T HAS BEEN one month since the World Meeting of Families began here in Philadelphia. Last week, I shared some behind-the-scenes photos of the events. This week, as promised, I will share with you the final words of admonition from Msgr. Marini before the papal Masses began.
Several months of planning go into a papal liturgy, particularly when it is to be celebrated abroad during an Apostolic journey. The first plans for the recent liturgies in Washington D.C., New York, and Philadelphia were presented to Msgr. Marini’s office in the spring. In early September, Marini and several assistants travelled to each city to see the various places that would be used for the liturgies and to make necessary changes. Then, during the week of the Holy Father’s visit, several more practices were held before each liturgy, each time resulting in further adjustments and refinements.
Msgr. Guido Marini serves as the chief Master of Ceremonies for liturgical celebrations in the presence of the Holy Father. There are also eight additional MC’s who assist with papal liturgies. Among them, Msgr. Marini is known as “the Maestro.” Accompanying Marini on the visit to Cuba and the USA were Msgr. Vincenzo Peroni and Msgr. John Cihak.
Before the large papal Masses in the Cathedral Basilica of Ss. Peter & Paul and on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Msgr. Marini met briefly with the seminarian servers and deacons in the sacristy to offer some final reflections before the start of the liturgies. As the MC working with the deacons, I had the opportunity to listen in to the Maestro’s final encouragement. The fervorino was similar both days, with Marini speaking in Italian as Msgr. Cihak translated into English. What follows are not direct quotes, but a good paraphrase of the three major points made by Marini:
1. We are preparing in a few moments to enter into the sacred liturgy. At this particular Mass, we will also be in the presence of the Holy Father, Pope Francis, which can cause us to be nervous. But I encourage you to enter into this Mass with a spirit of humility and faith. In many ways, the world looks upon the Holy Father as just another celebrity, no different from great athletes and rockstars and other famous personages. But that is not how we, as people of faith, look upon him. The Holy Father is the successor of Saint Peter, the Vicar of Christ on earth. When the Holy Father speaks, he speaks for God, and so we listen with what St. Paul calls “the obedience of faith.” It is a great honor to be in the presence of Peter and an even greater honor to serve the liturgy.
2. The sacred liturgy is much like the scene of the burning bush. You remember how in the Book of Exodus, the Lord reveals Himself through a bush that is flaming, yet not consumed. That image is a symbol of God’s self-revelation, His personal manifestation of Himself to mankind. This happens also in the sacred liturgy. God reveals Himself to us so that we might come to know Him and love Him more deeply.
3. There is another passage in Exodus that teaches us about the meaning of the liturgy. In Exodus 34, Moses goes before the Lord, face-to-face. Upon returning to the people, Moses face is seen to be radiant. It is still filled with the fullness of God’s light. It is shining with the splendor of God, which Moses had experienced in a moment of privileged encounter. This is what happens in the sacred liturgy. We should serve the liturgy (and leave the liturgy) with a certain radiance. It should stir up within us a deep, interior joy—not an ebullient joy that attracts attention to itself, but the sort of joy that humbly reflects upon the favors received from God.
These reflections are profound in themselves. What struck me most about them, though, was not their actual content, but their spirit. With moments to go before the beginning of very large, high-profile Masses, the focus of Msgr. Marini’s remarks was not on practical details. In fact, his focus was entirely impractical and spiritual. Having attended to so many practical details in the months & days & hours leading up to these liturgies, the papal MC challenged each of us to go deeper and to experience the sacred liturgy in the same way Moses experienced the burning bush. He used these moments not as a time for reminders and corrections, but as a time for prayer and spiritual encouragement.
Sacred musicians, sacristans, MC’s, and so many others who take part in preparing liturgies at the parish level could learn from Msgr. Marini’s good example. Let’s put forth our best efforts and be diligent in all of our preparations, for sure. When we enter the sacred liturgy, however, remember that the essence of what we do remains a spiritual reality.