Francis the Liturgist

Over at the National Catholic Reporter, Fr. Tom Reese SJ has a very fine wrap-up on the significance of the liturgies Pope Francis celebrated in the U.S.: “Francis the Liturgist.” Pray Tell is amply quoted – Reese references our posts by Fritz Bauerschmidt, Michael Silhavy, and Fr. Ron Krisman.

Go there to read the whole article, which begins as follows.

Francis came to the United States not only as a prophet to challenge us on public policy issues, he also came as a pastor to break bread in the Eucharist with the Catholic community.

The papal liturgies were meticulously planned and executed, according to American liturgists who watched the ceremonies. “Overall I found the masses well done, given the extraordinary character they had and the mobs of people present,” said one.

In fact, they were so professionally done, a professor of liturgy lamented, “The scale of these liturgies, watched by so many people on TV, is not always helpful to the idea of liturgy as a recurrent Sunday event at which none of those resources are present.”

Pity the poor pastor who has to celebrate for his people after they have seen a papal liturgy. “These events are as much grand opera as they are liturgies,” added the professor. …


  1. Having performed in both “grand opera” and on stages where we could put a stamp in the corner and mail it to the next location, I must respectfully disagree. The difference is not simply scale, but mindset … and I would suggest that mindset is more important.

    Professional performers who turn-it-down or turn-it-off for whatever reason are short-lived in the business. The word gets around and the phone calls stop coming. There are no small actors, only small parts.

    Unfortunately, within the Church, “mehh-its-ok” seems to be the standard that one can strive for. Nothing stops a celebrant from preparing for and offering a perfect sacrifice, a powerful homily. Nothing requires a celebrant to “get-it-done” or to constantly selected the shortest options. Nothing stops a parish, no matter how small, from putting forward a beautiful music ministry, reverent readers, solemn processions … well, one thing does … mindset.

    Imagine if every parish could say that nothing would change this weekend if the Bishop, Cardinal, Nuncio or even the Pope showed up at Mass … our readers would still read, the music would still be beautiful, our Deacons would still tend to their duties just as they do every Mass … all with a simple, noble solemnity that we are accustomed to normally.

    Q: What really prevents us from doing that? A: __________________


    As an aside, where things do get complicated is when we see image upon image of Priests receiving Holy Communion by intinction … and guess that happens on Sunday as the lay faithful come forward?

    Where things get complicated is where we have unending commentary on the liturgy that is wildly inaccurate, full of wrong terminology. One stands amazed at how the news reporter’s made-up understandings of the liturgy are held as the truth.


    I would suggest that we should be emulating the noble simplicity of the Papal Mass as much as possible each and every time. It is, afterall, the greatest of grand operas.

    1. @Don Donaldson:

      Well said.

      I enjoyed all the papal liturgies (and the soaring voices of the female cantors!), and even if I didn’t, couldn’t (and wouldn’t) criticize this or that, knowing — thanks to the Internet — how much time, effort, blood(!), sweat and tears have gone into making it all possible.

      I’d be curious to know, though, to what extent and in what ways the Vatican was involved in planning these liturgical celebrations. For his visit to Korea, for example, it was reported that the Vatican made two specific requests, liturgy-wise: (a) that the altars for the papal masses not be set up too high above the ground where the people are (so that the Pope, the presider, would be, as much as possible, at the same eye level as the people and not above them), and (b) that the Pope’s vestments be lightweight, simple in design and contain something of our culture. All the rest, as far as I know, were left to the local bishops and their collaborators to decide.

      Anyway, Francis the Liturgist has got to be the most understudied and underexplored thread of this papacy. Here’s hoping we’ll get to pull that particular thread apart someday too.

  2. One of the criticisms I hear of the Extraordinary Form is that it is excessively focused on theatrics, so it seems strange to hear the recent papal liturgies compared positively to grand opera.

  3. My impression was that they were meticulously planned to showcase musical resources and styles that are uncommon to the experience of most participants and viewers. I would have welcomed at least one liturgy employing the musical selections of parishes in which nearly all sing with gusto. In the Masses I looked in on it seemed that most people were just listening.

    1. @Fr. Jack Feehily:
      Agreed, Fr Feehily. As I watched I sometimes felt that as he moved from one city to the next, each one was trying to outdo the last, especially with the music. It would have been wonderful to have all of those people in the congregations singing something that Francis could resonate with: All Are Welcome comes to mind or the Canticle of the Turning.

    2. @Fr. Jack Feehily:
      Vast outdoor spaces are terrible for FCAP in singing. The interplay of PA systems and awful acoustics conspire against it. (Yes, and I’ve listened to people try to sing songs in stadiums, and it’s typically awful).

    3. @Fr. Jack Feehily:
      Vast outdoor spaces are terrible for FCAP in singing. The interplay of PA systems and awful acoustics conspire against it. (Yes, and I’ve listened to people try to sing songs in stadiums, and it’s typically awful). The best options for songs are steady metrical hymns; even so, they are not sure thing. The worst thing in that context in American culture are highly syncopated melodies.

    4. @Fr. Jack Feehily:

      “In the Masses I looked in on it seemed that most people were just listening.”

      This is from Gawker (which, as you may know well, is hardly Catholic-friendly, quite the opposite actually), but here is a surprisingly moving account of what it was like to be at the final mass in Philadelphia:

      Having attended countless fidgety masses throughout my lifetime, I was curious to see how such a large group would hold it together watching a subtitled mass on an outdoor screen. The answer is: well. Extremely well. While not everyone went to the trouble of mouthing along with the songs and prayers, some did, and some even participated in the sitting, kneeling, and standing parts… It was a mass during which it was close to socially acceptable to check your phone, and I caught nearly no one doing so… The pushiest moment—really, the only pushy moment—came during communion… However, at least where I was standing, it seemed everyone who wanted the body of Christ was given Him, before blessing themselves and returning to their spots. It was a quiet, peaceful scene…

      (The whole story here:

      I think huge outdoor masses, or any other large liturgical gatherings for that matter, get an often undeserved bad rap. Even if it appears, when viewed from afar, all anyone ever does is just listening, there may be something very powerful happening within someone’s heart. Ask me how I know.

  4. The Mass out doors in Philly was done very well in the convoluted space they had. aaaaaawhere I was the jummbp tron was too low and the translations were blocked by people in the way. Move the jumbo tron up 6 feet and everyone could have seen.

    Thank you again (I posted this before) for praying the Our Father in English in Philly. Communion was orderly and a crowd that size getting Communion in three and a half hymns was pretty amazing. There really is no such thing as a “simple Papal Mass” so the liturgy planners should be commended …they were more event planners than anything. As with any Mass presided by a Jesuit the running joke to prove sucess (one of many) is that “well, no one got hurt” but the ambulance moving slowly through the crowd during “Taste and See” simply increased my prayer…many people were singing around me especially “You Satisfy the Hungry Heart” and whole group of high school students next to me were swaying arm in arm to the Taste and See and singing.

    Great big Mass, very well done.

  5. Just to clarify…intinction is permitted in US, but only by a priest. We do not self serve. Also, they needed to intinct otherwise they would have run out of the Precious Blood after about 20 concelebrants. Don’t forget, the Vatican has the final word in regards to Papal Liturgies, they are coming from the Mother Church of the Catholic Universe after all .

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