Rubrics & Pope Francis

It’s a temptation on all sides to over-analyze every move (liturgical or otherwise) that Pope Francis has made since assuming his role as Bishop of Rome. But, it’s instances like this that makes a person wonder what he’s up to…

Photos from both Pope Francis’ Mass for the Feast of the Annunciation and other Masses at the Domus Sanctae Marthae chapel appear to show that the Pope has given the paten to one concelebrant and the chalice to the other for the Great Doxology.  He is holding nothing.

What do you make of this? Is this a Pope who doesn’t care much about little rules because he cares about the big picture – or is he perfectly aware of what he’s doing and has his reasons for it? What lessons will we draw from a Pope who has his own way of celebrating the liturgy, not entirely faithful to every little detail of the missal and GIRM?


  1. Well, you have to look at patterns of behavior, liturgical patterns that is.
    I agree that it’s tempting to overanalyze especially if it’s just one or two moves but it’s not just one or two things but rather there seems to be a trend or pattern going on here.
    Perhaps that “Spirit” of Vatican II?

  2. Many of the Jesuits that I know each have their own way of saying mass. I wonder if this is how he does it when Guido isn’t looking.

  3. BTW, that is a beautiful pic.
    Reminds me of my pic copy of an ivory carving of a Mass from the 9th century. Beautiful.

  4. There is a traditional principle of English Law, which was still always expressed in Latin until a few years ago: De minimis non curat lex. The law does not concern itself with trifles. Perhaps the motto of Pope Francis should be “De minimis non curat Papa”. I assume that the Pope could not care less about every little detail of the GIRM; those things simply do not have any importance to him at all, and he simply cannot understand why anyone else should consider them to be important.

    The real question should be to those who do bother about such things, asking why is every little detail of the GIRM such a big deal for them?

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #6:
      I’m afraid someties we consider only the human aspect and we leave God completely out. Don’t we believe that the Holy Spirit has still a major role tro play … even in the Catholic Church?

  5. I’ll go ahead and play my assigned role here as the liturgical neanderthal. Without any foreknowledge or official commentary, which seems to be how all these speculations arise in the first place, the rohrschach response that came to me was the absence of the “alter Christus” and a horizontal visual effect with the concelebrants raising the species and vessels alone. I’m not too perturbed, but to say I’m not concerned that the HF, if physically capable, has relinquished the ultimate (Eugene Walsh) moment of sacrificial theology, albeit with good and defendable reason. Fire away.

  6. What! no comment about the flowers ON the altar. And only two candles together to one side. Does Msgr Guido Marini sleep in perhaps on the mornings when Pope Francis celebrates the Eucharist at Saint Martha’s, or are these daily Eucharists not considered “Papal” liturgies. Though I did once see a video clip of Benedict XVI celebrating a daily Eucharist with “gorgeous” Georg/Abp Gaenswein helping him to vest. Hasn’t come in from Castel Gandolfo at this early hour?
    Being true to the “Jesuit” tradition, or to what becomes natural, custom, habit when you regularly celebrate the Eucharist in the favellas? Or maybe this is another form of “inculturation”, Rome learning from the margins?

  7. It seems to me that there are (at least) two different ways to “care about liturgy.”

    1) You care about the integrity of the symbolic system as defined by history, theology, law, aesthetics etc.

    2) You care that people have a meaningful experience of common worship.

    There is no reason you cannot have both. But, at least in my experience, you often have one or the other (and,sadly, on occasion neither). If I had to chose, I would go with 2, but I’d be gritting my teeth.

    At the risk of stereotyping, many of the Jesuits I have known who care about liturgy, particularly those who came of age during the 60s, care about it in the second sense. My guess is that Pope Francis “cares about liturgy” in the second sense, and not so much in the first.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt – comment #10:
      I’m so glad that you observed ‘there is no reason you cannot have both’. I would go so far as to say that if you don’t have both you have neither. Certainly, it seems to me, one cannot truly have ‘a meaningful experience of common worship’ without ‘care [and knowledge of] the integrity of the symbolic system…’. I think that having no.1 without no. 2 skirts dangerously close to being what one friend of mine calls ‘kabuki liturgy’. Equally, having no. 2 without no.1 results in the fallacy of conceiving of the mass as primarily a community-centred activity. Either one without the other is hollow. To the extent that we have in our midst ‘communities’ which display totally (or even primarily) one OR the other, we have a total failure of genuine catechesis, if not some degree of heresy (if it’s possible for heresy to come in degrees!!?).

