Rorate Caeli

Liturgy: Setting an Example

The schedule for Papal Masses in April and May of this year was published today. Pope Francis will be celebrating Mass in public every Sunday from April 7 to May 19 (Pentecost Sunday), just as he has since his election. He will also lead a Rosary in St. Mary Major on May 4 and a Vigil with the "Ecclesial Movements" on May 18. 

Two of these Masses are related to his elevation to the papacy (the Masses in St. John Lateran and in St. Paul Outside the Walls on April 7 and 14 respectively) and it was already certain during the final months of the reign of Benedict XVI that the Roman Pontiff will participate in some way in the Year of Faith events on some of the Sundays of April and May. Nevertheless, in the case of the latter, it was not necessarily clear that this participation would entail celebrating Mass in all of those events. It increasingly seems to be the case that Pope Francis wishes to publicly celebrate Mass on most or all Sundays, continuing a practice that he established when he decided to celebrate Mass in the parish church of St. Anne in the Vatican on his first Sunday as Pope. 

(In conjunction with this it is well to remember that Pope Francis celebrates his daily Mass not in a private chapel, unlike his predecessors since time immemorial, but in the chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae. This also makes him the first Pope to celebrate his usual daily Mass ad populum.)

There is certainly nothing objectionable in a bishop choosing to celebrate Mass every Sunday and major feast day in public, surrounded by his clergy and lay faithful. We also happen to think that in doing so, Pope Francis will thus ensure -- whether unwittingly or by design -- that his "liturgical example" will have a greater and wider impact than that of Benedict XVI. Benedict XVI, for perfectly legitimate reasons, did not frequently celebrate Mass in public, let alone every Sunday. It was thus easy to dismiss the "example" of Pope Benedict XVI as mere eccentricity, the efflorescence of a rarefied form of liturgy that had little to do with average Sunday celebrations in cathedrals and parishes. Not so in the case of Pope Francis: his Sunday Masses as Bishop of Rome will inevitably be seen as the model of an "average" Sunday liturgy by a bishop.