Annoying elimination of a beautiful custom

Bernini's monument on 22 FebruaryI am truly annoyed at something, and alarmed. On 22 February, the Feast of the Cathedra of Peter, I went to the Basilica of St. Peter in order to enjoy the sight Bernini’s great monument to the Chair bedecked with candles (which happens one a year) and also of Arnolfo di Cambio’s (+1310) dark bronze statue of the Apostle dressed in papal regalia, including the tiara (twice a year, 29 June being the other date). While Bernini’s monument was indeed laden with its many candles, the statues was NOT dressed in the papal finery as it has always been in the past. No cope, no episcopal ring, no tiara.

22 February 2006This has set me to wonder about a possible reason for such a change. There are a couple possibilities.

First, perhaps this is yet another of the terrible incremental creep of minimalism being inflicted on the Basilica by the present and former Archpriest, respectively His Eminence Francesco Card. Marchisano and the now retired Virgilio Card. Noè (sometimes characterized as the liturgical offspring of Annibale Bugnini). The later, for example, was responsible for tearing out the altar of the Chair, in the apse of the Basilica, thus severing a theological symbol connecting the Eucharist with the Peter’s Magisterium. That was a horrible morning. Every day for years I celebrated Mass in the Basilica early in the morning. On that fateful day, we saw that there were screens set up and men were hauling marble and rubble away. I saw one worker of the Basilica roughly man handle a person trying to take a photograph of the process. The same Card. Noè, during the summer break when not many people were around, tore out the altar in the chapel of the canons and set up a new ad orientem altar which he consecrated himself. Card. Marchisano, you will remember, needed to be forcefully reminded via a rescript by John Paul II that he really did need to allow priests with the usual22 February 2005 celebrate to say Mass using the 1962 Missale Romanum. Furthermore, just recently, the choir called the Capella Giulia was given the heave ho together with its director Mons. Pabolo Colino. No warning. No explanation. You’re gone. The stories could be multiplied.

Regarding the statue, however, this is not the first devolution in this custom of dressing it on these two great feasts. The first that I noticed involved the underdressing, beneath the cope. Years ago the statue was always dressed in an alb which was in the "griccia" style. Do not, please, confuse this adjective with the highly Roman manner of preparing spaghetti and other kinds of pasta called "gricia" (i.e., guanciale, peccorino, black pepper). This "griccia" was terribly difficult to make, for it involved pleating a hard starched fabric both vertically and horizontally St. Pius Xand searing the pleats with a specially made v shaped iron. The style was specifically abolish after the Council. You can see the "griccia style of alb and rochet in marble statues both in the Basilica of St. Peter and other churches in Rome. Here is a detail from the statue of St. Pope Pius X in the Basilica in which you can see the "griccia".

Another explanation for the lack of papal regalia on the Feast of the Cathedra perhaps ha to do with the Holy Father’s stemma or coat-of-arms. You will remember that the Pope’s coat of arms replaces the tiara with a miter having three bands. This unfortunate regression might be part of a justification for killing the wonderful tradition in the Basilica. We shall see if the statue is properly dressed on 29 June for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. rome visitor says:

    Yes, the statue was a fairly lacklustre sight, five
    candles each side, a few flowers and a halo.

    At the 5pm Mass I recognised the usual members of the Capella
    Giulia singing, but without Canon Colino. I was
    surprised he would miss a feast like this, and put
    it down to illness. They sounded the same as ever.

  2. Henry Edwards says:

    Does the Pope normally have any influence on things like this?

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