Pope Francis' inaugural Mass portends a 'noble simplicity'

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VATICAN CITY -- As authorities blocked vehicles from roads leading to the Vatican in preparation for Pope Francis' inaugural Mass today, those who treasure the church's liturgical message are talking about hints of a "new" style that revives ancient simplicity.

"It's a real reformation in many ways," said retired Bishop Donald Trautman, the former head of the Diocese of Erie, Pa., who was twice chairman of the U.S. bishops' Committee on Liturgy and who fought recent Vatican-mandated changes that Latinized the English Mass.

The Second Vatican Council's document on liturgy emphasized "noble simplicity," he said. "The Holy Father is living up to that directive."

On Monday the new pope chose his motto: "Because he saw him through the eyes of mercy and chose him." It refers to Jesus calling the despised tax collector Matthew to be one of his disciples. Like his coat of arms, with symbols of the Holy Family and his Jesuit order, it is the same one he had as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina.

Today's liturgy is called The Mass for the Inauguration of Petrine Ministry, but he has been pope since he accepted his election Wednesday. It closely follows the guide used by his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who abdicated Feb. 28. However, at the new pope's request to keep things simple, it has been significantly shortened to an estimated two hours.

The most notable change is that Pope Francis won't give communion to anyone, leaving that to hundreds of deacons and priests.

A Vatican spokesman included that as part of the effort to "simplify the Mass."

Others have speculated that it was an effort to avoid being photographed giving communion to Catholic dignitaries who support abortion rights, such as U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House leader, who are leading the American delegation.

On the political front, Pope Francis had lunch Monday with President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner of Argentina, whose policies on free contraception and gay marriage he had denounced. He was photographed greeting her with a kiss on the cheek, and she brought him his favorite herbal drink. Her office said she had asked his support to persuade the British to cede the Falkland Islands to Argentina.

The Vatican Press Office is warning journalists not to get carried away with speculation about the pope's liturgical agenda based on a Mass that is mostly prescribed by official liturgy.

"It is the homily that really gives us an opportunity to know the person," said the English-language translator, the Rev. Thomas Rosica. "But in terms of something special, it's the Eucharist that is at the heart of our life. It's the heart of his life."

Still, there are some significant changes. The Mass falls on St. Joseph's Day, a holy day of obligation in Italy with overtones of Father's Day. Rocco Palmo, author of the influential Catholic blog "Whispers in the Loggia" was among those who opined weeks ago that St. Joseph's Day would be perfect for the Mass.

"What St. Patrick's Day is to the Irish, St. Joseph's Day is to the Italians," he said.

The gospel lesson at a pope's inaugural Mass is supposed to be chanted in both Latin and Greek, representing what papal documents call the "two lungs," Eastern and Western, of the universal church. Pope Francis -- who has only one lung due to surgery for an illness long ago -- chose to have only the Greek.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, hastened to say that Latin "is already abundantly present" in the liturgy.

The Rev. James Gretz, director of the Department for Worship of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, noted that the presentation of the reading is in the style of the Eastern churches. "The pastoral [pope], aware of the Eastern lung of the church, made that decision," he said.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, spiritual head of the Eastern Orthodox churches, is slated to be the first ecumenical patriarch to attend the inaugural Mass of a pope since their churches diverged in the Great Schism of 1054. But within the Catholic Church are self-governing Eastern Catholic Churches whose leaders will accompany Pope Francis from the sacristy to the tomb of St. Peter to collect the book of the gospels and the ring and lambs' wool stole that he will be given.

Pope Francis is familiar with the Eastern Catholic Churches because he was an altar boy at an Eastern Catholic Church near his home, said Archbishop William Skurla of the Byzantine Catholic Archdiocese of Pittsburgh. He is also well-acquainted with the head of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, who was formerly stationed in Buenos Aires.

The Eastern Catholic Churches have married priests in the Eastern Hemisphere but have been fighting to lift an eight-decade ban on them in the New World, where in recent years they have been approved on a case-by-case basis.

The new pope has yet to chant or sing any prayers or liturgy. The Vatican spokesman said he didn't know why, but that it had nothing to do "with a lung operation 50 years ago."

Refraining from singing may be more pragmatic than philosophical, Bishop Trautman said. "Maybe it's just that he's my age, and you don't have much of a singing voice."

When Pope Francis celebrated Mass in the Sistine Chapel he didn't use the historic altar affixed to the rear wall, but a temporary altar where he could face the cardinals. Facing the congregation is closely associated with Vatican II and the modernization of the Mass.

Father Gretz said it can be distracting to attempt to draw the congregation into the liturgy while facing away from them. Pope Francis, "as the pastoral man he seems to be -- wanting the full, active, and conscious participation of himself and the faithful -- [he] chose not to be distracted in that way," he said.

Pope Francis' fisherman's ring, for Peter the fisherman, whom Jesus called to be a "fisher of men," is from a mold designed by a famous Italian modern sculptor, Enrico Manfrini, who was a friend of Pope Paul VI. Mr. Manfrini proposed the ring, a detailed bas relief of Peter holding the keys to the kingdom, to Pope Paul. But Pope Paul, who loved modern art and is strongly associated with the modernization of the Mass following Vatican II, wore the ring from that church council.

His priest-secretary kept the mold and later had a ring made, which he bequeathed to a monsignor who proposed it to one of the cardinals as the ring for Pope Francis. Pope Francis accepted it. To some Catholics, liturgical items associated with Pope Paul VI connote a desire to communicate an ancient faith with simple, modern symbols.

"Overall, I think the whole world has been touched by the simplicity and humility of the Holy Father," Bishop Trautman said.

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Ann Rodgers: arodgers@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1416. First Published March 19, 2013 4:00 AM


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