Pope Francis: In the Mass, prioritize awe over aesthetics


Pope Francis meets participants in an international training course for liturgical celebrations in Catholic dioceses on Jan. 20, 2023 / Vatican Media. See CNA article for full slideshow. 

Vatican City, Jan 21, 2023 / 05:10 am (CNA).

Pope Francis on Friday encouraged diocesan leaders to prioritize awe, evangelization, and silence before mere aesthetics in liturgical celebrations like the Mass.

“A celebration that does not evangelize is not authentic,” the pope said Jan. 20, quoting from his 2022 apostolic letter on liturgical reform, Desiderio Desideravi.

Without evangelization, he added, the liturgy “is a ‘ballet,’ a beautiful, aesthetic, nice ballet, but it is not authentic celebration.”

Pope Francis spoke about the liturgy in a Jan. 20 meeting with participants in an international training course for liturgical celebrations in Catholic dioceses.

The Jan. 16-20 course, organized by the liturgical institute of the Pontifical University of St. Anselm in Rome, was on the theme “living liturgical action in fullness.”

The pope said one of the aims of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council was “to accompany the faithful to recover the ability to live the liturgical action in its fullness and to continue to marvel at what happens in the celebration before our eyes.”

Francis underlined that the Council was not talking about aesthetic joy or the aesthetic sense but wonder and amazement.

“Awe is something different from aesthetic pleasure: it is encounter with God. Only encounter with the Lord gives you awe,” he said.

To this end, the pope said, the liturgical formation of priests is essential, since they go on to form the faithful, who see whether they celebrate Mass properly and in a prayerful way.

Pope Francis also urged those who help organize liturgical celebrations to cultivate silence, especially immediately before the Mass, when people sometimes act like they are at a social gathering.

Silence in the pews and in the sacristy “helps the assembly and the concelebrants to focus on what is going to be accomplished,” he said.

“Fraternity is beautiful, greeting each other is beautiful, but it is the encounter with Jesus that gives meaning to our meeting with each other, to our gathering,” he said. “We must rediscover and value silence.”

The pope encouraged those who help a priest or bishop organize all of the ministers of liturgical celebrations, called masters of ceremonies, help “enhance the celebratory style experienced” in parishes.

He gave the example of when a bishop goes to celebrate Mass at a local parish.

“There is no need,” he said, “to have a nice ‘parade’ when the bishop is there and then everything goes back to the way it was. Your task is not to arrange the rite of one day, but to propose a liturgy that is imitable, with those adaptations that the community can take on board to grow in the liturgical life.”

“In fact, going to parishes and saying nothing in the face of liturgies that are a bit sloppy, neglected, poorly prepared, means not helping the communities, not accompanying them,” he added. “Instead, with gentleness, with a spirit of fraternity, it is good to help pastors to reflect on the liturgy, to prepare it with the faithful. In this the master of celebrations must use great pastoral wisdom.”

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    • They can be. His point on the bishop coming to Mass is illustrative. Awe is not dependent on great music, fine vestments, and “parades.” Though these can help sometimes. Awe is something to strive for when there may be no music, not many people, and in the humblest of circumstances.

      Jesus was born in poverty, yet shepherds approached with awe, Anna and Simeon recognized immediately, and Magi offered gifts in a carpenter’s home. Aesthetics are under human control. Grace is for God.

      • Awe is easier to find with the desire for reverence, easily found at Latin Masses, than a desire to be entertained with clown outfits and bishops blowing bubbles, unless you’re talking about the jaw-dropping awe of witnessing profound stupidity.

  1. Beauty is a transcendental, there can’t be awe without it. In John 5:46 Jesus affirms a Mosaic backdrop; however, so far Pope Francis has been skirting the issue.

    Now I find this interesting, I wasn’t looking for it, a mosaic is a beautiful and intricate decoration in crafted pattern and fashioned material. It is not a pun.

    May I remark on a personal note. I do not go to Mass to be awed. I go because God is in the Holy Eucharist whether or not anything wondrous, etc., will ever happen to me.

  2. Awe??? But no Latin Mass if he can possibly stamp it out. Silence in the pews?? Yet OK’s a gross interruption in the Mass with the greeting of peace smack in the middle. I would personally like to see that process dropped from Mass totally and did not miss it while covid fears were indulged. Or, put a greeting prior to the actual start of worship as I have seen the Protestants do. Then it doesnt interrupt the flow of Mass and disturb people’s focus.

    • Was Jesus left outside the door on this one? Jesus is the reason for the sacraments. He is preeminent. The horse goes before the cart. He shoulders our burdens, Ceremonies are to honour our Lord and Saviour, not to take His place.

      Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

      John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

      Matthew 22:37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

      Hebrews 12:2 Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

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