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Liturgical Dispute; St. Peter’s Online

Letter on 1962 Missal Causes Skirmish

By Elizabeth Lev

ROME, SEPT. 27, 2007 ( After the sunny skies of August, storm clouds appeared this week in Rome as Benedict XVI’s apostolic letter “Summorum Pontificum” came into effect Sept. 14.

For those who have been sleeping under a liturgical rock this summer, the July 7 papal document, issued “motu proprio” (on his own initiative), gave all Catholic priests much broader permission to celebrate the liturgy according to the 1962 Roman Missal, and the faithful the right to request this form of the liturgy.

This might have passed unnoticed except for a few keen Vatican watchers, but a commotion among the Italian bishops regarding the document had every journalist in Italy focused on Rome.

The Italian episcopal conference met Sept. 16-19 and immediately brought up the question of implementing the apostolic letter. Of the 30 Italian bishops in the assembly, a small number took the opportunity to criticize the document, claiming that the ecclesiology in the old missal was “incompatible” with the new rite.

The Holy Father accompanied the papal document with a letter to the bishops on how to implement the document in which he states: “There is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture.

“What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.”

Perhaps these few dissenters had not opened their mail recently.

The same bishops then requested that the conference as a body prepare an “interpretive document” regarding the implementation of the letter in an “Italian” sense. “Italian” in this context would mean a restricted application.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the heroic former head of the Italian bishops’ conference, who rallied the bishops to oppose the gay marriage bill in Italy and the referendum on embryo testing, rose to the occasion.

Together with the present leader of the conference, Archbishop Angelo Bagnasco, and several other bishops, he insisted that the papal document is not to be interpreted but applied.

While objections were being raised in the CEI, an open rebellion erupted in the shadow of Vesuvius. Bishop Raffaele Nogara of Caserta, known in Italy as the “ecumenical bishop” for his openness toward the Islamic communities in his diocese, abruptly canceled a Tridentine Mass days before it was scheduled to be celebrated in the Parish of Sant’Anna.

Bishop Nogara was quoted in Italian newspapers as saying that he canceled the Mass so as “not to set a precedent,” and that he wanted to encourage his diocese to pray correctly, as “babbling in Latin serves no purpose.”

One wonders what the fuss is about. The “Novus Ordo,” the Latin name for the rite established by Paul VI in 1969, is not being supplanted, nor is this a return to a liturgical “stone age.” Michelangelo, Bernini and Mozart made art, churches and music for this rite — can it really be all that bad?

Far from a rollback to pre-Vatican II times, Benedict XVI has sought to fully implement the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. It was, after all, the Vatican II document regarding the sacred liturgy that states: “Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites. But since the use of the mother tongue, whether in the Mass … or other parts of the liturgy, frequently may be of great advantage to the people, the limits of its employment may be extended” (“Sacrosanctum Concilium,” No. 36).

On the bright side, many people, from cardinals down to faithful on the street, are excited about the openness to the old missal. Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, Australia, was recently quoted in ZENIT as being in full agreement with the Holy Father.

On the other side of the globe, Bishop Michael Burbidge of Raleigh, North Carolina, wrote a beautiful letter to his diocese, noting, “Both the ‘Forma ordinaria’ and the ‘Forma extraordinaria’ of the Mass have been the source of holiness for countless saints throughout history.”

“Summorum Pontificum” is a popular subject in Rome. Reflections in the cafes or piazzas have been overwhelmingly positive with the faithful eager and alive to the possibility of rediscovering the mystery and majesty of the Eucharist through the Tridentine rite.

In this as in many other areas, Benedict XVI has proved to be more “liberal” than people would have thought, expanding the Church’s offerings so that the faithful can worship God in manifold ways.

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Basilica Expert

Sometime when you get to be friends with people, you forget about the important work they do. In this respect, I have been neglectful in writing about one the finest sources of information on St. Peter’s Basilica, the Web site

Alan Howard founded this Web site in 2000 as a nonprofit, no advertising, information site for the Vatican basilica. Although he lives in the United States, he does extensive research and visits Rome regularly to enhance his own photo archive of St. Peter’s.

It finally occurred to me that an interview might be in order.

Alan thinks of this as his Catholic apostolate. “There are scores of Web pages on St. Peter’s, but the idea here was to do something more definitive, more comprehensive. The site now has hundreds of pages and thousands of photos, but it’s really just a beginning, as St. Peter’s is virtually inexhaustible.”

