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January 23, 2008

Vatican official says pope
does not want to abandon liturgical reform

By John Thavis
Catholic News Service

Pope Benedict XVI has no intention of launching a liturgical "return to the past" but would like to recover some important elements that have been lost or forgotten in recent decades, the Vatican's liturgist said.

Msgr. Guido Marini, master of papal liturgical ceremonies, made the comments in an interview Jan. 19 with Vatican Radio. He was asked about fears that the pope wants to abandon the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council.

"These are certainly incorrect inferences and interpretations," Msgr. Marini said. The path of Catholic liturgy is "development in continuity," in which change never loses touch with the church's living traditions, he said.

"This may also require, in some cases, the recovery of precious and important elements that along the way have been lost or forgotten," he said.

On Jan. 13 the pope celebrated a Mass in the Sistine Chapel using the original main altar, which meant he faced away from the people during parts of the liturgy. Since Vatican II, Mass usually is celebrated facing the people.

Msgr. Marini said the change in direction reflected the special artistic circumstances of the Sistine Chapel and was not out of line with Vatican II reforms.

"There may be particular circumstances under which, because of the artistic conditions of the holy place or its singular beauty and harmony, it becomes desirable to celebrate at the ancient altar, where among other things the exact orientation of the liturgical celebration is preserved," he said.

"This is exactly what happened ... in the Sistine Chapel. It is a practice allowed by liturgical norms, in tune with the conciliar reform," he said. In such circumstances, the celebrant is not so much "turning his back on the faithful" as orienting himself, together with the faithful, toward God, Msgr. Marini said.

"I think it is also important to remember that, in these cases, the amount of time the celebrant `turns his back on the faithful' is relatively brief. The entire Liturgy of the Word takes place, as usual, with the celebrant turned toward the assembly, indicating the dialogue of salvation that God holds with his people," he said.

"Therefore, there is no return to the past, but the recovery of a form of celebration that in no way calls into question the teachings and directions of the Second Vatican Council," he said.

In general, Msgr. Marini said, the orientation of every celebration of Mass is toward "the Lord, the savior who was crucified and rose from the dead." This should be the interior orientation of the faithful and the exterior celebration as well, he said.

"The placement of the cross on the altar at the center of the assembly is able to communicate this fundamental element of liturgical theology," he said.

One recent innovation for papal Masses in St. Peter's Basilica has been the placement of a crucifix in the center of the altar, instead of alongside the altar.

Msgr. Marini was named master of papal liturgical ceremonies in October.