The Holy See Search



Experiences of renewal in certain Papal Liturgical Celebrations 


Contents – 1. The changes introduced by the Council. 2. The source of the liturgy’s beauty: 2.1. The liturgy, an act of Christ and the Church; 2.2 The noble simplicity of love; 2.3. Gesture, word, space, time and order. 3. Liturgical Celebrations of the Holy Father: 3.1. Conformity to the directives of the Council; 3.2. Rites proper to papal liturgies; 3.3. The celebrations of the liturgical year; 3.4. The place of celebration; 3.5. Meeting the needs of the assembly; 3.6 Icons and elements of decoration; 3.7. Papal insignia; 3.8.The preparation of celebrations; 3.9 Study and scientific research. 4. Conclusion.


We are celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the promulgation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium of the Second Vatican Council. Throughout the Catholic Church meetings, conventions and publications have been organised to mark the event. The aim of this is not to multiply formal ceremonies of commemoration, but rather to call to mind the Constitution’s principal directives and to examine their reception and implementation in the local Churches. In this context we would put the question of beauty in the liturgy. On the one hand, therefore, a reference to Vatican II is necessary, but on the other, the question of beauty can only be treated with reference to actual celebrations. This is why I will take into consideration the liturgical celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, the direction of which has been my responsibility for almost seventeen years. 


1. The changes introduced by the Council II 

Those like myself, who are no longer young, have had the chance to experience the changes brought by the Council in the post-conciliar liturgical reform. The liturgical books have been enhanced with an unprecedented richness of biblical and euchological texts; rubrics, gestures and movements have been simplified, the place of celebration more clearly defined; there have been changes in vestments, church furnishings, iconography, music and hymns. We have moved from a Roman Liturgy characterised by uniformity (one language and fixed rubrics), to a liturgy more adapted to the sensitivity of men and women today, one open to adaptation and to different cultures, the expression of a Church of communion which sees diversity not as an essentially negative element but as an opportunity for the enrichment of unity. 

The changes obviously also affected papal liturgies. The project of reforming the liturgy of the Papal Chapel, called for by Pope Paul VI, dates back to February 1965. At that time it had already become clear that the arrangement of the persons around the Pope (Cardinals, Bishops and other ecclesiastics acting as secondary ministers) needed to be revised in order to show clearly the proper ministry of each.

Moreover, in view of the psychology of modern men and women, for which the mixture of court etiquette and religious rites is almost incomprehensible, it was decided that the sort of court life which had hitherto surrounded the Pope during liturgical celebrations should be done away with.

Lastly, the influence of television broadcasts was taken into consideration: «Television is featuring papal ceremonies with increasing frequency. Some mediaeval customs are thus carried beyond the Roman setting to people of other religions and non-believers, where they give rise to divergent and not always laudatory interpretations. The Pope should be seen by all as the successor of Peter and servant of the servants of God, not as a mediaeval prince. Television requires exemplary behaviour on the part of all those who take part in the papal liturgy, and especially the masters of ceremonies; their exposed position displays with pitiless clarity every move they make ».[1

Among the guidelines for a future reform of the papal liturgy, experts advised that all “secular” customs should be abolished and that papal celebrations, still tied to Renaissance principles and ceremonies, should be adapted to the new liturgical legistlation. Moreover, papal liturgies should serve as examples for implementing the renewal in keeping with the spirit and letter of Vatican II. The papal altar should be cleared and restored to its initial sobriety. Even at this early stage, the absence of a lectern worthy of the proclamation of the Word of God was noted. It was requested that sacred vestments be simplified to prevent some ecclesiastics from resembling “extras on stage”. Suggestions were made with regard to the repertoire of hymns, the importance of intervals of sacred silence unbroken by any sound (even the sound of silver trumpets drowning the words of consecration, spoken aloud already at that time). There was talk of restoring the custom of distributing communion to the faithful at papal Masses and introducing concelebration with the Pope by other Bishops. 

These guidelines were to be put into practice with prudence and balance so as to gradually make papal celebrations models and examples of the beauty and the riches of the Catholic liturgical reform. The challenge was to restore papal celebrations to the splendour and beauty that had made them a point of reference and imitation for the whole of the Church of the West down the centuries. 

