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Don't by fooled by pope's latest move: Carnival time is over

Don't by fooled by pope's latest move: Carnival time <em>is</em> over
Pope Francis, attended by Guido Marini, his master of ceremonies, leaves Palm Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square on April 13. (Riccardo De Luca / Associated Press)

For all its fascination with Pope Francis, the secular media haven’t paid much attention to a papal appointment that has stirred up the Catholic blogosphere. The no-frills pope has “confirmed” (reappointed) Msgr. Guido Marini as Master of Pontifical Liturgical Ceremonies. Marini is the bespectacled priest who attends the pope at Masses and other rites.

Why is this news? Marini was Pope Benedict XVI’s collaborator in reviving elaborate “Roman” vestments (as distinguished from the simpler “Gothic” style favored after Vatican II) and other Renaissance trappings. Coincidentally, he replaced another cleric named Marini — Piero Marini — who was blamed by Catholic traditionalists for the insufficient pomp and excessive innovations of Pope John Paul II’s liturgies.

As I explained in a column several years ago: "The pope's aides say that his choice of vestments is designed to demonstrate continuity with the church's past. Liberals are more inclined to see it as a slap at the spirit of Vatican II."

On the night he was elected, Francis greeted the crowd in St. Peter's Square dressed in a simple white cassock. Although the tale may be apocryphal, it was widely reported that he refused to don the ermine-lined red cloak worn by past popes, telling Marini: "No thank you, monsignore. You put it on instead. Carnival time is over!"

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Conservative Catholics feared — and liberals hoped — that Marini would soon be packed off to an obscure bishopric. Instead, he has remained.

Does this mean Francis is a closet "rad trad" (radical traditionalist) who opposes the way Catholic worship has been simplified and made more accessible to the laity? Hardly. He seems more of a product of Vatican II, and his disdain for "clericalism" is reflected in the style of papal ceremonies. His miters are midsized and relatively unadorned; the "skyscraper" headdresses favored by Benedict seem to have been put back in mothballs.

Still, retaining Marini is an olive branch to traditionalists. At the same time, it may signal Francis' self-confidence.

In an interview before Marini's official reappointment, Francis said: "You say that my papal master of ceremonies is of a traditionalist character. And many have asked me about my choice to remove him from office and be replaced. I said no, just that I prefer him to even benefit me by his traditional formation and at the same time, so he is formed in the same way by my emancipated formation."

Marini may not be able to persuade Francis to dress Renaissance-style, but he may be able to dissuade him from wearing tacky ultra-modern vestments.

Still, it's pretty clear who has the upper hand. Carnival time really is over.

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Follow Michael McGough on Twitter @MichaelMcGough3

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