Today the curia meets the pope's expectations, and it implements his directions more efficiently than it did a year or two ago.
The instrument through which the curia explains what it does is also new.
This instrument is "L'Osservatore Romano." For three months, since the pope's newspaper has been directed by professor Giovanni Maria Vian and has radically changed its appearance, nearly every day it publishes an interview with one or another of the Vatican's officials.
These interviews reveal not only what a particular office has done, but sometimes they announce beforehand what it will do – and why.
At this beginning of the new year, the curia has given at least three signals of effectively following through on the pope's instructions. One of these comes from the congregation for the clergy, another from the congregation for the causes of the saints, and another from the officials for the liturgy.
1. In "L'Osservatore Romano" on January 5, cardinal Cláudio Hummes, prefect of the congregation for the clergy, announced that he had sent to bishops, pastors, religious superiors, and seminary rectors all over the world a letter to ask that in every diocese "cenacles" of perpetual Eucharistic adoration be established, with the aim of "sanctifying" priests through prayer.
Among the motivations for the initiative, Hummes explicitly referred to the sexual "sins" committed on the part of a "minimal" but still significant part of the clergy:
"We ask all to do Eucharistic adoration in order to make reparation before God for the grave injury that has been done, and to recover the dignity of the victims. Yes, we wanted to think of the victims, so that they might feel that we are near. They are uppermost in our thoughts; it is important to say this."
These statements echo the memorable mea culpa for the "filth in the Church, and precisely among those who, in the priesthood, should belong completely to Jesus" that then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger included in the papal Via Crucis on Good Friday of 2005.
But there is also a practical application of the return to adoration of the Eucharist encouraged by Benedict XVI on various occasions, the first time with his silent prayer, on his knees, before the consecrated host at the World Youth Day in Cologne in August of 2005, and another time in Saint Peter's Square
with the children of Rome and Lazio who had recently received their First Communion, and most recently in Saint Peter's Basilica last October 31, when for the first time he added Eucharistic adoration and benediction to the year-end Te Deum.
Cardinal Hummes's letter has met with a concrete response in many places. In Italy, the first dioceses to institute cenacles of Eucharistic adoration "for the sanctification of priests" have been, in addition to Rome, those of Macerata, Turin, Syracuse, Ragusa, Oristano.
On the feast of the Epiphany, "Avvenire," the newspaper of the Italian bishops' conference, dedicated to Hummes's initiative a front page editorial written by the theologian PierAngelo Sequeri:
"It is time, finally, for a Christianity of adoration. It is time for a Christianity that believes in the body of the Lord, and relies entirely on the impassioned power of the Son, who precisely in his Body sustains history amid its powerlessness. [...] When the ecclesiastical minister, who is essentially ordered to the body of the Lord, culpably loses respect for the bodies of the children entrusted to his good faith, it is right that the scandal be acknowledged and that, accepting responsibility for the injury and our weakness and limitations, we call upon the Lord for help."
2. In an interview with "L'Osservatore Romano" on January 9, and in an unsigned note published by the same newspaper four days later, cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the congregation for the causes of saints, announced that toward the end of February there will be the public presentation of the instruction "Sanctorum Mater," on the opening of causes of beatification, an instruction that until now was known only to those directly involved in the process.
The document – dated May 17, 2007, the Italian text of which was published in "Acta Apostolicae Sedis" issue no. 6, June 1, 2007, pp. 465-510 – translates into precise norms the guidelines that Benedict XVI gave to the congregation for the causes of saints in a message on April 27, 2006.
Caution and accuracy: these are the criteria that the pope and the congregation want to see more closely observed.
In particular, the instruction demands that "the seriousness of the investigations" into the alleged miracles "be safeguarded, [...] the procedures for the examination of which have, over the last twenty years, produced problematic elements."
Greater guarantees have also been established concerning the "reputation of sanctity." Without this – without, that is, an exemplary Christian life already recognized as such by a great number of the faithful, no process of beatification will be opened anymore. In other words: the pride and entrepreneurship of a religious order toward their founder or confrere are not enough.
Other stringent norms concern the gathering of documents and testimonies. Questions will be posed to the witnesses in a simple and concise manner, so as "to solicit answers that exhibit knowledge of concrete facts and the sources of this knowledge." This is meant to avoid formulations that are "insidious, deceptive, suggesting the desired answers."