To appreciate the changes entailed, it is enough to give just one example: the Pope’s entrance for papal celebrations. Prior to the Council, on major solemnities the Pope would enter Saint Peter’s Basilica to the sound of silver trumpets, wearing the tiara, gloves, and shoes of the liturgical colour, borne aloft on a ceremonial chair by sediari and accompanied by the waving of flabelli and a colourful crowd of persons, laity and prelates, each with his own ceremonial dress, representing the nobility, Roman patricians, various corps of guards and other dignitaries of the papal court. It was a solemn entrance which gave the impression of a Pope as a worldly prince surrounded by his court. Since the Council we have grown accustomed to seeing the Pope join the entrance procession dressed as a Bishop of the Catholic Church, free of the entourage of strictly non-religious elements and signs of temporal power, accompanied by concelebrants and ministers who have a role in the celebration instead of members of a papal court. This enables the faithful present in the church – and those watching the liturgy on television – to recognise the Pope’s function as a Bishop of the Church, the Successor of Saint Peter the Apostle, the servant of the servants of God, and to pay attention to other important signs of the celebration such as the Book of the Gospels and the processional crucifix. 

What has changed in the liturgy since the Council? Is it only a question of a diversity of cultures, of tastes, sensitivity, colours and greater freedom in performing rites and applying rubrics? Has only the exterior array changed in accordance with changing aesthetic tastes? Today in the Church we find various tendencies: some want a more horizontal liturgy, a community event marked by participation, others prefer a more vertical and detached liturgy. On the one hand we have parish liturgies, on the other we have liturgies celebrated by movements and by those attached to the Tridentine Mass, who mourn the passing of Gregorian chant.


2. The source of the liturgy’s beauty  

Is there a boundary between aesthetic emotion and an authentic sense of the spiritual? Is a beautiful liturgy one which satisfies the tastes of consumers? The liturgy is not a consumer good; it is not the Church’s supermarket! We know it is first and foremost the work of God, adoration, reception, bestowal. Hence we must ask ourselves what are the fundamental criteria for the beauty of the liturgy, apart from trends and tastes. It would be a great error simply to apply secular standards of aesthetic taste to the liturgy.


2.1. The liturgy, an act of Christ and the Church   

To understand the beauty of the liturgy we must begin with our understanding of the Church. The Church «in Christ is a kind of sacrament, that is a sign and instrument of intimate union with God and of the unity of all mankind » (LG 1). As a “sign” the Church is therefore able in some degree to render perceptible Christ, the sacrament of salvation. It is precisely from this sacramental nature that the sacraments in the strict sense are articulated. The sacrament, as an act of the Church, is also the act of Christ, since the Church is simply doing what Christ taught and commanded her to do: «Do this in memory of me» (Lk 22: 19). The Sacraments are channels through which Christ communicates to us his salvation: «When a man baptises it is really Christ himself who baptises» (SC 7). As Saint Leo the Great states: «That which was visible in Christ passed to the sacraments of the Church».[2] The liturgy is an act of Christ and his Church. It depends not so much on the intellectual sphere as on the principle of the Incarnation, and therefore evidently implies an aesthetic dimension. Our gestures during the liturgy are important because they are gestures of Jesus. In her liturgical celebration and the concrete gestures it requires, the Church is simply prolonging and actualising the Lord’s own gestures. Therefore, since liturgical gestures are gestures of Christ they have a beauty and aesthetic value of their own, apart from any additional or secondary beauty which we might strive to give them.


2.2. The noble simplicity of love  

The Gospels describe the human and concrete gestures of Jesus: he walks, he blesses, he touches, he heals, he mixes saliva and mud, he raises his eyes to heaven, he breaks the bread, he takes the cup. These are the gestures repeated in the celebration of the sacraments. But it was above all on the night of his passion that Jesus taught us the gestures that we too must perform. He is our master of liturgical education. His art consists in setting forth the essential in a few simple things. The meaning of the liturgy is revealed only through simplicity and sobriety. «He always loved those who were his own in the world. When the time came for him to be glorified by you his heavenly Father; he showed the depth of his love. While they were at supper he took bread, said the blessing, broke the bread, and gave it to his disciples saying […]. In the same way, he took the cup, filled with wine. He gave you thanks, and giving the cup to his disciples, said […] ».[3] What is it that made this act of the Lord so beautiful? The way the room was arranged? The way the table was prepared? Fine table linen? Certainly these things bring out its beauty, like a frame which enhances the beauty of a picture. Yet the real beauty lies in Jesus’ act of redeeming love: «he showed the depth of his love… he took bread». Here lies the beauty of his gesture. Repeating this action of Christ, and recognising in it her Lord’s love, the Church finds it beautiful. The liturgy’s aesthetic value, its beauty, depends primarily therefore not on art, but on the paschal mystery of love. If art is to collaborate with the liturgy it needs to be evangelised by love. The beauty of a Eucharistic celebration essentially depends not on the beauty of architecture, icons, decoration, songs, vestments, choreography and colours, but above all on the ability to reveal the gesture of love performed by Jesus. Through the gestures, words and prayers of the liturgy we strive to repeat and render visible the gestures, prayers and words of the Lord Jesus. This is what the Lord commanded: «Do this in memory of me». 

