The Pope and Liturgy in Asia: Humor and Humility

Pope Francis wrapped up his trip to Asia this past weekend, with a reported crowd of six million people attending an outdoor Mass in Manila. Earlier he presided at a smaller gathering at the city’s Cathedral. There were two moments in that Mass that caught our attention. First, near the beginning, when he waved and offered a blessing, showing a lighter and softer side in the midst of the Mass.



Second, we turn to the beginning of the Holy Father’s homily, where laughter ensued.



Of course, all of this is likely overshadowed by the in-flight press conference the Pope held earlier today as he headed back to Rome. In it, he talked about his upcoming trip to the United States, among other interesting and colorful comments. While the details of that trip scheduled for next fall continue to be finalized, one thing is for sure: the Pope and his visit will never be boring.


  1. Look, the Airplane Magisterium is running wild, like rabbits breeding. I love this guy. He’s cool. He’s with it. He’s whatever one wants him to be.

  2. I do agree that he is never boring. He is not “whatever one wants him to be” however. He is indubitably the pope, and he is human, and he is himself. It is delightful to watch.

  3. There was one other moment from this Mass that was priceless. At the sign of peace, after he did his usual exchange with those around the altar and contrary to the latest guidelines that the priest must not leave the sanctuary area at this point, he took off with Msgr Guido trailing to keep up with him, the two of them exchanging words going down the step that looked like the good monsignor asking him where he was going with Papa Francesco looking a bit terse as he replied. The pope walked over to two rows of sisters/nuns seated in wheelchairs, all old or disabled, in front of the front row of pews. He took the time to bend down, hold their hands, greet them, some he blessed. He took his time doing this never rushing them if they wanted to hold on to his hands for a moment or so. The camera showed many of them in tears as he walked away to the other side where their was a similar row of priests, again taking his time with each, even hugging some of them. I had noticed earlier that the women religious were relegated to plastic patio chairs off to one side of the main section where all priests were seated. There was a section of such kind of chairs on the other side of the space in which I saw some priests but never a good camera shot to see if there were religious women there also. I wondered if he saw the same, that the sister/nuns were relegated to the side, maybe not liking what he saw and wanted to show his deep respect for women religious. He certainly chose a great way to show it.

  4. I found paying attention to this pastoral visit to be very moving, repeatedly. The Pope’s determination to get to Tacloban; the celebration of Mass at the wind- and rain-swept altar, in the yellow poncho; his intense, profoundly Christian, and obviously heart-felt homily there; the girl at St Thomas University with the tearful question about why children suffer and the Pope’s powerful response; and of course the massive numbers in Manila. What an extraordinary moment in this extraordinary pontificate. We are blessed.

  5. The thousands of photos and videos of the visit say more eloquently than words can how millions of Filipinos feel towards Pope Francis.

    Why did the Pope laugh 15 seconds into his sermon at Manila Cathedral?
    FRANCIS: (starting his homily with a quote from Jesus’ words to St. Peter): “Do you love me?”
    ASSEMBLY: (resoundingly): Yes!
    FRANCIS: (taken aback, laughing): “Thank you very much!”
    That sums up one aspect of the visit. Spontaneity. Love.

    The other aspect of the visit was compassion and tears.
    YOUNG GIRL: “Holy Father, why do children suffer so much?”
    FRANCIS: (surprised, at a loss for words, sets aside prepared notes, speaks from the heart): “We cannot really understand why children suffer, until we weep with them and begin to feel what they feel.”

    “Mercy and compassion.”
    They chose the theme of the papal visit very well.
    Blessed is he who came in the name of the Lord!
    Thanks be to God.

  6. The traditionalists and rubricists continue to wring their hands and pull out their hair over Pope Francis. He is willing to set aside the small rules written by men that regulate the order of worship to honor the large rules written by God of love, compassion, and joy. I believe this is following the way of Jesus rather than the way of the Pharisees.

  7. Pope Francis indeed is himself and he is a populist. He understands gestures and this is very positive. And he understands populists. Liturgically I find him to be great even when I wince over this, that or the other. He celebrates Mass in an “ad orientem sort of way” even when facing the congregation. The beginning of his homily for religious was movingly funny in the sense that the Holy Father was simply quoting a passage from Scripture as he began his homily but the congregation responded spontaneously as though it was a question directed to them. I think the Holy Father realized something had logically occurred and it was funny, but he did state, I’m quoting the Scripture passage as he smiled.