      1. @M. Jackson Osborn – comment #16:
        if not some degree of heresy (if it’s possible for heresy to come in degrees!!?).

        Well, you’ve got at lest two degrees — material and formal.

  8. Brendan, I’m not sure what you’re upset about.
    Fritz, I don’t see numbers 1 and 2 as being incompatible, in point of fact I think they’re complimentary. And yes, I know you acknowledged that in your post. But it would be nice to think that folks could think beyond borders.

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #11:
      Actually not all that upset. Personally would prefer to see Pope Francis elevating both Body and Blood (paten and chalice). Just pointing up a few other anomalies that could be commented on. Suspect Pope Francis’ liturgical style influenced by his liturgical and pastoral experience in Argentina.

  9. The priest on the left begs a caption. “Does he think I’m a deacon?” Or, “Should I report this to Guido?”

    I think it means that Francis knows the difference between what is essential and what is peripheral when it comes to rubrics. The three of them are celebrants and the consecrated elements are being held aloft while the doxology is being prayed. Perhaps he thought of it as a way to honor and include his brother priests. I’m glad I’m not a traditionalist. They may be in for some sleepless nights.

  10. There’s always the Jesuit joke about a First Mass:

    At post-Mass cocktails, the Provincial comes up to the new priest as to congratulate him and says, “Anthony, I knew you’d never said Mass before. I didn’t realize you’d never BEEN TO Mass before.”

  11. The impetus to analysis such as this is the direct result of anglophone bishops’ liturgical machinations of the past decade or so obsessing over the red and making us do the same. Travel the world and you find Mass is celebrated in diverse ways not keeping to the GIRM. Only anglophones obsess about it. This photo is VERY typical of any celebration in Italy where generally every parish does whatever it wants!

  12. For years the altar in our parish church in a village in the English midlands looked just like this, two candles together and a beautiful flower arrangement, together with a small crucifix. Things change, not always for the better.

    1. @Chris McDonnell – comment #18:

      I don’t particularly like the altar arrangement, but what you see here at Pope Francis’s Mass has been pretty standard in Italy since the introduction of the OF (maybe even during the interim period). Pope Francis is merely going with the flow of Italian liturgy. I suspect that he purposefully desires that his daily Mass look like most other Masses in Rome.

      This is a positive development in my view. Liturgy geeks and the EF clique might not be cool with Pope Francis’s liturgical decisions, but it makes sense for the Holy Father to structure his liturgies in a way familiar to Romans in particular and Italians in general. This way the assembly focuses on the action of the Mass and not where the flowerpot sits on the altar.

  13. The other question posed in this post is: “…is he perfectly aware of what he’s doing and has his reasons for it?”

    I would suspect that the answer is yes, he has reasons for what he does and it is here that I think we are owed an explanation. That would help cut down on useless speculation, such as maybe he just hasn’t gotten the word that everyone is looking at everything he does and wondering why he does it simply because he’s the pope and no longer in parochial obscurity in Argentina. Or the new Holy Father could simply be eccentric liturgically and otherwise but no one has come out and said that.

  14. The same happened in the last supper. Jesus passed the bread and the chalice to his disciples. He held nothing for Himself. He gave everything to us.
    Then on the cross, the only persons that assisted him on right and left, were the thieves. The rubrics of the sacrifice were set by the soldiers and the only things that the Celebrant held in his hands were the nails, representing our sins.
    I always found it hard to understand how Our High Priest lies there, on the Cross, without any clothes, and today, those who were called by Him to be his ministers find no problem in wearing vestments embroidered with gold.

    1. @Joe Farrugia – comment #21:
      I always found it hard to understand how Our High Priest lies there, on the Cross, without any clothes, and today, those who were called by Him to be his ministers find no problem in wearing vestments embroidered with gold.

      Because our High Priest, despite the human appearance (per comment #23), is robed in majesty. The Revelation of John describes Jesus as wearing priestly vestments. The Eucharistic liturgy depicts both the “bareness” of Christ crucified as well as the “clothedness” of Christ resurrected: it depicts Christ glorified.