The style of our liturgy should be simple and austere, as was the style of Jesus. In our celebrations, according to the Council Fathers, we must master of the art of «noble simplicity» (SC 34).


2.3. Gesture, word, space, time and order 

In the liturgy gestures are always accompanied by words. The liturgy unfolds, as the Council affirms, per ritus et preces, through rites and prayers illuminated and vivified by the Word (SC 48; 21; 59; 7; 24). However words and gestures involve both time and space. The Word made flesh needed time and space in which to carry out his gestures of salvation. The liturgy is the space Christ needs to reveal himself, the time he takes to tell us about himself. 

In the liturgy, however, space and time are subject to rules of order. By its nature the liturgy demands order. Without rubrics, or indications from the Church, there can be no liturgy. This is clearly seen from the earliest liturgical texts. Beauty in the liturgy is also the result of order. The first word in the title of almost all the books produced by the liturgical reform is the Latin word ordo. The order required by the liturgy regards a number of things: time, space, relationship with others; indeed the liturgy demands also personal interior order .  

Forty years after the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium we need to ask ourselves: are the rites and gestures which we perform truly gestures of Christ? Is the liturgy we celebrate space given to Christ or is it for ourselves? Is the time dedicated to our liturgy, time in which Christ reveals himself to us, or a time when we talk about ourselves, or simply empty time? Is the liturgy we celebrate, besides being an order, a sequence of rites, also a source of order in our relationships with others? Is it a source of personal interior order? 

These questions serve to help us understand not only the essence of the liturgy but also the meaning of the active participation so strongly advocated by the Council. 


3. Liturgical Celebrations of the Holy Father  

After the general indications given above, some concrete reference to particular celebrations would appear appropriate. For me this is more easily done in the light of my experience with celebrations at which the Holy Father presides. My intention is not to indicate models to be copied, but rather to illustrate the changes made in papal liturgies in order to express the beauty proper to the liturgy, which was called for by Vatican II.


3.1. Conformity to the directives of the Council 

As a result of the Council, papal liturgical celebrations have progressively developed, accompanied by radical changes in style, content and number. The small number of services held earlier, always inside the Vatican and following a set form of ceremonial, have been replaced by an ever greater number of celebrations of varying nature: celebrations with large crowds or special groups; at Rome’s major basilicas but also at parish churches; in different dioceses and regions of Italy and all over the world in different countries, with peoples of a variety of traditions and cultures. 

Before the Council, preeminence was given to the carrying out of ceremonial rubrics and therefore to the duties of the Masters of Ceremonies. Since the Council, priority has been rightly given to the pastoral aspect of celebrations and to the work of preparation: meetings with experts, preparation of texts and booklets, the training of the persons taking part, arrangement of the celebration site… all carefully considered from a doctrinal point of view.


3.2. Rites proper to papal liturgies 

In the spirit of the Council specific rites of papal liturgy were revised: the consistory for the causes of Saints, the consistory for the creation of new Cardinals, rites of beatification and canonisation, the rite of conferring the pallium, etc. There is still room for improvement, but on the whole these rites are now true to the principle of noble simplicity. For example, if we consider that up to the early 1990s the rite for the creation of new Cardinals had three parts: a secret consistory in the Consistory Hall during which, after the extra omnes intoned by the Master of Celebrations, the Pope was required to proclaim officially the names of the new Cardinals, already published a month before; after this, in the same Hall there would be a semi-public consistory; and finally, in the Paul VI Audience Hall, the public consistory. This sequence of three rites was revised and rearranged as one celebration centred on the Word of God. 


