On Sunday's Celebration in the Pope's Cathedral

Bishop-Official at St. John Lateran on Ancient Rite of Enthronement

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This Sunday, Francis will preside over a Mass at St. John Lateran, which will mark his official enthronement in his cathedral as Bishop of Rome.

The enthronement, often referred to as «taking possession» of the cathedral, is mentioned in the last paragraph of John Paul II’s apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, on the election of the Pontiff.

The ceremony has very ancient historical roots. 

ZENIT talked about all this with Bishop Luca Brandolini, capitulary vicar of Saint John Lateran.

ZENIT: Your Excellency, what is the meaning of this Sunday’s celebration?

Bishop Brandolini: Sunday’s celebration is the ancient rite of «enthronement on the Roman Chair» and not a «taking possession» because he doesn’t take possession of anything. Whereas the rites of the consigning of the pallium and of the Fisherman’s ring made evident the universal dimension of the ministry of the elected Pontiff, that of Sunday spotlights the exquisitely ecclesiological root, placed by the providence of God, in the Church of Rome, from which springs, in fact, the Petrine ministry. It takes place in the Basilica of the Most Holy Savior (better known as Saint John Lateran), because, by an ancient custom, it is pointed out as «mother and head» of all the churches of Rome and of the whole world, as is written on the stipiti of the columns of the façade. 

As with every cathedral, it is the cathedral because of the reference to the Chair, the episcopal seat from which the bishop carries out his doctrinal and liturgical service, «the symbol of the potestas docendi, the power to teach that is an essential part of the mandate of binding and loosing which the Lord conferred on Peter,» as Benedict XVI said when he was enthroned on May 7, 2005. 

Hence, the celebration has a markedly pneumatological dimension, because it exalts the Spirit as origin of the charism and of the ministry of Peter, which initiates and fulfills everything.

ZENIT: How will Sunday’s celebration go?

Bishop Brandolini: Pope Francis will be received at the main door of the Basilica by the cardinal archpriest; the cardinal vicar Agostino Vallini; by cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar emeritus; by the Episcopal Council of the diocese and by the Council of parish prefects. Then he will kiss the Crucifix, will carry out the aspersion and will be accompanied in procession to the Vicariate’s Palace where he will put on the vestments. Then the celebration will begin with a greeting of the cardinal archpriest inspired by a very ancient patristic-liturgical tradition, after which Pope Francis will ascend to the Chair to be acclaimed as Bishop of Rome. In a second moment, 12 people will carry out the rite of obedience: the cardinal vicar and the vice-director; two priests, a parish priest and a vice-parish priest; two deacons, a permanent one and another preparing for the priestly ministry; two Religious at the service of the diocese of Rome; two adults, usually a man and a woman, and two youngsters who received the Chrism. Once this is finished, the Eucharist will be celebrated.

ZENIT: According to Saint Francis’ Legenda Maior, Pope Innocent III dreamt of the poor friar who bore on his shoulders the Lateran Basilica, symbol of the universal Church. In the light of this legendary episode, what significance has the return of a new Francis in Saint John Lateran, for the first time a Pope?

Bishop Brandolini: I believe that there is a need to rejuvenate the Church because she is always being reformed, as Vatican Council II confirmed many times. Hence Pope Francis will do his discernment around this reform of the Church adapted to our time, also on the basis of the sensitivity that he has developed with his experience as a bishop. We have seen the style of the new Pontiff, very simple, humble, with priority attention given to the whole world of poverty. I think he will continue on these same tracks on which he has already taken his first steps.

ZENIT: What do you, personally, think of this Pontiff?

Bishop Brandolini: I think he is as every bishop should be, that is – using Saint Augustine’s words – Pastor bonus in populo, the good pastor in the midst of his people. In my opinion, this is the first task that every bishop must carry out, without taking away anything from the theological and doctrinal dimension which, in fact, is part of his ministry. In this sense, the Pope has already demonstrated he is a good Pastor, with great simplicity but also with great profundity and richness of contents. In particular, I was very affected by his address during the Chrism Mass of Maundy Thursday on the figure of the priest: the images of the oil that falls on the casula and inundates all, or of the «pastor with the odor of the sheep,» are truly significant expressions.

ZENIT: In fact, up to now the Holy Father has described himself as Bishop of Rome and not as Pope …

Bishop Brandolini: And I hope he will be the Bishop of Rome! John Paul II, for instance, visited almost all the parishes of the capital and also many hospitals. When I was auxiliary bishop for Health in Rome, every year Blessed John Paul II visited hospitals, schools, ecclesial realities and so on during Lent and Advent. I hope that Pope Francis will do the same thing, always taking into account his physical strength. Wojtyla in fact was elected at 58, Bergoglio at almost 77.

ZENIT: What are you expecting from the first address the Bishop of Rome will give in his cathedral?

Bishop Brandolini: That he speak of the city of Rome, more specifically. What comes to mind is what Cardinal Vallini always stresses in his homilies: that Rome is a very rich city of resources to be appreciated not only from the human, but also from the Christian point of view. It is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic city which, however, is in need of a new and stronger proclamation of the Gospel and of open communication with all the realities at the service of the promotion of man, of social life, of ecumenism and of interreligious dialogue.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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Salvatore Cernuzio

Crotone, Italy Bachelor's degree in Communication Sciences, Information and Marketing (2008) and Master's degree in Publishing and Journalism (2010) from LUMSA University of Rome. Vatican Radio. Rome Seven. "Ecclesia in Urbe. Social Communications Office of the Vicariate of Rome. Second place in the Youth category of the second edition of the Giuseppe De Carli Prize for religious information.

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