  15. Sandro Magister at the Chiesa blog seems to make a good argument for Pope Francis perhaps reinterpreting or properly interpreting Vatican II’s decree on religious liberty (and without ever mentioning Vatican II or religious liberty) and using the liturgy to do so, which indeed ties in with some of the things we are seeing, even how Joe Faruggia describes the per ipsum and Jesus standing between the two thieves (both sinners, one repentant and the other not, one accepting Jesus as the Son of God, the other not). Some might even suggest that the SSPX would like Magister’s article and be open to Francis proper interpretation of Vatican II’s decree on religious freedom. In terms of those who hold the elements in the various photo’s of Pope Francis at the per ipsum, one has to ask which priest or bishop represents which thief? 🙂

    Read Magister’s intriguing article here:

  16. Joe Farrugia : I always found it hard to understand how Our High Priest lies there, on the Cross, without any clothes, and today, those who were called by Him to be his ministers find no problem in wearing vestments embroidered with gold.

    I am not one for hideously ornate vestments… well, during Festal Octaves I like a good brocade… but through most of the year, something simple will suffice… simple, but noble!

    True, we shall always have need to care for the poor, the neglected, the undefended, etc., but we are also worshipping the Creator of all things who, when Judas indignantly complained about the ‘waste’ of the profit represented by the anointing the Lord received reminded his followers that it was right to offer noble service to him. Nobility sometimes costs money, and yes, while you can be noble with plain vestments, threads of gold (or silk, or whatever) can, from time to time, lend a special dignity to a liturgical celebration that, I believe, is completely in keeping with the example set in Matthew 26.

    For the most part, I celebrate the Eucharist in polyester vestments that cost me less than $400 for the entire year’s colors… but yes, at Christmas, Easter, All Saints, etc., I pull out the brocade with ophreys, etc. Sometimes, nobility at least suggests a little more.


  17. What lessons will we draw from a Pope who has his own way of celebrating the liturgy, not entirely faithful to every little detail of the missal and GIRM?

    Depends on whether we like the deviations or not. Heck, even when a Pope exercises a legitimate option provided for in the GIRM, we can find ways to criticize it and characterize it as unfaithful to the liturgy.

  18. Pope Francis reminds me of a faithful “Low Mass” priest before Vatican II. He simply goes about his priestly business without fanfare, sure in the knowledge that he’s a priest of Christ, that the Eucharist is confected, that graces are received and conferred, firm in the Apostolic Faith and Succession. A True Believer, but not a Liturgist. He knows that getting people to sing louder at Mass isn’t the goal. The goal is redemption and a change of heart. The salvation of souls.

  19. I feel like a broken record but here I am again. I was a member of the Society for seven years. What I see in the picture above is a Jesuit celebrating daily mass. For better and for worse, Jesuits, especially of Francis’ generation, were formed to abhore anything that smells (to that Jesuit) as liturgical fussiness. A simple, quiet, and self-effacing presidential style has developed after Vatican II. This is seldom ever spoken of in any formal way, but when a young Jesuit spends about 11 years in the Order before he is even ordained, attending daily mass in community all those years, he cannot help but be shaped by the style of his elders. This is how Jesuits celebrate mass.

    Sure there are more Jesuits with doctorates in liturgy than any other order and among them, liturgy tends to be a bit better executed, but this is the norm.

    I seriously doubt Francis had anything to do with where the candles and flowers are. As long as there is a candle there, the rest is inconsequential. I also seriously doubt that there might be any clear message he is trying to send with the specific act of giving his concelebrants the role of raising the consecrated gifts during the doxology. At best, it is just an impulse toward self-effacement and generosity. I have seen it done more times than I can count. That doesn’t mean I would recommend it; I just think his motivations are that simple. At the same time I will also say he is very aware his “way of proceeding” is a break from before. I’d guess that Francis is also completely fine with that.

