Reading Francis Through Benedict: the pastoral staves – modern Paul VI and traditional Benedict XVI

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.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. James Joseph says:

    The layman’s bachelor (sub-deacon) cross is an interesting thing when carried by a priest or even a bishop, especially with so few men emulating St. Joseph nowadays and so few women seeking him. It makes me think of elderberry wine. Off to fetch some sambucca.

  2. mamajen says:

    I think there are a lot of different factions out there that want to “kidnap” the Pope to forward their pet causes. It seems to me that, in addition to being faithful to his Jesuit vows, he is trying to stay above the fray and signal that he is everyone’s Pope. He isn’t going to cater strictly to traditionalists or strictly to modernists, or anyone else for that matter. By no means do I want to appear to criticize Pope Benedict, but I think he ended up being pigeonholed (quite unfairly), and therefore wasn’t appreciated by some people as much as he should have been. Hopefully Pope Francis can strike a balance that works for most Catholics (it’s impossible to please everyone). I think he’s doing a good job so far.

  3. RafkasRoad says:

    Dear Fr. Zuhlzdorf,

    you (as usual) make some very interesting points and call folk back to reason. I agree with your speculations, having held them to a certain extent myself (e.g. the footwear choice).

    Mamajen, I’ve found myself nodding vigorously at your thoughts also.

    another musing on PF’s style and manner of comportment in public; I suspect that he may well be taking a low key approach not merely due to his Jesuit roots, but in terms of the worldwide church and (perhaps far more importantly) in deference to PBXVI who is still with us, remember. Just a thought, but if I had been elevated to the type of office that PF now holds with its predecessor still very much alive (with all the irregularity that insues) I would be incredibly wary of donning the full ceremonial rig or attire of state whilst my dear former officeholder (pedants among the readership, please don’t knitpick my comparrisons and term usages; I know the papal office is NOT a run of the mill executive position), remained. Additionally, how would these concerns be viewed in places like Pakistan, parts of China, the Middle East and parts of Africa where the faithful still pay for their faith with their lives? they’ve far greater concerns re the Holy Father’s influence and strengthening of their faith than the things that send comfortable Anglosphere ‘more Catholic than’ catholics into cardiac arrest. …Please stop thinking of the Pope’s ways in terms of Anglosphere rad trad Catholic ‘roman rite’ sensibilities only.International Catholic picture, please that can also embrace and speak to Marounite, Melchite, Byzantine, Cyromalabarite, Chaldean, Russian (Catholic)Coptic (Catholic). May PF be thinking of Us Marounites for instance; not so unconventional a thought when one remembers PF was the Ordinary for the Eastern Catholic Communities of his old parish.


    Aussie Marounite.
    PS:, one more speculation if I may…’Biship in white’ anybody??

  4. benedetta says:

    “…try to see his gestures in the best possible light rather than the worst.” Amen, Fr. Z.!

  5. CatherineTherese says:

    I just want to say… Yay. Thank you, Fr. Z, for this nice little tidbit and reminder.

  6. catholicmidwest says:

    It does say something. It says “why should I have a new one made when I have two perfectly good ones in the closet already?” He’s a Jesuit.

  7. Rellis says:

    I’m not sure how this can be read other than badly. Francis is phasing out the B16 ferula in favor of the P6/JP2 ferula.

    Just like B16 phased in his old school ferula in year one by alternating it with the P6/JP2 ferula.

    It’s pretty clear. This is a phased motion toward decay. Putting lipstick on the pig doesn’t make her pretty. Bad news doesn’t have to be anything other than bad news.

  8. “Francis is phasing out the B16 ferula in favor of the P6/JP2 ferula. ” maybe.

    “It’s pretty clear. This is a phased motion toward decay. Putting lipstick on the pig doesn’t make her pretty. Bad news doesn’t have to be anything other than bad news.”Not so clear here. i’m not sure i get the lipstick on a pig either. The Church retains her beauty in spite of the ferula and didn’t lose it because Blessed John Paul used an unattractive ferula.Here we go with the Church is crumbling into ruin again. Pope Francis was elected under difficult circumstances. I don’t recall any Pope ever being elected while a predecessor was nearby.I have the feeling that he is VERY mindful of that. I have also heard much uncharitable chatter by ppl making comparisons. Uncharitable to his Holiness Benedict the XVI as well as our new Pope,Francis.It doesn’t benefit either man; and it definitely doesn’t benefit the Church.
    Father Z has done a gr8 analysis that remains charitable.

  9. Lucas Whittaker says:

    My overall view at this moment is that we as Catholics we will be given a great deal to be proud of by Pope Francis. He is absolutely remarkable on many levels. It’s too early to make predictions, and speculation shouldn’t be overly used within this context. As time passes we get a glimpse of this change or that gesture or this other homily over there; I think that our surprise will be to watch as these separated acts culminate in such a way that we will be proud of the accomplishments of Pope Francis. Because we don’t see things being done the way that Pope Emeritus Benedict did them we are left without a way to compare, which we tend naturally to do, I think. Another commenter mentioned that some of the changes that we have seen might be for practical reasons such as health limitation or something else unknown to us: I wholeheartedly agree with this thought. I hope the changes allow Francis to remain healthy enough to do the work that is set before him. But then, I read somewhere that he is good at delegating tasks to others, and maybe this will help Francis to push through the jobs at hands. There is something exciting about this time in history and in the Church.

