Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pope Francis: A Vatican Lightning Strike? A Curial Earthquake? Or Just Plain Priest?

Pope Francis as a simple priest in simple vestments in a real parish church.  What?  No St Peters' Basilica? No fiddle back vestments from Gammarelli? No Gregorian Chant? No condemnations?

This morning in Rome Pope Francis said Mass for the small Vatican City congregation at the Church of Santa Anna.  There have been no reports of wealthy Latin American Catholics greasing the hand of his Personal Secretary with $50,000 'donations' to attend this Mass.  OK he still hasn't appointed a personal secretary so accepting 'donations' of this sort would be premature, except that I highly doubt such a thing will ever happen.  What is sort of mind boggling is Francis actually said a Mass in a real parish and not in the privacy of his personal quarters or the theatrical stage of St Peter's basilica. I might actually be having a moment of cognitive dissonance.  This is not at all like the last two papacies.

Speaking of cognitive dissonance,  I am sure liturgical traditionalists may be sinking into a state of apoplexy, there was no incense, no Gregorian chant, no concelebrants dressed in the finest clerical drag, no sight at all of any fiddle back chasubles, no mitres and gold crosses, nothing remotely different from any run of the mill Novus Ordo celebration of the Mass.  And lest I forget, no ruby red slippers.  Synthetics, and vernacular, and short sermons, Oh my!

The following article is from Asia News.  I've edited it for length, but it does give the flavor of what happened this morning in Rome.  

Pope Francis as parish priest at Sant'Anna: the Lord never gets tired of forgiving

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - "The Lord never gets tired of forgiving. Never! It is we who get tired to ask for his forgiveness. Let us ask for the grace of never getting tired to ask for forgiveness because He never gets tired of forgiving. Let us ask for this grace," said Pope Francis at the end of his homily during the Mass he celebrated this morning in the Church of Sant'Anna, the parish church of the Vatican City. (It's easy to imagine that Catholics of all persuasions will find themselves having to forgive this Pope over and over as he blows through protocol after protocol, or reinforces the sexual morality of the 12th century, or sets expectations for behavior which do not include a daily dose of Starbucks.)

Like a parish priest, the pontiff celebrated the Mass in a simple and sober manner, without incense and solemn processions, backed by a choir not always in tune, delivering his homily from the ambo. Like a parish priest, he went to the church door to say goodbye to each parishioner, hugging babies, talking to the faithful, moving some to tears.

The pope's homily was brief, delivered without a prepared text, and was centred on the Gospel of the Fifth Sunday of Lent (John, 8:1-11), i.e. the story of the woman caught in adultery.

After a moment of silence before the lectionary, the pontiff said, "This is beautiful. Before, Jesus alone on the mountain, praying. He was praying alone. Then, he went again to the Temple, and all the people came to him. Jesus was in the middle of the people who, eventually, left him alone with the woman."
"Jesus' solitude is fruitful, that of praying with the Father; that, so beautiful, in today's Church message, that of mercy towards this woman."

"There was a difference among the people," he noted. "All the people came to him. He sat down and began teaching them. Some people wanted to hear Jesus' words. They were the people with an open heart, in need of the Word of God. But there were others who felt nothing; they could not feel. They were the ones who went with the woman and who wanted to condemn her."

"We too, I think, are [like] this people who, on the one hand want to hear Jesus, and on the other like to beat others, right? Condemn others, don't we? Condemn others. But Jesus' message is one of mercy. For me-I say this with humility-the Lord's strongest message is mercy. He said himself, 'Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but the sick do. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance but sinners."

"He comes to us when we acknowledge that we are sinners," the pope added. "But if we are like the Pharisee before the altar, [who said], 'Thank you, Lord, for not making me like all the other men, and especially not like that fellow at the door, like that publican . . .'. ' well, then we do not know the heart of the Lord, and we shall not ever have the joy of feeling this mercy. It is not easy to trust oneself to the mercy of God, because [His mercy] is an unfathomable abyss, but we must do it."........

.......At the ambo, the pope introduced to the congregation some young priests from Argentina, currently in Rome, and the auxiliary bishop of his former Archdiocese of Buenos Aires.
Before the entire assembly, he singled one priest, Fr Gonzalo, who works with street kids and drug addicts in Argentina where he has set up a school to give young people a job. As the pope warmly hugged him, he said, "Pray for him!"

