Pope Francis – did you notice?

Slowly we can begin to notice little things about Pope Francis as we scrutinize and reflect. They may mean nothing or everything… or something in between! :-p

Schütz, over at Sentire cum Ecclesia, noted that in his first address to the people as pope, Francis did not use the word “pope” once, but he referred to himself as Bishop of the Church of Rome nine times. His article should be read for the context surrounding his observation. But the thrust of it is that Francis sees himself, so it would seem, primarily as Bishop of Rome. Of course he also made the point of saying that the Church of Rome presides in charity over all the churches.

Significant? It may well be. We must remember that in Argentina as archbishop of Buenos Aires Francis acted as ordinary for eastern-rite Catholics. Apart form suggesting that he may have more liturgical nous than the average Jesuit ( no offence boys), it suggest also that he has a strong awareness of the eastern Churches, and that this will colour his ecumenical approach. It was noted in posts here in the last couple of weeks that the Russian and Greek patriarchs felt that immense progress had been made in Benedict XVI’s pontificate, and hoped that this legacy would not be squandered. Perhaps Francis is precisely the man, with his eastern-rite experience, to further this ecumenical project. He is telling them he will not be the monarchical potentate of Orthodox nightmares, but preside in charity, first among equals, which is an understanding already established in Orthodox ecclesiology.

Schütz puts his own context as that of an ecclesiology fleshed out by a Lutheran friend of his, namely that the Church does not consist of churches, but in churches. In light of Vatican II we might say that the Roman Catholic Church is not the sum total of the true Church, but that the true Church, the Body of Christ, is en-limbed (to coin an ugly but useful word) in the various Churches that acknowledge the primacy of Peter and are in communion with his Successor. If this primacy could be clarified as primarily theological rather than of active governance, the Orthodox might be ready to resume communion. Indeed, the Orthodox would accept the Pope as court of final appeal with similarly relative ease. There is the filioque to consider, but that has been lived with before, and maybe it can be lived with again.

Today Pope Francis went to Santa Maria Maggiore, one of the four papal basilicas of Rome, where he paid homage to Our Lady Salus populi Romani, or “Protectress of the Roman People”. Again, this emphasis on his being primarily Bishop of Rome.

Pope Francis at Santa Maria Maggiore

But he also went to pray at the shrine of Pope St Pius V, revered by traditionalists as the pope who definitively established the so-called Tridentine Mass, or the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to be more precise. Was this a signal to liturgical traditionalists not to fear?

pius v

Pope St Pius V was a Dominican. Traditionally the Jesuits and Dominicans have been rivals in many fields, and occasionally a little dismissive of each other, to put it mildly. Is this Jesuit pope signalling a little intra-ecclesial ecumenism!? Probably not, but it is fun to think on it a little.

Pope Francis’ style continues in the vein in which he has begun. He went to Santa Maria Maggiore not in his papal limousine but in an ordinary Vatican police car! He entered the basilica by the side door. Some may be discomfited at his apparent refusal to assume the full stature (thus far) of the Roman Pontiff. But it can be argued that the spiritual power of the Pope, the power of the keys, does not need any worldly bolstering. In fact, it might be argued, the Petrine power is best shown in fidelity to Christ as Servant of the Servants of God. The pomp of the papacy might then be more a moral pomp and grandeur, a splendour found in papal doctrine and upholding of the truth.

But I may be wrong. For now, we must watch our new pope and pray for him.