Paolo Rodari of Il riformista has an interesting piece about the Pope reaction to a question put to him during his recent meeting with the clergy of Rome. The question was about the problem of the huge outdoor Masses which became a norm during the pontificate of John Paul II.
Here is Rodari’s piece, in my translation, with my emphases and comments.
That the papal liturgies are changing enormously, also thanks to the arrival of the Pope’s new Master of Ceremonies, the Ligurian of the [late Card.] Siri school, Msgr. Guido Marini, is something well-known. Behind Marini, of course, is the Pope, for whom the liturgy of all time is to be celebrated in a new way (which as a matter of fact hasn’t been done for a long time), that is, faithfully following the rules – regardless of ‘old’ or new’ Missal – so as to offer a dignified whole that is respectful of what is taking place.
As a case in point, the Pontiff spoke about this a few days ago (7 Feb) in the traditional and purposely spontaneous parry and riposte which, as happens every year at the beginning of Lent, takes place behind closed doors between him and the priests and deacons of Rome.
Among the ten questions presented to Ratzinger, one was dedicated to Masses celebrated with huge crowds, those which – to be clear – more and more became the established practice during the pontificate of John Paul II. Those which, still, for logistical reasons are for example ever more frequent for spiritual retreats and large ecclesial movements.
The Pope listened in silence to the question offered to him, responded, and then in the following days, made an important decision about it.
But let’s be orderly. The question put to the Pontiff was unimpeachable in its formulation and went like this: "How do we reconcile the treasure of the liturgy in all its solemnity and with the sentiment, emotion and excitment of masses of young people called to participate in it?" Benedict XVI responded immediately that, in effect, there is a problem: "Liturgy in which masses of people participate", he said, "is a big problem."
[This part is fascinating.] The Pope recalled that everything began with a question presented in 1960 during a large International Eucharistic Congress at Munich, about how there could be the celebration of the Eucharist also at such events. To adore, it was said at Munich, can be done also at a distance, but to celebrate a limited community is necessary which can interact with the mystery. At Munich many expressed negative opinions regarding the hypothesis of celebrations of the Eucharist in the open, even with one hundred thousand people or more. But it was the Austrian liturgist Josef Andreas Jungmann, one of the architects of the liturgical reform, who created "the concept of ‘statio orbis‘" and thus legitimated celebrations as vast as oceans: in substance, if there exists the "statio Romae", and thus the place where the faithful gather to then go together to the Eucharist, so then there can exist also (and this is the case with Eucharistic Congresses), a "statio orbis", the gathering place of the world. [And some critics of Pope Benedict’s liturgical decisions have made the dopey comment that he isn’t a "trained liturgist". But he knew this and had it at the tip of his tongue during a Q&A.]
It is thanks to Jungmann, therefore, that today there are large Mass celebrations. Even so, for Ratzinger, these represent a problem for which a definitive response – as he said himself on 7 February last – "has not yet been found" also because, "if there concelebrate, for example, a thousand priests, you don’t know if this is the structure the Lord wanted." [KABOOM! This is the key. Pope Ratzinger fishes the whole question out of the soup of pragmatism and brings it back to Christ’s will. As Pope, Benedict must concern himself primarily with what God wills before he makes practical decisions. So, the question is no on the floor: are these mass Masses a good response to the reality of large crowds who want to be with the Pope? Should Communion and concelebration, perhaps, be more limited?]
In the meantime, the Pope said, there is needed at least to find "a certain style to preserve the dignity that is always necessary for the Eucharist." [Well… they haven’t done a very good job so far.] In the last large mass celebrations at which Ratzinger participated, for example at the recent gathering at Loreto, all these problems with these celebrations were present and the situation, he said, "didn’t depend on me, but rather on those who were tasked with the preparation".
And so, there is the solution, for now only partial, but nevertheless necessary, in view of the upcoming ocean-sized Masses: for two occasions on the apostolic visit to the United States (on 17 April in the new Nationals Park and 20 April at Yankee Stadium in New York) and those foreseen for World Youth Day in Sydney. In the USA and Australia, the Pope decided not to delegate any longer the organization of celebrations to third parties. And so he asked that, in the next days, that his Master of Ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini, should fly across the oceans (both the Pacific and Atlantic) with the precise task of studying the locations to be used for the liturgical functions with the end of taking on direct responsibility for carrying out celebrations in those spaces; that the result might be Masses that are as vast as oceans, but at least characterized as much as possible with composure and discipline.