Rorate Caeli

The liturgy cannot be poor

Watch out! The liturgy cannot be poor, 
its opulence is a symbol of otherness and divinity
Mattia Rossi

Pieter Claeissens the Elder
The Mass of Saint Gregory

On the back-cover of the eleventh volume of Joseph Ratzinger’s Opera Omnia, on the “Theology of the Liturgy”,  there is this not even thinly-veiled declaration: “The fate of the Faith and the Church hangs upon the relationship with the liturgy.”

These first days of Pope Franciss’ pontificate render the above tremendously current and oblige us to reflect on the relationship between poverty (not pauperism) and the liturgy. A reflection that, not to be taken too lightly, is between a human dimension, poverty, and a divine one, liturgy. 

Yes, in these years of post-conciliar convulsions, the exquisitely divine nature of the liturgy has slipped away: i.e. the appearance of Heaven on earth - the earthly prefiguration of Jerusalem and which, accordingly, must evoke majesty and glory. In the liturgy - the unbloody presentation of the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross - it is God Who encounters man: it is not done by man – otherwise it would be idolatry. It is Divine Work as even Vatican II recalls.

In this perspective, also the issue regarding vestments is evidently raised to a notable importance. Annalena Benini has already masterfully highlighted this in her “Benedictine Nostalgia” in Il Foglio [March 23]: “Benedict XVI was adorned in symbols and traditions showing everyone that he no longer belonged to himself, nor even to the world.” He was of Christ, he was “alter Christus” who is the Priest in the liturgy. With the vestments he is no longer a private man, but “prepares” (adorns) the place for someone else; and that someone else is the King of the Universe. Impoverishing the majesty of vestments signifies impoverishing Christ. And it is actually Christ Himself that separated personal poverty from that of the Church’s institution.

He does so in the Gospel of John, where he accepted the anointing by the woman of Bethany: “Mary therefore took a pound of ointment of right spikenard, of great price, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment. Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, he that was about to betray him, said: Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor? Now he said this, not because he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and having the purse, carried the things that were put therein. Jesus therefore said: Let her alone, that she may keep it against the day of my burial. For the poor you have always with you; but me you have not always. (12, 3-9) 

Firstly, He justifies worship with costly ointments and also the existence of a common purse among the twelve emerges (and, strangely enough, John records that it was Judas who complained about the waste of money which could have been given to the poor). Are we going back to “the origins?” Well, then we must return to the drapes of gold and purple found in Peter’s tomb.

It is obvious, then, that pauperism is not a distinctive trait in the cultural life of the Church, because She “hands on what [She] has received,” to use one of St. Paul’s statements (1Cor 15,3). Pius XII, emblem of liturgical opulence, is said to have slept on planks of bare, rough wood and followed an extremely modest diet. In private, however.

The liturgical anchorage of tradition, made up of mozzette, chasubles and fanons is a partial manifestation of the heavenly Jerusalem, of the liturgy of the angels - as St. Gregory says. A tradition made up of Gregorian Chant, which is the ‘sonant incarnation’ of the Word of God and guarantee of a correct response to the same Word. A tradition made up of a sacred language, Latin, immutable, in which every word is already theology itself.

Benedict XVI taught us this magnificently at the liturgical school of papal Masses: by re-establishing the primacy of the liturgy, source and summit of the life of the Church and the primacy of Christ. “It is not I who live, but Christ Who lives in me,” St. Paul affirms. The priest, in vestments, puts on Christ (Gal 2, 20), the new man (Eph. 4,24) in order to become for Christ, with Christ, and in Christ. And, as Joseph Ratzinger taught us, the merciful father, after having embraced the son on his return, which is a spiritual resurrection, orders him to go and put on “the best robe” (Luke 15,22).

This is nothing other than the application of the Second Vatican Council that so many refer to in order to demonstrate the definitive abandoning of traditional sacred art: “Ordinaries must be very careful to see that sacred furnishings and works of value are not disposed of or dispersed; for they are the ornaments of the house of God.” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 126). Moreover, in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal [we find]: “On the most solemn days, the most festive precious vestments can be used” (n.346).

[Il Foglio, April 3, 2013. Translation and tip: Contributor Francesca Romana]


Prof Adamic said...

