Monday, September 07, 2009

Papal Masses as "liturgical paradigms"

The Holy Father recently gave an improvised talk to the members of the Choir of the Pontifical Chapel. In this talk he made some truly extraordinary statements regarding the function that papal liturgies play in setting the liturgical tone for the universal Church. Benedict said:

"Papal liturgies, broadcast internationally, are a model by which all liturgical celebrations can be measured...papal ceremonies should be liturgical paradigms for the entire world. Those who follow papal ceremonies probably use them as a measure of accord by which the liturgy must be measured. In this way, the liturgy is transformed into a path through which the Pope teaches the Catholic faithful, giving them a proper idea of what they should expect [from the liturgy]." (Miles Christi Report, no. 107, Sept. 2009).

Two things to point out about this simple but true statement:

Number one. The pope is very clearly stating that his own liturgies are meant to be instructive. This means that when he decides that all communicants at papal masses will receive kneeling, or that he will celebrate Mass ad orientam in the Sistine Chapel, he is not simply doing these things because he is an antiquarian who happens to personally have a taste for them. When he celebrates ad orientam, he is saying in effect, "I am doing this to show you what you should be doing." This should give some ammunition to priests or bishops who want to institute these practices in their own parishes - the pope has stated that he is intentionally setting an example that he wishes the faithful to follow. I think this is common sense, so I'll move on to point two.

Second, the pope states something that should give us pause: whether or not the pope intentionally tries to teach through the liturgy, he points out that this is what will in fact happen regardless:

Those who follow papal ceremonies probably use them as a measure of accord by which the liturgy must be measured.

In effect he is saying, "I know that my liturgies will be used as examples to follow regardless of whether I want them to or not; therefore, I'd better make sure all my liturgies give positive examples."

This provides the justification of the well-known disdain of trads for the masses of John Paul II, which were frequently the scenes of grave liturgical abuse (click here for a video of JPII's World Youth Day Mass from 1995, and watch around the 0.55 - 1.20 area to see liturgical dancing and a weird neo-pagan incensing from a bowl). This is one reason why I think that John Paul II, for all his personal piety and self-service, failed fundamentally as a shepherd of the Church. Pope Benedict points out the obvious truth that people will mimic what they see the pope doing - what does it mean then when John Paul II declares in encyclicals like Redemptionis Sacramentum and Eucharistia de Ecclesia that liturgical abuses are to be curbed immediately but then permits them at his own masses? We can only conclude one of two things: that John Paul II was terribly naive or else he was just a negligent pastor. However you slice it, John Paul II's liturgical administration was definitely not praiseworthy. I'm not going to say that this alone makes or breaks his papacy, but it should definitely be taken into consideration, especially when questions about canonization come up.

Papal liturgies should be teaching moments, Benedict reminds us. The pope should do the liturgy the way he wants the Church to do it. He ought not to do a liturgy one way and then tell the Church to do it another; it was doing precisely this that led to the confusion of the JPII years. Hopefully we will see more bishops and priests taking the pope's liturgies as paradigms around which to structure their own masses.


Peter said...

It's really nothing new that Papal liturgy is a model for all liturgies, just as Pontifical Mass in a cathedral is (or at least should be) the model for diocesan liturgies.

But did you notice that while the entire church was eager to mimic all the JPII abuses, it is unwilling even to celebrate NOM the Benedict way?

How many parishes moved the cross from the floor to the table (or altar, if they use one), like Holy Father did? Personally I know none. That would be too traditional.

Boniface said...

I know it's nothing fact, it should just be common sense. But under JPII there was a disconnect as the Pope told us to do one thing in his writing and then did something different in practice. I see BXVI's words as a clarification of something that should have been understood all along and put into practice by the popes.

It is also interesting, as you said, that people were eager to mimic JPII's abuses. What can we conclude? Either JPII wanted people to mimic them (in which case he was being somewhat disingenuous by telling us otherwise in his encyclicals) or else he did not want people to mimic them (in which case he was naive for allowing them to go on at his own Masses and thinking people wouldn't).

TopTech said...

Is it possible to find the Miles Christi Report online?

Boniface said...


It is not, but if you go to their website and contact them and tell them you want to get on their mailing list they will send it to you monthly for free. Search for Miles Christi in Michigan.


Anonymous said...

Orientem ,not Orientam

LionsDen84 said...

But this also speech by the Pope also gives ample ammunition to those that say priests should give Communion to pro-abortion politicians, since this happened at the Papal Mass (celebrated by Pope Benedict) in Washington, DC. Also, what about the aborigenes that danced during Pope Benedict's Mass in Australia? It seems to me that you are giving Pope Benedict a free pass, even though he continues many of the abuses that Pope John Paull II was doing.

As you mention, actions speak louder than words. And, most unfortunately, the policy of Pope John Paul II of saying one thing and doing another is being continued by Pope Benedict XVI.

Crouchback said...

When at Lourdes in July I caused some consternation in the Lancaster Diocese camp with some "Constructive Critisism" of the ghastly (and boringly banal)abuses that pass for mass in our diocese. One disafected "musician" said see had seen the Pope dancing at masses on the TV, I take it she meant JP II.
Trouble is, they are still living in the past, I've just been to mass in Carlisle, a congregation of old ladies treated to improvised readings from Ben Hur or something like that.
What a disaster.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...


To be fair to our Holy Father, he didn't give Communion to any pro-abortion politicians...

I pray that more people follow the Liturgical example of the Holy Father...

Of course I go to the TLM...I also pray for a public TLM by the Holy Father

Anonymous said...

I realize this comment is "really late;" however, I could not leave the discussion as is.
When Popes are away from the Vatican (where everything is done "right") the Popes often are shocked by "alterations" in the Mass which are not acceptable in the Popes' eyes - but what are they to do? Stop the Mass?
The Popes continue with the Mass, because they want the people to have Jesus. This doesn't mean they accept the liturgical abuses.

Boniface said...

I would say they should provide the diocese with a checklist ahead of time of things that should and should not be included. Heck. when my bishop comes to visit a parish for Mass he lets the pastor know ahead of time what he wants in regards to altar servers, other things, etc. So yeah the popes should have some guidelines set out ahead of time.

My hunch is that the popes KNEW about these things ahead of time and positively willed them. I think JP2 wanted all that crazy stuff he allowed at his international Masses. It's nuts thinking that the pope would just show up and nobody reviewed with him or his people what was about to happen. The only plausible explanation is that they knew about it ahead of time and wanted it.

To your question, what are they supposed to do, stop the Mass? My answer is an absolute, resounding "Yes." Yes. Stop the Mass. Tell the people why you are stopping it. Throw the dancers or whomever out. Tell the people this is not proper. Discipline whomever set it up. Yes, stop the Mass if that is going on. Right in front of 100,000 people.