Friday, January 29, 2010

Introduction to Msgr. Marini's Address: Second Draft

Yesterday I posted my introduction to The Wanderer's edition of Msgr. Marini's address to the conference on the year of priests.

On reflection, I found my essay plodding, dull, and pompous, the way you write when you have writer's block that stems from intimidation. So in my second draft here, I loosened up and spoke more directly to the point, shelving all pretensions.

See if this is better.


Among Catholics who have a sound appreciation of sacred music and solemn liturgy, Monsignor Guido Marini is a folk hero. As Pontifical Master of Liturgical Ceremonies, he has a huge international presence. We see him on television and on youtube, always standing near the Pope during Vespers or Mass. He holds Benedict XVI's eyeglasses and hands them to the Pope just before he reads the Gospel. He very subtly organizes what happens in the sanctuary with very small eye movements and twitches of the finger. His heads is always slightly bowed in deference to both the Pope and to his task.

What we do not see on television is all the front-man work when the Pope travels to foreign lands, improving the liturgical furnishings and vestments as best he is able. It is clear that he combines his beautiful aesthetic with a great sense of politics. He is at once firm but gentle. On the one hand, he has a high profile; on the other hand, he has a very small "footprint" when doing his work in the sanctuary. Like a great MC, he is easy to overlook, and seems, in fact, happy to be overlooked. There is an embedded humility to the way he does what he does.

I know for a fact that there are many young men in the United States who look to Msgr. Marini as a model: a master of what he does, and a loyal and faithful servant of the faith and the office of the Papacy in its liturgical work. He seems to understand that what goes on at Papal liturgies sets a tone and style for the world. He takes this responsibility very seriously, with intense focus on every detail, consistent with the long tradition of MCs. He even looks the part in a wonderful way: studious, thin, a bit geeky, but with a charming smile and gentle demeanor.

Msgr. Marini was born in 1965, at the close of the Second Vatican Council, a man raised and educated in a postconcilar world. He earned two doctorates, in psychology and law (a dual award in canon and civil law). As for his specialization today, it is surely the product of untold hours of disciplined private study. Pope Benedict XVI elevated him to his current position as MC on October 1, 2007. In that position, he has transformed Papal liturgy in the most thrilling way, making every liturgy a bridge from the past to the future.

For Americans, the office of MC is something that has only recently entered public consciousness. For so long, the very idea of "ceremony" has been depreciated in the Catholic world, regarded as somehow inauthentic and remote. It has been believed that ceremony is too cold and distant for a modern world that demands a steady diet of warm fuzzies. And yet what in fact ends up being the replacement for ceremony? The arbitrary whim of human choice, the glorification of the liturgical committee, and the personality of the celebrant. The result is not the Roman Rite, which came to be structured not to highlight human personality but rather to provide a perfect structure for the encounter with God. As St. John the Baptist said, we must decrease and so that He can increase. This is as true in liturgy as it is in life. Ceremony is what permits this to happen.

It doesn't seem possible to improve on the Catholic Encyclopedia's explanation:

"Ceremony in liturgy, an external action, gesture, or movement which accompanies the prayers and public exercise of divine worship. To these the Council of Trent (Sess. XXII, cap. v.) adds the things over which or with which the prayers are pronounced, e.g. blessings, lights, incense, vestments, etc. Ceremony is the necessary outcome of the twofold nature of man, intellectual and sensible, on account of which, as St. Thomas Aquinas says (Contra Gentiles, III, cxix), he must pay God a twofold adoration, one spiritual, which consists in the interior devotion of the soul, the other corporal, which manifests itself in the outward form of worship, for there is no inward sentiment or feeling which man is not wont to express outwardly by some suitable gesture or action. Ceremonies are employed to embellish and adorn sacred functions; to excite in the faithful sentiments of respect, devotion, and religion, by which the honor of God is increased and the sanctification of the soul is obtained, since these constitute the principal object of all liturgical acts; to lead the illiterate more easily to a knowledge of the mysteries of religion; [and] to indicate the dispositions necessary to receive the sacraments worthily..."

As a result of the depreciation of ceremony, there might not be more than a dozen or two qualified MCs for the Roman Rite in this country. It is not a high-paying job, and, actually, it isn't a job that pays at all. They are in high demand in these times of the revival of ceremony, traveling from liturgy to liturgy, giving of their time and providing their expertise.

Musicians like to complain about how much training goes into their craft and how it is not sufficiently rewarded by the marketplace, but this is even more true with mastery of liturgical ceremony. Most MCs in this country work in some other profession during the day - software developer, professor, high-school coach - and do their MC work on night and weekends.

They have spent many years studying books that most Catholics don't even know exist. For most of us, books on rubrics read like theoretical physics. The level of detail of something like Adrian Fortescue's Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Described can be overwhelming. To master them all is the equivalent of learning Icelandic fluently. The job is immensely complicated by the prevalence of two forms of the Roman Rite: extraordinary and ordinary, the latter of which is actually deficient in rubrical description.

It is thereby part of Msgr. Marini's job to pull together the two forms of the Rite, infusing the new with the spirit of liturgy of the ages. Here, the holiness is in the details: how Sanctus torches are carried, how many steps the subdeacon walks in the Gospel procession, the manner in which the vestments are handled during Vespers, and one million other tiny details. The closer you look at these details, the more we see that they have a basis in Catholic theology - a basis which is not always immediately clear but which emerges from scholarship and reflection. The effect of all of this is an orderly beauty so astonishing that we forget about the details and enter into prayer in the most profound way possible.

What we find in this address by Msgr. Marini is that he is not only a master of rubrical detail; he is also a master of the theology and theory of the reform. He explains the urgent need to see a continuity between old and new, to have an orientation toward God, not the people, during liturgy, to use music that is an embedded part of the tradition, and to generally get very serious about what we are doing. It is an enormous pleasure to read his words, to gain an understanding of the rationale that serves as the intellectual and spiritual foundation for what we see and experience.

The significance is even greater. This statement by Msgr. Marini is one of the most public and transparent defenses of the side-by-side life of the older and newer uses of the Roman Rite. He is urging us to look to the past as a way forward. In this way, I do think it is legitimate to call him a true Catholic progressive in the best sense of that term. So it is my great pleasure to give you this seminal speech with words and thoughts suitable in any age but especially important because they show the path toward a bright future for the Roman Rite.

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