Rorate Caeli

Contemporary studies on the Papal Liturgy

Summary: It may first seem that history, theology, ceremonies and the customs of the Papal liturgy, and their impact on sacred rites celebrated everywhere in the world over the centuries of the Church have not been researched by scientists. This is but misbelief.

Extremely important research has been conducted for the past decades (with the special mention deserved by Professor M. Dykmans; the publications of the contemporary Papal Office of Liturgical Celebrations are also important), which is undoubtedly owed to the development of liturgical sciences initiated by the liturgical movement.

Sadly, Polish bibliography is very modest indeed – besides works of Archbishop A. J. Nowowiejski (Wykład liturgii Kościoła katolickiego) and articles written by Fr Professor Jerzy Stefański PhD hab., we seem to have no noteworthy publications. Since 2010, there have been attempts to bring in new air (publications or audiovisual aids), which has been initiated by a new website ( Caeremoniale Romanum – Liturgia et mores Curiae Romanae.

In order to explain the subject to Polish readers, we feature some introductory publications for research on the Papal liturgy. The available sources may comprise four main categories: 1. Liturgical books; 2. Publications; 3. Articles; 4. Diaries of Papal Masters of Ceremonies. The above categories may be split into subcategories, depending on topics touched, e.g. into language or thematic.

The Papal liturgy is to be further explained in Polish liturgical writings, all the more that the late 1990s and early 2000s have been marked by the reign of the Great Pole — blessed Pope John Paul II. Let the article be the incentive to further study.

‘You are surely well aware that this Apostolic See has always made careful provision for the schooling of the people committed to its charge in the correct spirit and practice of the liturgy; and that it has been no less careful to insist that the sacred rites should be performed with due external dignity.’ The words spoken by Pius XII in Mediator Dei [1] encyclical demonstrate that the endeavours of successive popes, and effectively the Holy See, to unify the liturgical rites, were not purposeless. They were to raise the spirits and hearts of the faithful to cherish God more, and sensitise them to the extraordinary mysteries entrusted us by Christ in the liturgy. The papal ceremonials composed especially for the Roman Curia and the Papal Court stand out in the history of liturgical books for the preparation and celebration of the sacred rites. This subject is somewhat alien to extensive liturgical writings on the development of liturgical books (especially in Poland) [2] , so we shall endeavour to present it appropriately.

[1] Quote: J. Wierusz – Kowalski (transl.), Ojca Świętego Piusa XII, z Boskiej Opatrzności Papieża Encyklika o Liturgii (Mediator Dei) of 20 November 1957, Kielce 1958, p. 30.

[2] In the past decades, there appeared studies about books published for the use by the Roman Curia, but nothing more extensive dedicated to the papal ceremonial. Some information may be found in various general studies, dictionaries or encyclopaedias. Worth noting is the study by B. Schimmelpfennig, Die Zeremonienbücher der römischen Kirche im Mittelalter, Tübingen 1973, where he complied and described the medieval papal ceremonial.

Since the promulgation of motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (07.07.2007) by His Holiness, Benedict XVI, there have been rumours about the Pope privately offering the so-called Tridentine Mass in his apartments. Such information, until now unconfirmed by the Holy See, has often accompanied disputes whether the Pope may, should, or even will publicly offer a Solemn Pontifical Mass (here we could quote some multilingual, often extensive and hot, disputes from many forums).

Sadly, it seems that majority, if not almost all disputants, do not refer to the ancient liturgical law, ancient rites, ceremonies and traditions of the Papal Solemn Mass. Many would wish to see Benedict XVI offer a “solemn” Mass as shown in old photographs and videos.

We are not here to answer the question whether or not this is possible, and on what terms the accommodation of ancient rituals to, let us say, the modern liturgical and canon law were to take place (which would rather be a subject of digressions) – so let us shortly point to some of the many “facts”, difficulties, differences, changes or problems (which appears necessary considering the multitude of erroneous opinions, comments or observations).

It seems that almost everyone knows or associates (or at last has come across) a famous photograph depicting the Major Elevation of the Body of Christ (right after the Consecration) taken during a Solemn Papal Mass offered by blessed John XXIII for the inauguration of Vaticanum Secundum (11 October 1962).

The picture shows the Pope surrounded by the clergy and lay ministers performing their own functions and those prescribed by the ceremonial, often linked to many ages or at least years of tradition.

How did the solemn ceremony run? What dignitaries performed what duties in the Solemn Apostolic liturgy during the most solemn moment in the Most Holy Sacrifice – the Consecration? Referring to some historical and liturgical testimonies, and also other studies, we shall attempt to briefly describe the magnificent and salutary dimension of the ceremony.