Vatican's top liturgical liberal steps down

New York

In a noteworthy change of personnel, if not of surname, the Vatican announced today that Monsignor Guido Marini will replace Archbishop Piero Marini as the pope’s Master of Ceremonies, meaning the official in charge of how the pope celebrates the Mass and the other rites of the church.

The outgoing Marini was long seen as a more permissive counterpart to the strong traditionalism at the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, the Vatican’s policy-setting agency on liturgical matters. Experts have noted the irony that large-scale papal liturgies organized on Marini’s watch are sometimes more innovative than a strict reading of official policy might permit.

The new Marini, according to Italian observers, does not bring a sharply defined ideological profile into his new position. Though he served as the master of ceremonies in the Genoa archdiocese for both Cardinals Dionigi Tettamanzi and Tarcisio Bertone (today the Vatican’s Secretary of State), Guido Marini, 42, has an academic background in canon law and spirituality rather than liturgy.

Piero Marini, 65, was named the new President of the Pontifical Commission for International Eucharistic Congresses. He holds a doctorate in liturgy from the Benedictine-run College of Sant’Anselmo, and has written widely on liturgical subjects.

Sources close to Piero Marini said today that he had been offered a position as a diocesan bishop in Italy, but turned it down on the grounds that he has spent virtually his entire career in curial service.

Those sources also said that the timing of Marini’s departure may be linked to the recent decision by Pope Benedict XVI to liberalize permission for the Latin Mass in use prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Although Marini never took a public position on the move, it’s widely known that he has expressed reservations in private. Since it is taken for granted in Rome that Benedict XVI will himself celebrate a Mass according to the old rite in St. Peter’s Basilica sometime soon, today’s announcement may have been a way to avoid putting Marini in an awkward position when the times comes.t

Finally, sources said, Benedict at one point raised the idea with Marini of eventually taking the helm at the Congregation for Divine Worship after its current prefect, Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, steps down. Arinze turns 75 on Nov. 1. It’s not yet clear whether today’s appointment precludes that possibility.

One hallmark of Marini’s liturgical outlook is an openness to inculturation, or allowing the ritual practice of the church to he shaped by local cultures. That’s something Marini said in a 2003 interview that was lacking in the pre-Vatican II Mass.

“It was the liturgical expression of the countries of the Mediterranean Basin,” he said. “With the separation of the Protestants, also in France, what remained was Spain, Italy, Austria … the church had been reduced to something relatively small. But with the New World, Latin America and the various missions in Africa and Asia, it was necessary to open this liturgy that had been closed to the new peoples. That happened with the Second Vatican Council and with the trips of the pope.”

Material from that 2003 interview with Marini can be found here:

As a young cleric, Piero Marini served as personal secretary to Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, head of the special Vatican commission that oversaw liturgical reform. Bugnini became the lightning rod for what some regarded as unacceptably radical changes, and his fall from power in July 1975 was the beginning of a backlash that culminated in a return to a more traditional language and style during the late John Paul years and now under Benedict XVI.

One illustrative flashpoint is liturgical dance. The Congregation for Divine Worship officially frowns on dance in the liturgy. In 1975 it issued a document titled Dance in the Liturgy, which concluded, “[Dance] cannot be introduced into liturgical celebrations of any kind whatever. That would be to inject into the liturgy one of the most desacralized and desacralizing elements; and so it would be equivalent to creating an atmosphere of profaneness which would easily recall to those present and to the participants in the celebration worldly places and situations.”

In 1998, the congregation wrote to the bishop of Honolulu to ban the use of hula dancing in any liturgical context, a custom that had become common among Catholics in Hawaii. Yet when John Paul visited Brussels in 1995 for the beatification of Father Damien DeVeuster, the famous saint of the Hawaiian lepers, a hula dance was performed smack in the middle of the ceremony.

For those who know Marini’s style, it was hardly a surprise. Anyone who has ever attended a major papal liturgy, such as a World Youth Day Mass or a major canonization Mass, has seen enough dance to remind them of Broadway production numbers. During the World Youth Day Mass in Rome in the summer of 2000, for example, a troupe of young dancers bearing flags with different colors representing the different continents was one of the highlights of the event.

In Mexico in 2002 when John Paul II canonized Juan Diego, native Aztec dancers gyrated down a walkway towards the pope in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe as native music blared forth. The next day, when the pope beatified a pair of Mayan martyrs in the same spot, another native song-and-dance routine was performed. This time there was the further twist of a limpia, or purification, ceremony. The Indian blessing is believed to cure spiritual and physical ailments by driving off evil spirits. Indian women bearing smoking pots of incense brushed herbs on the pontiff, Mexico City Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera and other prelates as the dancing unfolded.

In effect, these indigenous dancers exorcized the pope. Although the choice generated controversy both in Mexico and in Rome, Marini defended the use of such an indigenous ritual within a Catholic framework.

“We discussed it a great deal here in this office with the responsible parties from the local church,” Marini said in 2003. “I spoke with the bishop. At the beginning, I have to say I was against using this rite, which not even they seemed to understand very well. Obviously our penitential act is one thing, their expression is another. But we continued talking, and in the end this was not during the Eucharistic celebration, and the bishop wanted the rite at any cost.”

“It was important as a sign of respect for the indigenous, but it’s also a matter of liturgical history,” Marini said. “Often rites that were not originally Christian have been ‘Christianized.’ If the indigenous have this rite, it can with time take on a Christian meaning concerning the purification of sins. Just as we use holy water, which for us recalls the waters of baptism, forgiveness of sins and the resurrection, so for them this element of smoke can have a sense of liberation and forgiveness. This is the reason for which we at the end agreed to insert this element.”

Marini’s appointment as President of the Pontifical Commission for International Eucharistic Congresses could eventually put him in line to become a cardinal.

Meanwhile, Benedict XVI apparently does not intend to maintain the 1998 precedent set by his predecessor, John Paul II, of naming his two secretaries and his master of ceremonies as archbishops, at least not right away. Today’s Vatican announcement did not indicate that the incoming Marini would be made a bishop.

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