Interview With Consultor for Pontifical Liturgies
ROME, 8 JAN. 2010 (ZENIT)
Attentive viewers have seen a series of subtle changes in papal
liturgies during the five years of Benedict XVI's pontificate.
Father Mauro Gagliardi, consultor to the Office for the
Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, says these
changes are inspired by a mix of factors
oftentimes practicality, sometimes a renewal of ancient
ZENIT spoke with Father Gagliardi about some of the "new"
elements introduced by the current Bishop of Rome.
ZENIT: In a recent article by Luigi Accattoli, "Il rito del
silenzio secondo papa Ratzinger" (The Rite of Silence According
to Pope Ratzinger) (Liberal, Dec. 1, 2009, p. 10), there emerges
the idea of a certain effort, solicited by the Holy Father
himself, to bring the papal liturgy more in line with tradition.
Father Gagliardi: Accattoli's article presents a nice overview
of some of the more visible changes in recent decisions
regarding the pontifical liturgy, even if [he leaves out]
others, which were probably not mentioned for the sake of
brevity or because they are more difficult for the general
public to grasp. This well known and esteemed Vaticanista often
repeats that these changes are more or less inspired by the Holy
Father himself, who, as everyone knows, is an expert in the
ZENIT: Accattoli begins his panorama mentioning the papal
vestments that had been eliminated in recent decades: the
camauro, the red saturno, the mozzetta with ermine trim. He also
notes changes in respect to the pallium.
Father Gagliardi: These are different elements proper to the
attire of the Pontiff, as are the red shoes, not explicitly
mentioned [by Accattoli]. If it is true that in recent decades
the Supreme Pontiffs have chosen not to use these vestments, or
to modify their style, it is also true that they have never been
abolished and so every Pope can use them.
It should not be forgotten that, like most of the visible
elements of the liturgy, non-liturgical clothing has both a
practical and symbolic necessity.
I remember when the Holy Father first used the camauro
a winter cap that protects against the cold
a well known Italian weekly carried the smiling face of the Holy
Father, who had just put the camauro on his head, and under the
photo added the caption: “Good thinking!”
referring to the fact that even the Pope has a right to protect
himself from the cold.
But there are not just practical reasons. We cannot forget who
the person is who wears these clothes and the role he plays: The
[clothes] have a symbolic value too, which is expressed in their
beauty and their special décor.
The pallium is a different case; it is a piece of liturgical
attire. John Paul II used the same kind of pallium as the
metropolitans. At the beginning of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, a
different style of pallium was made for him, one that was of a
more ancient form, which he used for some time. After careful
study, it was seen that it was preferable to return to the style
used by John Paul II, even though small modifications were made
to render clearly notable the difference between the pallium of
bestowed by the Holy Father
and the pallium of the Supreme Pontiff. Further information
about this can be found in a June 26, 2008, interview in
L’Osservatore Romano with Monsignor Guido Marini, the master of
Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations.
ZENIT: What can you tell us about the ferula (papal cross)
chosen by Benedict XVI in place of the crucifix made by the
sculptor Scorzelli, which was used by Paul VI, John Paul I and
John Paul II, and even by Benedict himself until recently?
Father Gagliardi: You could say that the same principle is at
work here. There is a practical reason: Benedict XVI’s present
pastoral staff, which he began using at the beginning of this
liturgical year, weighs more than 590 grams less than
so more than half a kilo (1.3 pounds), which is not a small
difference. There is also a historical element: The staff in the
form of a cross is more faithful to the staff that is typical of
the Roman tradition, that is, the one used by the Supreme
Pontiffs, which has always been in the form of a cross without
the corpus. On the other hand, here too one could add other
reflections from a symbolic and aesthetic perspective.
ZENIT: Accattoli cites other changes, which we could say have
more to do with substance: A concern for the moments of silence,
celebrations facing the crucifix and with the back to the
people, and Communion distributed to the faithful on their
tongues as they are kneeling.
Father Gagliardi: These are elements of great significance,
which, obviously, I cannot analyze here in a detailed way but
only touch on briefly. The “Institutio Generalis” of the Roman
Missal published by Paul VI prescribes that sacred silence be
observed in different moments [of the liturgy]. The papal
liturgy’s attention to this aspect, then, does nothing more than
put the established norms into practice.
