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Pope's master of liturgy helps Benedict restore traditions

By Jason Horowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 25, 2010; 12:00 AM

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 share 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.

Marini responds by saying that the crucifix reminds the faithful of who is really front and center in the Mass. He also says that the pope cannot sit in front of the altar when it bears the crucifix because "the pope can't give his back" to sacraments on the altar.

For Marini, Gregorian chants must be the music of the church because they best interpret the liturgy. And in September, ahead of the pope's visit to Britain, Marini told the Scottish paper the Herald that the pope would celebrate all the Prefaces and Canons of his Masses in Latin.

Piero Marini, who stepped down in 2007 after serving as the master of celebrations for 20 years, has championed the Vatican II reforms, including the simplification of rites that he believes facilitates active participation.

In the name of "inculturation," or integrating church rites with local customs, the silver-haired Marini in 1998 accepted the request of local bishops to allow a troupe of scantily clad Pacific islanders in St. Peter's Basilica to honor the pope with a dance during the opening liturgy of the Synod for Oceania. During John Paul II's visit to Mexico City in 2002, Marini likewise granted a local bishop's wish to let an indigenous Mexican shaman exorcise the pope during a Mass there.

He said the changes that have been made since he left are obvious. "You don't have to ask me," said Marini, who has expressed wariness about the rollback of liturgical reforms. "Everyone can see it for themselves."

A 'more sober' style

His successor said that the two clerics had a good relationship and that it was only natural that things change under a new regime.

"It's true that there were celebrations that gave more space to different expressions, but that was one style and now there is a different style, one that is more sober and more attentive to the essential things," said Guido Marini, who, like his predecessor, hails from northern Italy but who, like the pope, expresses admiration for the old Latin Mass. He added that Benedict considered the Mass a heavenly space that shouldn't be modified with "things that don't belong."

Marini has said there are no plans to force the changes on parishes around the world, but he hopes that they slowly spread and seep in.

Under Benedict, the faithful at papal Masses take Communion on their knees and receive the wafer on the tongue. Guido Marini said the change "recalls the importance of the moment" and keeps the act from becoming "banal." A recent picture of Queen Sofia in Spain receiving Communion from the pope in her hand - and while standing and not wearing a veil - brought rebukes from conservative Catholics. ("Reform of the reform apparently put on hold," read the Catholic blog Rorate Caeli.)

Perhaps the most apparent and luxurious sign of the new era is the pope's vestments. Benedict has worn an ancient form of the pallium, or cloak, preferred by first-millennium pontiffs. He also brought back the ermine-trimmed red satin mozzetta, a short cape. And the pope clearly does not obey the article of American political faith to never don an unconventional cap. He has sported a red saturno, a sort of papal cowboy hat, and an ermine-trimmed camauro, a crimson cap that resembles a Santa hat and is worn on nonliturgical occasions.

According to one senior Vatican official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Marini sent him a page-long list of vestments he had to wear during a special ordination in St. Peter's. "I didn't recognize half of the things on it," the official said. "Then I had trouble getting it all on."

"The pope likes new things and antique things," explained Marini, who compared the pope's attire to someone in a family who likes modern fashions like, say, Gucci shades but also "the treasures of the family."

At a Dec. 16 evening Mass, the pope opted for a paisley patterned crimson and gold chasuble, while Marini, his fingers tented in front of him, wore a white cotta with breezy lace sleeves over a purple cassock. As the frail pope sat in his throne, Marini adjusted Benedict's robes and at the appropriate moments removed the gold miter in order to place a white skullcap atop the pontiff's white hair. He adjusted the pages of prayer books that altar boys propped up before the pope. After the chorus sang about the divine promise made to David, Marini helped the pope up to read a prayer. At the end of the Mass, the pope followed the candles and large crucifix back up the nave. Marini, as always, trailed immediately behind.

"It's hard work," Marini said. "But it's beautiful."

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