Monday, March 10, 2014


While I loved Pope John Paul II, what I did not like is how the papacy was transformed by his popularity into the "cult of the personality." His Masses and personal appearances turned into pep rallies resembling more a sporting or celebrity or political event rather than a religious event.

Pope Benedict brought a more sober style to the papacy, but was criticized for not being as outgoing as Pope John Paul II, too stiff, academic and aloof. As time went on and as trials multiplied for His Holiness he brought out more and more of the regal aspects of the papacy, its imperial or monarchical look, its "kingdom of God" look a term I prefer to use when linked to the Biblical images of the benevolent royalty of heaven headed by Christ the Sovereign King.

When one looks at old footage of popes prior to the Council and immediately after (prior to Pope John Paul II) the appearance of the Pope was intentionally aloof, elevated, monarchical and regal. The pope was greeted as the visible head of the Church (Jesus is the invisible head of course, the pope is simply His vicar.)

While Romans would applaud the pope and yell out "viva il Papa!" and wave white handkerchiefs, the pope was royally treated. He did not act as a politician or a celebrity. When he entered the room, His Holiness would acknowledge the Faithful with raised arms and multiple blessings.

I dislike and dislike it immensely that the cult of the personality is returning to the papacy. I do not like the pope acting as a celebrity or a politician when in public. Hopefully this will only be a blip on the radar screen of the papacy.

Prior to the internet, popes were covered in more serene and dignified ways by the press. We'd hear about some of what the Pope said in Catholic periodicals and newspapers. The secular press would offer snippets  of the papacy and usually in positive way. Magazines like Look and Life would have wonderful, colorful photos of the pageantry of the papacy. But the focus was on the papacy as an institution rather than on the "institution" of the current occupant, on this or that pope.

Perhaps we are having overkill with popes and all due to blogs and the internet and even the Vatican offering us a play by play description of what the pope does all day long. We never heard of the daily homilies of previous popes, but we get a synopsis each day and almost immediately. I never saw a complete Angelus until the internet and Vatican Radio providing it live each Sunday and all of the public papal Masses televised.

When is too much too much and the focus taken away from the local Church and placed on some virtual Church in the Vatican?

Catholicism is local as well as universal. On the Diocesan level we are a mega Church, the first Mega Church for that is the nature of the Catholic Church. Our parishes are simply satellites of the Bishop's diocesan Church.

Let us honor and respect the papacy but let us not make too much of it or more than what the Lord intended. Let's keep it aloof, regal and rare in our psyche and focus on the work of the Church locally to show forth Christ and the complete Christ, one who washes feet, shows the unconditional love and compassion of the Father, His Divine Mercy  and one who rules and judges and does so as Lord and King in His Risen and Glorified Body.


Anonymous said...

Father, although I usually disagree with your defense of Pope Francis' indefensible statements/ acts, you hit it out of the ballpark with this post.

Before the council the pope was rarely seen publicly and did not say public Masses except maybe for Easter. The pope never celebrated Christmas Mass in St. Peter's until Pius XII did it in the 1940's. Pope Pius XII was the pope who really began the reforms in the Church and the papacy. Although he is regarded by us traditionally minded Catholics in a special way because of his bearing and intellect and spirituality, in reality he was very progressive. It was he who "reformed" Holy Week and did away with practices that were done for over 1300 years. Most liturgical events were held in the Sistine Chapel until the time of Pius XII.

And an interesting aside...It was Pius who did away with things like shortened the length of the Capps magna and did away with the flabella and interestingly it was John XXIII who lengthened it again and brought the flabella back.

John Paul II to his credit wanted to spread the Gospel around the world but in the process he unwittingly became used by the media and some in the Church and was turned into a superstar. The same thing has happened with Francis.

There is nothing wrong with popes doing this but when we have a clergy and people that is not formed properly you begin to have problems. They become focused on not trying to offend anyone and in the process cause scandal and confusion. And things happen like bishops saying unbelievable things like "bravo" to someone who takes pride in his homosexual lifestyle. Instead of imparting the Faith in an uncompromising way they usually end up playing to the crowd.

The pope was never supposed to be the "rock star" he is today. That's one of the reasons that Pope Benedict's resignation was unnecessary. He could have lived as he is doing today while being pope. He doesn't need all these public events. The pope needs to be a rock. He could concentrate on reforming the clergy and Catholic education and the liturgy. Benedict could have sent out Georg to meet the tourists in St. Peter's square and they would have been fine with that.