  20. In today’s Tablet (p 31), Fr Paul Gunter (secretary of the UK Department for Christian Life and Worship and professor at Sant’ Anselmo, Rome) says that papal liturgy should not be seen as the exemplar for other liturgies: “It is precisely because the papal liturgy is a distinct reality in itself, that local churches can neither call on its precedent to dispense themselves from norms that apply to the whole Church, nor change, of their own accord, the approved rites and prayers that define and steer the liturgical celebration itself.” (To contextualise this, it is under the headline ‘Priests should not wash women’s feet, says liturgist’)

    1. @Alan Smith – comment #33:
      Alan, your quote from Fr. Paul Gunter is something that would have been lauded by many here only a couple of months ago as a call toward subsidiarity and the proper autonomy of the local Church. Let’s see what happens.

      1. @Daniel McKernan – comment #48:

        And there many here who held up Benedict’s liturgies precisely as examples that should be copied by everyone, with practices that would transform the Church. Suddenly those same people see the peculiarities of papal liturgy as something no one should follow…

    2. @Alan Smith – comment #33:

      That is the point that needs discussing or refuting, Is it true that the papal liturgy is “a distinct reality in itself” ? That smacks of artifice, rather like the bad old days of Westminster Cathedral, when they tried to claim that the “Capitular Mass” was not subject to any liturgical norms because it was sui generis. If Dom Paul starts talking about the ontological nature of the liturgy, or of different forms of liturgy, then we can have a real debate.

  21. @Eric Styles – comment #32:
    Eric’s comment matches my experience. The solemn Latin Novus Ordo Masses celebrated by the Jesuits I know has the simple, quiet and self-effacing style that he describes – although one Jesuit, beloved by all, rises to a magnificent crescendo when he sings offerte vobis pacem.

    Something similar applied even with the Tridentine Mass. Fr Ray Blake blogged this about two Jesuits who occasionally used the older rite: “… both were devout but ghastly liturgists, Jesuits, for the most part, don’t understand liturgy.”

    Fr Blake was wrong about the priests and question and about Jesuits generally. The priests celebrated in a way that was simple and beautiful, whether the normative Mass or the Tridentine. The Jesuits I know do understand liturgy, they just understand it differently, in a manner that has little room for the pomp and apparent self-consciousness that some communities bring to the Mass.

    But the Jesuit liturgical idea is not just about stripping things away. You can see this in their church architecture, starting with the Gesù in Rome: the sanctuaries tend to be wide and shallow, with few pillars and good “sight lines”. The pulpits are thrust forward, so that the good news can reach the people directly. It is extraverted in its style. In this sensibility, you would be unlikely to go behind a constructed “iconostasis” of candles and a crucifix, because that would create a barrier between priest and people.

  22. Eric Styles wrote (#32):
    “I seriously doubt Francis had anything to do with where the candles and flowers are. As long as there is a candle there, the rest is inconsequential.”
    which reminded me of Dom Gregory Dix’s comment on alar lights in his Shape of the Liturgy:. (Any emphases are mine, and it may need to be continued in a subsequent comment.)
    Candles on the Altar. For reasons already stated the standing of any object whatever on the altar was entirely contrary to the devotional conventions of the early church. Lamps and candelabra were hung above it, and standard candlesticks were stood around – sometimes six or eight of them. But the altar itself remained bare of such ornaments for almost the first thousand years of christian history in the West, and perhaps to an even later date in the East. This feeling of the special sanctity of the altar began to break down in Gaul in the eighth century in certain respects, but it is not until the ninth century that we find candlesticks being stood upon it, and for some while they were not common even in great churches. There was one which was placed upon the altar in Winchester cathedral c. A.D. 1180, but apparently as a special little ceremony on Christmas day only, and this is the earliest English reference to such a practice that I know. This custom of one altar candle (moved around with the book at low mass) became fairly common in France in the thirteenth century, and was still not unknown in England as late as the fifteenth century. It is said to survive to this day at low mass in Carthusian monasteries. […to be continued…]