"Worship the Lord in Holy Attire"
- Psalm 96:9

UDE said...

Lovely reflection. Too bad Pope Francis would completely disagree and is moving things in a completely contrary direction than the 'reform of the reform' or 'hermeneutic of continuity'.

J.C. said...

Excellent reflection; thanks for the translation. (Here is another translation if you speak Jesuit.)

To some extent the clerical pauperists' mindset is understandable, and not always malicious. For them, there is simply no distinction between their daily life as ministers interacting directly with the people and their liturgical life as priests facilitating between the people and God---all is seen as simply ministry to the people. And because it would be ostentation to dress in finery and perform exaggerated gestures in the former role, it is incomprehensible to do those things in the service of the latter. We can see this in the Holy Father's eschewal of private daily Masses and insistence upon offering Mass in the presence of a larger contingent of faithful. To him, the Mass is primarily and directly a ministry for the people. And of course, it is, in a very important sense. But because offering Mass is also a unique participation in Christ's sacrifice, quite unlike the daily ministry of being a priest, the received dignity and solemnity of the Church's rites and associated fixtures and vestments ought to be retained---the pauperists overlook this element and focus almost exclusively on the other, horizontal element. Sadly, I don't see this defect in priestly formation being corrected anytime soon. But we have to be patient with these men---the aspect of liturgy they do focus on is entirely good and to be commended; but we must ensure that new priests (and still-receptive existing, most likely younger, priests) begin to explore this other element of their liturgical role.

John said...

The reflection about Benedict's vestments was perfect.

My bishop once made a similar observation. Referring to his own beautiful vestments, he said: "All this stuff is not meant to tell you that I am such a great person. It is meant to cover me up so that all you see is Christ."

Jeanne Holler said...

Beautiful post and thanks so much !

I loved John's comment on what his own Bishop said cover me up so that all you see is Christ!

To God be the Glory!

dmw said...

@John (17:36):

Your bishop speaks rightly; however, this is precisely the mentality that is so lost on most in the Church and in our age.

For example, I work in a rather relaxed, casual office. Were I to habitually come to work in a business suit, I would be judged pretentious instead of merely trying to look profession for the sake of the business and not myself.

St. Corbinian's Bear said...

When I was an tonsured Orthodox reader, I thought my "choker blacks" outfit (we called our formal Navy uniform "choker whites" -- they both had a high, tight collar) was cool. The first thing the priest told me was that it was not to make me look special, but to make me disappear. That's the same reason everything is chanted, to take the personality, or, worse, interpretation out of the material and let it speak for itself.

Beautiful vestments not only do that, but call our minds to Heaven. Indeed, it was the glory of the Divine Liturgy that caused Prince Vladimir's emissaries to return from Constantinople saying they did not know if they were in heaven or on earth. How carelessly we threw all that away in the west so we could be more like mainstream protestant "faith communities." Now protestants LOVE Orthodoxy as much as they still despise Catholicism, because they understand that's what worship is supposed to be like! See e.g. ESV study bible notes on the two.

I'm already in the poor Church now, but I am a man of the West, and belong with Peter, rich or poor.

Stephen said...

If the Pope is the Supreme Legislator, then there's really nothing to be done. That's the trade Catholics make - Papal Authority for liturgy.

LudiDomestici said...

"He [Bergoglio] was never rigid about the small and stupid stuff," Isasmendi said, "because he was interested in something deeper."

Tom said...

What is the name of this painting?

scary goat said...

Thank you....thank you so much...can't we spread this to the whole world so that they can understand?

Benedict Carter said...

I merely offer again the new Tabernacle of the Catholic Church here in Doha, Qatar for your delectation.

I rest the Traditionalist case, M'lud.

Eugenie Roth said...

Thank you so much (from Germany)!!!

poeta said...

It may emerge that the greatest legacy of Benedict XVI's pontificate is his witness to the "right of restoration"... the principle that it is indeed possible, even necessary, to "go back" and restore things that previous Pontiffs have abandoned to obsolescence.

After 40 years of neo-liturgical "progress," we needed that example. We may soon need it again.

Donal said...

The Mass of Our Fathers is timeless. It is the fullest and truest expression of the faith. That is why the uncharitable Leonardo Boff and other Marxists despise it so. Thank you, Pope Benedict, for your courageous ministry, and especially for the gift of Summorum Pontificum.

