Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fifth anniversary of a symbolic gesture

Pope Benedict XVI leads a solemn Mass during which he baptised 13 babies at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican yesterday as the Church commemorated the baptism of Jesus. He celebrated parts of the Mass with his back turned on the congregation, re-introducing an old ritual that had not been used in decades.
Benedict XVI celebrating solemn Mass on 13 January 2008. Photo: Reuters

Five years ago today, Pope Benedict XVI led a solemn Mass during which he baptised 13 babies at the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican. He celebrated parts of the Mass with his back turned on the congregation, a gesture that did not pass unnoticed. Pope Benedict, in this way, re-introduced a visible aspect of the Tridentine Mass. He used the Sistine Chapel's ancient altar set right against the wall under Michelangelo's dramatic depiction of the Last Judgement, instead of the altar placed on a mobile platform that allowed his predecessor Blessed John Paul II to face the faithful. Benedict XVI also read his homily from an old wooden throne on the left of the altar used by Blessed Pius IX in the 19th century.

This event had been preceded a few months earlier by the promulgation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, allowing a wider use of the Tridentine Mass. In the same period Benedict XVI had also said he would like the centuries-old Gregorian chant to make a comeback. Communion, during Papal Masses, started being given on the mouth and kneeling too.

All these gestures by His Holiness were meant as a signal to bishops around the world on the way forward for the Catholic Church. Whether these were taken on board is another story.