  23. [continued…]
    It is not, however, until the very end of the twelfth century (c. A.D. 1195) that we first find candles upon the altar at Rome; and then they are two in number at the Pope’s ‘stational’ mass on the most solemn feasts. By A.D. 1254 the number on such occasions had risen to seven. Further than that it never went. The Papal custom of two candles on the altar was widely adopted in the early thirteenth century, and lasted without change in some of the great French and Spanish collegiate churches down to the eighteenth century.
    It is by no means clear how the current notion that two candles was the specifically ‘English Use’ originated. The multiplication of altar candles was in fact rather characteristic of England and the North generally, once the custom of having them at all had come in. Thus e.g., at Chichester before the end of the thirteenth century the custom on feasts was to burn seven tall lights each of two pounds’ weight of wax upon the altar and eight more in trabe (on a shelf above the altar-screen-the fore-runner of the Renaissance ‘gradine’). At S. Augustine’s Canterbury there were two such trabes with a row of six candles on each, and apparently a third row of six actually upon the altar. At Exeter early in the fourteenth century there were still no candles on the altar itself, but a row of ten behind it. At Lincoln there were five; at S. David’s cathedral there were fourteen; and so on. There appear in fact to be instances from mediaeval England of every number of altar candles from one to twenty, except seventeen and nineteen. […to be continued…]

  24. [ continued…]
    If we enquire the reason for the widespread increase in the number of altar candles during the thirteenth century, it is to be found, I think, in the change in the shape of the Western altar from the antique fashion of a cube some 3 ft. square to that of oblong altars 10, 12, or more feet long, in the new gothic churches. The increase in the number of candles comes in first in the great churches, which were mostly being rebuilt about then in the new style, only because the new shape of altar came in first in the great churches, which always tend to set fashions.
    Such things have nothing to do with religion or its practice (or even with what is called ‘loyalty’), as the mediaeval churchmen were sensible enough to perceive. But the portentous behaviour of nineteenth century English bishops and lawyers, and the ‘fond things vainly invented’ by some ritualists, have succeeded in impressing it upon the mind of most modern Englishmen that they somehow closely concern the genius of christianity. Such questions were formerly decided by custom, by aesthetics or by mere convenience, not by courts of law. To the mediaeval taste a row of candlesticks looked better than two on a long altar, and so they had a row — of three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten or whatever number their finances or fancy or just the fashion of the moment suggested; or they varied the number on different days according to the rank of the feast or the dignity of the celebrant. […to be concluded…]

    1. @John Henley – comment #37:
      I believe the Sarum, York, and Hereford usages called for a different number of candles on the altar depending upon the feast or commemoration. For the canon additional lights were lit above or around the altar, or on top of the rood screen.

  25. [concluded…]
    In Germany and Holland in the fifteenth century some churches took to having hundreds; in the same period in Sicily and Sardinia some churches preferred to retain only two; and nobody questioned their right to do as they liked in either case. The modern Anglican celebrant can have six candles upon his altar like some of the Avignon Popes in the fourteenth century, or seven like the Popes at the end of the thirteenth century, or two like the Popes at the end of the twelfth century, or even none at all like the Popes at the end of the eleventh century — and be happily conscious that historically he is being just as ‘Roman’ whichever he does. If he really wants to be ‘primitive’ in such matters, he must celebrate facing the people across the altar — like all the Popes in every century — and with no candles and no cross (and no vases of flowers or book-stand) — like all the Popes for the first thousand years. What preposterous nonsense it is to try to erect sacristy orthodoxies and even tests of theological allegiance out of these minute details of pious furnishing, that have varied endlessly throughout christian history and have never meant anything in particular by all their changes!
    So wrote Dix some sixty years ago. Although his highlighted comments were aimed at English high-church Anglicans, it seems to me that they have not lost their appositeness in the wider liturgical debate of the 21st century 🙂
    Kind regards,

    1. @John Henley – comment #38:
      John, great comments from that article. Be sure to send a copy to Guido M.

      Didn’t one of the Lateran councils decree that it was forbidden to place anything on the altar? One of the same councils that defined transubstantiation?
      Send that to Guido too.

      John you also listed: “…six candles upon his altar like some of the Avignon Popes in the fourteenth century, or seven like the Popes at the end of the thirteenth century”
      ADD:…and one backwards looking pope in the 21st century…

      1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #39:
        Didn’t one of the Lateran councils decree that it was forbidden to place anything on the altar?
        I didn’t find any such decree in the texts of the five Lateran councils.

        ADD:…and one backwards looking pope in the 21st century…

        Which reminds me, where did the “z” in your last name run off to, doctor?

      2. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #42:
        Perhaps I missed something, but it seemed to me the major gist of that article was that the practice of putting candles on the altar has varied so much throughout the history of the Church that pretty much any arrangement may claim to be legitimate. So the “Benedictine arrangement” is just as good as a plain altar with no candles.