3.3. The Celebrations of the liturgical year 

Liturgical texts often use the expression per anni circulum, to indicate that in the course of the year the Church celebrates Christ’s work of salvation. Both the annual cycle and the daily cycle are circular, or better “spiral”, to indicate the passing of time. The “time” of the Church offers us an opportunity for conversion. 

I will mention here only four papal liturgy celebrations which have been revised.  

For the celebration of Christmas, two characteristic elements were inserted: the proclamation of the Kalenda announcing the historical birth of the Saviour (the text is taken from the new Roman Martyrology) and a floral tribute to the statue of the Child Jesus offered by a group of young children from different countries while the Gloria is sung.  

On Holy Thursday, during the Chrism Mass, the vessels containing the different oils are accompanied respectively by catechumens, by the sick, and by candidates for Confirmation and deacons preparing for priestly Ordination. In addition the sequence of blessing for each of the three oils was rearranged: presentation of the oil, brief invitation, prayer of blessing.  

For the Missa in Cena Domini, during the Mandatum those present are asked to make a charitable offering as disciples of the Lord. 

For the Mass of the Day on Easter Sunday, the traditional Resurrexit rite was restored and renamed Peter, Witness of the Resurrection. At the beginning of the Mass two deacons open the doors of the venerable icon of Christ the Saviour known as the Achiropita (not made by human hands), after which one of the deacons proclaims in song the news of the Lord’s Resurrection: first to the assembly with the chant Surrexit Dominus de sepulcro, qui pro nobis pependit in ligno, and then to the Holy Father with the words Surrexit Dominus vere et apparuit Simoni. This ancient rite of the Pope’s witness before the icon of the Saviour, suitably enhanced and adapted in keeping with the spirit of the conciliar liturgical reform, became after the year 2000 one of the rites proper to the papal liturgy. 

For the Vigil of Pentecost, a Remembrance of the Sacrament of Confirmation was inserted after the homily. The Remembrance starts with light taken from the fire of seven large braziers and distributed to the congregation to recall the Holy Spirit received at Confirmation. The rite continues with invocations to the Holy Spirit and concludes with the profession of faith, the Apostles’ Creed. This rite too is now part of the papal liturgy. 

For each of the celebrations mentioned above, care was taken to emphasise the connection between gesture, image and words in relation to the Mystery being celebrated, while keeping in mind the active participation of the faithful.


3.4. The place of celebration  

The liturgy requires a place to be celebrated. The Last Supper was itself carefully prepared: «The Master says: Where is my dining room in which I can eat the Passover with my disciples?» (Mk 14:4). This requirement is testified to from early times down to our day: synagogues made into churches (as, for example, at Dura Europos), Syrian churches, Constantinian basilicas, Roman basilicas, Gothic churches, Baroque churches etc. The liturgy in fact requires a place in which the community gathers, the domus ecclesiæ; it entails processional movement and stillness; it requires areas of celebration inside the domus ecclesiæ itself: the baptismal font, the lectern, (ambo) the altar, the chair (cathedra) of the Bishop or priest.[4

The places for the celebration of the papal liturgy are the Roman basilicas, in particular Saint Peter’s Basilica and the chapels in the Apostolic Palace. Besides these, in recent decades many celebrations have been held in Saint Peter’s Square. These sites present a number of difficulties with regard to the positioning of some fixed elements essential for the liturgy. It is enough to consider that in the Basilicas of Saint John Lateran and Saint Paul Outside the Walls there is no lectern, and that in Saint Mary Major and Saint Peter’s, besides the lectern, the chair (cathedra) is also lacking.  

For Saint Peter’s Basilica, the Office for Liturgical Celebrations studied a project for a solution in the 1980s. The project was to place the papal chair on the left facing the altar, opposite the statue of Saint Peter, and to set the lectern in front of the gates of the Confessio. The project was experimented with for one celebration, then discarded. The solution for the lectern was kept, although with the ambo inside rather than in front of the gates of the Confessio. The problem however persists, both with regard to the requirements of the celebration itself and the theological and pastoral significance of having a fixed location for the Pope’s chair near the statue of Saint Peter the Apostle.  

