Two Popes, Two Palm Sundays

The Deacon’s Bench notes “an interesting study in contrasts”:

More photos there.


  1. In the Deacon’s Bench additional photos, Pope Francis has a nicer throne at the Oblisque than the Emeritus Bishop of Rome had which was much simpler. Also the new Bishop of Rome had an Offertory Procession! I was worried. My very eclectic tastes appreciate both styles. As with so much in the Church, it is best to have both/and rather than either/or.

    1. @Fr. Allan. McDonald – comment #1:
      Not sure I follow. Are you bringing out “both/and” to suggest there really isn’t that much change happening between B16 and Francis? Your comments sound like minimizing or denying, and I wonder if that’s what you’re about.

  2. To be honest I’m not noticing much in the way of a contrast, at least not based upon the photos shown at the Deacon’s Bench blog. I’m noticing only very, very subtle differences. Pope Benedict wears a morse, but also a rather unattractive contemporary miter, whereas Pope Francis wears no morse but sports a more pleasing miter. Pope Francis’s chair is grander and more regal-looking than Benedict’s, but Benedict has two cardinals supporting his cope. The rest seems pretty much identical.

    1. @James Murphy – comment #4:

      Most of us haven’t heard of a “morse” and wouldn’t notice the little things. But two cardinals supporting the cope is quite flamboyant and striking. I’m not a visual person but even I noticed it right away. The trad sites went berserk when Benedict brought it back. It’s gone now.

      So I differ from you – I am noticing a contrast here.


  3. The “both/and” philosophy, I believe, allows us to give credible witness to “unity among diversity”. If all were of like style/mind, it is only one step from “a hand saying to an eye, ‘I don’t need you’.” I have witnessed that too often.
    At one parish I know there is UNIFORMITY in everything– manner of receiving Communion, how responses are made, how ministers serve their function, even how presiders preside. Same kind of music at every Mass. Bbbbooooorrrrriiiiinnnnnggg! If you think the pre-Vatican II church did not allow for options, go to some of today’s parishes. Some presiders and ministers seem like machine-made robots or actors playing out a script.
    Uniformity doesn’t necessarily mean unity. Sometimes uniformity simply means the imposition of one’s personal tastes onto a group, the success of one power group over an other.
    Francis and Benedict. OF and EF. Chant and contemporary. Yes, even ‘liberal’ and ‘traditional’. There’s room in the church for them all.
    We’re still called to be wise stewards who take from our storeroom both the old and the new. We’re a Body of many DIFFERENT parts. Mosaic not melting-pot.

  4. I wonder if it’s actually meaningful to pick out a solemnity from a single year in Benedict’s pontificate and use it to contrast his successor’s style. The fact is, you could pinpoint the same solemnity in another year of Benedict’s pontificate and compare and contrast Pope Benedict against himself. He changed his style so often that it seems a futile thing to attempt to define it as being one thing as opposed to another. Sometimes he was contemporary, sometimes he was medieval, sometimes he was baroque, and sometimes he was all of the above all at once. Even in the example shown he sports a baroque cope with a contemporary miter of medieval shape.

    1. @James Murphy – comment #7:
      James, I’m not sure it’s fair to speak of Benedict as “changing his style”. I am somewhat doubtful he had a particular “style” to begin with. IMO, he just wore whatever his MCs gave him, and his “style” fluctuated with that, and things were attributed to him. That’s why you could get everything from stiff (some might say ungainly) Baroque vestments to that rather vivid (certainly not asthetically pleasing to some) Mariazell set.

      1. @Joshua Vas – comment #8:
        But “the buck stops here” with the pope, it is only he who appoints everyone, they all report (directly or indirectly) to him. He’s not so naive, I would hope, not to know that people would attribute to him what he allowed to happen on his watch.

        I don’t think we can pin things on the MC here and act as if Benedict wasn’t behind it. He was.

        He didn’t upset everything immediately when he came in, he moved slowly, then picked up the pace. This fits perfectly with his belief that liturgical change should be organic growth and not a sudden rupture. The fit is too uncanny to say that this was Marini’s or someone else’s doing and not Benedict’s.

        You only got the Mariazell set early in his reign, before he and the people he appointed started changing things in a noticeable direction.


