Page 3, 29th April 2005

29th April 2005
Page 3
Page 3, 29th April 2005 — The star of the show was Pope Benedict

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Locations: Venice, Regensburg


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The star of the show was Pope Benedict

Liturgical commentary


THE ceremony of the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Benedict XVI (to give it its full title) last Sunday was only the third Papal Inauguration Mass that has ever taken place. This means, of course, that the Church is still feeling its way towards the best method of celebrating the beginning of a new pontificate. When Pope John Paul I announced that he was not going to be crowned, there was almost no time to think what one might do instead, though his announcement can hardly have been that much of a surprise. So the liturgists improvised and came up with a Mass of Inauguration, beginning with the investment with a pallium and the obeisance of the cardinals. As Patriarch of Venice, Pope John Paul I had already received a pallium, but that didn’t stop the crowds applauding as if this was something special. And they applauded when the mitre was put on his head, too. This must have alerted the liturgical authorities that something special needed to be done that was particularly papal, if I can put it like that; something that said that this particular episcopal office was unlike others. The unforeseen rapidity of Pope John Paul II’s inauguration, mere weeks later, precluded any further experimentation; it would have appeared like a criticism of his predecessor, and under the strange circumstances that was not to be thought of. And so we had to wait until last Sunday to find what a period of reflection would come up with.

Mass began a little strangely; in the old coronation rite, at one point the creaky old canons of St Peter’s descended to the confessio before the high altar, to St Peter’s tomb, there to creakily sing the litany of saints for the new Holy Father. This rite was clearly the inspiration for the opening of the Mass of Inauguration, when the Holy Father himself descended with some of the assisting clergy to collect the pallium and the Fisherman’s Ring. There the litany began, with the traditional refrain tu illum adiuva (“help him”) replacing the more familiar ora pro nobis (“pray for us”). This continued throughout the procession and even replaced the Introit of the Mass. There was no penitential rite, either; instead there was a rather curious Kyrie Eleison troped with what sounded like a verse or two from the Christus Vincit (itself an element from the old coronation).

Another change from the former papal inaugurations was that the deacons were “true” deacons; I remember being surprised at both Popes John Paul being assisted at the chair by Cardinal Deacons vested oddly in dalmatics and mitres; this reflected the old coronation liturgy, when even the altar servers were monsignori – many of riper years – presumably taken from the Roman Curia. I noticed that in the entrance procession the full traditional complement of seven acolytes were present (as is permitted at all pontifical Masses), though only two assisted at the Gospel – or rather Gospels, since the text was sung first in Latin and then in Greek. I remember seeing on the video of Blessed John XXIII’s coronation the crowds of prelates openly carrying on private conversations without bothering to even make a pretence of listening or respect while the Greek Gospel and Epistle were being sung; again the respect afforded to the Christian East this time was most welcome.

It was in the investiture that the clearest differences made themselves apparent. Of course, what we don’t know is who did all the thinking about what took place, but one may strongly suspect that Pope Benedict himself had a lot to do with it. One may also suspect that our new Holy Father is not one to do something simply because it looks nice. The vast pallium made to an ancient design was certainly visually striking, but the Holy Father also had a strong rationale connecting the woollen garment with the lost sheep laid upon the shoulders of the good shepherd. It remains to be seen whether this super-pallium will be adopted by other metropolitans or will remain a distinctively papal vestment. The presentation of the Fisherman’s Ring was a very good idea; this is a symbol that is unmistakably papal and also significant in its own right, as the Holy Father elaborated in his homily.

A regret that I have is that it took place after the Gospel; it seems to be the universal rule nowadays that all sacraments and ceremonies only belong in the Mass, and moreover at one point in the Mass. I suppose that there is a natural hiatus between the liturgy of the Word and the liturgy of the Eucharist, but is it really necessary to be so monochrome about it? It was not the ancient way, and the East still grumbles about it.

The homage of the cardinals was also changed; I think, for the better. In the old rite of coronation there were three periods of homage; the canons of St Peter’s in the narthex, the cardinals at the altar of St Gregory the Great (both before Mass began) and then everybody important (including the cardinals again) at the altar of the Chair, during the Kyrie of the Mass. That there be a restoration of the extension of homage beyond the Sacred College was a very good thing, and that it was extended right out to include representatives of all the faithful was even better.

