The Holy See Search





On 13 March 2006 a Symposium organised by the Catholic Bishops Conference of Germany was held in Frankfurt on the theme “Wir sind Papst” - Gottesdienste im Fernsehen (“We are Pope” - Masses on Television), dealing with the televised broadcasts of the funeral of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI. Archbishop Piero Marini, Master of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, was one of the speakers.

Here is the English translation of his address Bilder eines besonderen Osterfestes, April / Mai 2005.

I. Introduction

At the end of December 2005, I gladly accepted an invitation to take part in the Symposium “Wir sind Papst” - Gottesdienste im Fernsehen, organised in Frankfurt by the German Bishops’ Conference, quite certain that no written intervention was required. This was how I understood the invitation to take part in the Symposium as Gesprächspartner. Only on reading the programme in late January 2006 did I realise I had been allotted time for a 45 minute intervention.

So I prepared this paper with information and reflections about the Papal Liturgies celebrated during April and May 2005 and the connected television broadcasts. The paper is evidently more concerned with the liturgical experience than with the televised broadcasts.

II. Preparation of the Celebrations

1. The new “Ordines”

The celebrations which accompanied the different events concerning the death of John Paul II, the Conclave and the election of Benedict XVI and the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome were carefully prepared by the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.

The Office is charged with «preparing everything necessary for the liturgical celebrations and other sacred celebrations performed by the Supreme Pontiff or on his behalf and directing them according to the rules of liturgical law in force» (Office Regulations art. 1).

Other important tasks of the Office include:

- revision of the celebrations in keeping with the spirit of the Second Vatican Council and the aspects proper to the celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff (cf. art. 4 § 2);

- publication of texts, both for celebrations in Rome and for Apostolic Journeys (cf. art. 8 § one; art. 10).

For the celebrations of April-May 2005 the Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff published three new Ordines which provided the texts and outlined the development of the rites.

Following the regulations found in Nos. 27 and 46 of the Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis (22 February 1996), the Office, with the collaboration of its Consultors, undertook the revision of the book De Funere Summi Pontificis used in 1978 for the funerals of Popes Paul VI and John Paul I and prepared the new volume with the title Ordo Exsequiarum Romani Pontificis. The Office also undertook the revision of the Ordo Sacrorum Rituum Conclavis of 1978 and prepared the new Ordo Rituum Conclavis. The volumes, approved by Pope John Paul II on 5 February 1998, were printed in the year 2000.

As soon as the first two volumes were printed the Office began the preparation of a third, with the title: Ordo Rituum Pro Ministerii Petrini Initio Romæ Episcopi.

The volume, approved by Pope Benedict on 20 April  2005 and printed, like the two previous ones, by the Vatican Printing Press, completed the revision of the rites concerning the end and the beginning of the Pontificate of the Bishop of Rome.

2. The spirit behind the revision

The revision which produced the new Ordines followed the principles of the liturgical reform called for by Vatican II: the supreme importance of Sacred Scripture, a return to the norm of the Fathers, emphasis on the values of signs, the criterion of noble simplicity.

From the complicated regulations and the rites marked by exteriority and repetition which characterized the period of the Vacant See in the past, there has been a gradual movement, beginning with the revision undertaken in 1978, towards rites marked by noble simplicity and beauty, more suited to the mentality and needs of our time, and in keeping with the principles and the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

The spiritual and ecclesial significance and the pastoral purpose of the celebrations are outlined in the text of the Introduction to each of the Ordines.

In March 2005, for an easier understanding and use of the volumes of the first two Ordines and for the special period of the Vacant See, the Office published a volume entitled  Sede Apostolica Vacante.

At present, a second study volume is being prepared as a commentary to the Ordo Rituum Pro Ministerii Petrini Initio Romæ Episcopi. It will hopefully be published in April, for the first anniversary of the election of the new Pontiff.

3. The text of the “Præparanda”

The Office for Liturgical Celebrations, as is customary, also made practical and detailed preparations for the celebrations of the months April-May 2005. Practical indications for each celebration were contained in two booklets: the first Rito delle Esequie del Romano Pontefice – “Præparanda” and the second: Riti del Conclave – “Præparanda”. The two booklets, privately printed for the use of our Office personnel only, contained, in addition to the texts of the “Notifications” which the Office sends to various persons involved, a complete list of what needed to be prepared: the arrangement of the places of the celebrations, relative furnishings, vestments, sacred vessels and other objects needed for the rites, together with topographical maps showing the exact position of each object, including positions for television cameras, and the various movements planned.