In regard to celebrations facing the crucifix, we see that
normally the Holy Father is maintaining the so-called "versus
popolum" position both in St. Peter’s and elsewhere. He has
celebrated facing the crucifix only a few times, in particular,
in the Sistine Chapel and in the Pauline Chapel, which has been
recently renovated. Since the celebration of every Mass,
whatever the celebrant’s physical position, is a celebration
toward the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit and never
"versus populum" or the assembly, save for the few moments of
dialogue, it is not strange that the celebrant of the Eucharist
can also physically position himself "toward the Lord."
Especially in the Sistine Chapel, where the altar is against the
wall, it is natural and faithful to the norms to celebrate on
the fixed and dedicated altar, thus turned toward the crucifix,
rather than adding a free-standing altar for the occasion.
Finally, in regard to the way of distributing Holy Communion to
the faithful, one needs to distinguish the aspect of receiving
it kneeling from that of receiving it on the tongue. In the
actual ordinary form of the Roman Rite
or the Mass of Paul VI
the faithful have a right to receive Communion standing or
kneeling. If the Holy Father has decided to have communicants
kneel, I think
obviously this is only my personal opinion
that he holds this to be the more appropriate posture to express
the sense of adoration that we must always cultivate before the
gift of the Eucharist. It is an aid that the Pope gives to those
who receive Communion from him, which helps them to consider
attentively who He is who is received in the most holy
On the other hand, in “Sacramentum Caritatis,” citing St.
Augustine, the Holy Father recalled that in receiving the
Eucharistic Bread we must adore it, because we would sin if we
received it without adoring it. Before receiving Communion, the
priest himself genuflects before the Host
why not help the faithful cultivate the sense of proper
adoration through a similar gesture?
In regard to Communion in the hand, it must be remembered that
this is possible in many places today
possible but not obligatory
but that it is, and remains, a concession, a dispensation from
the ordinary norm that affirms that Communion is received on the
tongue. This concession was made to individual bishops’
conferences that asked for it and it is not the Holy See that
suggests it or promotes it. And, in any case, no bishop, as a
member of a bishops’ conference that has asked for and obtained
the indult, is obliged to accept it and apply it in his diocese:
Every bishop can always decide to apply the universal norm
which is still in force
in his diocese. According to this norm, the faithful must
receive Holy Communion on the tongue. If no bishop in the world
is obliged to take advantage of the indult, how can the Pope be
obliged? In fact, it is important that the Holy Father maintain
the traditional rule, confirmed by Paul VI, who prohibited the
faithful from receiving Communion in the hand (for further
details, see Mauro Gagliardi, “La Liturgia: Fonte di Vita”
[Verona: Fede & Cultura, 2009, p. 170-181]).
ZENIT: You are part of the staff of consultors for Monsignor
Guido Marini. What meaning do you see in the novelties
introduced in the papal liturgy under Benedict XVI?
Father Gagliardi: Naturally, I can only speak here from a
personal perspective and not officially on behalf of the Office
for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff. To me it
seems that what is being attempted is a wise joining of the
ancient with the new, to actuate in spirit and letter, as much
as possible, the indications of the Second Vatican Council, and
to do this in such a way that the pontifical celebrations are
exemplary in all aspects. Those present at the papal liturgy
should be able to say: “Ah, this is how you do it! This is how
we should do it in our diocese too, in our parish!”
I would like, lastly, to emphasize that these “novelties,” as
you call them, are not introduced simply in an authoritarian
manner. It should be noted that often they are explained, for
example, by way of the interviews that the master of Pontifical
Liturgical Celebrations gives to L’Osservatore Romano or to
other newspapers. We consultors also publish articles every so
often in the Holy See's daily to explain the historical and
theological meaning of the decisions that are made.
To use a fashionable word, I would say that there is a
“democratic” way of proceeding. I do not mean by this that the
decisions are made by a majority, but that we try to bring an
understanding of the deeper reasons for these changes, which are
always historical, theological and liturgical reasons and never
purely aesthetic, much less ideological.
We might say that we try to make the "ratio legis" known, and I
think that this fact too represents a "novelty" of a certain
[Translation by ZENIT]