It remains the case that, in order for the cause to proceed "there must emerge absolutely no element that goes against faith or good morals," so due emphasis must be given to "any findings that contradict the reputation of sanctity."
The document recommends moreover that the bishops avoid "any action that might induce the faithful to believe wrongly" that the investigation underway must necessarily lead to beatification or canonization. Before the conclusion of the diocesan cause, it must on the contrary be assured and certified that the servant of God "not be the object of undue devotion."
It is easy to read in these norms a correction of the tendency toward an "inflationary" approach toward beatifications and canonizations that had crept in during the past few decades.
One of the very first decisions of Joseph Ratzinger, following his election as pope, was that of reserving only the canonizations for himself and of delegating beatifications to others, generally in the country of origin of the new blessed.
3. On Monday, January 14 "L'Osservatore Romano," in reporting on the Mass and baptisms celebrated by Benedict XVI in the Sistine Chapel the previous Sunday, the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, emphasized that "for the first time since the beginning of his pontificate," the pope "celebrated the Mass in public from the traditional altar".
And it explained:
"He decided to celebrate at the ancient altar in order not to alter the beauty and harmony of this architectural gem, preserving its structure from the viewpoint of the celebration and making use of a possibility provided for by the liturgical guidelines. At certain moments the pope thus found himself with his back to the faithful and his gaze upon the Cross, orienting in this way the attitude of the entire assembly."
A few days later, in a January 20 interview with Vatican Radio, the new master of ceremonies for the pontifical liturgies, Guido Marini, gave these additional explanations:
"I believe that it is important first of all to consider the orientation that the liturgical celebration is always called upon to display: I refer to the centrality of the Lord, the Savior crucified and risen from the dead. This orientation must determine the interior disposition of the whole assembly, and in consequence, the exterior manner of celebrating as well. The placement of the cross on the altar, at the center of the assembly, has the capacity to communicate this fundamental aspect of liturgical theology. There can also be particular circumstances in which, because of the artistic conditions of the sacred place and its singular beauty and harmony, it would be preferable to celebrate at the ancient altar, which preserves the precise orientation of the liturgical celebration. This is exactly what happened in the Sistine Chapel. This practice is permitted by the liturgical norms, and is in harmony with the conciliar reform."
As for the celebrant "turning his back to the faithful":
"In the circumstances in which the celebration takes place in this manner, this is not so much a question of turning one's back to the faithful, but rather of orienting oneself toward the Lord, together with the faithful. From this point of view, instead of being closed the door is opened for the faithful, to lead them to the Lord. In the Eucharistic liturgy, the participants do not look at one another; they look to the One who is our East, the Savior."
And about the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum," which liberalized the use of the ancient rite of the Mass:
"The Church's liturgy, like all of its life, is characterized by continuity: I would speak of development in continuity. This means that the Church proceeds on its journey through history without losing sight of its own roots and its own living tradition: this can even require, in some cases, the recovery of valuable and important elements that have been lost and forgotten along the way, and the authentic meaning of which has been dimmed by the passage of time. It seems to me that the motu proprio moves in precisely this direction, reaffirming very clearly that in the Church's liturgical life there is continuity, without rupture. One must not speak, therefore, of a return to the past, but of a true enrichment for the present, in view of tomorrow."
In any case, an instruction on the motu proprio is being prepared "that soundly establishes the criteria of application": cardinal secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone announced this in an interview with "Famiglia Cristiana" on January 6.
Moreover, there will soon be published a new formulation of the prayer for the Jews contained in the rite for Good Friday in the 1962 "Tridentine" missal liberalized by the motu proprio. The references to the condition of "darkness" and "blindness" of the Jewish people will disappear, while the prayer for their conversion will remain. "Because in the liturgy we are always praying for conversion, of ourselves in the first place and then of all Christians and non-Christians," explained archbishop Angelo Amato, secretary of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, in an interview with "Avvenire."
Returning to the orientation of the celebration, to understand to what extent the words of master of pontifical ceremonies Guido Marini reflect the thought of Benedict XVI, it is enough to note what the pope said in this passage from his last general audience on Wednesday, January 23:
"In the liturgy of the ancient Church, after the homily the bishop or presider of the celebration, the main celebrant, said: 'Conversi ad Dominum'. Then he himself and everyone else stood up and faced the East. Everyone wanted to look toward Christ."
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