Serving at the Holy Father’s Side

Pope Benedict XVI would be 'pleased if, once in a while,' his proposals for the celebration of Mass would be 'received and become practice for many,' said his master of ceremonies, Msgr. Guido Marini.

Msgr. Guido Marini is the conscientious-looking bespectacled priest you will always see at the Pope’s side during liturgical celebrations. As the master of pontifical liturgical celebrations, he has the key task of assisting the Holy Father to ensure Masses and other major pontifical ceremonies proceed according to plan. In October, Msgr. Marini, 47, will have served five years in the role. Before coming to Rome, he was chief liturgist for the Archdiocese of Genoa.
In this interview with the Register’s Rome correspondent Edward Pentin, given in May, he explains what it is like working with Pope Benedict XVI, the Holy Father’s liturgical renewal, and the possibilities of returning to Mass being celebrated ad orientem, with the priest facing east. In January 2008, Benedict XVI became the first pope in 30 years to publicly celebrate Mass in this way. Msgr. Marini helped organize the liturgical ceremony.

At what stage have we reached in the Holy Father’s liturgical renewal, the assertion that the changes taking place in the Mass are not a rupture with the liturgical vision set forth in the Second Vatican Council, but, rather, in continuity with it?
The great liturgical tradition of the Church certainly reached an important stage at the Second Vatican Council, and the subsequent reforms during the pontificates of Paul VI, John Paul I and particularly John Paul II.  Benedict XVI sees this great tradition as the life of the Church and the liturgical life of the Church developing and renewing interiorly, according to a process of development in continuity with the past. It seems, to me, this element  of development in continuity with the past is characteristic of how Pope Benedict XVI appropriately deals in general in the liturgical field. This came, and comes from, the magisterium, from the words of the Pope on the liturgy and also through the liturgical celebrations presided by the Pope in Rome, Italy and around the world. Also keep in mind that the Holy Father is the great liturgist of the Church, and, therefore, his celebrations are always an example and a reference point for the universal Church. I believe that he intends that, through his words, the magisterium of the Pope concerning the liturgy, and the practice of the liturgy of the Pope, it’s possible to embrace this harmonic development with the past that is being realized in the liturgical field. To say at which point it has reached in its development and path is difficult, in the sense that the liturgy is a life, a life that develops; therefore, it’s a process that is going forward.

Could you explain for those who may be unaware why there is a need for the Church to return to what some perceive as a more traditional liturgy? Does this mean post-conciliar liturgical practices are disappearing?
It’s clear that this period of reform is a long process that supports and considers the various changes that have happened. But perhaps we’ve lost some important elements from history and past tradition, and this is an opportune moment to reintroduce the process of development that is being realized. It doesn’t seem, to me, we’re dealing much with a return to the past in certain things. We’re dealing with living the reality of the present without losing the perspective of the great patrimony and richness of the Church on whose shoulders we rest, and, if it’s necessary, to recuperate some elements that are always real and true in the liturgy that can be forgotten along the way. But now what is always fundamental in the Church, in the liturgy, is to ask oneself what is true in the liturgy. We’re not dealing with the past, present or ancient or modern, but with liturgical truth that comprises of the past, present, ancient and modern in the life of the Church.

When he celebrates Mass, the Pope insists on communicants receiving Communion while kneeling. Is this something he wants for the universal Church?
The Holy Father explained this gesture in his interview in Light of the World. When the interviewer asked him about this practice, he said he felt the need for a strong gesture to recall the sense of the Real Presence of the Eucharist. This is so we can live this great sacrament, and this gesture is also necessary in adoration, to live this in front of the Eucharist. At this time, the Holy Father wants it for his own liturgical celebrations, but it’s clear it is an exemplary gesture for all, and we are invited to reflect on it. Above all, it’s an indication, because in whichever way a priest says the Eucharist today, in ways that are licit and ways the Church allows, one mustn’t lose sight of the adoring disposition that a living faith expresses in the presence of the Lord. If the Pope were to desire this to become common practice, he would say it in an explicit way; but, at the moment, he hasn’t expressed this point of view.

Would he also prefer to see priests celebrating Mass ad orientem, facing east, and have this liturgical practice for the whole Church?
Certainly, the question of orientation of the prayer is an aspect of the liturgy that’s very close to the Pope’s heart. The Pope has spoken and written about it as cardinal, as a theologian, and it’s an argument that he’s returned to during his pontificate. He has also made this clear in his own liturgical practice, which he’s made particularly visible, because the crucifix is now placed at the center of the altar to recall the coordination of liturgical prayer during the great Eucharistic prayer. He’s pleased if, once in a while, his proposal will be received and become practice for many.  

And included in this is the direction in which the priest celebrates Mass?
Yes, in effect the first Christians found themselves oriented towards the east. Because it was the place of the Resurrection, it became a symbol of the risen Christ, who comes to visit his Church. So not for nothing the ancient Church was constructed towards the east. Then, in the course of history, this coordination towards the east was no longer realized for many reasons. But the Church has never lost this orientation; it’s been expressed in other ways, constructing great apses or great crucifixes that have become central to worship. So this orientation of prayer has historically often been expressed in many ways, but has never ceased. It’s really always been an element central to Christian prayer. This is why the Pope, in his heart, hasn’t ever lost sight of this aspect and proposes a way in which everyone can find prayer oriented towards the Lord.

