I was at the parish of Ognissanti (All Saints) in Rome yesterday for the Mass celebrated by Pope Francis on the 50th anniversary of the first vernacular Mass celebrated there by Pope Paul VI in 1965. I didn’t have a ticket to get into the church, so I was in the courtyard where the Mass was broadcast on a large screen. (I didn’t have a ticket to get into the courtyard either, but I guess my monastic habit got me in.)
When Paul VI celebrated at Ognissanti in 1965, the Eucharistic Prayer would still have been in Latin, and there was only the Roman Canon. There was an interim missal at that point which hadn’t yet carried out all the directives of the Second Vatican Council, such as its call for more Scripture readings over a cycle of years (Sacrosanctum Concilium 35, 51). The liturgy was rapidly moving toward being entirely vernacular, which is what Paul VI used predominantly but not entirely on March 7, 1965.
The Mass with Francis yesterday was entirely in Italian, including all the Mass parts and service music. A quite fine parish choir sang music which was intended to be congregational – but it had a bit of harmony and staggered entrances that suggested it was really for a choir, and not that many people sang. (You’d think that after 50 years of trying, composers by now would know that… oh, never mind.) But on simpler responses such as the memorial acclamation, I noticed people in the courtyard singing. Pope Francis recited all his parts, and he used Eucharistic Prayer II. Many concelebrating priests, including a couple dozen in the courtyard to distribute Communion to us, I fear from pre-consecrated hosts. Cardinal Kasper was a principal concelebrant – Ognissanti happens to be his titular church as cardinal.
A courtyard is a courtyard, and liturgical prayer outdoors is not easy. (It didn’t help that there was a children’s playground in one corner of the courtyard, and little kids were playing and hollering and going down the slide and shouting etc. throughout the liturgy. I guess parenting theory now isn’t what it was in Minnesota 40 years ago.) Still, this had the feel of a liturgical assembly, certainly more than would have been the case 50 years ago. Everyone knew when to sit and stand, everyone acted as one in the learned language of ritual behavior. I felt at home.
After Mass the pope came into the courtyard and greeted individually several of the faithful standing behind the crowd-control barriers. Then he addressed us all with a microphone. I was immediately struck by his friendly and natural manner that puts a crowd at ease. Francis praised us for persisting outside in the cold weather. (As a Minnesotan, I thought it was pretty mild.) Starting at 3:50 in this news report are the Pope’s words which I translate below.
At times there are difficulties, … but where the Lord is, things go well. Do you agree? (“YES!”) Many thanks. Many thanks for welcoming me here, for your prayer with me at Mass. Let us thank the Lord for what he has done in his Church in these 50 years of liturgical reform. It was truly a courageous gesture for the Church to draw near to the people of God so that they are able to understand well what they are doing. This is important for us, to follow the Mass in this way. It is not possible to go backwards. We must always go forward. Always forward (applause)! And those who go backward are mistaken. Let us go forward on this path (applause, cheers). Thank you.
After saying that he hoped this parish would continue to be a model for liturgical celebration, he gently chided them. “Mi piacerebbe…,” he said hesitantly, then again, this time continuing.
I wish … that the singing would be a bit stronger (laughter). Are you afraid of singing?? (“NO!”) It seems at times I only heard the choir. The people were a bit quiet in there. Maybe you were singing out here, I don’t know (cheers). Thanks to all, and forward! Forward!”
Then he led us in a Hail Mary and blessed us. And concluded:
Arrivederci! Pray for me. Pray for me!