The first 100 days of Pope Francis

Alessandro Speciale of Religion News Service reports on the first 100 days of Pope Francis. From the article:

For the Rev. Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit and editor of the Vatican-sanctioned magazine La Civiltà Cattolica, the most important change Francis brought to the papacy is his knack for “significant gestures that immediately convey very powerful messages.”

Francis started changing the tune of the papacy straight from day one, when – to the shock of his Vatican handlers – he insisted on personally settling his tab at the clerics’ residence where he stayed during the conclave that elected him.

The Argentine soon made it clear that he had no appetite for the creeping traditionalism and pomp of church power that had begun under his predecessor. He abandoned Benedict’s signature red cape, shoes and hats, preferring a simple white cassock and the plain iron cross he wore in Buenos Aires.

Francis says he’ll stay at the Vatican this summer rather than escape to the papal retreat at Castel Gandolfo. In a world so steeped in tradition and choreographed rituals as the Vatican, a change in style really is a matter of substance.

You can read the whole thing here.

Reading tea leaves

A recent comment from Pope Francis, at an Italian ad limina visit, has been taken to mean that he will not touch the “traditional Mass” or change the status quo ushered in by Summorum Pontificum. The comment was reported on by the journalist Sandro Magister on his blog at l’Espresso, under the category “rumors.” It comes from the bishop of Conversano-Monopoli, Domenico Padovano.  In response to those bishops of Apulia who complained to the Pope about the divisiveness of Summorum Pontificum, the Pope reportedly “urged them to be vigilant over extremism of some traditionalist groups, but also to build on the tradition and make it live in the Church with innovation.” As an example of this the Pope cited his own decision to keep Fr. Guido Marini as his master of ceremonies, drawing on his traditional sensibilities even as Fr. Marini learns from the Pope’s own more “emancipated” training.

TradiNews greeted this report with jubilation, saying in bold face type: “Do not touch the traditional Mass! Pope Francis surprises everyone.” “The message is clear,” the report exults, “thank you, most Holy Father!” The Hermeneutic of Continuity blogspot has also jumped on the bandwagon, announcing that “Pope Francis rejects attack on the old rite and says he ‘treasure tradition.'”

Meanwhile, at the blog Rorate Coeli (as Fritz Bauerschmidt pointed out on Pray Tell in an earlier post) concern was raised about some details of the parish liturgy at which the Pope presided on Trinity Sunday, including the Pope’s decision to give communion to those standing, and other matters. They justified reporting on such details in this way:

When Pope Benedict XVI reigned, every little “restoration” of traditional elements to the papal liturgy was often trumpeted as yet another momentous step in the restoration of the liturgy for the whole Church. It strikes us as absurd and inconsistent that now that another Pope reigns, “papal example” in the liturgy is suddenly treated in some “conservative” quarters as “irrelevant” and as being of little or no concern, something best ignored and needing no comment.

This post was tagged (among other things) as “the end of the reform of the reform.”

Rorate Coeli also is not buying the notion that Pope Francis has voiced a personal commitment to preserve Summorum Pontificum.

So which is it? Has Pope Francis proved himself a stalwart friend of Summorum Pontificum or are we seeing “the end of the reform of the reform”?

Potentially, of course, both could be true. He could be determined to protect the older rite, while having no great interest in changing the newer rite, which is the focus of reform of the reform.

However, it seems to me that the few words we have from the Pope on this subject (at second or third hand) are at best inconclusive. In this respect, I’m with Rorate Coeli.

How Pope Francis Made Liturgy Boring Again (And Why That’s a Good Thing)

Our friends over at Rorate Cæli are mildly exercised over the Mass Pope Francis celebrated last week at a Roman Parish. The particular object of their concern is that those receiving communion from him (in this case, the parish’s first communicants) stood to receive communion, rather than kneeling, which had become the norm under Pope Benedict.

I am not myself very exercised over this, either positively or negatively. But it did prompt the thought that, after the initial whiplash effect of the change in liturgical style from Benedict to Francis, what is interesting about Francis’s liturgical choices is how thoroughly uninteresting they are. If you look at the video of his Trinity Sunday Mass it is, well, about as dull as my parish’s Trinity Sunday Mass. With Benedict, one always had that frisson of anticipation, wondering what bit of past Papal finery might make an appearance: will it be the fanon this time? a sky-high miter? the pontifical dalmatic? or maybe some bit of ceremonial that had fallen into disuse? It almost became a distinctive feature of papal liturgy per se; it’s what made them different from what we do in our parishes. But Francis’s liturgies are pretty much like what most of us have done over the past 40 years or so. One sign of the change: the NLM used to cover just about every one of Benedict’s liturgies with a lavish photo display; they pretty much ignore Francis. With Francis, liturgy is not particularly exciting, but I’m not sure that is a bad thing.

People across the ideological spectrum have wondered why Benedict would sometimes use bits from the past, like the fanon, and sometimes not. They also wondered why some past customs, such as kneeling for communion, were reserved for the Pope and not universally imposed. I take it that Benedict’s point was to show that such things could still be used or done, but didn’t have to be used or done. Which is a fair enough point, but one that I think got somewhat lost in the anticipation of what the Pope would wear this time. I found myself thinking, “Just wear the dang fanon all the time and get on with it!” Frankly, while entertaining, the constant shifting of papal vesture and ceremonial was a bit of a distraction from what the liturgy is really about: the sanctification of God’s people through Word and Sacrament. Which is not always — indeed, not often — exciting. Or, no more exciting than water slowly dripping on a rock, shaping it minute-by-minute over the course of years.

I know from his liturgical writings that Benedict understood the point of the liturgy. But it now seems to me that much of his liturgical practice worked against the liturgy by making it exotic. With Francis, you get the same old boring mitre (or one that looks almost exactly like it) all the time. A papal Mass, for good or for ill, looks pretty much like Mass in a typical parish (adjusting for scale, of course). And that, at least for the moment, strikes me as a good thing.

Pope Francis and the perils of the premature victory dance

OK, I’ve just got to say it. While I am very pleased by the election of Pope Francis and generally like the liturgical style he has shown thus far (the no-singing thing is disappointing, but it is almost made up for by the vanishingly small prospect of seeing the ridiculous fanon during this papacy), I am somewhat disturbed by the tone of some comments I’ve seen, which amounts to, “take that, you fans of Pope Benedict, with your cappae magnae and your pro multis.”

My thoughts are basically three:

  • Even if the election of Francis represents a decisive victory for the forces of liturgical progress, Schadenfreude is not only distasteful, but unchristian.
  • I would be shocked if the Papacy of Francis sees a radical change in the English translation of the Mass (as inadequate as our current translation of the Mass is). Pope Francis simply doesn’t seem that interested in the liturgy wars. So expectations that we will see a reversion to “and also with you” or “for you and for all” or “one in being with the Father” seem, to me at least, to be exercises in fantasy.
  • Pope Francis will inevitably disappoint many who want radical changes in Church doctrine or practice. There is no real evidence that his theology is anything but thoroughly traditional, albeit more “pastorally” inflected than the more academic approach of Benedict.

Maybe I’ll be proved wrong. Maybe Francis will move to allow married men to be ordained to the presbyterate or women to the diaconate or any number of other progressive desiderata. But as far as I’m concerned, the band has not yet struck up the tune for a progressive victory dance. And even if it does, both good taste and Christian charity should move us to sit that one out.