    I always liked the ferula of Blessed John Paul II. But then the cross is alive in my life in a unique way and so it stands to reason that I would see beauty in such a broken Jesus hanging from the tree on the ferula.

  10. HighMass says:

    Dear RafkasRoad,

    Excellent Points, Thank God Fr. Z keeps us on our toes…..

    Bishop in White??? Sad to Say it has made one wonder if P.Francis is That Bishop????hopefully not!……..God Bless him, he isn’t our Dear Benedict XVI………P.Francis needs our prayers!
    God Bless Benedict and Pope Francis!

  11. Lucas,“My overall view at this moment is that we as Catholics we will be given a great deal to be proud of by Pope Francis. He is absolutely remarkable on many levels. It’s too early to make predictions, andspeculation shouldn’t be overly used within this context. As time passes we get a glimpse of this change or that gesture or this other homily over there; I think that our surprise will be to watch as these separated acts culminate in such a way that we will be proud of the accomplishments of Pope Francis.” Insightful comment. i think with you,that this is an exciting, hopeful and probably anxious time in the Church. We’ve had 3 remarkable but different Popes. Blessed John Paul II, Benedict the XVI(still with us;but no longer Pope)and Francis.

  12. Cathy says:

    I don’t understand why the use of one ferula or another is to be taken as a sign of disrespect. I do think some of the comments/criticisms regarding either of the ferula used by recent popes show a certain amount of disrespect. I just have a strange heartfelt feeling that Benedict XVI would be terribly hurt by the thought that his not using the ferula of Blessed John Paul II would be seen through the lens of disrespect, or that its current use would be seen as disrespect to him.

  13. majuscule says:

    “…the Office for Liturgical Ceremonies of the Supreme Pontiff (headed up still by Msgr. Guido Marini). “

    So much was said about how badly Msgr. Marini was feeling about Pope Frances’s style, as if people could read his mind. I think some may have been projecting their own feelings onto him. Within days of the papal election bloggers were even writing that Msgr. Marini had been replaced, done deal (not to mention the more recent speculation that Abp. Piero Marini was coming back to his former position as Papal MC after an audience with Pope Francis).

    Well, that may or may not be in the works…but in scouring the web for interviews with Msgr Marini, I found that he seems a humble (rather than suffering) servant, ready to do his best as Master of Liturgial Ceremonies for our new Pope.

    Of course, I could be projecting my own feelings…

  14. anna 6 says:

    It is interesting to hear the various views as to how the fact that Benedict is still alive (Deo gratias) is effecting the decisions, actions and attire of Pope Francis. That he chose to do things differently than Benedict was bound to be interpreted by some as a rejection…whether intentional or not.

    I still maintain that this transition could have been a lot easier for everyone if there had been simple explanations for the differences (preferably with qualifications that they were never intended to imply that his predecessor was not “humble”). It would have prevented some of the more malicious interpretations and it would have lessoned some anxiety for those of us who have great love and admiration for the Pope Emeritus.

    “Try to see his gestures in the best possible light rather than the worst”…excellent advice!

  15. merlk says:

    BXVI didn’t alternated Pius IX and his own ferulae with P6’s.

  16. mamajen says:

    It’s fascinating how the Eeyores, who insist on reading what isn’t there rather than what is (and just plain ignore Father Z’s points) can find a negative interpretation for absolutely everything Pope Francis does. First, he’s criticized for making abrupt “changes”, now he’s criticized for making gradual changes (even though there’s no evidence that he wants to phase out Benedict’s cross at all). So which is it? Am I supposed to believe that he dispenses with things like the red shoes and mozzetta straight away, but he’s going to be sneaky about the ferula for some reason? Really.

  17. misserdoodles says:

    Amen to Rellis! Spot on analysis

  18. misserdoodles says:

    Amen to Rellis! Spot on analysis.

  19. Joe in Canada says:

    I am ignorant in most matters of vestment. I always thought nowadays Bishops had too many miters, that historically they had 2 – one plain white and one glorious. I thought the modern practice of miters in liturgical colors was an innovation. No doubt I was wrong.

  20. The ferula discussed so much here is just a symbol–and perhaps a minor one not too important in itself–of the office of the papacy, along with the mitres, stoles, and vestments of popes long past. One might say that by restoring these historic symbols, Benedict XVI submerged his own personality and projected instead the office of the papacy. Whereas it may appear that–by using instead only his own personal symbols (e.g., his mitre and vestments as archbishop previously)–Francis asserts the individual personality of the pope himself rather than the office he occupies.