4. Booklets for the participation of the faithful

As usual, for each of the celebrations the Office prepared booklets containing texts in different languages, the musical parts and the rubrics:

1. Traslazione della salma del Sommo Pontefice Giovanni Paolo II nella Basilica Vaticana (The Transfer of the Remains of the Supreme Pontiff John Paul II to the Vatican Basilica)

2. Messa esequiale del Romano Pontefice (The Funeral Mass of the Roman Pontiff)

3. Santa Messa per l’Elezione del Romano Pontefice e Ingresso in Conclave (The Holy Mass for the Election of the Roman Pontiff and Entrance in Conclave)

4. Inizio del Ministero Petrino del Vescovo di Roma Benedetto XVI. Visita alla Basilica di San Paolo Fuori le Mura (The Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome Benedict XVI; The Visit to the Basilica of Saint Paul outside the Walls)

5. Celebrazione Eucaristica e Insediamento sulla Cathedra Romana del Vescovo di Roma Benedetto XVI. Visita alla Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. (Eucharistic Celebration and Installation on the Roman Cathedra of the Bishop of Rome Benedict XVI. Visit to the Basilica of St Mary Major)

The booklets, based on the Ordines mentioned above, were prepared for each celebration, for the use not only of the faithful present at the rite but also of the communications media.

5. Press Conferences

The Office for Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff, in arrangement with the Holy See Press Office, gave two press conferences.

In the late morning of Tuesday 5 April 2005 the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations illustrated the celebrations concerning the Funeral of the Roman Pontiff and the Rites of the Conclave. On that occasion the Ordo Exsequiarum Romani Pontificis, the Ordo Rituum Conclavis and the volume Sede Apostolica Vacante were presented to the media.

On Saturday 23 April at 12.30 p.m., at the second press conference, Mons. Crispino Valenziano, a Consultor of the Office, described the Rites of the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of the Bishop of Rome, dwelling on history and on the ritual innovations contained in the new Ordo.

The media conferences were of great help for communications media. Everyone had the opportunity to know beforehand the texts and the development of the different rites, and to understand and appreciate the meaning of the celebrations.

III. A few images of that exceptional Easter

The events which accompanied the celebration of Easter 2005 in Rome were an opportunity for the Church to experience in an exceptional way the paschal mystery of Christ crucified and risen.

1. Images of suffering

Through the communications media, the attention of the Church and the world was first concentrated on the Pasch of suffering experienced by John Paul II.  «In the end, however, his was a journey of suffering and silence. Unforgettable for us are the images of Palm Sunday when, holding an olive branch and marked by pain, he came to the window and imparted the Lord's Blessing as he himself was about to walk towards the Cross. Next was the scene in his Private Chapel when, holding the Crucifix, he took part in the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum, where he had so often led the procession carrying the Cross himself. Lastly came his silent blessing on Easter Sunday, in which we saw the promise of the Resurrection, of eternal life, shine out through all his suffering.» (Benedict XVI, Address to the Roman Curia, 22 December 2005). This Easter setting of the death of John Paul II is alluded to in the opening words of the Rogitum placed in the Pontiff’s coffin: John Paul II died «in the light of Christ Risen from the dead, on 2 April in the year of the Lord 2005, at 9.37 in the evening, as Saturday was coming to a close and we had already entered the Lord’s Day, the Octave of Easter and the Sunday of Divine Mercy». The Church of Rome experienced, as never before, days marked by the paschal spirit. Day and night, for several days, a river of people filed past the body of the Pope in the Basilica of St Peter, a sign of a Church united with her Shepherd and journeying towards the eternal Passover.

The liturgy, source and summit of the life of the Church, truly succeeded in uniting many different feelings and in expressing faith in the Resurrection. The Pope’s funeral was celebrated in the three stages called for by the Ordo and in an exemplary manner. We can recall certain images of Friday 8 April:

- the white silk veil placed over the face of the Pontiff inside St Peter’s Basilica;

- the coffin in St Peter’s Square resting simply on a carpet on the ground, with the open Book of the Gospels upon it, and the Easter Candle standing next to it;

- the hymn: “Christ is risen from the dead”, the Troparium of the Resurrection from the Eastern Churches, being sung at the end of the funeral;

- the Pope’s coffin being shown to the faithful for the last time at the door of the Basilica beneath the tapestry of the Risen Christ, and the people’s final greeting of uncontrollable applause;

- the coffin being placed in the soil of the Vatican Grottoes, close to the tomb of the Apostle Peter.