Dan Hunter said...

"If the Pope is the Supreme Legislator, then there's really nothing to be done. That's the trade Catholics make - Papal Authority for liturgy."


It is not one or t'other its is both and.

JB said...

Just wanted to note that I sense a creeping papolatry among our beloved sisters and brothers and the multi-religious Patheos site. No criticism of the pope re liturgical matters is apparently allowed now. None. And yet if we had a pope who abolished the N.O. and demanded the Tridentine rite all over the world, I can't imagine the ink that would be spilled agonizing over how bad that would be. It would be called an unhealthy "aesthetic obsession" by the good people over there.

The pope can be criticized. Infallibility is a negative charism. It does mean everything he does is wise, or good for the Church. Having said that, I think he has made some great statements on the Faith so far and look forward to more.

LeonG said...

I agree it should not be poor; on the contrary.

But we do not want it hybridised either!

Hank Igitur said...

With the invocation "Sursum Corda" we can only lift our heart to the highest of heights when they are conveyed on the wings of liturgical beauty. We must offer to God the best we have, not the least we can pare it down to

Gregorius said...

Bravo, magnificent! Thank you for this post, it is uplifting to so many of us who so well remember the waste-land of 1975.

Anonymous said...

The opposite of your Post.
Kiko talking about the Papa and with him.
It´s in spanish but it´s very representative of the future.

PD: A question, a person who aborted, can be married?. The Spanish Princess, Letizia Ortiz, aborted a children 2 years before his married with Prince Felipe. Is she in excomunion?


El Cid said...

That was an excellent article which needs to be spread far and wide, and also used with priests and local ordinaries who would leaven the splendor of the rite.

Ramadan said...

In reply to Anonymous above (whose post based on the blog's rules shoud have been blocked, procuring an abortion is a reserved sin. Unless the poster is privvy to the Confessions of the Princess, no judgment can be made in the external forum..

Jason C. said...

(Pelayo, oh dear Lord that article is terrifying. But I believe much of it is untrue---we have seen the Kikos in the past (as all the gloating progressives in the Church and in Her outer darkness have attempted to do since early March) try to recast losses as victories, so I will take whatever they say with that in mind.)

Woody said...

I once again post here the link to Radio Vaticana's report of Pope Francis's concelebration of Mass this Tuesday (with Archbishop Jose H. Gomez, of L.A., who should not be held to blame for what he had to work with):

It seems to me that the altar arrangements there perfectly symbolize the return to the 1970's style "spirit of Vatican II" approach to the liturgy. Readers of this blog will recall, no doubt, the report of the incident where Archbishop Lefebvre was holding a more or less cordial meeting with Pope Paul VI and things seemed to be going well until Cardinal Seper, then Prefect of CDF, came in and said "But this Mass [the old rite] is a banner".

And if we did not quite understand what that meant before, in retrospect we can now see, when we consider the clear and blatant refusal of so many ordinaries to implement Summorum Pontificum. For the fight over the liturgy is precisely the fight over whether Vatican II was a rupture to be desired or not. And by the way, should we not also conclude that, with the obvious repudiation of Benedict XVI that the current pontiff's actions symbolize, the hermeutic of reform in continuity, which was, after all, a main point of his pontificate, is dead, along with the reform of the reform?

I agree that the conclusions to be drawn from the above thinking are quite unpleasant. But we are where we are.

ecs220 said...

There's no Latin word for "Kumbayah".

Seraph said...

Even with Summorum Pontificum, I have to fault Pope Benedict for not going anywhere near as far as he should have in the reform of the liturgy. He could have taken care of the small stuff like the removal of altar girls, the indult of Communion in the Hand, and the armies of EMHC. He could have mandated these changes that would have made it extremely hard to reverse for even Pope Francis.

The flaw of Benedict is that he always wanted to be the teacher and lead by example instead of what was really required, which was administration and governance. To force liturgical reform by mandate, command, and liturgical law.

Jason C. said...

Woody, that setup at Domus Sancta Marthae could simply be the whim of the sacristan there. It's not a papal liturgy in the full sense, where you see the influence of a papal M.C.--it's just a chapel where Mass happens to be said by Peter. I have seen a number of different altar arrangements there (all terrible, of course), so this leads me to think it's just the daily fancy of one person that's responsible for this--I would not read more into it than that.

