Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Unfortunately I was unable to see the Papal inauguration of Pope Francis on television this morning, and had to rely on internet reports. It was clear from these that His Holiness has raised hopes and expectations in his home continent amongst the faithful who were present in St Peter's Square.

This evening a friend of eminently traditionalist sympathies was saying that he thought this morning's ceremonial was in several ways a distinct improvement on that in 2005. He cited the presence of a crucifix over th Papal throne, and the free-standing statute of the Virgin and Child by the altar, the canopy over the altar and the six large candlesticks flanking the crucifix there, which also had its own, seventh light. 

I assume that these are in part a result of the revision of the rite by Pope Benedict XVI before he stepped aside, and which was reported on the Vatican webite during the vacancy. It was this which restored the homage of the Cardinals - though as with the homage of the Peers at the English Coronation it is reduced to representitives of each degree rather than all the Sacred College. The New Liturgical Movement has Ceremonial Details of Today's Mass of Inauguration on its site.

I must, of course, admit, that I would rather we had had the traditional Coronation of the Pope, and will always recall the impact of watching on television that of Pope Paul VI in 1963.

One thing which surprises me for not being retained in the modified Inauguration, as opposed to Coronation, rite is the ceremony with a Franciscan holding up on three occasions a piece of burning  flax or tow with the salutory admonition as it flared up and extinguished itself to the new Pope of "Pater Sancte, Sic transit gloria mundi." I would have thought that might appeal particularly to Pope Francis. 

The same friend to whom I was talking this evening was last week full of despondency over the impression that was getting about as to the new Pope's liturgical and ceremonial style - be it the absence of the mozetta at his appearance on the balcony of St Peter's following his election, the choice of his own black shoes rather than the traditional red ones worn by Pope Benedict, or the omission of the Papal fanon, which the former Pope had reassumed, today. I must admit to being inclined to agree and we are aware that we are not alone at the moment in fearing that we may be seeing a rolling back of liturgical points which, whilst they may seem small things to others, we see as having a profound significance for the office of the Papacy, and as having been prudently used by Pope Benedict.  

Such fears, whether justified or not, are not assuaged by reports such as this one by the veteran BBC Rome correspondent David Willey (though I often sense his understanding of the Vatican and the Church is less than perfect) which can be seen at Break with past

The reaction against such reports is interesting - as in a blog post from Laurence England in Brighton, a blogger noted for his sympathy for the poor and homeless, which you can read here.

That point made, it is also important to stress that as Catholics we feel loyalty to the Pope and to his office, and respect and look to his spiritual leadership and teaching example - as, for example, I wrote the other day Pope Francis may well be the leader to recall the developed economies to a sense of responsibility and morality. It is rather on these lines that Fr Julian Large C.O., Provost of the London Oratory, has written an excellent piece which can be read here.

Addendum - Thursday

Further to what I wrote above on  Tuesday evening I would draw attention to a very thoughtful posting on his blog by Fr Blake about the nature and perception of Papal authority in the modern world. His point about the risks for the Church of relying on the perceived celebrity of a Pontiff  has  concerned me as an idea since the conclaves of 1978.His post can be read at Larger than life Popes?  

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