Editor’s note: this post was written February 11, 2013, the day Pope Benedict announced his resignation, and it was “sticky’ (topmost post on the page) on the anniversary on February 11, 2014.
Pope Benedict’s surprise (to me at lest) announcement of his resignation is interesting from all sorts of perspectives, of course. But since this is a liturgy blog, the question that comes to my mind is what this will mean for those who identify themselves as part of the “reform of the [liturgical] Reform.” To what degree was the personal example of Pope Benedict a source of that reforming movement and to what degree does its future depend upon a Pope who maintains the distinctive liturgical practices of this Pope?
Clearly RotR was a term in play prior to Benedict’s papacy. It does seem, however, to have gathered steam in the past few years. Was this a purely natural process, driven from below by younger Catholics seeking a ressourcement of tradition, or did the example of the Pope set the tone? Probably some combination of both. Certainly things like the so-called “Benedictine arrangement” of the altar would not be found much of anywhere if it weren’t for the example of the Pope. Other things, such as facing liturgical East and kneeling for communion, certainly got a boost from the Pope’s example. Yet other things, such as an interest in chant or greater attention to texts and rubrics, seem to pre-date Benedict’s papacy.
With the newly widespread availability of videos of Papal liturgies, it is hard to underestimate the way in which the Pope’s personal liturgical preferences (or, to some, idiosyncrasies) have increased in influence. Prior to the 1960s, no one outside of Rome had any idea of how the Pope celebrated Mass. It is only relatively recently that we could have the idea that the Pope was showing us “how it should be done.”
So with the resignation of Benedict, what does this mean for our liturgical future? Will the next Pope keep the “Benedictine arrangement” of the altar? If not, does this mean that those priests and bishops who have adopted this arrangement will quietly drop it, or is it here to stay? If the next Pope adopts more the style of John Paul II, will the RotR loose the steam it seems to be gathering? Perhaps most importantly, should it matter so much, liturgically speaking, who is Pope?