In Saint Peter’s Square it was easier to situate these three areas of celebration: a stable chair on the highest part of the steps near the entrance to the Basilica, the altar at the centre of the upper platform of the parvis; the lectern nearer to the assembly. This last change was made during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. More recently and at present, for various reasons, a mobile Chair placed in front of the altar has been used. 

A good solution was found a few years ago for the Redemptoris Mater Chapel: the chair is positioned near the main door, the lectern at the centre of the assembly, with the pews facing the lectern, and the altar close to the far wall. This chapel is an example of harmony between iconographic decoration and places of celebration.[5]


3.5. Meeting the needs of the assembly  

The liturgy is the fullest expression of the mystery of the Church. It is therefore indispensable in every celebration to give special attention to the assembly and to improve its participation through proper training. The assembly is in a real way the image of the Church which offers hospitality to Christ and to men and women who are loved by Christ. 

For celebrations at which the Pope presides, the assembly is nearly always composed of people of different cultures and languages coming from different countries. This means that the particular situation of each celebration must be taken into account. This affects the choice of languages, hymns (Gregorian chant), and other elements.  

The evolution of papal celebrations has been marked by healthy creativity, prompted by new ecclesial events for which completely new celebrations had to be drawn up and planned, texts and music composed, on the basis of the tradition, principles of adaptation and the capacity of the Roman liturgy to embrace other traditions, old and new. Mention can be made of: the World Youth Days; major ecumenical celebrations with the representatives of various Churches and Ecclesial Communities, especially the Eastern Patriarchs, as was the case with the visits to Rome of the Patriarchs of Constantinople Dimitrios I (1987) and Bartholomew I (1995); the Days of Prayer for Peace at Assisi; and with special celebrations during the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000 including the Commemoration of Abraham, the Day of Forgiveness and the Commemoration of the Witnesses to the Faith. 

Some celebrations were marked by adaptation. For the opening and closing of the continental Synods for Africa, Asia and Oceania, the Eucharistic celebrations were enriched by elements proper to those peoples. The Holy Father himself has stressed the importance of including various cultural elements in those celebrations: «I am also deeply grateful to the working group which so carefully prepared the Eucharistic liturgies for the opening and closing of the Synod. The group, which included theologians, liturgists and experts in African chants and musical instruments, ensured, in keeping with my wishes, that these celebrations would have a distinctly African character.».[6

For the rite of the opening of the Holy Door of the Year 2000, members of the faithful from different continents and different cultures were present precisely in order to highlight the universality of salvation and the mission of the Church which was celebrating the year of the Great Jubilee in Urbe and in Orbe, in the city of Rome and all over the world. The intention was also to visibly evoke the continental Synods celebrated in preparation for the Jubilee 2000. The following elements can be mentioned: a piece of oriental music was played on a traditional Japanese instrument; members of the faithful from Asia, Australia and Oceania embellished the Holy Door with floral decorations and fragrances; others, from Africa, sounded the traditional horn as a sign of rejoicing for the opening of the Jubilee Year; others still, from America and Europe, accompanied the procession of the Book of the Gospels with flowers and lamps.  

More recently, for the Eucharistic celebration for the beatification of three great missionaries on 5 October 2003, the following cultural elements were inserted: members of the faithful from different parts of the world accompanied the Book of the Gospels with flowers and incense; as a sign of veneration for the Gospel a ceremonial umbrella was used, typical of the culture of various Asian countries and some regions of Africa; following the proclamation of the Gospel groups of the faithful representing different regions of the world venerated the Book of the Gospels in a way typical of their particular culture; at the presentation of the gifts, the offerings for the sacrifice were carried to the Holy Father in the traditional African fashion; and lastly, the sung Amen following the doxology at the end of the Eucharistic prayer was accompanied by a liturgical rite, the “Arati”, which is part of Indian culture.


3.6. Icons and elements of decoration  

The liturgy engages our human senses of sight, hearing, taste, touch. It makes use of images, music, songs, lights, flowers, and choreography. It needs elements of creation: wine, water, bread, salt, fire, ashes, etc. The liturgy seems to want to embrace the whole of creation together, to make its own all the beauty of the created world. This explains why the liturgy’s act of worship is not only offered on behalf of mankind: the whole of creation is called to join us in offering glory to the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit. What is more, the liturgy calls upon us to build a relationship of harmony with creation. 