      3. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #42:
        Actually Jeff you’re correct, it was actually a proclamation of Pope Leo IV (died 855):
        “Nothing may be placed on the altar except remnants of the Sancta or the pyx with the Body of the Lord for viaticum for the sick.”
        Also, even earlier in church history, “After all have taken part in communion let the deacons carry what remains to the sacristy” 8.13.17. Apostolic Constitutions
        You liked that Zing… I actually prefer Big Bang Sheldon’s ba zinga ga!

        As far as the missing “z” much to my chagrin Father Z stole it and won’t give it back…
        Actually, the z is used officially but I left off when writing or discoursing with friends, esp at PTB. Some Acadians, besides the French were originally from Spain/Portugal when they migrated to Acadia/Nova Scotia. However, after the “Great Expulsion” of 1755-1763 to Louisiana and South many but not all dropped the “z” and is customary to find a mix of Rodrigue, Rodriguez (Spanish) or Rodrigues (Portuguese). However, in official circles the z is still used. Since I am here among friends I do not use the official z or Dr or the Jr. Many priests blogging do not use their official “Fr.” either.

  26. At the parish level, there are often a small handful of people that notice and appreciate small details of how the sanctuary is arranged and are concerned if some jot or tittle is out of place. But the vast majority are happy so long as the celebration proceeds with some level of decorum. They are likely more interested in whether they could hear the lector, whether the priest had anything interesting to say in his homily, and whether the music was decent. Ministers who get all bothered over minutiae may well be out of touch with the people they serve.

  27. There is a need for genuine dialogue between those who see any deliberate breach of a rubric as a serious matter and those who do not. I am very much in the latter camp, but I understand that for some the rubrics are important in their own right.

    Is it that they fear that once you let things slip on small matters there will be no stopping until you have priests using crisps and coca cola instead of bread and wine? Fritz Bauerschmidt in comment #10 implied that unless you are scrupulous about rubrics you do not “care about the integrity of the symbolic system as defined by history, theology, law, aesthetics etc.”

    Some priests would argue that it is possible to care deeply about the symbols of the liturgy without believing that every rubric is of equal importance.

    On the other hand there is a temptation for those on my side of the argument to accuse those who want everyone to “say the black and do the red” as acting just like the Pharisees who were condemned by Jesus. That is unjust and unhelpful. We all want the same from the liturgy.

    1. @Rom Kiul – comment #41:
      Understanding that we are discussing *deliberate* breach of rubrics (and I would go further and qualify this by *chronic* as well), the question becomes: on whose warrant? There is an issue of clericalism – no matter how well intentioned (which I will grant is usually the case) – that ought not be kept in the cognitive blindspot. Priests often fail to consider that good intentions may not be sufficient. The priests that do consult with others often seem to consult their peers and the lay liturgical-pastoral establishment (which has a strong tendency to become something of an echo chamber) rather than undertaking the harder and much more tedious work of discerning a consensus (broad and deep) on the part of the entire community that has to live with the consequences (this is much less of an issue for prelates). Without that, the good intentions will often strike as shallow and self-serving and not very progressive.

  28. I think the main objection to Benedict’s candles on the altar was to do with the fact that they made him look like someone imprisoned behind the bars of a cage — not a good image for someone who is supposed to be leading people in prayer.

    But then again, I never had the impression that Benedict was interested in leading people in prayer. With the crucifix on the altar occupying his attention, and with his general understatedness plus Marini II’s insistence on Latin instead of the vernacular, it always seemed that Benedict’s celebrations were more in the way of personal devotions for him, rather than celebrations of the entire gathered celebrating community, who were only incidentally present. Not a good exemplar of sacramenta propter homines.

    The line of candles and crucifix may have made good sense in an ad orientem celebration, when they are positioned beyond the celebrant, but in the context of Mass facing the people they are nothing short of ridiculous: a veritable barrier.

  29. Jim McKay : @Daniel McKernan – comment #48: And there many here who held up Benedict’s liturgies precisely as examples that should be copied by everyone, with practices that would transform the Church. Suddenly those same people see the peculiarities of papal liturgy as something no one should follow…

    And there were others who thought Benedict should not be copied, but now believe Francis should be…

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