The guiding hand behind pope's pomp and ceremony

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Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2010

IN ROME On a rainy Christmas Eve, Pope Benedict XVI followed a procession of Swiss Guards, bishops and priests down the central nave of St. Peter's Basilica to celebrate midnight Mass before dignitaries and a global television audience.

And Monsignor Guido Marini, as always, followed the pope.

A tall, reed-thin cleric with a receding hairline and wire-framed glasses, Marini, 45, perched behind the pope's left shoulder, bowed with him at the altar and adjusted the pontiff's lush robes. As Master of Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations, he shadows the pope's every move and makes sure that every candle, Gregorian chant and gilded vestment is exactly as he, the pope and God intended it to be.

"The criterion is that it is beautiful," Marini said.

But beauty, especially when it comes to the rituals of Roman Catholic liturgy, is a topic of great debate between conservative and liberal Catholics, who hold differing views on everything from the music and language of the Mass to where a priest should stand and how he should give Communion.

Some of the key trappings of the Mass - the vestments and vernacular, the "smells and bells" - have taken on a more ancient air since Benedict succeeded John Paul II, and since Marini succeeded Piero Marini.

Piero, 68, is a gruff Vatican veteran, a progressive who advocates a more modern ritual that reflects the great church reforms of the 1960s. The younger and more punctilious Guido, who is not related to Piero, has argued for more traditional liturgical symbols and gestures - like the pope's preference that the faithful kneel to accept Communion - that some church liberals interpret as the harbinger of a counter-reformation.

'Battle of the Marinis'

The coincidence of their shared last names has resulted in YouTube links like "Battle of the Marinis." ("These things on the YouTube are fun but not important," said Marini the Second.) But within Vatican and wider liturgical circles, the Marini schism is actually a profound one about the direction of the church.

The liturgical changes enacted under Guido Marini are "a great microcosm for broader shifts in the church," said John Allen, a veteran Vatican watcher with the National Catholic Reporter.

Since the Marini II era began in October 2007, the papal Masses clearly have a stronger traditional element. Guido Marini, who has degrees in canon and civil law and a doctorate in the psychology of communication, caused considerable consternation among some progressive Catholics in January when he talked to English-speaking priests about a "reform of the reform."

In an interview Thursday, he argued that the changes should not be seen as a liturgical backlash to modernity but as a "harmonious development" in a "continuum" that takes full advantage of the church's rich history and is not subject to what he has called "sporadic modifications." Liturgical progressives, like Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, Pa., are concerned that Marini considers the reforms of the 1960s ecumenical council known as Vatican II as being among those sporadic modifications.

At most papal Masses, a large crucifix flanked by tall candles is now displayed on the altar, even though many progressives say the ornaments block the view of the priest and the bread and wine. They argue that this obstructs the accessibility urged by liturgical reforms associated with the Second Vatican Council.


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