Small gestures, as they accumulate, point to something bigger.
I applied this principle to the use of certain liturgical vestments. For example, when Benedict XVI revived the fanon (HERE), I took that as a signal. In itself, the fanon isn’t much more than a curiosity. Together with other gestures by Benedict which accumulated over the years, the fanon is important. I say is important, not was important.
This applies to Pope Francis. Small gestures (and some not so small) accumulate to give a bigger picture.
Pope Francis adopted a style that has, so far, sharply diverged from Benedict’s. For example, he has been using a single miter… not a very interesting or even nice miter either, if truth be told. Many took that miter and his differing style to be marks of humility, some even suggesting that Benedict was therefore not humble. These latter pit popes against each other. I think that is less than Catholic.
Another example of sending a signal with a liturgical gesture is Francis’ resurrection of the pastoral staff of Paul VI/John Paul II, the curved, modernish one with the modernish corpus. At first he used the ferula cross that Benedict XVI revived in 2009, thus laying aside the Paul VI/John Paul II hardware. Francis switched back for the important moment of his enthronement at St John Lateran, his cathedral church.
He used the Paul VI staff today at St. Paul’s outside-the-walls. Francis is apparently making the rounds of the key basilicas before he heads out to the periphery, where he will have a better change to start to smell like the sheep of his new diocese (cf his sermon on Holy Thursday about shepherds needing to get out there with the flock until they smell like them).
With that as a preamble, I was sent a note today to look at the Vatican website for something posted by the Office for Liturgical Ceremonies of the Supreme Pontiff (headed up still by Msgr. Guido Marini). HERE
After a long explanation of what the pastoral staff is all about, and when something is controversial explanations tend to be way too long or way too short, we read (my translation):
“The Holy Father, Francis, for the celebration of Holy Mass on the occasion of his enthronement at the Roman Cathedra (7 April 2013), used the pastoral cross of Paul VI, with the intention of alternating its use in upcoming celebrations with that of Benedict XVI.”
Small gestures mean things, especially as they accumulate.
It is interesting that on the English page, this paragraph does not appear at the time of this writing. It seems not to have been updated. HERE
The Italian page, on the other hand, has been. HERE
I repeat here what I have said in the past.
- Francis needs to learn to be Pope and we have to learn to see him as Pope. This is complicated by the fact that Benedict XVI is still alive.
- If we have doubts about what he is doing, try to see his gestures in the best possible light rather than the worst.
- What his liturgical style, he is not going to do anything strange with the Church’s doctrine. (And for this reason liberals will eventually turn on him.)
- We haven’t had enough time to see what Francis is actually going to do. He has made some dramatic changes to style and look of liturgical ceremonies. I suspect some of them may be practical and have to do with his age and the fact that he was a Jesuit – and therefore liturgically disinterested. And as long as I am at it… think about those stupid shoes. Imagine being 76 with a flare up of sciatica and, on your election as Pope, being told, “Here, Your Holiness, change into these new shoes and then stand a long time while we greet you and then walk around and show yourself in public for the first time.” I’d say that’s an argument for the sedia. Francis, however, probably thought, “I’ll stick with my old shoes, thanks very much.”
- We must to READ FRANCIS THROUGH BENEDICT. We must use the lens of continuity. If Francis will also use the more traditional papal ferula, that means something. It sends a signal which the attentive can pick up… if they have a Catholic antenna tuner and if they stay away the extreme edges of those sidebands. Too much static out there! Francis’ use Pope Benedict’s staff could be a concrete sign of what I have argued here.