Anonymous 99

John Nolan said...

I don't think it's true to say that Benedict resurrected the "more regal" aspects of the papacy. What happened was that from 2008 onwards he and Guido Marini made a conscious decision to make use of some of the more historic vestments in the treasury, as well as more recent ones, to indicate continuity. After all, it's a common practice in cathedrals and other churches in Italy and elsewhere. However, these are liturgical garments and are not intended to reflect the personality or taste of the wearer. No-one could have been less 'regal' than St John Vianney, but he made sure that his church had the finest vestments which could be afforded, even if it meant stinting on creature comforts.

Anonymous said...

With obsessive daily reportage of off-the-cuffs quoted incessantly as though they were of bombshell significance, papal statements can acquire all the gravitas of the breathless pronouncements of Medjugorje oracles. If he had been subjected to such treatment, even Benedict might have been reduced to the status Francis risks approaching--one whose words aren't always taken much more seriously than those of a popular media personality. The words of the Vicar of Christ must be spare and careful if they to be regarded as such, rather than being dismissed as just the passing personal opinions of some celebrity named Pacelli or Ratzinger or Bergoglio.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, Father. I agree entirely.

Carol H. said...

I agree for the most part- but when I lived in the Diocese of Cincinnati, under a now retired very progressive Bishop, I had to look to EWTN Masses and Papal Masses in order to find the true Church. Locally, wreckovation and a serious lack of reverence prevailed.

Rood Screen said...

Towards the end of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI said the Church faces three special needs in the modern world: better self-awareness in Christ, renewal in the Gospel, and increased dialogue with non-believers of good will. It is for the purpose of accomplishing these three ends that the popes today must speak and travel frequently in order to promote this self-awareness, this renewal and this dialogue. I encourage everyone who has not already done so to read "Ecclesiam Suam".

Anonymous said...

I have a great love for Blessed John Paul II The Great because to my mind he pulled the Church back from the brink: restored the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady through his encyclicals and obvious great love for both.

I think there is a certain need for the Pope now to go into the world that there didn't used to be and to be honest apart from the World Youth Day Masses, which I don't like at all, I didn't see Blessed Pope John Paul The Great's pontificate turned into the circus and cult following that is happening during this pontificate. That is happening, unfortunately, because the media perceive that Pope Francis is going to liberalise Church teaching.

The opposite happened to dear Pope Benedict because he stood firm and would not and could not budge. He also had bad press from being the strong arm of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and implementing many of the changes that brought the Church back from the brink, Deo gratias for his pontificate.


Anonymous said...

Jan, are you serious with this continued usage of "Blessed John Paul the Great"? I initially hoped it was sarcasm, but your persistence indicates otherwise...

Православный физик said...

I agree with you on this post...too much is definitely a bad thing.

Nathanael said...

Just to add to the aside made about Pius XII:

Pius XII (unlike some other successors of the fisherman) knew when enough was enough (and how much nuance leads to false opinions). Humani Generis (whether he actually wrote it or not) is a prime example of his measured and careful approach to the questions raised by engagement with the modern world. Unlike his beloved successor (and rightly so) he may have took away the flabella, but when it came to insects of a certain kind, this Supreme Pontiff was not afraid of his opinion acting as a flabella to certain ideas (and theologians).

Anonymous said...

With all due respect Father, if you believe that too much pope is a bad thing, you might consider not doing posts about the pope every time he exhales. I like your blog, but you seem to be in a bit of a rut. Every post either seems to be a new "bombshell" from the pope or a discussion of how you think we should "reform the reform". Not that those are bad subjects, but some variety would be nice. We all know that you are a regular reader of Rorate Caeli, so I would suggest a post about their recent commentary on Vatican II by Don Pietro Leone in which he opines that the Second Vatican Council only enjoyed the "Negative assistance of the Holy Spirit" and that it is a council best treated with silence and, ultimately, forgotten. That's just one suggestion, but surely we can get beyond bombshells and liturgical laundry lists. I like your blog, honestly I do, it's just becoming a bit predictable.

Gene said...

Truly, Anonymous, I am about as tired of hearing about the Pope as I am of hearing about Obama, Miley Cyrus, and global warming. One might come up with an interesting list of what these four have in common...

Jakeupsun said...

The Two Babylons by Alexander Hyslop. An important study for all believers.