Common Sense said...

Excelent, well written, fine apologetics!

AMDG said...

Yes, Pope Francis has taken a restrained approach on vestments and liturgy - as he has always done. At the same time, if one stand by the precedents, it seems quite unlikely that he will force his preferences on the rest of the Church. He certainly did not do so in Buenos Aires.
In fact, Cardinal Bergoglio actively implemented Pope Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum ( see and To those wishing to attend, the Tridentine Mass is available every day in Buenos Aires (see and .

New Catholic said...

Are you kidding me, AMDG???? Are you new to this blog? The links mentioned by you are as follows: 1, 2, 3, discontinued due to liturgical hybridization or pressure of the Archdiocese (Carmen, and there also were several ones that were forced down, including in the Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, not mentioned by you), as we extensively explained in our specific post on this:

Now, on link n. 4, YOU ARE RIGHT: THERE IS A DAILY TRADITIONAL MASS OFFERED IN the city of Buenos Aires - it is the one celebrated by the SSPX, which is the one mentioned in that link. Quite surely, the Archdiocese did not manage to shut that one down!

Now, please, go, and deceive no more.


Don M said...

I wish more Priests/Bishops/Cardinals/Popes would follow the Example set by the patron Saint of the Holy Priesthood.
St John Vianney always made sure he had the Best Statues and Holy Art for the Church and The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
He Converted an entire town, through Catholic Preaching, and Catholic Example. Neither the Church furnishings, nor the Beautiful Vestments were a scandal to anyone.
He celebrated the Mass of our Forefathers with the Greatest Reverence {The best example of belief a Priest can offer}
I would also hope that those priests/Bishops/Cardinals/Popes that struggle with the Latin, will follow that great Saint`s example and make greater efforts to embrace it, instead of destroying/marginalizing it.

St John Vianney
Ora pro Nobis

Uncle Claibourne said...

Wonderful article! Thanks, as always, New Catholic.

The thing that often troubles me the most is that, in my own experience, even the most devout Catholics, who believe in Transubstantiation, the Real Presence, and do their best to live a genuinely Catholic life, have no idea that the Mass is a sacrifice, "the bloodless presentation of the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross." The true meaning of the Mass seems to be known by so few.

It often makes me think of the prophet Daniel's warning, that the evil one "will take away the daily sacrifice." It is of course still offered, but if so many fail to recognize it, and have never been taught what it is, can it not be said that in a certain sense, it has indeed been taken away?

Our Papa Emeritus was exactly right: the fate of the Church hangs upon the liturgy. All of Francis's worthy efforts to restore a proper sense of humility to haughty churchmen, or concern for the poor and less fortunate, or to correct the sinful economic systems at work in the world, or to evangelize, are doomed to miserable failure until we put the Sacrifice of the Cross back into the heart of Catholic worship, and "restore the daily sacrifice" to the hearts and souls of Catholics: laity, priests, bishops, cardinals, and yes, even popes.

Woody said...

OK, having now had some food and suppressed my hypoglemic rage, i think there is another way of looking at all this, to the Holy Father's advantage.

John said...

Our local TLM is packed every Sunday with college kids and young families (and older folks too). Many are converts from Protestantism.

Why do they convert? Because Protestant worship is sugar water and people are dying spiritually, along with the culture in general. So why in heaven's name do we want worship that looks and feels Protestant?

People want a church that expects more of them, that calls them to holiness. Not all people, sure, but why do we reject the lambs that are right outside the gate in favor of those who don't want to be found?

authoressaurus said...

Well, at the moment, the Faith has no real relationship with liturgy, so there we are. Fate sealed. What is there left to talk about?

HSE said...


We just returned to the states from a trip to Buenos Aires, Argentina. No Tridentine Mass was to be had except for the SSPX (Thanks be to God!). We attended Good Friday services and processed at night through one of the oldest districts of the city for the Way of the Cross with hundreds of Catholics.

It brought tears to my eyes - we meditated on the passion of Christ and Our Sorrowful Mother, singing along the way. It was a beautiful profession of Faith and pilgrimage through the streets! We had the added surprise of Bishop Fellay leading the way as a fine example.