      2. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #9:
        Of course, I’m not absolving Benedict of ALL responsibility. Certainly he could say, no I don’t want this and yes, I want that. As you point out, he did appoint Guido Marini. But I’ll disagree with you on what he came up with vs. what Marini came up with and he went along with (this is NOT to imply that he was unwilling, or cajoled into it, or anything like that). It was pretty sudden on that Sunday of Advent when Guido took over. I remember the glee in some quarters of the blogosphere at the pictures. So much for being gradual

        I mean, it’s kind of like the announced change for the Papal Inauguration. According to PieroM, in the news conference, the option for having 12 people was the initiative of Benedict instead of the existing idea of having all the cardinals do the obedience. Are we really to think that after that, he sat in his chair and was like: “hmmmm, I think it’d be better if we went back to all the cardinals and I’m going to try and command my successor to do this”. Maybe. If he really wanted to put his stamp on something, he could’ve done it with the conclave rituals

        I think it kind of fits in with his behaviour as a cardinal where he wore everything from tie-dye to silk, depending on who he was celebrating Mass for. Despite his well-publicized views on the cross, Communion, etc. at how many celebrations of his, while still a cardinal did he insist the crucifix be plonked in the center of the altar, or people receive kneeling, etc.?

      3. @Anthony Ruff, OSB – comment #9:
        I think that you’re right on all the points that you raise, which makes me wonder about how a Pope’s personality and prerogative affect things liturgical (not to mention other areas where a pope makes a clear choice or decides to leave it to others.)

        JPII’s CDW sometimes issued directives and answered dubia that directly conflicted with what was actually happening at some Papal Masses. Did he just leave those decisions to others? (Or were the dubia answers and practices allowed or disallowed depending on a particular culture?)

        Benedict’s CDW pretty much stayed in line with his practice, but often offered suggestions, like Benedict used example, not coercion.

        What about Francis? It’s too early to tell, but it raises some questions.

        He’s a Jesuit. Will his approach to liturgy be typical of that order, not overly concerned with ritual?

        Is he waiting for liturgical changes, so as not to imply that he is contradicting his predecessor too much and not to dishearten Marini II too much? (I don’t think Benedict forced too much trad. stuff of Marini I) Will there eventually be a new MC, and will the Benedict Arrangement disappear? Who knows, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

        How will the expected curial changes affect the CDW, and will things coming from that Congregation be reflected faithfully in Papal Masses, one way or another?

        Time will tell.

  5. Very interesting. I’m learning a lot here about papal liturgies lately. What’s up with the big palm thing? Is it braided out of a bunch of palm leaves? What is the stone that seves as the backdrop? When was it made? I see a partial outline of a sunburst on it—is it modern?

    1. @Nicholas Moe – comment #10:
      Weaving and braiding the palms seems to have a long tradition. I’ve seem similar things in photos of other Palm Sunday processions from various southern European countries. I’ve seen people of Italian decent make similar weaving, but on a much much smaller scale.

      As for the contrast between the two Popes, both seem traditional looking to me, but are different styles of traditional. The variation doesn’t seem any more drastic than what one might see between parishes in the same town. I actually like the aesthetic of the Francis pictures better because there is more uniformity in the surplices than you see with Benedict.

      1. @Ben Dunlap – comment #29:
        You mean it is not a Jesuit conspiracy? Look at his coat of arms.
        I’m amused by the fact that some are unaware of the origins of the obelisk. It shows no immediate relation to any well known or customarily used Christian symbol.

  6. In today’s Palm Sunday Mass, the Holy Father seems to have not genuflected during the Canon. I wonder if he, like some, has significant difficulty genuflecting. If not, then this would seem to be a rubrical, not stylistic, difference. And that would pique my interest.

    A blessed Holy Week to you all.

  7. While I have only the photos to go by – I have not viewed video of the Mass – I can very readily say that I find Pope Francis’s bearing dignified and reverent, but very much prefer Pope Benedict’s use of more noble and glorious (but not “flamboyant”) vestments and deacons (which seem especially suited to Palm Sunday in any case).

    So I won’t minimize what seems to be happening or make any secret that I much prefer Pope Benedict’s greater continuity with liturgical tradition – where I agree with Fr. Ruff that what we see almost certainly did reflect his own approach to the liturgy.

  8. I am happy to see the gratuitous flamboyance of the B16 years is gone. I wish him the best in retirement, but frankly I am feeling relieved. As if someone has finally opened up the windows.

  9. Significant difference visually between the two popes, I completely agree. And Pope Benedict’s vestments (and those helping him) overuse of gold is almost distracting.

