditions

Interview With Consultor for Pontifical Liturgies

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ROME, JAN. 8, 2010 ( Attentive viewers have seen a series of subtle changes in papal liturgies during the five years of Benedict XVI’s pontificate.

Father Mauro Gagliardi, consultor to the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, says these changes are inspired by a mix of factors — oftentimes practicality, sometimes a renewal of ancient traditions.

ZENIT spoke with Father Gagliardi about some of the «new» elements introduced by the current Bishop of Rome.

ZENIT: In a recent article by Luigi Accattoli, «Il rito del silenzio secondo papa Ratzinger» (The Rite of Silence According to Pope Ratzinger) (Liberal, Dec. 1, 2009, p. 10), there emerges the idea of a certain effort, solicited by the Holy Father himself, to bring the papal liturgy more in line with tradition.

Father Gagliardi: Accattoli’s article presents a nice overview of some of the more visible changes in recent decisions regarding the pontifical liturgy, even if [he leaves out] others, which were probably not mentioned for the sake of brevity or because they are more difficult for the general public to grasp. This well known and esteemed Vaticanista often repeats that these changes are more or less inspired by the Holy Father himself, who, as everyone knows, is an expert in the liturgy.

ZENIT: Accattoli begins his panorama mentioning the papal vestments that had been eliminated in recent decades: the camauro, the red saturno, the mozzetta with ermine trim. He also notes changes in respect to the pallium.

Father Gagliardi: These are different elements proper to the attire of the Pontiff, as are the red shoes, not explicitly mentioned [by Accattoli]. If it is true that in recent decades the Supreme Pontiffs have chosen not to use these vestments, or to modify their style, it is also true that they have never been abolished and so every Pope can use them.

It should not be forgotten that, like most of the visible elements of the liturgy, non-liturgical clothing has both a practical and symbolic necessity.

I remember when the Holy Father first used the camauro — a winter cap that protects against the cold — a well known Italian weekly carried the smiling face of the Holy Father, who had just put the camauro on his head, and under the photo added the caption: “Good thinking!” — referring to the fact that even the Pope has a right to protect himself from the cold.

But there are not just practical reasons. We cannot forget who the person is who wears these clothes and the role he plays: The [clothes] have a symbolic value too, which is expressed in their beauty and their special décor.

The pallium is a different case; it is a piece of liturgical attire. John Paul II used the same kind of pallium as the metropolitans. At the beginning of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, a different style of pallium was made for him, one that was of a more ancient form, which he used for some time. After careful study, it was seen that it was preferable to return to the style used by John Paul II, even though small modifications were made to render clearly notable the difference between the pallium of the metropolitans — bestowed by the Holy Father — and the pallium of the Supreme Pontiff. Further information about this can be found in a June 26, 2008, interview in L’Osservatore Romano with Monsignor Guido Marini, the master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations.

ZENIT: What can you tell us about the ferula (papal cross) chosen by Benedict XVI in place of the crucifix made by the sculptor Scorzelli, which was used by Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II, and even by Benedict himself until recently?

Father Gagliardi: You could say that the same principle is at work here. There is a practical reason: Benedict XVI’s present pastoral staff, which he began using at the beginning of this liturgical year, weighs more than 590 grams less than Scorzelli’s crucifix — so more than half a kilo (1.3 pounds), which is not a small difference. There is also a historical element: The staff in the form of a cross is more faithful to the staff that is typical of the Roman tradition, that is, the one used by the Supreme Pontiffs, which has always been in the form of a cross without the corpus. On the other hand, here too one could add other reflections from a symbolic and aesthetic perspective.

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 F
ather 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]).

ZENIT: You are part of the staff of consultors for Monsignor Guido Marini. What meaning do you see in the novelties introduced in the papal liturgy under Benedict XVI?

Father Gagliardi: Naturally, I can only speak here from a personal perspective and not officially on behalf of the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff. 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!”

I would like, lastly, to emphasize that these “novelties,” as you call them, are not introduced simply in an authoritarian manner. It should be noted that often they are explained, for example, by way of the interviews that the master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations gives to L’Osservatore Romano or to other newspapers. We consultors also publish articles every so often in the Holy See’s daily to explain the historical and theological meaning of the decisions that are made.
To use a fashionable word, I would say that there is a “democratic” way of proceeding. I do not mean by this that the decisions are made by a majority, but that we try to bring an understanding of the deeper reasons for these changes, which are always historical, theological and liturgical reasons and never purely aesthetic, much less ideological.

We might say that we try to make the «ratio legis» known, and I think that this fact too represents a «novelty» of a certain importance.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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