Does the Holy Father think it a pity this has been lost since Vatican II?
It’s not always easy to enter the thoughts of the Pope, but I think there are two fundamental points: One is that the Pope is fully in tune with the Second Vatican Council, but, at the same time, he is aware that the process of reform still needs to be fully realized in a correct way, because the history of reform is well known; but, unfortunately, its application hasn’t all been correct and in line with the sense of the authentic spirit of the liturgy. So it appears, to me, the Pope sees it’s important to go forward on this path, while at the same time introduce those correctives where there’s a need and not to lose sight of the authentic spirit of the liturgy.

What do you and the Holy Father think of the large open-air Masses on papal trips? Are these liturgically acceptable?
The first thing to say is that these great celebrations, which came into being above all during John Paul II’s pontificate, and have continued with Pope Benedict, are certainly moments of grace, because they bring many fruits. Today one thinks of World Youth Day or the World Meeting of Families. Certainly, these are important and nice moments of prayer and bring fruits of grace. But, for sure, they bring problematic behavior that perhaps hasn’t yet been fully confronted, nor have they perhaps ever had a response. I think, for example, the problem of the number of celebrants at these great celebrations, or at the moment of distribution of Communion — in the crowd, there are hundreds of people.
What type of participation takes place at these really great celebrations? It seems, to me, these problems don’t yet have solutions. The Pope himself was alerted to these problems at the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist, and he has spoken about them at other times, saying that he understood the problems which need to be faced, but, at the moment, there isn’t a solution — they need reflection and thought. I believe that he’s engaged with all aspects of the liturgy, looking at these great events with a good perspective, considering some of these problematic elements, but with patience and reflection in order to find the most adequate solution.

What is it like working so closely with the Holy Father? How much guidance does he give you? How do you receive instructions?
The important thing is this: that the liturgy must be a papal liturgy, and so the Holy Father must give the coordination and indications. When I arrived in Rome, I had the desire and intention straightaway to be, as much as possible, a faithful interpreter of the coordination of the Pope. For all that we do, in working to prepare the celebrations, we try to be clearly and fully in tune with the Pope, listening to the indications he gives us. Then, it’s clear that there are practical aspects that the Pope leaves to his collaborators, or workers, to decide. 
But on major aspects of coordination, the important decisions, successive changes in working, I always submit to the Holy Father, and my compliance is to the indications and coordination that he gives me. I must say that this collaboration, which I carry out with my little strength, is very nice, as the Pope is very attentive.  And so, this is also, for me, a school in which perhaps I can propose or submit to the Pope certain questions that the Pope will receive positively or negatively, but always with an explanation. This is also nice for me, from this point of view. And then, I repeat, it’s work that is carried out in close contact in which this office is not only obviously and fully in tune with the Pope, but also its work always proceeds in a very united way, because it involves the Pope giving indications and practical help.

And after all these years you must have come to know the Holy Father’s mind very well.
Yes, in my life I have tried to deepen and form myself through reading the texts of Cardinal Ratzinger, so some things one already knows; but certainly these past five years have helped me to understand much more the thoughts of the Pope, also the Pope’s instincts on the liturgy, on liturgical problems. I don’t say I know everything, absolutely not, but, certainly, I know more than when I first arrived in Rome.

It has become instinctive?
Yes, through the collaboration, through celebrating the liturgy together, this also helps me to understand the mind of the Pope in this area.

Can you share any interesting anecdotes?
There are many because we’ve made many celebrations, in different parts of the world, and there are always elements that one can recount. On a general note, one was very nice that showed the lightness and gracefulness of the Pope’s soul and also his very fine and intelligent sense of humor, as is obvious. It’s a recent-enough memory, linked to World Youth Day in Madrid. We were at a prayer vigil with the young people, and, unfortunately, the evening was hit by a storm, and the rain started coming down. During the first part of the vigil, at a certain point, we had an interruption, because the rain caused the microphones to be turned off. We went to cover the Holy Father with some umbrellas, and, at a certain point, we said: “Holy Father, would you like to retire to the sacristy for a moment until the storm passes?” The Pope said: “No, no, I can’t. The young have to be under the rain, so I will also stay with them.”
That really gives you a sense of the heart and soul of the Pope. Then the first part ended, and we went into the sacristy, because there was adoration, and the Pope had to change. We then returned to the stage, and we walked back to the Pope’s chair, where he had just sat in the first part of the vigil. At the foot of the chair was a little white staircase which was wet, but the color of the water was red. And so, when the Holy Father returned to the sacristy at the end, he said: “Did you see that my shoes lost their color?” So there you have the simplicity, the gracefulness of his soul, and also the humor of the Pope.

Edward Pentin
writes from Rome.