John Allen interviews Msgr. Marini: Pope Benedict proposes rather than imposes

When my friend the nearly ubiquitous fair-minded John L Allen does an interview, it is usually a good one.   Try to overlook the fact that he writes for dissenters’ central, the ultra-liberal fishwarp, the National Catholic Reporter. There is a companion piece.

My emphases and comments:

Q & A with Msgr. Guido Marini, papal liturgist
Mar. 03, 2010
By John L Allen Jr

Monsignor Guido Marini, Benedict XVI’s Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, is one of those Vatican figures who normally operate in the shadows. [Even when viewed by thousands.]  He’s the guy who organizes the Masses and other liturgical events over which the pope presides, so he generally attracts notice only when he happens to be standing near his boss when the TV cameras light up.

Marini took a big step into the spotlight back in January, however, when he gave a speech to a meeting of English-speaking priests in Rome, in which he advocated a liturgical “reform of the reform.[Which was not a new idea.] Those comments unleashed a wave of speculation in the blogosphere and in liturgical circles about a possible new overhaul of Catholic worship under Benedict XVI, which critics would [hysterically] read as “rolling back the clock” on reforms associated with the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

Marini sat down for an exclusive interview with NCR in his Vatican office on Feb. 9, to explain what he had in mind by a “reform of the reform.”  [This is a term that has been around for a while, notably in circles around Fr. Joseph Fessio.  At one point people were proposing, inter alia, that we go back to the actual mandates of Sacrosanctum Concilium and do another version of Holy Mass based strictly on the few things the Council Father’s actually mandated.  Great idea, but highly impractical, for that would have introduced yet another "Roman" form into the mix.  What Joseph Ratzinger wanted, and wants, is a way to jump start the heart "organic development" which had an infarct when the Consilium exceeded its mandate and, alas with the approval of Paul VI, imposed on the Church am artificially liturgy created from bits and pieces on their desktops and by committees.  Emancipating the use of the older, pre-Conciliar form of Mass is part of Papa Ratzinger’s project.  And this all takes great patience.]

Read John Allen’s news story here: Liturgist: Pope aims to ‘propose’ practices

In a nutshell, Marini’s message was that under Benedict XVI, the winds are clearly blowing in a more traditional direction, but anyone expecting a dramatic lurch one way or the other is likely to be disappointed – this pope prefers to operate by “proposing,” Marini said, rather than “imposing.”

The following are excerpts from the interview with Marini. (Marini spoke in Italian, and was given an opportunity to review the English translation of his remarks.)

* * *

[Q:] What did you have in mind on January 6 when you talked about a “reform of the reform”?

To tell the truth, I didn’t use this expression as something of my own, but as a phrase used by several others for many years, including, of course, the former Cardinal Ratzinger. I didn’t want to get into the details of what various people might mean by the expression, because there are different ways of understanding it. I believe that [NB] the best way, the most correct way, to understand the expression is certainly not to reject the reforms determined by the Second Vatican Council. [Though we didn’t really get the reforms mandated by the Council… let that pass…]  Rather, it’s to take another step forward in the comprehension and experience of an authentic liturgical spirit, [An echo of the title of Joseph Ratzinger’s Spirit of the Liturgy, named purposefully after Romano Guardini’s famous book, in which Ratzinger called for a new liturgical movement.] carrying together the inheritance of our tradition with the reform that the council accomplished, in a spirit of development in continuity.

[Q:] Of course, the former Cardinal Ratzinger also once warned against new upheavals in the liturgy, saying that we need a period of stability. Do you agree?

Yes, yes … I’m fully in agreement! I don’t believe that the liturgy of the church needs any radical changes or distortions, in part because it’s not in the logic of this spirit of development in continuity. I believe instead that it’s a matter of consolidating what already exists, in a more authentic way, according to the true mind of the church.

[Q: ] There is no “rollback” on Vatican II?  [A softball, but necessary for the liberal readers of NCR who can be more than obtuse on this point.]

Of course not. A ‘rollback’ wouldn’t make sense, because it’s not how the life of the church works. The life of the church moves forward in time, always developing but without losing anything from its life of either the past or the present. [Well… we do lose things, but not essential things.]

[Q:] You spoke about some more traditional touches in Pope Benedict’s liturgies, such as placing a cross on the altar and giving communion on the tongue. If I understand correctly, you’re not suggesting that these are harbingers of new liturgical policy for the whole church. [Note the word "policy".]

The pope has proposed, and proposes, these solutions. It’s the style of the present pope to proceed not though impositions but propositions. The idea is that, little by little, [brick by brick] all this may be welcomed, considering the true significance that certain decisions and certain orientations may have. That seems to me a typical touch of Pope Benedict.