    In effect, one approach submits the pope’s personality to the office of the papacy, while the other imposes the pope’s own personality on the office. Interpretation of the underlying intent or implication of either approach is a separate matter on which opinions obviously may differ.

  21. HobokenZephyr says:

    Isn’t the Paul VI/JPII ferula a 2nd Class Relic? Perhaps calling it “ugly” is a bit harsh?

  22. Gratias says:

    The church is turning in a different direction, it seems.

  23. BLB Oregon says:

    Every time we get a new Pope, we get someone who has been dressing himself for a very long time, and we see him put into a position where he can wear what he sees fit for his office. It occurred to me that with the miter Pope Francis might be like many men his age that I know, particularly those who see themselves as having uncomplicated clothing needs. If they get anything new, they have to see it in their closet for six months or a year before they’ll ever wear it anywhere. By the time a year goes by, who knows what things in the papal closets will seem friendlier to him. There is still time for some surprises, albeit minor ones.

    As for the shoes, I thought it was a big deal made out of nothing when Pope Benedict’s were a red that was several shades brighter than Pope John Paul II’s, and a big deal made out of nothing when Pope Francis did not want to change shoes at all. Men over the age of 60 have many different opinions when it comes to shoes and clothes, but by that age, they know their own minds. If they still like the styles that were used when they were 20, and polite society lets them wear those, they’ll wear them. If they have some other style they’ve picked up over the course of their lives and they can wear that, they’ll wear that. If “polite society” steps in and forces them to wear what they are not inclined to wear, they’ll grumble until they’ve just had it (often in their 80s), and then they’ll tell “polite society” to go jump in a lake. Heavens, by age 65 even people who have gone through life changing their hairstyles every five years, both men and women, have found the one that they plan to keep until they die, even if they live to be 100!

  24. beej says:

    One of the things, that I’ve learned through the Cursillo Movement (may not be popular here, I’m not sure) is that our Christian Life is based on a tripod of Piety, Study and Action. Take away any leg and the tripod falls down. I can’t help but see in the last 3 popes: piety(JPII), Study (BXVI) and Action (Francis).

    One thing that I’ve learned is that God is always stretching me uncomfortably to learn my own weaknesses. And he has done it once again with this pope, just like he did with Benedict, and also with John Paul.

  25. LouiseA says:

    The pastoral staff is supposed to represent a shepherd’s staff, with a crook/hook on one end. Thw curved end on a real shepherd’s staff helps the shepherd grab a sheep (who is on the verge of going astray) by the neck and guide it back to where it needs to go. It would have been nice to see a return to that kind of a pastoral staff on Good Shepherd Sunday.

  26. wolfeken says:

    HobokenZephyr — you make a very good case for taking both of Lello Scorzelli’s Modernist pastoral staves (there is a heavy one and a lighter one) and locking them up in the Vatican Archives.

    Would someone in a position of power please suggest this to the Vatican?

  27. Lucas Whittaker says:

    Boxerpaws1952: No fair! You know the code for italics and bold.

    Boxerpaws1952: “We’ve had 3 remarkable but different Popes. Blessed John Paul II, Benedict the XVI(still with us;but no longer Pope)and Francis.” I completely agree: three great Popes. And it just ocurred to me (I will admite being somewhat slow…) that we were especially blessed with Pope Emeritus Benedict because he is a brilliant theologian: We “got” to hear some out-of-this-world speeches on a regular basis, and for those who don’t regularly read theology the phenomenon happens that wisdom excites the mind and heart: when those great insights are no longer being shared in the same way we sense a void and plumbing the depths of wisdom now becomes more challenging (BUT WORTH IT!) because theological gems are no longer delivered from the mouth of this great man. But having said that, I must now say something about what Francis has to offer us. Francis is a man of the gospel who speaks the language of the gospel at every turn. We need to regain an understanding of both senses of apostolic tradition–the written and the unwritten–so that we use every available benefit to grow close to God and thus find peace–a peace that we ultimately share with every person in our life because it bears the watermark of God himself: exciting times! Viva il Papa Francesco e Papa Benedetto!

  28. Lucas Whittaker says:

    LarryW2LJ: That is a remarkable story of conversion! Thank you for providing the link.

    As I wonder about this papacy, and strain to undertand the context of the papacy in a way that I never have before I came across something interesting that Cardinal Marc Oullet said on the eve of the papal election. Most of you will know that he was considered to be a contender among his papabile confrères. Ouellet said that while “you can’t keep the world from dreaming things up,” seeing Pope Benedict’s workload at close range makes the prospect of the papacy “not very enviable”. He added: “It is a crushing responsibility. It’s the kind of thing you don’t campaign for.” In this light I wonder just how important choosing the correct pastoral stave is. These are most challenging times because the tyranny of relativism is rampant, which makes communicating in an honest way nearly impossible. We need to be patient as Francis tackles this massive workload and take up a special devotion to pray for him as we have never prayed for any other priest, because the task set before him is our task, but his responsibility. He needs to succeed for our sake. Let’s support him in the best way that we can.

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