I’m sure you will all agree with me that the BBC commentary was truly exemplary throughout, and congratulations are certainly due to Huw Edwards and all of his team. It was also gratifying to suspect that the BBC may read The Catholic Herald; at least they provided subtitles for the variable portions of the Mass, leaving only what one might call the usual parts of the Mass untranslated. And the homily was translated fully and, as far as I could tell, accurately. This all meant, of course, that at least Catholics could fully participate in the Mass, though non-Catholics must have been left wondering while the Gloria or Creed was being sung. It was so very helpful not to have voices droning on all the time, filling every last perceived gap; it enabled us to be participants, and not merely observers of the rites that have such a significance for us all. Sensibly, the large wait while Holy Communion was distributed was utilised for a little discussion that would have been out of place elsewhere.

Then there was the music. Some of my friends expressed surprise that I had found certain aspects of the music at Pope John Paul’s funeral praiseworthy. I wish I could say the same of this Inauguration Mass. This time, I thought the music was pretty dismal, the only bright spots being at the beginning and end when the BBC provided a burst of Duruflé’s memorable setting of Tu es Petrus, unless you count the final Toccata and Fugue in D minor by Bach, which with its Transylvanian overtones added a certain humour to the occasion. Otherwise, the compositions seemed entirely without merit, and the performance lacklustre, to be polite. When the camera was pointed at the choir during the second Hosanna, I was amazed to see the conductor ignoring them, standing at the platform with his nose buried in a service booklet, leaving the choir to direct themselves – something they did with gusto. No wonder that the boys of the choir sounded utterly undisciplined; “al-le-lu (gasp) YAH!!!” The singing was largely responsorial – a courageous attempt to fulfil the liturgical requirement that the people sing the parts of the Mass that belong to them – but in the end, one must ask cui bono? The people didn’t sing (much), neither were they uplifted (as far as I could see) by the music; surely it would have been better to have sung something of real quality written precisely for such occasions by fine composers like Palestrina. Even Perosi’s coronation piece Corona Aurea, rather cheekily inserted into the rite by the then master of music Domenico Bartolucci at the installation of both John Pauls had at least some musical merit. I take comfort that our new Pope Benedict comes from a musical family – his brother Fr Georg Ratzinger for many years directed an excel lent cathedral choir in Regensburg, Bavaria – let us hope that the Pope will find time to turn his attention to what remains a weakness in the great papal liturgies.

There were one or two points of musical/liturgical interest. Plainchant Mass VIII – the familiar Missa de Angelis – provided the backbone of the ordinary, together with Credo III. Though not the finest of the plainchant Masses, it used to have the virtue of great familiarity and on such an occasion as this ought to have been a great congregational tour de force, but sadly it is becoming decreasingly familiar these days. One may understand why local congregations may wish to use only vernacular settings for the Mass, but it does diminish the sense of the universal Church when a congregation is no longer able to say the Pater Noster together, or sing the Credo. Be that as it may, I was interested that the choir successfully interpolated polyphony into both the Gloria and the Credo; in the latter case, highlighting the text et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam. There is no reason why on greater feasts, appropriate verses from the creed should not be highlighted in this way in our parishes; in no way did it diminish the congregation’s opportunity to participate. On a very small point, I was interested to observe that the long Ite missa est from Mass VIII was sung by the deacon; I had been earnestly assured in the past that only the simple Ite was permitted. What nonsense, I always thought; what a silly thing to lose sleep over. And now we know.

In the end, though, I am sure you will agree with me that the star of the occasion was undoubtedly Pope Benedict himself. So many who have been worried by the uncharitable things that have been said about him – Rottweiler, Panzerkardinal and the rest – must feel reassured at seeing his gentleness and warmth shining through despite his natural shyness. I think that people had already begun to warm to him at the funeral of Pope John Paul, but his demeanour during the Mass of Inauguration can only have done further good; those words of his in the homily, “Those who believe are never alone, either in life or in death – I can now say ‘I am not alone’,” instinctively drew applause from the crowd, and this in turn drew a shy and surprised little smile from the Pope, who waved his thanks, and went on to assure us that (had anyone any doubt?) “the Church is alive; it is with these words, with joy and gratitude I greet all of you here.” I’d like to close with the appeal from the Holy Father: “My dear friends; at this moment I can only say ‘pray for me’; pray for me that I may learn to love his flock more and more – in other words, you, the whole Church, each one of you, and all of you together.” Sancte Petre, tu illum adjuva.

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