Whether sometime in the future, what the pope’s presenting in this propositional way should become more of a disciplinary norm, we don’t know and can’t say. Certainly, the style at the moment is to offer proposals for the celebrative style of the church. Nevertheless, when the Holy Father proposes, it is not simply his personal preference, but a precise and clear orientation for the whole church[Okay… note that answer.  This is not just Joe Bagofdoughnuts making the proposal.  This is Peter.  Also, this is a Pope who knows a great deal about liturgy.  Someone with a true Catholic sense and sense of faith, a man of the Church, will listen and follow these directions.]

[Q.] That raises a broader question. Benedict XVI clearly has a strong liturgical vision, but to date hasn’t launched any sweeping liturgical reform. You seem to have already suggested why not: His strategy is to propose rather than impose. Is that right?

I would say so, yes. It seems to me that he has a vision rooted in great faith in the life of the church, which of course has its own sense of time and its own rhythms. Given certain realities, as well as the times in which we live, [Not a small issue!] sometimes things can’t just be imposed quickly. They have to slowly enter into the way of thinking of the church, its way of feeling, its climate. Within that, maybe one can eventually arrive at providing a more precise disciplinary norm, but perhaps first it is helpful to shape a climate of opinion.  [The fact that we have a new generation of leaders coming in is the big factor here.]

[Q.] You have to shape the culture of the church before its legislation? [A good point.]

I believe so, even if the two things obviously have to go together, because disciplinary norms also help to shape a culture. At the same time, there’s a process of cultural formation that can lead to disciplinary norms. I believe the balance between these two moments has to be kept in mind.

[Q.] The new edition of the Roman Missal in English is about to come out. Have you seen it?

No. As you know, that’s a job for the Congregation for Divine Worship. I know that it’s moving forward.

[Q.] Will the pope use the new missal when he’s in England in September?

I don’t know, because it hasn’t yet been decided. We don’t know if by then it will already be definitively approved. Certainly if it’s approved in the meantime, it would be the text he uses.

[Q.] The new translation has sometimes been criticized for using unfamiliar terms that may not be readily accessible to people. [NB] Do you agree with the logic that sometimes a kind of ‘sacral speech’ is a good thing, in order to lift people out of their daily experience?

[NB] I believe so, yes[Sorry, Bp. Truatman.] The liturgy certainly has a popular dimension, but it also has its own language and its own frame of reference. We sometimes need help in considering that in the liturgical space, in the climate of the liturgy, we effectively enter another dimension which is not our every-day world. The pope often speaks of the liturgy as a kind of heavenly space, which is certainly not detached from the world, but in fact offers a new way to live the experience of the world. [One imbued with mystery.] This all has to go together, and sometimes it can be expressed in language that isn’t the speech of everyday life, but the language of prayer and spirituality, which has its own beauty.

[Q.] With his 2007 motu proprio, Benedict XVI authorized wider celebration of the old Latin Mass, the so-called “Tridentine Rite,” alongside the new. Now that the dust has settled on that decision, where do things stand?

In my opinion, what’s important [NB] now is that the two forms of the Roman rite look upon one another with great serenity, [I am not convinced of that, but… ]  realizing that both belong to the life of the church and that neither is the only true, authentic expression. But rather, the two forms of Roman Rite can mutually enrich each other. [Remember that "organic development" point, above.] This must be the path along which we should walk, because perhaps we haven’t yet truly arrived at this attitude of serenity and welcome in daily life.

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  1. Childermass says:

    The sad and ironic thing about all this talk of “development in continuity” is that the patched-together-by-committee modern Roman rite is anything BUT a “development in continuity.” How does one proceed with “development in continuity” from a starting point which is already a radical innovation.

    Also, I would suggest that the downside of a “period of stability” is the hardening of destructive liturgical tendencies. Father, you know full well that Communion in the hand is now the norm in practice if not in law (to the point that it would be impossible to lift the indult without chaos), that “facing the people” is now almost universal across the Western Church, that both these practices and others are so entrenched as to be seen as an essential part of the modern rite.

    As every year that these practices persist, the more this appears to people’s minds to be the “tradition” instead of the radical innovation it is.

    For most Catholics, what Benedict is doing is simply changing “the Pope’s liturgy.” As my priest has told me, what Benedict does “has no bearing on what we do in the American Church.”

  2. idatom says:

    Fr. Z.;

    Some years back maybe twenty, I video taped a talk Fr. Fessio gave during which he read a letter he had received from then Cardinal Ratzinger this correspondence was in German. Father wanted his audience to hear the full impact of that language so he read it to our group. Afterwords he translated it for us.

    Fr. Fessio had written to the Cardinal to float the idea of a “Reform of the Reform” I think it may have been Fr. Fessio’s original idea. At any rate the Holy Father was in favor of this line of thought.

    I have always been impressed with Father Fessio, a much maligned Jesuit who is Catholic, he has done great things for Holy Mother Church. Soon after the fiasco at SFU the San Francisco Sea came open, I was hoping against hope that the Pope would give it to his good friend Fr. Fessio. Ah the possibility of poetic justice!