I would now mention some concrete experiences regarding the liturgical celebrations at which the Holy Father presides. Mention has already been made of the places of celebration: the baptismal font, the lectern, the chair and the altar, and their relation with the space where the celebration takes place. These places, in my opinion, are not only elements necessary for a community celebration of the liturgy, they are also manifestations of the Church and primary icons of Christian identity. The liturgy embraces both the common priesthood of the faithful and the ministerial structure given to the Church by Christ. The baptismal font, the lectern, the chair and the altar are the womb in which Christians are given birth by the Holy Spirit, the environment in which they grow to maturity, the place in which they experience communion with Christ and with each other. Each of these elements, in my opinion, is an icon in itself. This is why great care must be taken to ensure that the artistic embellishment of an object does not hide its original sign-value, as was the case, for example, with some altars renovated after the liturgical reform. 

For papal liturgies the following new items have been acquired: a new lectern for use in Saint Peter’s Basilica, the work of Lello Scorzelli and a new lectern for Saint Peter’s Square, produced by Vatican craftsmen. The chair, lectern and altar for the Redemptoris Mater Chapel, mentioned above, were also newly produced. 

For some papal celebrations we use icons in the proper sense of the word. During the Christmas season tapestries are hung from two balconies inside Saint Peter’s depicting the mysteries being celebrated: e.g., the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Circumcision, the Adoration of the Three Wise Men. For ecumenical celebrations, especially those involving Patriarchs of the Eastern Churches, icons of the Saviour and the Mother of God are displayed before the front columns of Bernini’s baldacchino. This occurred frequently for liturgies during the Marian Year of 1987-1988. In Saint Peter’s Square, on special occasions such as the recent celebrations for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, a tapestry is often displayed depicting the sending forth of the Apostles. Some icons are centuries-old and of unique significance and importance: that of Christ the Saviour known as the Acheropita, exposed during Mass on Easter morning for the Resurrexit rite, and the Salus Populi Romani icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary venerated in Saint Peter’s Square during some Vigils of Pentecost and in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major for a number of Eastern liturgies. 

Another important element worth mentioning is the use of special crucifixes: the crucifix from the church of San Marcello al Corso, which the Pope embraced during the liturgy for the Day of Forgiveness; the crucifix from the Sistine Chapel, venerated in Saint Peter’s Square at a number of solemn Holy Year celebrations; a newly carved copy of the crucifix in the Pauline Chapel, used for the first time in Saint Peter’s Square on the occasion of the Holy Father’s twenty-fifth anniversary. 

Also worthy of note is the beautiful and varied floral decor, modest within the Basilica, more elaborate in Saint Peter’s Square, especially on Easter Day when our florists turn the parvis into what truly appears to be a ‘Garden of the Resurrection’. 


Notable too are:

- the Gospel Books: their beautiful bindings point to the great importance which the liturgy has always given to the Book of the Gospels (the Office has at least twenty different volumes);

- a baptismal basin made of bronze normally used for baptisms during the Easter Vigil Mass;

- three large silver amphorae used during the Chrism Mass of Holy Thursday morning (the amphorae are carried in procession on three specially decorated trolleys);

- vestments for the Pope, concelebrants and ministers, new in style in keeping with the liturgical reform. A few years ago the Cardinals’ mitres were lowered and the Office provided all the Cardinals with a mitre of the same model.


3.7. Papal insignia  

Separate mention must be made of the proposal to reform papal insignia. Since Pope Paul VI renounced the tiara, the Bishop of Rome uses a mitre similar to that of other Bishops during liturgical celebrations. This expresses better the bond of communion and unity which exists between the Successor of Saint Peter and the College of Bishops. The pallium, on the contrary, has not changed with the liturgical reform; it has retained the shape adopted in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The Office intends to introduce a modification of the pallium which takes into consideration both its earliest forms and its mediaeval symbolism, in order to express more clearly the ecclesiological and christological significance of this insignia, which was of great importance in antiquity. For the ring of the Bishop of Rome, the traditional anulum piscatoris (‘ring of the fisherman’) will probably be reinstated, to be consigned with the pallium to the new Pope on the occasion of the solemn inauguration of his pastoral service. 


3.8. The preparation of celebrations 

A “beautiful” liturgy is largely dependent on the preparation which has gone into it. That is why all the liturgical books produced by the reform have a theological-liturgical Introduction to the rite. 

