Book Review: Liturgical Reflections of a Papal Master of Ceremonies by Mgsr. Guido Marini

Note: This is the second installment of The Catholic Man Reviews’ “The Liturgy Series,” a year-long series focused on liturgical books and other materials that would help the faithful come to appreciate and love the celebration of the Liturgy. This month features Liturgical Reflections of a Papal Master of Ceremonies by Mgsr. Guido Marini, translated by Fr. Nicholas L. Gregoris and published by Newman House Press. 

This is a long overdue book review, probably since the beginning of the existence of this blog, but I never found the perfect occasion to review it. Now that we are doing The Liturgy Series, I saw this as a perfect chance to showcase it.

Who is that priest who is never vested for Mass but always stands next to Pope Francis at major Papal Liturgical Celebrations? I wondered that for the longest time I was young, as I enjoyed watching livestream of Papal Functions via the Vatican TV’s YouTube channel. There was something about that spectacled figure dressed in a neatly pressed white surplice and amaranth cassock. Upon deeper research, I learned that that figure was Mgsr. Guido Marini, known official as the Pontifical Master of Ceremonies (MC). 

Upon learning more about who he was, I became attentive not only to the Pope alone, but more and more to the Pope’s MC. “Such a cool role!” I thought, as I continued to watch Papal Celebrations with Marini being present at almost every single one. However, my eyes were opened as I read, Liturgical Reflections of a Papal Master of Ceremonies (from this point forward, referred to as Reflections). I came across the book while doing a Google Search and thought it would be an interesting read. 

As a Liturgical MC myself at my home parish, I saw Marini as a wonderful model of how it means to be a Liturgical MC. It is a role that is humbling – you prepare everything for the presider, makes sure everything is in place and you, as the MC takes care of the logistics while the presider will focus on his sacred work. As head of the Papal Office of Liturgical Celebrations, Marini is in charge of making sure all Liturgical Celebrations presided by the Pope from St. Peter’s Basilica to a Papal Mass in Philadelphia, are celebrated beautifully, smoothly and reverently. While every Liturgical function should be celebrated  in such manner, that is strictly enforced with the Holy Father, not only because thousands of people are present for such celebrations and also live-streamed for the whole world, but these celebrations also serve as examples for the Church around the world. I myself, after observing something new and helpful from a Papal Mass, strives to bring it into action at my home parish. 

To some people, the role of the Papal MC like that of Marini is a simple task: you show up for Mass, point to where the Pope is the read in the Missal, stand beside him, take on/off his mitre (sometimes), receive/retrieve the crozier (sometimes) and just stand as a model beside the Pope. While seemingly a simple role, things are not so simple when speaking liturgically, especially on a scale of a Papal Mass. As mentioned previously, the Papal MC is responsible from A-Z for most Liturgixal Papal functions and Mgsr. has done so very well under Pope Benedict XVI and now with Pope Francis.

In the publisher’s preface, Fr. Peter M. J. Stravinskas, the general editor and publisher says:

Since assuming this role, Monsignor Marini has taken opportunities to explain why he makes the liturgical judgments he makes and how they are grounded in both sound thelogical principles and the goals of Pope Benedict XVI for the liturgical life of the whole Church.

Liturgical Reflections of a Papal Master of Ceremonies, page 7

Those who have seen and/or followed the “evolution” of Papal liturgy through the pontificates post-Vatican II will notice that Pope Benedict XVI is prefers more traditional liturgy. Instead of just making changes, or “evolving”, Fr. Stravinskas noted that Mgsr. Marini has made these texts available on the Holy See’s website in which Fr. Gregoris has diligently worked on the English translations of these reflections for wider circulation and catechesis of the Christian people.

It is ever so important to understand the what and why of liturgy. Sometimes, when we celebrate the liturgy (as minister or lay congregation), we may celebrate in haste, or simply go through the motions as a routine. However, I hope that these Reflections will allow Catholics to have a deeper appreciation for what we do in the liturgy, which is not just the work of one person, but “work of the people” – the work of the people of God in worshiping God.

“Holy Mass, celebrated with respect for the liturgical norms and with appropriate appreciation of the riches of the signs and gestures,” affirmed Benedict XVI, “encourages and develops growth in Eucharistic faith.”

Liturgical Reflections of a Papal Master of Ceremonies, page 21

I think that is really what Reflections tries to make out to the reader – the importance of the celebration the liturgy correctly, and understanding it, appreciate it so that we may actively take part in the celebration of the Eucharist, “Eucharistically” – in a sense of communion, and consciousness in all that we do.

Reflections speaks of the different elements of a Papal Mass, including the regalia of the Holy Father from the staff, mitre, pallium and also commentaries on the position of certain liturgical objects, for example the “centrality” of the crucifix on the altar. Surprisingly, mentioned in here is also an explanation of “Chanting of the Gospel in Greek in certain Papal Celebrations” which I found to be a very interesting read since I never knew why prior to reading this.

Overall, I think Reflections is a book any Catholic should pick up and read, especially those who take on liturgical roles at their own parishes, or those who want to understand why things are at Papal Liturgical Celebrations. Reflections has helped me become more conscious of what happens at the Sacred Liturgy. As Catholics, we attend Mass not as robots, but rather, as conscious co-workers in the celebration of the Sacred Mysteries.

You can purchase a copy of the title here from Newman House Press.

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