2. Images of expectation

After the Pope’s funeral, television cameras focussed on the College of Cardinals meeting in the General Congregations and on the Conclave itself.  Certain images of this event are also vividly etched in our memory:

- the evocative entrance procession into the Sistine Chapel, accompanied by the chanting of the Litany of the Saints, the sign of the Church on her pilgrim way, preceded by the Book of the Gospels;

- the singing of the Veni Creator, the image of a community at one in prayer;

- the Book of the Gospels placed at the centre of the Sistine Chapel, as it is in all of the most important gatherings in the life of the Church.

3. Images of joy

Easter 2005 also experienced the joy and novelty of the election of a new Pope. I recall the emotion experienced during the reading of the Gospel of the Primacy of Peter in front of the new Pope in the Sistine Chapel. We all recall the joy of the announcement of the new Pope and his name Benedict XVI; the few words spoken by the Pope from the balcony of the Basilica, his simple, humble gestures, his smiling face.

The celebration for the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry in Saint Peter’s Square offered some images which were innovative for the tradition of papal liturgies. Certain rites were performed for the first time: an initial statio (stop) of the Pope and the concelebrants at the Confessio (Tomb) of the Apostle Peter where the Pallium and the Ring of the Fisherman had been placed; their imposition immediately after the proclamation of the Gospel (Jn 21:15-19), of the Pallium restored to the form it had in the first Christian millennium, and the consigning of the Fisherman’s Ring, once more a ring proper to the Bishop of Rome.

The Rites for the Inauguration of the Pontificate then led the new Pope to visit on 25 April the Basilica of Saint Paul, in order to express physically the Church of Rome’s inseparable bond with the Apostle of the Nations and the Fisherman of Galilee.

The Rites for the Inauguration of the Pontificate closed on 7 May with the enthronement of the Bishop of Rome on the Roman Cathedra in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. We all recall with emotion the image of the Pope as he walked up to the Cathedra and took his seat, and the words which accompanied the moment of taking possession: «Your chair is the chair of Peter, upon whom the Church is built. You are the “Servant of the Servants of God” »; and we all remember the Pope standing in prayer in front of the icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary Salus Populi Romani in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, which concluded the circulum of the new Pope’s visit to the four Patriarchal Basilicas.

Looking back at the spring of 2005, the many images of suffering, expectation and joy which accompanied the death of John Paul II, the Conclave and the inauguration of the pontificate of Benedict XVI, were, and continue to be, a clear sign of the Paschal Mystery as experienced by the whole Church in her celebration of the Liturgy.

IV. Radio and television broadcasts

The images of April-May 2005 which I have just evoked come from my direct participation in those events, without the mediation of television.

Vast numbers of people, however, witnessed the same events through the eyes of television. They memories are essentially those of televised images.

Both real memory and television memory always accompany the great events of papal celebrations.

1. Specific elements of papal celebrations

Important celebrations at which the Pope presides are characterized by certain specific elements which affect the celebration itself and, even more, the televised broadcast and commentary.

The person of the celebrant

The celebrant, namely the Holy Father, inevitably has an impact on the celebrations, giving them a marked ecclesial tone of universality. On the other hand, the attention given to the person of the Pope, which has increased since Vatican II as a result of the apostolic journeys undertaken by the Popes to many parts of the world, can condition certain moments of the celebration. From the ritual point of view, it is difficult for the assembly to sing the entrance and closing hymns because of the applause. Television producers can also tend to focus too much the celebrant and too little on the various other offices and ministries and on the assembly.

The composition of the assembly

The assembly present at papal celebrations is almost always varied: faithful of different languages and cultures. This fact affects the preparation and the development of the celebration. For example, it is impossible, in my opinion, not to consider in this situation the use of Latin, Gregorian chant, modern languages and, at times, some elements of different rites and cultures.

On important occasions the assembly also includes the presence of distinguished persons: the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See, official delegations from various countries, kings and queens, heads of state, numerous cardinals and bishops. This was also the case with the principal celebrations in April-May 2005. Indeed for the celebrations of 8 and 24 April, we had the presence of numerous delegations of the Eastern Catholic Churches, delegations of other Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities and delegations of other religions.

V. Television and radio broadcast of the Funeral Mass and the Mass for the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry

1. The work of various agencies

Media coverage of the events of Easter 2005 involved the activity of several agencies of the Holy See: the Pontifical Council for Social Communications; the Holy See Press Office; the Vatican Television Centre.

A few facts suffice to give an idea of the work of the Press Office and the Pontifical Council for Social Communications.