Consequently, to appreciate fully what has been said above with regard to the liturgical celebrations of the Holy Father, we must consider other aspects which are part of the preparation of these celebrations. Very often people taking part in a papal liturgy wonder what makes such an orderly and harmonious service possible. The answer lies in careful preparation of the celebration.  

1. General preparation.Very often for special occasions such as the opening of a Synod, e.g., the Synod for Africa, an ecumenical liturgy, one of the many Holy Year celebrations, or a Papal Visit, preparation begins with a detailed plan, drafted with the help of qualified experts. This is followed by an on-the-spot investigation of the location, to identify the place of celebration, the positioning of fixed elements, the places for the ministers and the choice of local persons to carry out the various ministries and tasks, etc.   

Moreover, the booklet for the use of the faithful must be put together, including, in the case of a Papal Visit a special missal for the Pope and concelebrants which harmonizes the different elements of the celebration (word, prayers, invitations, songs, ritual gestures), in order to ensure, as far as possible, that nothing is left to last-minute improvisation.  

For each celebration the Office prepares a service booklet, or Præparanda, with the list of things to be done, the names of the persons involved in the celebration, the task assigned to each master of ceremonies, a diagram of the location showing the site and its elements and positions. Every celebration requires a rehearsal, usually the day before, to make sure that everything is clear and to solve any potential problems. 

Very often, for example for canonisations and beatifications, the Office plans a time of preparation with appropriate songs, readings and prayers immediately before the celebration starts. In this area much has been achieved, yet much perhaps still remains to be done. For some events and circumstances the suitable preparation of the assembly with the help of a specially designated person serves to foster the full participation of the faithful. 


2. The Mass Booklet. The booklets prepared by the Office, a different one for each new celebration, have proved a most useful aid. Besides describing the sequence of the rite, the booklet includes the Word of God, prayers, songs and invitations. It is embellished with rich illustrations which set before the eye that which the Word offers to the ear. As the occasion demands, the texts and songs are given in different languages. For some celebrations the booklet also has a Presentation aimed at explaining the ritual sequence of the celebration and in some cases a short biography of one or more Saints or Blesseds. Many of the booklets prepared for the annual Via Crucis on Good Friday at the Colosseum are editions of great textual and artistic value.


3.9. Study and scientific research 

Finally, we cannot fail to mention another important aspect of the Office’s activity in recent years: the promotion of study and scientific research. The Office has a valuable archive, containing the records of papal liturgical celebrations from the thirteenth century to the present. It is the source of a wealth of information, especially from the fifteenth century, when details of papal functions were recorded by great Magistri Cæremoniarum Apostolicarum such as John Burckard and Paris De Grassis in their famous diaries. 

From 1987 on, the Office has organised a number of Study Seminars held in Vatican City: Eucharistic Celebrations presided at by the Holy Father (28-30 December 1987); Beatifications, Canonisations, the Consistory, the Imposition of the Pallium and other celebrations proper to Papal Liturgy (25-27 September 1991); Celebrations for the Jubilee, Outlines and Proposals (1-3 February1996); Texts and Music in Celebrations presided at by the Holy Father (5-7 October 1998); Television and Celebrations presided at by the Holy Father (11-13 February 1999).

With the help of the Office’s Consultors, various works on the papal liturgy have been published: Liturgies of Eastern Christianity in Rome during the Marian Year 1987-88 (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1990); Ordo exsequiarum Romani Pontificis and Ordo Rituum Conclavis (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2000); Ordo for the inauguration of the Petrine ministry of the Bishop of Rome (at the stage of final draft); Magnum Iubilæum on characteristic celebrations during the Jubilee of the Year 2000; and a book on the Sede vacante, presently in proofs.


4. Conclusion 

We began by speaking of the sacramental nature of the Church in order to emphasise the importance of movements or gestures in the liturgy, and particularly the movement of God: in the liturgy Christ himself becomes the gesture of the Church. This movement has a natural beauty of its own, the beauty of simplicity and love, which must always be respected. In her liturgy the Church makes use of the beauty of other signs such as images and elements of creation. The beauty of the liturgy is therefore first and foremost the beauty of Christ’s own movement in all its simplicity and love, but it is also the beauty of our movements and the beauty proper to the signs and elements of creation which the liturgy puts in harmonious order in time and space. The beauty of the liturgy is the order it creates within us and in our relationships with our brothers and sisters, it is the order it creates in our personal relationship with God. The beauty of the liturgy is something which transcends us. It is not a beauty which catches the eye immediately; it is not revealed by the gestures, signs or material elements, but rather shines through them. It is in fact a beauty which is sensed rather than seen. If we want a beautiful liturgy, we must let ourselves be led by the liturgy, by its spirit and by its rules. 