After that, the Holy Father went outside the church to say goodbye to the faithful. Outside of the church, near the Porta sant'Anna, a crowd was waiting and gave him a round of applause, shouting "Francis, Francis!"


Tom Roberts states in an NCR article posted this morning that if any group of people understands the power of symbols, it's Catholics.  After our current Pope's first five days in office, it's pretty apparent Pope Francis understands that power as well.  I too frequently got the symbolic message from the last two papacies that the Church was about the priesthood and especially the priesthood. From this Pope the message is coming strong and fast and repetitively:  The Church is about it's people, especially it's poor people, it's everyday people, it's broken people.  Priests are to be servants and lead through service.  They are not be the cheer leaders for the condemnation of 'others'.  Cardinal Raymond Burke has to be reaching for the Prozac or maybe the Ativan.  This Pope is not at all about Burke's kind of Church.

It will be fun to see what kind of show the Vatican puts on for Pope Fraincis' installation.  It will tell us symbol loving Catholics quite a bit about the relationship between Pope Francis and the 'reform of the reform' liturgical vision, a vision that Archbishop Piero Marini, the Vatican's liturgical ring master wallowed in under Pope Benedict.  I don't think we will be seeing the Medici era papal vestments to which we plebeians have become accustomed. Sometimes small symbolic statements portend much larger statements.

One symbolic statement I am wondering about is how Pope Francis will reconcile papal travel with the cost of that travel. He's already told the Argentine bishops not to fly to Rome for his installation but to give the money they would have spent to ministries for the poor.  When he travels as Pope he will be incurring huge costs for the countries he visits.  A country like Brazil can afford those costs, and I have no doubt we will see Pope Francis at World Youth Day, but I wouldn't be surprised if World Youth Day was scaled down in splendor and not the massive papal idolatry show we have seen at the last two World Youth Days.  Or maybe Francis will decide to have all those youth stay home and spend their time and money on ministering to their own poor in their own backyard.  That would be quite the statement about what Catholicism is about--not Rock Star Popes, but poor people in your own backyard.

Whatever the future portends, the present must be a huge culture shock for Vatican security forces.  News reports from Rome say Francis made another unscripted, incognito trip to a Rome hospital to visit a sick friend.  This really reminds me of the Morris West novel The Shoes of the Fisherman about a fictional pope who insisted on doing his own thing in a world torn between ideologies--no red slippers for this fictional pope either.  Whatever else one can say about Pope Francis, he does not seem to be a man beholden to much more than his take on the Gospels--not the Jesuits, not the Vatican, not Vatican security forces, or Vatican protocol.  It's going to be one very interesting papacy for everybody.

(This is just a personal aside, and a question for readers.  Is it just me, or does Pope Francis look different in different photos?)

 And an addendum from Vatican Insider.  Apparently some symbolic gestures of Pope Francis are causing some others to rethink their use of corporate assets:

 There is one particular concern meandering in the Tower built by Nicholas V, the headquarters of the IOR, the Institute for Works of Religion. Hundreds of thousands of euros were spent on just one market research study and the finger is pointed at the president of the "Vatican Bank". People who are used to using the large official vehicles of the Vatican fleet to ferry them back and forth are beginning to think that it might be much better to take a taxi. Better not to risk it. The Pope, who is used to taking the minibus with his "Cardinal brethren", standing in line for breakfast at the self-service restaurant in the Domus Sanctae Marthae and settling his hotel bill in person, could look out of the window and see that he is surrounded by people who are not getting the drift and not following suit.
"Self-reform" might not relate only to the Holy See, the Vatican, and the style of the Curia. It could also extend to the dioceses.


  1. It's John XXIII all over again and I'm old enough to remember! Francis will probably stumble and fall a bit over the sexual stuff, but wow what a sea change. John 23 kept popping up unexpectedly all over Rome to the consternation of his handlers. The warmth, the charm, the immediacy, imagine greeting the Pope outside your parish church. "Hi, good morning."

  2. I think that is going to be much easier to imagine because Francis made it a point to refer to himself as Bishop of Rome. I can easily see where on any given Sunday he may just be the priest saying Mass at your local Rome Parish.

