Monday, January 20, 2014


 The Mass begins with the Processional music at about minute 18:

This post is not a referendum on Pope Francis visiting a Roman Parish that uses contemporary music, as most Roman parishes do and Pope Benedict visited many of them as well where folk choirs or groups stood right next to the altar as Pope Benedict celebrated the Mass and he was gracious enough to thank the pastor and the musicians for their ministry. So let's not make comparisons because Pope Benedict and Pope Francis are both gracious in these situations.

With that said, though, I want to highlight what Pope Francis does and ask a question about the style of music of this congregation as it has to do with Italian inculturation in a multi-ethnic or multi-national parish.

First for the first negative comment. It has to do with what is typical of Italian renovations of historic sanctuaries in beautiful churches as Sacred Heart of Jesus (the English caption on the video is Hart by the Italian translator lol). They tend to impose modern altars, ambos, chairs and materials when they renovated after Vatican II and this church is an absymal example. These things in no way match the building and the art in it. But that is another problem.

But let me continue with the positive elements of how Pope Francis celebrates the Mass:

1. He is stoic and celebrates the Mass in an "ad orientem" sort of way. His vestments and miter are elegant in their simplicity. There is a central crucifix on the altar facing the Holy Father as the "turn to the Lord" focus of both the assembly and the pope in terms of symbolically "turning to the eastern orientation of the Second Coming of Christ symbolized in facing the crucifix.  Although you may not know Italian, the Holy Father's homily, while well prepared, is delivered without notes, is simple but profound and touches the congregation as it avoids taking  on the air of an academic lesson. It is practical and spiritual.It is also brief!

2. The Holy Father accepted the invitation to go to this parish in Rome's center city, near the main train terminal (Termini) because the Salesian order of Priests and Sisters ministers to the immigrants and refugees of the city there and the homeless of that area and there are many there who take refuge in the train station or or outside. I saw them sleeping outside the terminal there. It is sad. They pose no criminal risk to the travelers and are docile.  So the pastor at the end jokes in a way that Pope Francis had come to the periphery in the center of Rome, the existential periphery where this community does what Pope Francis has been calling Catholics to do.

3. The congregation participates very well.They are animated in their participation . They use their bodies in their singing as does the choir. It reminds me of what is quite customary in African parishes, African American parishes and also amongst some charismatics.

4. There is a particular Italian style to the Italian hymns. One can detect this style once one is in Italy for some time. It is kind of schmaltzy but not in an awful intentional way--it is very Italian, that's the best I can say as an Italian who likes it!

5. My negative comment has to do with the multi-cultural and multi-national composition of this parish which is only partially Italian.  The immigrants and refugees are from eastern Europe, African and the middle east, not from Celtic countries like Ireland and Scotland.

The reason I say this is because the instrumentation of the music sounds extremely Celtic to me, especially the manner in which the fiddle (violin) is played! There is a disconnect in this with those who are in the congregation and I'm not sure what to make of it in an Italian setting! Also unfortunate is that the Propers are not sung but substituted by the Italian hymns chosen but sung to the Celtic sounds of the violin (which appeals to my Nova Scotia, Cape Breton roots, btw and lol!


rcg said...

I see what you are saying about the fiddle. It sounds to me as if someone who is used to playing violin is trying to fiddle along with the percussion and is having trouble with his bowing as a result. He sounded like he got his bow direction out of coordination with the beat often.

All together it seemed to be what one would expect and was done in a respectful way for people who need it.

Henry said...

I have long observed that parish visits of a bishop tend, ironically, tend to bring out the worst in parish liturgy. Evidently, a papal visit to a parish is no exception.

On such an occasion, the parish magnifies its usual efforts, including its usual flaws. But the naturally festive atmosphere of such a a visit--particularly in today's church of the nice--motivates and almost demands gracious and accomodating tolerance on the part of the visiting prelate, who's in the awkward (for teaching) position of an honored guest.

Thus, in a certain sense regarding liturgical standards, bringing out the worst in both. Perhaps it's best not to make too much of such situations--certainly not models of proper parish liturgy, but not the best occasions for correction that would only embarrass folks doing their best with what they've know. Nor the best moments for papal teaching, even in the case of a pope with heightened liturgical sensitivity himself.

John Nolan said...

When Gerard Manley Hopkins informed his father that he was converting to Catholicism, the latter was far from pleased. He suggested rather peevishly that his son was drawn to the Church for aesthetic reasons. GMH pointed out that if that were the case he would have remained an Anglican, since in the Catholic Church bad taste was encountered all the time.

High Anglicans like Gladstone were not impressed when they visited Rome, and even the young AWN Pugin who was drawn to the great Gothic cathedrals of Catholic Europe, was initially repelled by what went on within them.

The difference between then and now is that bad taste has moved in to fill the gap created when the Roman Rite was dismantled in the wake of the Council. Before that the liturgy could at least hold its own, and the popular taste was manifested in non-liturgical devotions.

George said...

You were expecting some kind of traditional popular composition in the vein of say, a Renato Rascel?