    Tom Lanter

  3. For most Catholics, what Benedict is doing is simply changing “the Pope’s liturgy.” As my priest has told me, what Benedict does “has no bearing on what we do in the American Church.”

    See, this is why I can’t help feeling discouraged by this idea of “proposing rather than imposing.” I know that when the “proposal” comes from Peter it’s more than a mere suggestion; but it just doesn’t seem like enough in an age when the opposition does not hesitate to impose its own changes suddenly and brutally.

    I also admit that I am impatient, and I really want to see the hammer drop, because, as the resident of a dicoese where the moneyed liberals have a stranglehold at all levels, I’m really tired of all the garbage.

  4. Magpie says:

    Pride. Pride. Pride. Lack of humility. Pride. Did I mention pride? These are two things sadly lacking among both clergy and laity. How can anyone listen to the successor of St Peter when they are so caught up in themselves, their own opinion, self-righteousness and their own pride. The solution to this whole problem is holiness, personal holiness. Then we can all take our proper place in the Church and give up on our desire to be our own little pope.

  5. doanli says:

    Magpie, you hit on what I was thinking the other day. I wondered if humility and obedience were even virtues anymore in this society, even in our Church.

  6. Mitchell NY says:

    Anita Moore, You sum it up for many.
    Donali, We must be taught from our Bishops the meaning of these by example. If they constantly show the faithful disobedience to Rome and lack of respect what do you expect from the laity? And afterall they “work” in the Church, and know what is expected more than we do. Most of us have other daytime jobs. Even obedience and humility have limits. Once that has been so abused they can not just demand it back.
    It is not always wanting to be a little pope, but merely looking to follow what the Holy Father, The GIRM, and Rome tell us. Often we try to obey but are led to obey what is not correct or even forbidden. That is where the line must be drawn.
    Childermass, totally correct and that comment goes to the heart of the matter. How do you build on something admittingly false and incorrectly patched and spliced together? People will think it is tradtion after so any years and this is indeed a huge problem. Maybe imposition is not the way to go as this Pope tells us, through Monsignor Marini and other appropriate people who can speak for the Holy Father. But certainly more needs to be said and written on the subject. More to reflect upon. Yes, we have plenty of writings from the Holy Father when he was a Cardinal, but people see that as that was then, this is now. Maybe an entire encylical devoted to the subject would help in promoting the idea of promotion, not imposition. I think the clarification letter should be full of ideas and “clarifications” as it has been in the works for a long time, indicating probable careful thought and wording.
    In the end if people desire what is the norm for the Church and what Rome has declared and shows in their own choices for example, then by wishing for it, trying to follow it, shouldn’t be seen as Pride. The only other option would be outright disobedience or indifference, neither of which are healthy attitudes for the Church or the Holy Father.

  7. chironomo says:

    I somehow can’t help feeling that Msgr. Marini’s answers here are VERY carefully worded. He replies in the negative to a “roll-back” of Vatican II, but he knows full well that the intention is to actually implement the reforms of Vatican II, which to most of the NCR readers would be a “roll-back” of Vatican II as they see it!

    He says there will be no mandated changes, by which I take him to mean legislated changes, but he also knows full well that implementing things such as ad orientem worship, communion on the tongue kneeling, the Ordinary in Latin, Gregorian Chant…. none of these would require any legislative changes because they are already legislated.

    I can’t help but think that something is up when you have to send out a high-ranking official to deny something that seems so obvious…

  8. Luke says:

    The notion of organic change expressed in this interview is brilliant. I never saw the current changes in this light before. Yes, patience is needed “to be sure.” But I get a feeling that Pope Benedict has a great sense that this is the best way to implement a more sacred liturgy. Steer the opinion and thought of the upcoming generation and allow time for those who are edgy to calm down. I also like the feeling that a greater meaning is coming back to our Tradition. Those who made Vatican II into a new church concept should realize that tradition unfolds gradually and old things never die away but remain as roots which must still be allowed breath life into our present day. But then, even a monkey should recognize the error in replacing an army of altar servers with a giant puppet of Jesus. It will take time for such people to grasp that our churches aren’t play houses.

  9. ssoldie says:

    Kudos to Childmass and Mitchell NY, How does one build on ‘fabrication’ ditch the ‘fabricated’ and restore the organic and start from there. Don’t say it can’t be done, nothing is impossible with God.

  10. catholicmidwest says:

    You know, I bought one of John Allen’s books a while back because I read a lot of things. I’m a critical reader, I don’t believe everything I read, but I like to look at ideas. I wondered what he was saying about what he thought the future of the Church might look like.

    But you know I’m still skeptical about him and his writings, which is to say “my crap detector is running in the on position” when I read his works.

    I can’t help wondering what the conversations around the water cooler in the editorial room with John Allen are like.

    John Allen: Yes, you know this is true, and this is happening and all this, and this is okay because……

    Sr. Chittister: ?

    John Allen: ????????

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