The Holy See Search






On Friday  17 March at 3.30 pm at the Catholic University of Milan, there was a presentation of the book 'Liturgia e Bellezza. Nobilis Pulchritudo', Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2005.

The event was organised by the University Pastoral Centre in collaboration with the Ludovico Necchi Association.

Speakers included Prof. Lorenzo Ornaghi, Rector of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore; Prof. Alberto Giussani, President of the L. Necchi Association; Mgr. Gianni Ambrosio, ecclesiastic assistant general of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and Mgr. Enrico Mazza, Docent of Liturgy at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore.

The event was preceded by the Celebration of Mass in the Chapel of the Sacro Cuore at 12.30 presided by Archbishop Piero Marini, Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations.

Here is the text of the presentation given by the author.



1.      The idea of the volume

The idea of the book Liturgy and Beauty. Nobilis Pulchritudo published in the Summer of 2005 by the Libreria Editrice Vaticana, followed the publication of a shorter book the previous year by the same Libreria Editrice Vaticana entitled 'The 40th anniversary of the Sacrosanctum Concilium. Memory of an Experience.'

As soon as the first book was published the Bishop President of the Liturgical Commission of France asked if he could publish it in French. However, the publication entrusted to Editions du Cerf, did not foresee the inclusion of the illustrations and was then too short for a separate publication in French. The director of Editions du Cerf suggested that to that basic text others might be added and so I arranged a more complete work. The result was the present volume which, being at least in part a juxtaposition of various texts, inevitably presents some repetition.

The volume Liturgy and Beauty. Nobilis Pulchritudo has two parts. Each part is then divided into two chapters.

2.      The contents

a.       Part I of the book Memoria e attualità di una esperienza, (Memory and Relevance of an Experience) presents the text of the Constitution on the Liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium underlining the perennial validity of the principles of the conciliar renewal proposed by the Constitution itself. It also takes an overall view of these 40 years of implementation of the liturgical reform, highlighting the benefits brought to the Church and illustrating the tasks facing liturgical pastoral as it continues along the great lines of theology and life outlined by the Council.

I would now read a few texts from the first part of the book.

- The first, by Pope Paul VI, is taken precisely from the address given on the occasion of the promulgation of the Sacrosanctum Concilium (pp. 54-55): “Our spirit therefore exults with true joy for in the way things have gone. We note respect for a right scale of values and duties: God must hold first place; prayer to him is our first duty. The liturgy is the first source of the divine communion in which God shares his own life with us. It is also the first school of the spiritual life. The liturgy is the first gift we must make to the Christian people united to us by faith and the fervour of their prayers. It is also a primary invitation to the human race so that all may lift their now mute voices in blessed and genuine prayer and thus may experience that ineffable, regenerative power to be found when they join us in proclaiming the praises of God and the hopes of the human heart through Christ the Lord and in the Holy Spirit ” (1).

Since our context here is that of a university I would call attention to another text included in the first part of the book on the promotion of liturgical education (pp. 59-60):

- «If this is the nature of the liturgy and such is its importance in the life of the Church to the point that “no other action of the Church can equal its effectiveness by the same title and to the same degree ”, (2) one understands the pressing call made by the Constitution to promote the liturgical education of the faithful. To lead the faithful to understand the liturgy means to help them enter into contact with the very essence of the Christian mystery. Therefore it is said: “The liturgy is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit” (3) To define the liturgy  as the primary source and the indispensable source from which Christians can derive the spirit of their faith, is to reaffirm the essential bond which unites the life of the Christian with the liturgy. The liturgy is not primarily a doctrine to be understood, but an inexhaustible source of life and light for the intelligence and experience of the Christian mystery. For the Constitution, the Church must guarantee every Christian an authentic liturgical life because this is necessary for the quality of the life of faith, a profound harmony between what the liturgy communicates and what the Christian lives, according to the liturgical formula assumed by the Constitution: “hold fast in their lives to what they have grasped by the faith”»(4).

To keep in mind the Sacrosanctum Concilium and Tradition remains a binding task for both the present and the future (pp. 67-68).

- «We recommend– again it is Paul VI who speaks – that you dedicate the utmost care, … to knowledge, explanation, application of…the norms with which the Church desires … to celebrate the divine worship. This is no easy task; it is difficult task, it requires direct and methodical attention; it requires your personal, patient, loving and truly pastoral assistance. It is a question of changing many habits… it is a question of fostering a more active school of prayer and worship in every assembly of the faithful, ... in a word it is a question of associating the people of God with the priestly liturgical action. We repeat: this is a difficult and delicate matter; but, we would add: necessary, providential, renewing. And we hope: consoling … It will take years …, but we must start, again and again, and persevere in order to succeed and give the assembly its grave, unanimous voice, sweet and sublime».(5)

- «This is an ever relevant “task” - the author continues on page 68 –– for liturgical pastoral to undertake with renewed commitment, like the commitment of the Biblical people of God in the desert of the exodus when, besides signs of God's benevolence and working, there were also moments of nostalgia, contradiction and resistance. However the people of God is always on the way, and we can walk with joy certain that the Spirit enfolds us as in a cloud and goes before us as a pillar of fire. Yes, may the liturgy of the Council be for us the pillar of fire of the Spirit who renews the heart of the Church in her exodus towards the Kingdom continually and fills it with ever new beauty, joy and hope».

b.      The second part of the book deals with the implementation of the liturgical reform in one particular sector, that of the liturgical celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff. A unique sector but of vital importance for the whole Church, given the role the Bishop of Rome who is called to preside the universal Church in charity.