Alan has a family, a busy life and a day job, but he was inspired to take on this other task. “Like so many people that walk through St. Peter’s, I was deeply impressed with the beauty and history that I encountered, and inspired to learn more. After reading the guidebooks, I developed a hunger for more than just names and dates. I kept touring St. Peter’s and learning something new each time.”

What opened the door to Alan’s mission was “the most shocking discovery of the inconsistent presentation of the many tour guides. Some were very good and literally brought the church to life, while others seemed to have no training or regard for the facts. Eventually I resolved to create a resource for both the casual tourist to learn more, and for the tour guides to check the facts.”

Interest in Alan’s site has gone beyond fact checking for tour guides. When Pope John Paul II died in 2005, news agencies swamped Alan with requests for information. On April 6, 2006, the 500th anniversary of the rebuilding of St. Peter’s, Vatican Radio interviewed Alan about the historic event.

This year, Alan was approached by the research staff of Sony Pictures for information regarding their upcoming movie, “Angels and Demons,” based on Dan Brown’s notoriously inaccurate novel.

Alan is no fan of Brown’s writings, but he hopes his input will do some good. “Sometimes you can only provide the information and pray for a positive result,” he remarked.

He has gathered a formidable amount of information over the years. “I’ve collected many of the best English books, and most of the site is from these sources. Some of the sources are out of print, and the author or publisher has given permission to place the book online.”

Alan sees his work as trying to present the truth about St. Peter’s. “A few years ago, there was some incorrect and irresponsible information put on the Internet about the search for St. Peter’s tomb. In order to give the complete story, I received permission from the author John Evangelist Walsh to place his book, ‘The Bones of St. Peter,’ online.”

Alan mentioned an important new source of Vatican information, the new Web site, which includes information on 10 areas of St. Peter’s in five languages. In his view, “This site has new information on many areas of the Vatican, but one of the things that I love best is the webcams that allow us to watch St. Peter’s around the clock. If you want, you can now watch the light go off in the Pope’s apartment when he goes to bed.”

So the obvious question to ask a St. Peter’s expert is: Do you have a favorite monument, place or memory of the basilica? “Like every other pilgrim that comes into St. Peter’s,” Alan told me, “I never tire of looking at the Pietà.”

But then he added, “One of my favorite things to do when visiting the Vatican basilica, is to go to confession. It’s such a privilege to partake in the sacramental life of the Church. I would also advise anyone that enters St. Peter’s, to put their camera and tour book away for a moment and enter the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament, which is reserved only for prayer.”

Alan left me with one final suggestion. “One of the best souvenirs you could ever bring back from Rome, would be to take your rosary down into the Grottoes and have the attendant place it on the tomb of John Paul II. Then you can have them blessed by Benedict XVI at his general audience.”

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Honoring the Saints

As one gets back into the swing of Rome and the metropolitan chaos of traffic, tourists and general disorganization seems overwhelming, an occasional flash reminds visitors and denizens alike that this is no run-of-the-mill capital city.

The feast of St. Padre Pio was celebrated with remarkable energy last Sunday. The lovely but little-known Church of San Salvatore in Lauro, by the banks of the Tiber, hosted hundreds of faithful all day long in the basilica.

St. Padre Pio was a Capuchin monk who died in 1968 at San Giovanni Rotondo and was canonized in 2002. His tireless devotion to his ministry included long hours in the confessional and longer hours in prayer. He was rewarded with the sign of the stigmata, the same wounds of the crucified Christ.

At 11 a.m. Cardinal Giovanni Canestri, retired archbishop of Genoa, celebrated the principal Mass of the morning. Choirs, relics and crowds testified to the greatness of this saint. At 6 p.m. Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, presided over the closing Mass of the day.

In the afternoon hours, a large crowd assembled in front of San Salvatore and began a procession through the city streets ending in Piazza Navona, one of the most famous tourist stops in the city.

Romans and visitors alike, sipping their afternoon aperitifs, were astonished to see the parade enter with candles and hymns of praise.

Who would ever expect to see a procession from Lincoln Center to Trump Tower in honor of a saint? Or through the Washington Mall for that matter? In Rome’s special brand of chaos, a unique equality shines. Communists can march one day and Padre Pio the following.

What I found most moving was how Rome, with 2,000 years of Christian history embedded in our soil, and our thousands of saints and their relics, joyfully made room for her newest addition to the communion of saints.

The Eternal City welcomed Padre Pio with the same love and warmth it has held for St. Lawrence, St. Cecilia or St. Phillip Neri. “Evviva Roma” — cheers for Rome!

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Elizabeth Lev teaches Christian art and architecture at Duquesne University’s Italian campus. She can be reached at

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