gather us in

By Diogenes ( articles ) | Feb 27, 2007

A recent lecture at St. Peter's College in Jersey City highlights long-standing tensions on matters liturgical within the Vatican:

[Fr. Keith Pecklers, S.J.] mentioned Archbishop Piero Marini, the papal master of ceremonies, who for years stood by Pope John Paul II when he presided at Mass. Pecklers said Marini has a book coming out next year blaming the "liturgy wars" on the Congregation for Divine Worship, an office of the Vatican that oversees worship for the Catholic Church worldwide. It's a matter of control.

"The Congregation sought to maintain a monopoly on the liturgical reform and approval of liturgical texts," said Pecklers, paraphrasing Marini. Pecklers said the bishops of a region or a bishops conference -- say in the United States or Canada -- are being undermined in liturgical matters and especially over translations of the prayers at Mass.

A Vatican document, Liturgiam Authenticam, published in 2001, "now requires that all liturgical texts -- including the people's parts -- will need to be translated literally so as to conform to the Latin original," said Pecklers. He believes the new translations may cause more confusion among the faithful -- who are used to the current prayers -- and drive some people away from the church.

This particular intra-Vatican split, as well as its players and its battlelines, had already been identified by the NCR's John Allen in a lecture he gave three years ago in Milwaukee:

"The Congregation of Divine Worship is much more conservative, sober, Romanesque," Allen said. "The Office of Liturgical Celebration doesn't buy that at all. Their liturgies are more modern, dynamic, expressive." He joked that the liturgical office staff "try to set a record for how many liturgical rules they can break in one papal Mass. These things usually have dance numbers that rival 'Cats.'"

As usual, Allen is on target. At one pole of the Vatican liturgical divide stands Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, former prefect of the CDW, as its rallying figure. At the opposite pole is Archbishop Marini, officially the head of the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and unofficially the mascot for the Desperate Housewives, as this faction of Roman clergymen is known by unsympathetic onlookers. John Allen is a sober journalist, and his references to "Cats," to "dance numbers," and to the camp naughtiness of striving "for how many liturgical rules they can break in one papal Mass" may facetiously exaggerate the operations of Marini's Office, but they accurately convey its ethos.

It's undeniable that Pope Benedict has insisted on somewhat greater decorum than his predecessor regarding pontifical liturgy, but it's just as undeniable that the Liturgy Wars continue to split the Church, from the humblest Mass-center in the Marianas Islands to the Basilica of St. Peter itself. It must be an odd sensation for the Pope to celebrate Mass -- prayerfully, as ever; by the book, as ever -- hearing the knives being sharpened in the background while his own acolytes gaze meaningfully at the exposed neck of the Roman Rite.

Apparently the Pope feels it's a risk worth taking. As with any ritual, the relation of the Eucharistic Liturgy to its participants is both expositive and transformative. The liturgy is expositive in that it gives external expression to interior dispositions; thus the interior dispositions of some persons move them to genuflect, and the interior dispositions of others move them to perform dance numbers from "Cats." The liturgy is transformative in that those who submit to its words and actions -- even if they submit under protest -- are taken up into something larger than themselves and so changed to become that which they were not earlier. Pope Benedict clearly believes such obedience effects its own education, including that of Archbishop Marini.

Can the rest of us -- who have zero control over the direction of the liturgy -- trust those who profess contempt for the rite? Well, to the same extent we "trust" the beast whose restraining chain is pulled guitar-string-tight as he stretches for our throat. Perhaps the more pertinent question is, how long can we trust the chain?

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