Issue Date: December 28, 2007
By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.
For most people, Archbishop Piero Marini is a face without a name. Hes routinely stopped at airports, restaurants and on the street, usually running into some variant of the same question: I know Ive seen you before. Who are you?
For the record, Marini is that tall, silver-haired, imperturbable Italian cleric who was always at the side of Pope John Paul II, and later Benedict XVI, on Christmas, Easter and any other time the pope celebrated a liturgy in public. He served as the papal master of ceremonies for 20 years, from 1987 to 2007. In that capacity, the Italian state television service RAI estimates that Marini has been seen by more people around the world than virtually any other living figure -- even if the vast majority of them have no idea who he is.
For Catholic insiders, on the other hand, Marini is anything but anonymous. From his position as the popes top liturgist, Marini served as the great champion of the reforming spirit in Catholic liturgy associated with the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), making him a darling of church progressives and a bane of the traditional wing. After Joseph Ratzinger himself, though for decidedly different reasons, Marini may have been the most talked-about and dissected figure in the upper echelon of John Pauls aides.
While Marinis papal liturgies were always precise and deeply rooted in tradition, he would occasionally push the envelope. It was Marini, for example, who allowed an indigenous Mexican shaman to exorcise John Paul II during the canonization Mass for Juan Diego in Mexico City in 2002, and who permitted scantily clad Pacific islanders to dance for the pope during the opening liturgy of the Synod for Oceania in St. Peters Basilica in 1998 -- both under the rubric of inculturation, adapting the rites of the church to speak to the experience of local cultures. He also favors local decision-making over centralized Roman control. In fact, both of the envelope-pushing instances cited above originated with requests from local bishops.
For fans and critics alike, therefore, Marinis Oct. 1 departure as master of ceremonies marked the end of an era. (Today Marini serves as president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses.)
This change in role has not signaled Marinis disappearance as a force in liturgical debates, as witnessed by his new book, A Challenging Reform: Realizing the Vision of the Liturgical Renewal (Liturgical Press). Edited by three American liturgists, the book tells the story of the Consilium, the unique body created during Vatican II (and suppressed just a few years later) to oversee the implementation of the councils decree on liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.
The Consilium was always an anomaly: it had no juridical authority of its own, yet at the peak of its influence it enjoyed virtually unchallenged sway over liturgical policy; it was led by a wide international assortment of bishops and liturgical experts, most of them not part of the Roman curia; and it consulted widely with bishops conferences, national liturgical organizations and publishers of liturgical texts, usually backing their views over opposition from the Vatican. Its crowning result was the Novus Ordo, the new Mass, issued by Pope Paul VI in 1969 to replace the Tridentine rite codified five centuries earlier.
A Challenging Reform was formally launched on Dec. 14 with a presentation in the throne room of the residence of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-OConnor of Westminster, England. Plans call for presentations in Boston, Chicago, Notre Dame and New York in February.
NCR sat down for an extended interview with Marini on Dec. 15 in London. The following are excerpts from that interview; the full text can be found in the Special Documents section of NCRonline.org.
NCR : Youve called on the church to take up with
enthusiasm the liturgical path traced by the
Whats the essential content of this path?
Then, of course, there are the other elements emphasized by Vatican II. First of all, the priesthood of the faithful is something that we cant afford to forget. Of course, we know that the Protestants thought they had discovered the priesthood of the faithful, because they saw that in the Bible the word priest referred only to Christ and to the holy people of God, not to the apostles. For that reason, the church of the Reformation rejected the idea of an institutional priesthood. The Catholic church naturally defended it, and created a liturgy, the Tridentine liturgy, which made a sharp distinction between the priest and the people of God. The liturgy became something priests do.
Vatican II helped us to rediscover the idea of the priesthood as something universal. The faithful dont receive permission from priests to participate in the Mass. They are members of a priestly people, which means they have the right to participate in offering the sacrifice of the Mass. This was a great discovery, a great emphasis, of the council. We have to keep this in mind, because otherwise we run the risk of confusion about the nature of the liturgy, and for that matter, the church itself.
Your book creates the impression that youre concerned about the
current liturgical direction of the church, warning of a return to a
Would you see Benedict XVIs motu proprio of July 7,
granting wider permission to celebrate the old Mass, as part of this
First, the pope said that he was motivated to issue the motu proprio out of a concern for unity. [Note: The reference is to the split following Vatican II involving followers of French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who rejected the new Mass and other reforms.] In that sense, the basis of the motu proprio has a positive aspect. One has to respect the pope, who certainly has to keep this concern for unity close to his heart. Obviously Im not in his position, and while I might have different ideas, as Catholics we must respect the role he plays.
Second, the pope himself wrote in the letter that accompanied the motu proprio that it takes nothing away from the authority of the Second Vatican Council. In the same way, the pope said that this is no way detracts from the validity of the liturgical reform. From my point of view, therefore, the motu proprio does not change the need to keep moving forward with renewal of the liturgy.
Youre probably aware that an English journalist has interpreted
your book as an attack on the liturgical philosophy of Benedict
XVI. Is he wrong?
Your book tells the story of the Consilium, the organism created
during the council for carrying forward the liturgical reform. You seem to
suggest that the Consilium has an importance that transcends the liturgy, in
that it offers a model of a different way for the Vatican to operate -- in your
view, more collegial, more international, more open. Am I reading you
The congregations, such as the Congregation for Rites, were instituted by the pope in 1588 in order to deal with the various problems of the church -- but to do so in the spirit of Trent. Therefore, they had all the limitations of that era.
Today, after Vatican II, we now have, for example, national bishops conferences, which didnt exist at the time of the Council of Trent. In my view, theres a problem of adjusting the operation of the congregations to the new situation after the council.
While big changes may not be possible right now, personally I believe that eventually it will be necessary to return to the Consilium as an example of how to streamline the congregations, so that theyre not just organisms bound by certain rigid norms, but more flexible bodies for resolving the problems of the world of today. Among other things, the bishops should be more involved in the decisions that concern the church, including those that concern the liturgy. Precisely because the liturgy belongs to the whole church, before taking decisions its important to involve the bishops and the bishops conferences.
The same is true of the Synod of Bishops. As presently structured, its an office for creating documents and for giving the pope advice, but this was perhaps not the intention that Paul VI had when he created the Synod of Bishops. Its a problem that remains open.
For those, such as yourself, most committed to liturgical reform,
these can be difficult times, as you indicated a moment ago with respect to a
growing nostalgia for the past. Where do you find hope?
The other basis of hope is the liturgy itself, because celebrating the liturgy is itself the primordial source of renewal in the church. The more we succeed at celebrating the liturgy, the more well live the Christian life fully and the more well succeed in transforming the church.
The great ideals of the church are in crisis today in part because theres a crisis in the liturgy. The great ideals of ecumenism, of internal reform of the church, of dialogue with the world, are all connected. The council wanted to confront these challenges beginning with the liturgy. If the liturgy is the source and summit of our life, then we foster in the liturgy the kind of life we need to meet these great goals.
John L. Allen Jr. is NCR senior correspondent. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
National Catholic Reporter, December 28, 2007
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