  10. RIchard referred to “deacons” in the B16 picture. They looked like bishops to me, so I went to Deacon Kandra’s website, where he writes, “the reader wondered about why deacons shown above with Benedict were wearing mitres. I suspect they are cardinals (or bishops) serving as deacons for the liturgy.”

    I thought the business of priests or bishops “serving as deacons” was a Tridentine thing that had been explicitly ruled out in the normative Mass. Or does this not apply to the Palm Sunday liturgy?

    1. @Jonathan Day – comment #19:

      The prohibition is in Ceremonial of Bishops #22:

      “Presbyters taking part in a liturgy with the bishop should do only what belongs to the order of presbyter; in the absence of deacons they may perform some of the ministries proper to the deacon, but should never wear diaconal vestments.”

      It hasn’t been applied to the Cardinal Deacons under Pope Benedict XVI or John Paul II (photos).

      The Papal liturgies are, of course, a law unto themselves. You can’t have a Greek deacon or use the asterix at your parish or cathedral liturgy either.

      1. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #20:

        Yes, Samuel, in all these threads about Pope Francis, it should never be forgotten what you wrote: “The Papal liturgies are, of course, a law unto themselves.”

  11. Last night I watched Francis’ Palm Sunday liturgy in its entirety, and it seems to me that the degree of liturgical solemnity was essentially consistent with that of his predecessor. The differences here and there seem to be largely related to personality and the fact that one of the two is minus a lung and is incapable of genuflecting.

    I won’t deny that, as Father Ruff observes, there is a marked contrast between Pope Benedict and Pope Francis but I’m not sure it’s a contrast of “trad” vs. “contemporary” (if that’s the charge) since Benedict’s choices, as I say, weren’t always “trad”, but were all over the place. If anything, the contrast between the papal styles of Pope Benedict and Pope Francis may turn out to be one of elaborate variety vs. standardized simplicity.

    Obviously Pope Benedict brought a lot of pre-Conciliar ideas and objects out of mothballs, but since he didn’t make consistent use of them I find it hard to accept that there was a trajectory established that Francis is now rebelling against. With Benedict, one papal liturgy might have seen the pope and his clergy clad in the most elaborately baroqued vestments worn over seas of lace, with anachronisms such as the fanon, the pontifical throne dais, and the wall of seven candles transforming St. Peter’s into a nostalgic’s delight. The very next papal liturgy, however, might well have seen the pope and his retinue do a complete 180, all of them clad in contemporary vestments with a minimum of lace, no fanon, no throne dais, no gradual chanted, the wall of candles opened up…in other words, a lot more like Francis’ approach.

    While I think we can all be quite confident that Francis will never be interested in taking any of Benedict’s liturgical or sartorial extremes for a spin, I don’t perceive a rejection by Francis, thus far, of the more reasonable and consistent aspects of Benedict’s reform of the papal liturgy.

  12. I personally don’t like either cope–Bendict’s over the top Spanish/Italian Baroque (re)creation or Francis’ right out of the American religious supply catalog job. Neither are my preference, nor was the bubblegum red chasuable, but overall the Mass was nice. Francis actually bowed at the “Et incarnatus est” (that’s “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man” part of the Nicene creed for those who don’t understand Latin). Also, he elevated the Host and Chalice nice and high at the Consecration. I still wish he’d sing or at least have some dicastry explain why he doesn’t. It’s kind of a downer, especially on a holy day.

  13. Pope Francis did have a briefer offertory procession, but only distributed Holy Communion by intinction to the kneeling deacons although I saw a cardinal deacon stand to receive by intinction from the pope. The two deacons, not the cardinal ones, distributed only the host to kneeling communicants where Benedict would have done so. Pope Francis continued the practice of the preface and Eucharistic Prayer in Latin although his other spoken parts were in Italian. The Passion was read in Italian by 3 deacons with the choir singing some elements. Last year it was chanted in Italian. But I think it depends on which passion from year to year. A cardinal concelebrant intoned the Mystery of Faith and the Per Ipsum. It is quite obvious Pope Francis can’t sing or genuflect but can kneel on a kneeler which he at the death of Christ during the Passion. He is very serious and solemn in his demeanor when celebrating Mass and quite in continuity with Benedict in this regard, but certainly not in garb.

  14. Father Allan J. McDonald : Pope Francis did have a briefer offertory procession, but only distributed Holy Communion by intinction to the kneeling deacons although I saw a cardinal deacon stand to receive by intinction from the pope. The two deacons, not the cardinal ones, distributed only the host to kneeling communicants where Benedict would have done so. .