We don't speak a word of Spanish, but truly felt "home." I was impressed by the number of men - both young and old.

The SSPX Chapel was an absolute breath of fresh air in Buenos Aires.

Patrick said...

I read the excellent article and then later visited a website from Greece that has photos of the feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin at the Athonite monastery of Vatopedi earlier this week and found it cogent: (in Greek)

Knight of Malta said...

Accounts of the Liturgy vary wildly. I believe, as Michael Davies did, that much of the Liturgy evolved from Apostolic times, as did the Church.

Christ planted the seed of faith, He didn't build St. Peter's!

I remember breaking down in County Mayo, Ireland (actually, I almost destroyed a rental car!); and two Irish boys came running out to me speaking Gaelic; and I didn't know there were parts of Ireland where they genuinely speak Gaelic. They knew right away I was an American tourist, so they--with genuine Irish hospitality--hauled my rental into the shop.

And I went foraging into the woods near their shop and discovered a sincerely ancient chapel: roofless and pew less. But it still had an ad-orientem altar!

When did In persona Cristi become in persona homine?

Gratias said...

Dear New Catholic,

God bless you for this very thoughtful and wise article. Your insight will be read far and wide and may well help prevent the liquidation of Church treasures.

"Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, he that was about to betray him, said: Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?".

Other commentators that are priests cannot, and should not, criticize Papa Francisco openly. But now is the time to try to salvage what we can from this return to 1965.

Reginald said...

Domine, dilexi decorem domus Tuae...
Psalm 25:8

Fr. A. said...

Wonderful reflection on the importance of externals in the liturgical and personal life of the Holy Father! It's not about the man and his personal spirituality. I've been trying to make this point since the election.

Andrew said...

An interesting reflection. In light of this I wonder how one would explain the Cistercian Reforms of the medieval ages where a rugged, austere and simple liturgy and architectural style were promoted in direct response to the pomp and opulence of the liturgies that had developed, especially in wealthy Benedictine abbeys. Cistercians were known for extremely simple liturgies and churches. Some even described them as "ugged"

Fr. A. said...

Don M: As an aside, St. John Vianney is the patron saint of PARISH PRIESTS, not of the priesthood itself. There was a move to have him declared the patron saint of ALL priests during the YEAR FOR PRIESTS, but this never happened. It was decided (I believe correctly) that his patronage had little to do with the priesthood in general and was best suited for the parish priest. Therefore, his patronage was not changed.

Matt said...

That was a very good article. It was an inspiring grasp of reality. Mother Theresa, of course, while being very close to the poor, had said we do not foist poverty onto The Lord.

Gratias said, "Other commentators that are priests cannot, and should not, criticize Papa Francisco openly. But now is the time to try to salvage what we can from this return to 1965."

Can't course-correct if one doesn't tell the other he is going in the wrong direction.

Matt said...

Woody said, "But we are where we are."

Yes we see that but many of us are not willing just to sit around say, "Oh, well!"

Anonymous said...

A serious question:

Has the Holy Father yet, since his election, offered Holy Mass once as the sole celebrant?

If he has, I've missed it.

Knight of Malta said...

If you want to really know the mass, please read Dr. Maria Montesorri's: The Mass Explained to Children. This is the same woman who developed the revolutionary way to teach children; of which my children partook.

It is completely based on the Extraordinary for of Mass (it was written in 1932). Quite honestly, I read it twice, and I have advanced degrees!

Did you know, for instance, that the three steps leading to the altar represent Faith, Hope, and Charity? It's a great Latin Mass for Dummies (like me!) book.

John Fisher said...
You better read this rubbish from Kiko! It's worth a post in translation.

fr.hearty said...

Finally, someone else is saying it too; impoverishing the Liturgy benefits no one!

Don M said...

Fr. A

Thank you for the correction. I must have misunderstood what I was told years ago. {perhaps I just do not remember it correctly}.

LeonG said...


The hermeneutic of continuity has yet to be demonstrated objectively. Chief indicators with contemporary pastoral and liturgical evidence suggest a radical contrary hypothesis.

capellanus said...

May I suggest the replacement of "bloodless" by "unbloody" in "the bloodless presentation of the Sacrifice of Christ": there is an important distinction to be made, incruentum vs sine sanguine; otherwise, a magnificent piece!