Pope Francis continuing the liturgical legacy of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
When Pope Benedict XVI resigned as the Bishop of Rome and Pope Francis was elected, there was a great deal of anxiety that Pope Francis would backtrack on the liturgical renewal initiated by Pope Benedict.
However, in the three years of Pope Francis’ papacy, we have seen no change to the Mass at the Vatican apart from some minor tweaks. Pope Francis is a man of simplicity and prefers vestments that are simple, unadorned but tasteful. He is unable to chant and he does not distribute Holy Communion to the laity except in rare exceptions such as First Communions of adults or children. Pope Francis like Pope Benedict knows that the Mass isn’t a cerebral head trip, but rather a mystical affair of the body, soul and mind. Thus “bells and smells” are not seen as a derogatory comment about their use, but rather as an implementation of that which touches all our senses in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Like all popes, Pope Francis sees the connection between the Liturgy and life, that the Catholic Faith must be accompanied by good works in the workaday world especially toward the poor and marginalized. Pope Francis’ adjustment to the rubrics of Holy Thursday’s optional Foot Washing ceremony shows this concern in a powerful way.
Pope Francis has not discouraged the use of the 1962 Roman Missal also known as the Extraordinary Form that Pope Benedict generously allowed to the laity. In fact, Pope Francis continues finding ways to reintegrate into the Church the Fraternity of Saint Pope Pius X who uses exclusively the 1962 Roman Missal and other liturgies. Although the SSPX have some canonical censures, Pope Francis has given permission to any Catholic to go to an SSPX priest for the Sacrament of Confession during the year of Mercy.
Like Pope Benedict, Pope Francis celebrates the Mass facing the people in an “ad orientem” sort of way. In other words His Holiness does not pray when facing the congregation as though he is speaking to them nor does he turn prayer into a proclamation. It is prayer to God at its deepest ecclesial/liturgical level. Nor does Pope Francis ad lib in any way during the Mass especially at the Introductory Rite or Concluding Rite where it is so common, especially for bishops.
To assist in this “ad orientem sort of way” liturgical attitude or orientation, Pope Francis has maintained the central crucifix on the altar and often looks at it in his prayers. This arrangement has come to be known as the “Benedictine” altar arrangement since Pope Benedict restored it but in reality it is the pre-Vatican II altar arrangement.
As well, Pope Francis is not averse to praying the Mass in a truly “ad orientem” since he has done so in the Sistine Chapel and other chapels where the altar is attached to the wall behind it. Often those who denigrate this liturgical orientation complain that the priest has his back to the congregation. However, the truth is that the priest is joining the congregation in facing the same direction, the liturgical east, as a symbol of the belief that the Lord will return for the Last Judgment from the direction of Jerusalem and of the rising sun, from the east.
As well at Vatican Masses, Latin is maintained for the Gloria, Credo, Sanctus and Agnus Dei as well as for the Propers of the Mass which are the official Introit, Offertory and Communion Antiphons. In fact, papal Masses at the Vatican model for parishes how to chant the official Introit after a suitable hymn is sung to accompany the procession to the altar. Usually the chanting of the Introit occurs once the pope kisses the altar and incenses it. The recovery of chanting the official Propers is quite important for authentic liturgical renewal.
Many liturgists were quite heartened when Pope Francis named Robert Cardinal Sarah as the new Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Commenting on his appointment Cardinal Sarah related the following: “When the Holy Father, Pope Francis, asked me to accept the ministry of Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, I asked: ‘Your Holiness, how do you want me to exercise this ministry? What do you want me to do as Prefect of this Congregation?’ The Holy Father's reply was clear. ‘I want you to continue to implement the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council,’ he said, ‘and I want you to continue the good work in the liturgy begun by Pope Benedict XVI.'”
One sign that Pope Francis is in agreement with Pope Benedict to reform the current revised Roman Missal is seen in the new Ordinariate’s Missal (former Anglicans/Episcopalians) called, “Divine Worship, the Missal” which was approved by Pope Francis. This is truly the first Roman Missal developed in the new post-Vatican II millennium. It is very much a revised missal of Vatican II but also incorporates some of the liturgical patrimony of the Anglican heritage. But more importantly it recovers many aspects of the 1962 Roman Missal. There is the explicit option for the use of the “Prayers at the Foot of the Altar” as well as the older form of the Rite of Sprinkling Holy Water and a reorientation of the introductory priestly Greeting in its traditional place prior to the praying of the Opening Collect.
The traditional Gradual/tract and sequences are explicitly printed in the missal itself as an option replacing the Responsorial Psalm. And the Dies Irae in Masses for the Dead is restored to its proper place in the Funeral Mass prior to the Gospel.
The older form of the Offertory Prayer is the first option along with the revised one which is placed second. The rubrics for the Eucharistic Prayers recover elements of the rubrics of the 1962 Roman Canon.
It explicitly allows for the Mass the option for it to be celebrated “ad orientem” and for Holy Communion to be received kneeling at the altar railing. It recovers from the 1962 Roman Missal Ember and Rogation days as well as the Octave of Pentecost and the Season of Septuagesima.
All of these are wonderful additions in continuity with our 1962 Roman Missal that could soon come to the normal revised Roman Missal that most Catholics use throughout the world. Time will tell if Pope Francis will allow the reform of the current Ordinary Form Mass according to Ordinariate’s “Divine Worship, the Missal”.