- Press Office

The Press Office deals with journalists. In the month of April, the Office accredited 6,710 journalists from 106 different countries. The nationality of a journalist may not always correspond to that of the media for which he or she operates, particularly in the case of international newspapers, but it may be of interest to note the geographical origin of those 6,710 writers: 3,435 journalists from Europe, 1,215 from Latin America, 1,080 from North America, 490 from Asia, 295 from Oceania and 195 from Africa.

Moreover between the 18and 25 April the Holy See Press Office issued 13 Bulletins and 19 News Statements.

- The Pontifical Council for Social Communications

The Pontifical Council deals with television companies and photo agencies.  In the period 1-24 April 2005 it released: 4,843 certificates of accreditation to 876 different companies  (487 television companies, 296 photo agencies, 93 radio stations) representing 122 different countries.

- Vatican Television Centre (CTV)

Until 1978 the Holy See depended entirely on RAI (Italian Radio and Television) for the production and diffusion of television images from the Vatican. Pope John Paul II wanted Vatican Radio to be flanked by a Vatican television centre (CTV), a structure which at the beginning had very few means at its disposal but has gradually become a significant international presence.

Only on the occasion of major events in the Vatican, which call for a considerable outlay, are broadcasts produced jointly by CTV and RAI. CTV plays the role of «host» and RAI that of «special guest».

This was the situation for both the funeral of John Paul II and the solemn celebration of the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry of Benedict XVI. Those were the only occasions on which the RAI intervened in the months of April-May 2005.

All the other celebrations were filmed entirely by CTV and made available to RAI and other national and international channels.

2. Preparatory meeting with television producers

For the Celebrations of 8 and 24 April 2005, the Office was concerned that the televised broadcast would be as far as possible in harmony with the liturgical celebration. Prior to the funeral and the solemn inauguration of the Petrine Ministry, two meetings were held at the Office between those charged with the liturgy and representatives from CTV and RAI.  CTV, in agreement with the Office, entrusted the direction of both events to one RAI director. Moreover, for both celebrations the director was assisted by a Consultor from our Office who had taken part in the work of drafting the new Ordines.

Agreements reached by the Office for Celebrations, CTV and RAI dealt only with the broadcast of televised images. For the celebrations of the opening and closing of the Holy Door in the Jubilee Year 2000, we were able to reach an agreement on the texts of the commentary. The text was written beforehand under the supervision of the television director and experts from our Office. For the two celebrations in 2000, the commentator simply read the prepared text making no additional comments. In this way it was possible to respect fully the Liturgy and its language.

In 2005, however, the situation made it possible for the language of the media to prevail over the language of the liturgy.

3. Assessment of the two broadcasts

On the whole, positive judgements were expressed about the images broadcast by the CTV and the RAI.  On the other hand, considerable reserve was expressed about the television commentary broadcast in Italy.

We give below the opinions of two experts on television broadcasting. The first deals with the images of the funeral Mass, while the second deals with the commentary on RAI Channel I during the Mass for the Inauguration of the Pontificate.

The Funeral Mass (Fr. Virgilio Fantuzzi - Civiltà Cattolica).

Thanks to collaborative efforts, during the funeral the television cameras could focus on the concept of the Resurrection by linking the image of the cypress wood coffin placed at the centre of the sanctuary, to that of the Easter Candle burning beside it. Another significant connection was made by close-ups of the Book of the Gospels open on the coffin, its pages turned by the wind, and close-ups of the Book of the Gospels carried by the deacon in procession for the proclamation of the Gospel. Close-ups of the faithful present were purposely avoided, as were those of the representatives of States, in order to give precedence to the relationship between the principal celebrant and the entire assembly. Skilful use was made of the iconographic material around the altar: the large wooden crucifix, the tapestry hanging from the central balcony of the Basilica with the image of the Risen Christ, the Marian icon which was framed during the singing of the Magnificat. The rites which immediately preceded and followed  the funeral Mass (i.e., the closing of the coffin and the burial) were filmed for documentation by the CTV, but not broadcast.

The Mass for the Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry (Dr. Franco Iseppi - RAI executive).

The presence of a anchor and various reporters - an historian, a Vatican expert, a liturgist - meant that their voices often overshadowed the liturgical events. Significant attention was given to commentary about the national delegations present, about whether enemy countries exchanged the sign of peace, etc.

Too little attention was given to the signs of the liturgy: the entrance procession, the Laudes Regiæ, the tapestries on the facade of the Vatican Basilica, the Pallium of the Shepherd, the Ring of the Fisherman, the pledge of obedience made on behalf of the people of God .

The commentary was more in the line of journalistic reportage. The commentary as a whole appeared as a text which went on its own way, along a path parallel to that of the Liturgy, the latter in many cases being presented consistently only by the images.