    The intinction thing is obviously unique. As to the Pope’s decision not to distribute communion to the VIPs at his two outdoor liturgies thus far, I’d be willing to bet that the explanation probably has more to do with physical limitations than with any liturgical notions. It’s clear that the Pope is not too stable on his feet. He wobbles when he walks, he can’t genuflect, he needs help going up and down steps. Yes, he gives his homilies standing, but always with a lectern in front of him that he can lean on. I suspect he may not be able to stand completely unsupported for long periods of time.

    1. @James Murphy – comment #25:
      This may be true and may account for the reason he doesn’t preach sitting in terms of breathing more easily. However at the humble Sunday Mass a week earlier he had two deacons distributing to kneeling rank and file parishioners while he sat. I might be wrong but this might be a signal about his view of deacons in the Church as this has been consistent at all his Masses with deacons.

      1. @Fr. Allan. McDonald – comment #26:

        That is a possibility, Father, and you may be onto something. If you’re right, Francis may have more of a liturgical (and ecclesiological) agenda than I give him credit for. It’s certainly a more interesting explanation than mine!

      2. @Fr. Allan. McDonald – comment #26:
        My own theory is that Francis does not want people kneeling before him (ergo the somewhat awkward dynamic at the procession of the gifts, where he remained seated but the couple were standing and so had to bend) but he doesn’t want to reverse something *at least, for the moment) that his predecessor is closely associated with. If he has enough energy to walk around and greet people, kiss babies, etc. I think he has enough energy to hold a ciborium and distribute Holy Communion, and he doesn’t seem to have left distribution of Communion to others in Buenos Aires.

        As for the rest of the rest of the continuity between the Mass as celebrated by Benedict and that of Francis, I would put it down to Guido Marini still being around. It’ll be interesting to see what transpires after his term ends.

  15. All of the observations, my own as well, are fascinating if only for their value in leading to prayers for deeper charity among we who profess to know Jesus. Through it all I have to wonder where and how anyone began to presume and to teach that the words unity and uniformity are synonyms. Each articulation has merit as well as pause for reflection. Noble simplicity should always hold sway, no matter the surroundings or imperium of the one who celebrates.

  16. I was really struck by how Pope Francis processed into the square — seated with head bowed in recollection, rather than standing and greeting/blessing the crowd as Pope Benedict has done in the past.

    I like both ways and was very moved by Pope Francis’s style.

  17. Joshua Vas : @Fr. Allan. McDonald – comment #26: As for the rest of the rest of the continuity between the Mass as celebrated by Benedict and that of Francis, I would put it down to Guido Marini still being around. It’ll be interesting to see what transpires after his term ends.

    Yes, it will be. I still have a hunch that Pope Francis doesn’t have any sort of a liturgical revolution in mind. I think Father Ruff has it right when he points to Francis’ simplification of papal court style spilling over into the liturgy. I get the impression that he’s content with a papal liturgy that is traditional, provided it can also be unostentatious.

    I do hope, however, that someone can persuade him that his taste in vestments is a bit too English for the Bishop of Rome, Italy. His choices make him look more like a Cornish abbott than a Roman Pontiff. Odd that an Argentinian of Italian heritage should prefer such an Anglican look.

  18. Definitely much less lace and gold!
    And only less than 2 weeks have transpired.
    The lace makers in Burano must be apoplectic and
    poor Guido, so sad looking with a bit more grey in his hair.

    I can’t wait when Pope Francis really begins to feel comfortable and lets us know what he really wants.

  19. Kim Patrick Clow : Significant difference visually between the two popes, I completely agree. And Pope Benedict’s vestments (and those helping him) overuse of gold is almost distracting.

    I fully expect the symbolism of gold being purified by fire to be a cognitive memory of the processes of this earthly life as I await the purgation of my soul (presumably should God deem my soul worthy) in preparation for perfection that is purer than anything gold represents.

  20. Ben Dunlap :

    Nicholas MoeI see a partial outline of a sunburst on it—is it modern?

    ### Not sure when the sunburst was carved but the stone itself is a 4000-year-old Egyptian obelisk. Probably not the answer you were expecting!

    The Palm Sunday photos make it look like it has a sunburst carved into it, but I think it is really just patches that have been made to the corners of the stone over the years.

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