Beauty in the liturgy always calls for some renunciation on our part: we must renounce banality, over-imagination, extravagance. Moreover, the liturgy must be given the time and space it needs. We must not be in a hurry. Rather than taking the initiative, we must allow God the freedom to speak to us and reach us through his Word, through prayer, gestures, music, song, light, incense, fragrances. Like a musical composition, the liturgy needs space, time, silence, detachment from ourselves, so that words, gestures and signs may speak to us of God. 

On this fortieth anniversary of the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, if we wish to have a more ‘beautiful’ liturgy, we should reflect on some problems connected with the implementation of the liturgical reform.  

a) Active participation. During the first stage of the implementation of the reform, participation assumed a mainly exterior and didactic aspect, which later often degenerated to a sort of over-participation, at all costs and in every manner. The liturgy is not the sum of the emotions of a group of persons and much less a receptacle for personal feelings. It is above all time and space to interiorise the words we listen to and the sounds we hear in the liturgy, to make our own the actions performed, to assimilate the texts recited and sung, to let ourselves be penetrated by the images seen and the fragrances smelt. 

b) Liturgical presidency. Quality of signs demands first of all quality in presiding at the celebration. The person who presides in front of the assembly is not only watched, he is approved and judged as he carries out his role in persona Christi or, we could say, as the “icon of Christ” in the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the role of presiding can only be exercised properly if it takes into account the quality of assembly and is able to respond to the expectations of the people of God. The person who presides presides in some way in persona Ecclesiæ. Avoiding all forms of protagonism, the priest moulded by an authentic spirit of the liturgy will preside at the synaxis «as one who serves» (Lk 22:27), in the image of the One of whom he is only a humble sign. This is why the quality of liturgical presidency, at its best and in its most fruitful form, will be much more than simply the art of presiding, a mere savoir faire; it will be a principle of communion, born of a deep awareness that the entirety of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is found only in the entirety of the Church. 

c) The beauty and the dignity of worship. At the beginning of the third millennium it is necessary to show a Church which celebrates, prays and lives the Mystery of Christ in the dignity and the beauty of its celebration. A beauty which is not only aesthetic formalism, but is rooted in “noble simplicity” and is capable of revealing the relationship between the human and the divine in the liturgy. We are speaking of the dynamic of the Incarnation: all that the Only-Begotten Son, the fullness of grace and truth, visibly accomplished, has passed into the sacraments of the Church. Beauty should allow the presence of Christ to be seen at the centre of the liturgy: this presence will be all the more evident to the extent that contemplation, adoration, bestowal and thanksgiving are clearly seen. 

«In his presence are splendour and majesty, in his sanctuary power and beauty» (Ps 96:6). The Psalmist sings not only of the beauty of the Lord’s resplendent dwelling, he exclaims that: «every work that He does is full of splendour and beauty» (Ps 111:3). What other reality of the Church is called to harmonize and express beauty in the same way as her liturgical space and her liturgical action? Not only the place but also the action, that is, gesture, posture, movement, clothing, ought to speak of harmony and beauty. Every liturgical gesture, being a gesture of Christ, is called to express beauty. 

In this way the liturgy, thanks also to its beauty, will continue to be the source and summit, and the school and norm of Christian life.



 Titular Archbishop of Martirano
Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations 



[1] A. Bugnini, The Liturgical Reform (1948-1975) pp. 805-806. 

[2] Sermo 74, 2: PL 54,358. 

[3] Roman Missal, IV Eucharistic Prayer

[4] The Catechism of the Catholic Church (nn. 1181-1186) gives a good presentation of each of these spaces for celebration and also stresses the need to promote the beauty of sacred art (Nos. 2502-2503). 

[5] Cf. the beautiful volume La Cappella Redemptoris Mater del Papa Giovanni Paolo II, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1999. 

[6] John Paul II, Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Africa (14-9-1995), No. 25: 14, 3040. 




† Piero Marini
Titular Archbishop of Martirano
Master of the Liturgical Celebrations
of the Supreme Pontiff