Book Review: Liturgical Reflections of a Papal Master of Ceremonies by Guido Marini

It is a rare treat for one experienced Master of Ceremonies to receive a glimpse of the motivating logic of another experienced Master of Ceremonies, even one from another ecclesial tradition. Such a treat was to be had in reading Liturgical Reflections of a Papal Master of Ceremonies by the Rev. Msgr. Guido Marini, Master of Apostolic Ceremonies and Head of the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.

This volume consists of a number of brief essays, some of which first appeared on the website of the Holy See, as translated by Father Nicholas L. Gregoris and edited together by Father Peter M. J. Stravinskas for publication by Newman House Press, of which Fr. Stravinskas is director. In addition to the “Publisher’s Preface” and author’s Foreword (“Entering the Liturgical Mysteries through Rites and Prayers,” originally an address to a liturgy conference at Mileto in 2010), nine essasys comprise the bulk of this collection.

The topics of the essays include: Holy Communion received on the tongue by kneeling communicants; the Pallium; the Pastoral Staff; placement of the Crucifix at the center of the altar; chanting the gospel in Greek during major Papal liturgies; observance of Silence within the eucharistic liturgy; conservation and use of the Latin language in the Latin Rite; Beauty in liturgy; use of the pontifical Dalmatic and Cardinal Deacons. Each essay, five to seven pages in length, discloses the theological and historical rationale underlying present liturgical practice in the Papal Liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church; that is, the essays serve above all as apologiae for the distinct liturgical practices that have marked the papacy of Benedict XVI. The essays are easily accessible by the average reader: direct in tone; didactic, but free from academic jargon.

For each of the topics on liturgical practices, Msgr. Marini adopts an irenic tone in laying out his theological position and reading of history regarding the practice, then (where applicable) notes the occasion of its (re)introduction or alteration in the papal liturgy. Throughout the text, the author gracefully avoids the polemics that have appeared in some from some commentators on papal liturgical practice. This is a particularly welcome and refreshing feature of the book — regardless of whether or not one agrees with Msgr. Marini’s interpretation of history or his particular choices in actual liturgical enactment.

One would expect a “hermeneutic of continuity” to run throughout the text: this is certainly the case, with historical examples serving to underscore that theme. But the presentation of that hermeneutic is understated. While some of the assertions made can be challenged based on the author’s choice of historical sources — regarding the development of the dalmatic and the office of cardinal deacon, Msgr. Marini presents an uncritical dependence on the Liber Pontificalis for data from before the fifth century (pp. 105-110) — most early evidence is presented with some acknowledgment of uncertainty. At times, the author’s presupposition of continuity appears to make little room for the idea of historical accretion or distortion. Thus, when discussing changes in the style of papal pallium (pp. 53-57), while not maligning the use of the ancient-style pallium early in the papacy of Benedict XVI, Msgr. Marini speaks of the current, smaller version as “underscor[ing] better the continuous development that this liturgical vestment has known,” without questioning whether or not such development truly serves the symbolic function of the vestment in the church’s liturgy. Likewise, when speaking of the difference between the design of the (new) papal pallium and that worn by metropolitan archbishops, Msgr. Marini states that this difference “makes clear the diversity of jurisdiction signified by the pallium,” without acknowledging that difference in style has not heretofore served such a symbolic distinction. Fortunately, lapses such as the latter are rare; unfortunately, lapses such as the former are common, undoubtedly due to the author’s adopted irenicism (which does, over all, serve the volume quite well).

The author’s basic theology of liturgical worship is presented in large brushstrokes in the Foreword of the book. Msgr. Marini is clearly committed to the theological vision of Pope Benedict XVI, particularly as manifest in the latter’s writings as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Above all, however, Msgr. Marini’s understanding of the liturgy as divinely-initiated revelatory event is clearly grounded in the logic of the Second Vatican Council and twentieth-century liturgical and sacramental theology; likewise, his sense of the eucharistic sacrifice is dependent on the Council, with its emphasis on the totality of the Paschal Mystery as including the resurrection. In short, his theological presuppositions are thoroughly contemporary.

This volume will be welcome by all with an interest in the current papacy and its liturgy, especially by those committed to taking the current form of the papal liturgy as a model. For its documenting of this papacy’s liturgical practices, as well as for certain (though by no means all) historical references — including a lengthy translated excerpt on the reading of the Greek and Latin Gospels from the 1904 Le Solenni Ceremonie della Messa Pontificale Celebrata dal Sommo Pontefice of Giambattista Menghini — this book belongs especially in public and private collections of liturgical history. For Masters of Ceremonies who like to look over the shoulders of their colleagues, this volume will be an appreciated glimpse into the logic of one of the world’s most complex and impressive ceremonial systems.

Guido Marini, Liturgical Reflections of a Papal Master of Ceremonies. Pine Beach, NJ: Newman House Press, 2011. 111 pages.

$10.00 — ISBN: 978-0-9778846-5-0
Available from Newman House Press


  1. What Pope Benedict has accomplished thus far in terms of liturgy and evidently Msgr. Marini confirms this, is to show that one can have an altar decorated as it was prior to the council and still celebrate a post-Vatican II reformed Mass. The same can be said of all the other subtle changes, kneeling for Holy Communion, Holy Communion on the tongue, more liberal use of Latin and even Masses celebrated ad orientem. None of these are reversals of original expectations of the reform of the Mass either indicated in SC or subsequent Vatican revisions of the Mass and Roman Missal.
    Even 10 years ago, who would have thought that there would be thoughtful discussion of allowing for the things that papal Masses already model? Who would have thought that the Benedictine altar arrangement could be used and without ridicule or suggesting a return to kneeling for Holy Communion and on the tongue? That doesn’t mean that this doesn’t create tension and controversy in the Church. It certainly does and it also causes tension in individual believers who struggle with not only the “either/or” dimensions of these restored practices, but also with allowing for greater flexibility and choice, more unity in diversity even with the more liberal allowance of the EF Mass.

  2. It will be interesting to see what Guido Marini has in store for the installation of the next Pontiff. JP I’s refusal of a coronation must have set the cat among the pigeons and JP II’s inauguration followed too closely afterwards. Given the latter’s long pontificate one might have thought that they would have had time to come up with something, but Benedict’s inauguration was a dog’s breakfast liturgically, and musically abysmal. The super-pallium with which he was invested was obviously modelled on that in the famous portrait of Innocent III (surely a good omen) but it was quickly replaced and is unlikely to make a reappearance. Perhaps one might hope for the restoration of the tiara? JP II declined it only because, in his words, it was ‘wrongly’ identified with the papacy’s temporal claims.

  3. All I really want to know is just how many inches of lace are permitted on various ministers albs and surplices.

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