The figure of the Pope was presented mainly from the spectacular aspect, television being seen primarily as a means of entertainment.

The aspect of entertainment prevailed, with the event being related to the cultural and political domain.  It was more important to “report news”, than to allow the contents of the euchological and musical texts to emerge and above all to interpret the linkage between the different parts of the liturgy. One had the overall impression of a description of a ceremony rather than a celebration itself.

VI. Conclusion

From “Urbe” to “Orbe”

On the occasion of the funeral Mass and the Mass for the Inauguration of the Pontificate, television gave a universal dimension to Saint Peter’s Square. Truly the arms of Bernini’s columns opened up to hold the whole world in their embrace. In the past, the Pope’s Blessing was announced to the city - the Urbe - with a cannonade from the ramparts of Castel Sant’Angelo. Today, thanks to television, the Pope enters, and is in some way present, in the homes of millions of faithful all over the globe - the Orbe. Beyond the many open questions about the relationship between liturgical celebration and televised broadcasts, this is a fact which cannot be overlooked.

The temptation to focus on the spectacular

The media of the whole world were mobilized for the events of April 2005.  Perhaps never before had there been so strong a temptation for them to present the liturgy primarily as spectacle. The celebrations of 8 and 24 April, given their uniqueness, the special composition of the congregation and their naturally dramatic character, gave the media an extraordinary opportunity to show viewers throughout the world events that were spectacular and one of a kind, rather than events of a profoundly religious nature.  At times, there were two parallel rites and languages: those of the actual celebration of the liturgy and those of the virtual radio and television broadcasts.

The relation between liturgical celebration and audio-visual communication

In dealing with television broadcasts of liturgical celebrations, especially liturgical celebrations of the Pope, the question of the relationship between liturgical direction and television direction naturally arises. Liturgy consists of texts, gestures and rites which must be performed with respect for the norms and with dignity and beauty. Liturgy does indeed have an aspect of spectacle, but it goes far beyond that.  The particular structure of the liturgy thus demands a suitable audio-visual treatment.  In other words television direction and audio commentary should respect, as far as possible, the contents and the context of the liturgical celebration. This means that both the television director and the commentator need to study beforehand the texts and the ritual sequences and how they are connected, contacting the person responsible for planning the celebration, visiting the place where the Liturgy will take place and being present at the rehearsal held before every celebration.

For television broadcasts of liturgical celebration to be of high quality, three fundamental elements must work together:

The celebration itself must be exemplary in the choice of texts, hymns and music, the ritual sequence and development of the celebration. This requires careful preparation and good liturgical direction. The person in charge of the celebration should be an expert liturgist, familiar with the history of liturgy, its spirit and norms, and give special attention to the pastoral dimension, in order to foster the active participation of the faithful. The celebration must always be marked by the noble simplicity and noble beauty called for by Vatican II.

The telecast must itself be well-executed, demonstrating an awareness of the theological and liturgical-pastoral significance of the celebration and its various parts. The director’s choice of images should not be guided by personal taste, which can be tempted by striking images or catchy details which have little to do with the meaning and structure of the rite. Rather, a good director must know how to choose the more significant and essential images to express the deepest meaning of the celebration or any given part of it. What is needed is reciprocal interplay of liturgical and audio-visual language.

The commentary must be sober and focused, fostering an understanding of the texts and rites and not dominating them.  It is important to realize that every televised broadcast of a liturgical event has two fundamental aspects: visual and audio. The work of the person organising the rite and the person directing the filming can be thwarted by inappropriate commentary. The “newsworthy” aspects of the event should be discussed before or after the celebration iself. During the rite one should hear only what pertains to the celebration and to its significance.

An Easter to remember

Easter 2005 will be remembered in Church history for the intensity with which events were experienced in Rome and communicated to the whole world through the media. Attention focused first on Pope John Paul II, then on the College of Cardinals, and finally on the new Pope Benedict XVI.

Many different images and emotions accompanied the succession of events, but they were linked by one overarching theme: the Church’s faith in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. The images broadcast throughout the world by countless television stations all revealed the face of a Church grieving for the death of her Pastor yet strong in her faith in Christ’s victory over death; a Church united in prayer as she awaited a new Pontiff; and a Church jubilant for the election of a new Pope, a gift of God’s goodness and providence.

When all is said and done, during the events of Easter 2005 it was the holy People of God that played the central role, not prominent personalities.  The main protagonist was not television, but the liturgy of the Church, celebrated in the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.


Archbishop Piero Marini