For Pope's MC, Life Imitates Scarf
Make of it what you will.
An advance visit from the chief overseer of Vatican ritual is, of course, a long-standing tradition in the lead-up to a papal visit. But Marini's drop-in before mid-April's PopeTrek to New York and Washington made a bit more of a splash than usual -- not because of any notable utterances from the soft-spoken MC, who struck local planners as "very kind" and "gentle" (and "unexpectedly tall")... but simply because, from the moment he emerged from the plane clad in cassock, sweater-vest and full-length "grecca" (cassock overcoat), the natives didn't really know what to expect.
Speaking in a "light"-pitched Italian, the Genovese restorationist's first overseas trip in his new post was less a stream of orders than a simple observation of how things were progressing for the 15-20 April pilgrimage. In one worship space, Marini merely sought assurances that the venue's sight-lines facilitated an easy view of Pope Benedict by all present, while others saw the ceremoniere-in-chief sizing up at greater depth the sanctuaries where he'll serve as the pontiff's principal guide through the celebration of the visit's four liturgical events.
But the light touch doesn't mean there wasn't a tweak or two.
Previously MC and private secretary to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone SDB during the Vice-Pope's stint as archbishop of Genoa, Marini ensured that the altars for the Masses will observe the resurgent Vatican custom (viz. below) of placing a prominent crucifix at the front of the mensa, corpus facing Benedict -- an arrangement which, he told one group, came at the Pope's explicit behest.
What's more, though the Americans won the day to keep the local practice of inviting all clergy present to concelebrate at the trip's three public Masses, priest-concelebrants will receive the Eucharist under both species by intinction only, thus decreasing the necessary quantities of (and, given the crowded environments and massive spaces involved, the potential of accidents involving) the Precious Blood.
In both cities, discussion of vestments reportedly remained at a minimum during the advance trip. While organizers of each liturgical event were invited to provide a chasuble, mitre and stole to be considered for papal usage, Vatican aides repeatedly underscored that they could offer "no guarantee" that Benedict would, in fact, use the offered set. Given both Marini's emergent preference for antique, high-art furnishings and vestments, and Benedict's relatively unique measurements, the common expectation seems to say that Papa Ratzi's Mass-garb for the four liturgies will be brought over from the Vatican Vault.
While the pontiff will offer two public Masses (DC's Nationals Park and New York's Yankee Stadium) alongside a semi-public 19 April Eucharist in St Patrick's Cathedral to mark the third anniversary of his election as Pope, it's gone largely unnoticed that Benedict's 16 April encounter with the US bishops at Washington's Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception will take place within the liturgical context of Solemn Vespers.
During the evening prayer session in the Shrine's Crypt Church, the Pope will deliver the trip's most significant and highly-anticipated ad intra message -- his pontificate's first direct message to the American hierarchy (...or, as it's already become known in some quarters, "Showdown at the DC Corral"). Though liturgical events of the sort normally require the full-color "choir dress," the 300 or so prelates in attendance will instead don the less-formal, black "house cassock" with red piping -- a relaxation of the rules customary for papal visits.
Before reaching the crypt for the final event of the trek's first full day, Benedict will make one poignant stop in the nation's largest church: the small side chapel dedicated to the Bavarian patroness Our Lady of Altötting, to whose shrine a young Joseph Ratzinger often journeyed by foot. Located in the Shrine's Upper Church, the "German Oratory" was dedicated on 16 April 2005, Joseph Ratzinger's 78th birthday and three days prior to his papal election.
In other things PopeTrip, the planned interfaith meeting in the capital will be going forward without a delegation from the Sikh community.
Secret Service protocols barring weapons in the papal presence would've required Sikh leaders to remove their kirpans -- a small dagger worn as an obligation of the faith -- before entering the event at Washington's John Paul II Cultural Center. Rather than renounce the sacred object worn as a sign of mercy and justice, the dozen or so Sikhs expected to attend instead opted to "quietly decline" the invitation.
In breaking the story, CNS reported that Sikhs have routinely worn kirpans -- sometimes "measuring a foot or more in length" -- in the Pope's presence at the Vatican.
The world's fifth largest religion, Sikhism counts over 25 million adherents worldwide, with approximately 500,000 in North America.
PHOTOS: AFP/Getty Images