Roman Catholicism is accomplished at handling both macro and micro dimensions of its universe. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a breathtaking synthesis of the millenary-old wisdom of the Church. It provides an instance of the ability of the RC Church to master and condense history, doctrine, and culture. Yet the same ability is observable in a careful analysis of a liturgical celebration. Every gesture, movement, action, word, etc., is a part of the whole which informs it. Attention to both universals and particulars belong in the same RC realm.
The combination of both macro and micro dimensions will be displayed in the intensive 3-day beatification of John Paul II. More than 300.000 people are expected to be in Rome for this event and the program is a reflection of the “catholic” breadth of the Church as well as of her “roman” character. The catholicity of the Church will be demonstrated by the presence of all the cardinals and especially by the participation of the massive number of people at the various stages of the beatification: the Marian prayer vigil on Saturday,April 30th; the beatification ceremony on Sunday, May 1st; and the thanksgiving Mass on Monday May 2nd. The whole celebration will be marked by a strong Marian accent given the particular Marian devotion of John Paul II, but also by a powerful presentation of the heroic virtues of the previous Pope.
The Saturday night Marian prayer vigil is an attempt to honor the Marianism of the former Pope and to commend it to the faithful. The open air vigil will commence with a procession behind the Maria Salus Populi Romani (“Mary the salvation of the Roman people”), a Byzantine Marian icon that is deemed to be the protector of the Romans, followed by her enthronement at Circus Maximum. The elevation of the icon is a symbol of Mary being the object of public hyper-veneration, i.e. the unique tribute of honor that the RC Church pays to her. The crowd will then join in the singing of the hymn Totus Tuus (“Wholly yours”), echoing John Paul II’s motto that indicated his total commitment to Mary. A Marian rosary will follow in satellite link with five Marian sanctuaries: Krakow (Poland), Bugando (Tanzania), Harissa (Lebanon), Guadalupe (Mexico) and Fatima (Portugal). These places were all visited by John Paul II during his long pontificate and video excerpts of his speeches on Mary will be shown on large screens. During the night the crowd will be encouraged to join in prayers to Mary. The beatification ceremonies will be a great boost to Marian spirituality .
The following day the beatification ceremony will be held in St Peter’s square, accompanied by Wojtyła’s coffin which will be taken out of its present location. During the ceremony, the Pope will be officially presented to the RC Church as a recipient of petitions and intercessions of the faithful. Prayers to him and votive masses will be encouraged in RC practice and piety. Then the crowd will pay homage to the coffin in a prolonged and visual expression of communion between the living and the dead. It will perhaps take days to ensure that all present will have an opportunity to do so. After praying to Mary, the people will pray to John Paul II. Prayer will be one of the catchwords of the beatification event, yet one always needs to ask to whom prayer will be presented and in which spiritual framework.
Outside of the RC theological and doctrinal framework, it is difficult to come to terms with these deep convictions and widely practiced patterns of spirituality. Some Evangelicals would like to think that they are peripheral and non-essential, related only to fringe movements and folk religious expressions. Yet reality says that this is not the case. We are dealing with the core of the RC faith, appealing especially to the masses and totally integrated into the doctrinal outlook of the RC Church. After a book on Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict XVI will highlight Mary of John Paul II. His faith allows – or better – demands to do both in the same breath. The beatification of John Paul II will be a display of the RC’s ability to strongly uphold what other Christians would consider as far away from basic Christianity.
Leonardo De Chirico
Rome, 11th April 2011