    I also appreciate the Holy Father’s course correction on emphasizing the natural character of authentic marriage and how there are those trying to colonize us in a different and unholy way in a dictatorial manner. His Holiness sounded somewhat like Pope Benedict who spoke of the dictatorship of relativism. That was powerful and completely unexpected and appreciated as was his rational no nonsense comments on Humanae Vitae, stunningly so.

    I also appreciated his ad orientem Mass at the historic altar in the Sistine Chapel on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and the baptism of 33 loudly chirping babies. That was a tremendous gesture to say the least!

  8. I’m a fan of compassion over rubrics too. But I do find myself wondering, however, if the bishops and priests we have to work with on a regular basis have now seen the principle of whoever is at the altar can do whatever he wants with the liturgy, if it’s for what he sees as a good cause.
    The other thing I’ve wondered about is his recent and regular default to references about physical violence – breaking dishes, punches in the face, kicks to the behind. I’m sure it’s all meant to be in good humor, but I just find myself remembering Ralph Kramden’s “Pow! To the moon, Alice.” more often than not.

  9. Alan, during the early centuries there were no rubrics. The faithful gathered for the breaking of the bread and to give thanks and praise to God. The one presider gave thanks to God to the extent of their ability. The challenge is for priests, bishops, and the faithful to become the kind of disciples (as opposed to just members) who become really good–even with some spontaneity–worshippers of God in spirit and truth. I believe that Jesus and his disciples would be bemused to take a gander at the GIRM. Follow all these rules and read all these prayers–in a detached and solemn manner–and God will be pleased. Frankly, I can think of far worse things than a breakout of spontaneity and enthusiasm in worship. Of course, it might last more than fifty minutes.

  10. In the early centuries, there was no Ordinary, nor Eucharistic Prayers; I’m guessing that Jesus and his disciples would be pretty bemused by most of the Missal – maybe not the berakah prayers.
    What I’m thinking may happen is that the Pope does this one truly spontaneous compassionate gesture at an extraordinary type of Mass and it turns into the thing that automatically gets done at every Mass every week. That’s neither spontaneity nor enthusiasm. I would be happy for more of both as well, but when they’re placed inside a heavily-scripted event every week, they just become part of the script.

  11. To me. the video of the Communion Hosts being handed back row by row to the faithful who could not get to the barrier wall and all the hands up wanting to receive Communion. I think this is the sign of a world wanting Jesus and using their talents and resources to distribute Him. I will show that video to any Eucharistic Minister we train. That is why lay people help bring the Body of Christ. Because the world needs Him. What an act of generosity, responding to need, and exactly the way it should have been done by men, women, children and possibly some non Catholics.

    I was impressed though …5,000 Eucharistic Ministers and 5,000 ushers? WOW.

    Finally, what did Cardinal Teagle mean by “non Christian Catholics” as he was thanking the Pope…was that a mix up on words?

    1. @Ed Nash – comment #11:
      “Officials from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines on Saturday night celebrated a Mass and consecrated 2.5 million hosts for distribution Sunday from 20 tents among the crowd.” —

      I wonder if there is anything like attending a Papal Mass or Eucharistic Congress in the Philippines, where you pray and sing with a lighted candle with a million other people.

  12. In the early church there were indeed rubrics in the sense of the customs that were carried on by Christians from the table liturgies of the Jewish home. The lifting up of the bread and blessing God. The washing of the hands. The lighting of the candles. All of these to particular prayers. “Blessed are you, Lord God, king of the universe…” ect. They didn’t need to be written down, but rubrics there were.

    “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” (Matthew 23:23).

    I for one think one can be both personable and a celebrant of the liturgy in the manner of a solemn high mass. Just because a priest is careful in the smaller matters of the kingdom, doesn’t mean that he’s automatically stuck up. Those who think so need to work on their judgmental attitude. I think the Pope shows both sides quite well.

  13. Love, fellow feeling, joy and being one with the lowly and the abandoned – Jesus and his early co-workers did that. His Holiness is trying his best to meditate and put into practice those little things.

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