- (p. 76) «To appreciate the changes undertaken since then, 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 not by members of a papal court but rather by concelebrants and ministers who have a role in the celebration.».

The second part of the book not only describes the material elements used in the liturgy, illustrating renewal in the form and use of vestments, sacred furnishings, insignia,  it also traces this renewal to certain fundamental principles pinpointed by the Council and to the special nature of the liturgy's beauty.

I read on pages 91-92.

- «The Liturgy involves our human senses: sight, hearing, taste, touch. It makes use of icons, music, songs, light, flowers, and choreography. It needs elements of creation: wine, water, bread, salt, fire, ashes, etc. The Liturgy seems 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 on behalf of mankind: the whole of creation is called to join us as we render glory to the Father, through Christ, in the Holy Spirit. What is more, the Liturgy is also a call to us to have a relationship of harmony with creation.».

Here is another passage on the relationship between liturgy and beauty (p. 79):

«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 depends not essentially on the beauty of architecture, icons, decoration, songs, vestments, choreography and colours but first of 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».”».

In the last chapter, the beauty of papal liturgies is considered in the renewal of the insignia of the Petrine Ministry. The following excerpt explains the sense of this renewal (pp. 119-120):

- «Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) was the last of the Popes to be crowned with the tiara. It was he in fact who renounced this sign of power to make more evident the <service> to which the successor of Peter is called, following the example of the Lord Jesus who came «not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many» (Mt 20, 28). In 1964 at the request of the Pontiff the tiara was sold and the money given to the poor. Today that tiara is preserved in the treasury of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington … The Pontiff's initiative reformed in the spirit of Vatican II the use of a head-dress, the tiara, which had become for a few centuries an expression and sign of papal power, religious at the same time and temporal, today happily outdated. Replaced by the mitre, more suitable for expressing not power but the service of the bishop, the tiara is now a museum exhibit and a reminder of the necessity of a Church in a continual state of cleansing from earthly temptations that solely as a sign of the power of the Holy Spirit she may shine in the world».

The reform of the Shepherd's Pallium and the Fisherman's Ring in 2005 at the beginning of the Petrine Ministry of Pope Benedict XVI are to be understood along the same line.

3. Guiding elements

Part One of the book focuses entirely on the Sacrosanctum Concilium and its implementation in the Church. Part Two instead deals mainly with the implementation of the reform desired by the Council in Papal Liturgical Celebrations,. However throughout the contents of the volume the two parts are linked by certain guiding elements.

- A short passage of the Sacrosanctum Concilium introduces each of the four chapters. This is to recall that as the reform proceeds its point of departure and of reference is always the Constitution de Sacra Liturgia.

- A second element repeated throughout the work is expressed with an image of the Fisherman's Ring inserted before each chapter. These images, provided by the Vatican Library, are a reminder of the activity of the Bishop of Rome called to preside in love over the universal Church. The labour of the Fisherman of Galilee portrayed in the five images produced for different Popes, recalls untiring commitment to the liturgy above all of the most recent Roman Pontiffs. First of all Pope Paul VI who desired the reform: without him we would not have achieved the liturgical reform that we have today. And then the commitment of Pope John Paul who celebrated the Liturgy of the Council all over the world, in communities great and small, rendering it familiar to all languages and all cultures.

Lastly I would recall that the first official document approved by Pope Benedict XVI was a liturgical book: the Ordo Rituum Pro Ministerii Petrini Initio Romæ Episcopi. He too, like his immediate predecessors, carries on the labour of the Fisherman of Galilee to confirm the faith of the holy people of God by proclaiming the Word and celebrating the Sacraments.

- Another guiding element running through the book is expressed in the subtitle 'Memory of an Experience'.

In fact despite its brevity, in a way the book is the reflection of forty years of activity at the Holy See in Rome in the shadow of St Peter's. The first part of the book reflects the experience of twenty two years of activity initially with the Consilium ad exsequendam de Sacra Liturgia and then at the Congregation for Divine Worship. Whereas the second part of the book, focussed on the reform of papal liturgy, expresses the experience of the person responsible for the Holy Father's Liturgical Celebrations since 1987. I have indelible memories of my service during the pontificate of Pope Paul VI in those creative years of the liturgical reform from 1965 to 1975. I have cherished memories of celebrations and journeys shared with Pope John Paul II in Italy and all over the world. And, more recently, still vivid is the emotion experienced at the beginning of the Petrine Ministry of Benedict XVI.

4. To know in order to live

This book is then, in a way, the result of an experience. What is more it is intended as a call to all the faithful to strive to make of the Liturgy of the Council a living experience (page 131):

- «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.».

- «Forty years after the Sacrosanctum Concilium – I read at page 83 – we should 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 is it 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 emphasised by the Council.».


Vatican City, 15 March 2006.

Piero Marini


[1] Paul VI, address at the closing of the second session of the Council, 4 December 1963, in  Documents on the Liturgy  1963-1979: Conciliar, Papal and Curial Texts. International Committee on English in the Liturgy. DOL 2, Page27 Enchiridion Vaticanum, vol. 1, n. 212*.

[2] Vatican II Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 7.

[3] Vatican II Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 14.

[4] Vatican II Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 10.

[5] Lenten Discourse to the Roman clergy, in L’Osservatore Romano, 1-2 March 1965.