    The lightening strike on St Peter's on the eve of Benedict's resignation announcement is looking more and more prophetic.

  3. Indeed, the Reform of the Reform folks are getting their panties twisted in a bunch over this! Especially when Pope Francis hoped for a "poor" church! That sent out some shock waves. There's going to be some real ire directed at this man from the Triumphalist bunch. It already is brewing on some of the usual sites. Hard to be a Papist when the Pope's not fulfilling your Tridentine liturgical fantasies.

  4. Rick, I had to edit a couple of words in your post and can't do that directly from my Disqus page. So the original comment will probably get deleted. I have reposted your comment minus a few personal descriptors of a certain conservative blogger. :)

    Rick Larsen • an hour ago
    I love your comment about Cardinal Burke. He isn't alone in grabbing for
    the meds after last week. Father Z., is still trying to figure out how to react to all of this. He's doing his best spinning to come down on the right side in this. Who knows? Maybe he will have to get a real job as a priest instead of jacking around on theinternet all day. It will be fun watching how he justifies his obsession with the latin liturgy, lacy vestments, etc., while Pope Francis doesn't seem to give a whit about it.
    If Pope Francis wants to make an impression on me, he will depose Robert Finn from his post and give him a desk job somewhere. Finn's presence as Bishop is a pus-filled wound that must be lanced.

  5. I've been reading Rorate Caeli and those folks are far from happy. Fr Z can't be too happy either, as Rick intimates below. Fr Z's last post is another attack on the NCR. When in doubt scream and shout--and attack the 'Fishwrap' and it's readership. Wow.

  6. The Rorate Caeli people are too much...I checked out their site and found Francis accused of everything from bad manners to a lack of humility(!) for not following tradition. At least one commenter admitted to losing sleep over it, and another admits to wanting to cry.

    It is difficult to avoid seeing this abrupt change in style as a kind of criticism of Ratzinger. I guess any fears that Ratzinger's successor would feel restricted by his continued presence can be laid to rest.

  7. Sure, he's got a practiced populist knack, but he's as orthodox as they come, no friend to all the fantasies of the Boomers. After all, didn't he call gay marriage the work of the devil, the father of lies? It amazes me that so many people can be so easily beguiled by a few man-of-the-people PR gestures.

  8. Symbols and window dressing are nice. There is a "rebranding" effort underway. But I'm interested in the substance. Is the hierarchy making a pretense of caring about real people, or do they really want to show that love is the "main thing" and not illusions of purity through exclusion and rejection of the marginalized? Time will tell. Is it the iron fist or the open hand of welcome to all.

  9. Pace, I don't know where most of the hierarchy is on showing love is the main thing. I have very little doubt Pope Francis is the real deal. Gay Mystic has a very interesting article in which the trads are off the deep end over Francis' approval of an adoption by a gay couple. If this is true, that would be a biggie and indicative of a very open hand--ala JPI.

  10. I can get the skepticism, but hey, at least he's got the limousine using upper clerics rethinking their humility quotient. That's a start.

  11. I find it very hard to believe that someone who called adoption by gay couples "a form of discrimination against children" would later approve of an adoption by a gay couple. I would love to believe that he changed his mind, but I have a feeling this is going to be another "Cardinal Law-banished-to-a-monastery" kind of story.

  12. Isn't that how it goes? Any sign of individuality, or personal conscience or just plain difference in aesthetics is always attacked as a lack of humility. The attackers pile on with this one., never seeing their own lack of humility in deciding that their own version is the only possible correct one.

  13. I know and it's get so old when conservatives have attacked progressives for the last forty years about recreating the Church in our own selfish image. Now that the shoe is on the other foot to some extent, I can only hope some of them understand selfishness is not the sole property of one side of the equation.

  14. Amen, and let's hope that Pope Francis discourages the clerical bling and lace we've been viewing the last few years.

  15. The Pope took the correct action with Cardinal Burke.
    He should send him packing as a Priest to another country.He should be retrained and sent to St Stanislous Church in St Louis..Yes the one he Sensured, banished,and excommunicated the whole congragation of Parishioners.
    Then sent to China