Saturday, December 31, 2005

Leading By Example

Earlier today, the Office for Papal Liturgical Celebrations -- still headed by You Know Who -- released the Pope's liturgical schedule for the first four months of the New Year. It restores all the commitments for Ash Wednesday and Holy Week which John Paul was unable to fulfill as his physical limitations became more pronounced.

And, notably, there are some innovations.

On 11 April, Tuesday of Holy Week, Benedict XVI will preside at a communal Penance Service in St. Peter's Basilica in the evening at which confessions and absolution will be on an individual basis. Given the difficulties the often-superfluous use of the Third Rite (i.e. General Absolution) has presented in dioceses in the United States, Western Europe and elsewhere, it seems the Pope has felt the need to send a signal that, even in the largest church in the world, individual reconciliation in a communal setting is more than feasible. It also signals the end of John Paul II's cherished practice of hearing the confessions of 12 laymen on his own in St. Peter's every Good Friday through his pontificate.

On Easter Sunday, 15 April, the morning Mass will return to the Square. And the ancient ritual of the Resurrexit -- the witness to the Resurrection by Peter's successor instituted 1,000 years ago which fell into disuse when the Popes went to Avignon in 1309 -- will return yet again to papal liturgy.

You can thank the great liturgical traditionalist Piero Marini for his reverence -- the restoration, first accomplished in the Jubilee Year but seemingly left aside again until now, is his work and his alone.

The rite focuses on the time-honored Acheiropita icon of the Most Holy Saviour, formerly kept in the Sanctum Sanctorum at the Oratory of Saint Laurence near the Lateran Basilica (where the Scala Santa, or Holy Stairs, are located). Papal Easter used to begin there, and the entourage would process to the Lateran, which was the stational church for the day at that time.

As Marini describes the ritual from its historic form:
On Easter morning, the Pope, vested in pontificals, entered the Sancta Sanctorum, opened the small silver doors covering the feet of the icon (the doors [covering the rest of the body] are still sealed) and kissed the feet three times. He then chanted the versicle: Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro, alleluia, ["The Lord is Risen from the tomb, alleluia"] to which the assembly responded: Qui pro nobis pependit in ligno, alleluia ["Who for us hung on the wood, alleluia"].

After the Pope, the members of the papal entourage venerated the icon and the Cross and then approached the Supreme Pontiff for the kiss of peace. The Pope gave the sign of peace reciting the versicle: Surrexit Dominus vere ["The Lord is truly risen"], to which each person responded: Et apparuit Simoni ["And he appeared to Simon"]. Meanwhile the choir chanted a series of antiphons.

Obviously, everything will be done on the Sagrato, the steps of the Basilica, in its modern iteration. But, still, pretty nifty, eh? And, yet again, it's clear Benedict is quite pleased with Marini's brand of real liturgical traditionalism.

Also noteworthy and new on the Pope's calendar is a morning Mass in St. Peter's on the Third Sunday of Lent for workers, and an evening liturgy in the Basilica on 2 April to mark the first anniversary of the death of John Paul II. The annual Lenten Retreat for the Holy Father and the Roman Curia has been scheduled for 5-11 March. Its preacher has not yet been named.