Archbishop Piero Marini: “We carried out the liturgy that was thought out by the Second Vatican Council”

02/ 7/2013

Archbishop Marini: my memories of Pope John Paul II

Archbishop Piero Marini, who prepared the liturgical celebrations for John Paul II from 1987 to his death, talks with Canada’s Catholic “Salt and Light” TV


For over 20 years the Italian Archbishop, Piero Marini, stood at the right hand of two popes – John Paul II and Benedict XVI – as Master of the Pontifical Liturgical Celebrations.


In the following extract from the interview broadcast last weekend on Canada’s  Catholic “Salt and Light” TV channel, he speaks about his work preparing John Paul II’s liturgical celebrations (1987-2005), and enabling him to celebrate with dignity in the last, difficult phase of his life. He shares too his last, deeply moving encounter with this great pope the day before he died.


Archbishop Marini is now President of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses.


The full interview with Archbishop Marini, conducted in Italian by Father Thomas Rosica, (Salt and Light TV’s CEO), with English subtitles, can be seen at:



In 1987 Pope John Paul II called you to be the Master of the papal liturgical celebrations. Can you tell us about this?


Yes, after working 22 years at the Office for Divine Worship, Pope John Paul II called me to be the director of the Office for Liturgical Celebrations. There I started another part of my life. What I learned with the liturgical reform we put into practice in the service of the Pope, in every diocese in the world, in every country on Earth.


We carried out the liturgy that was thought out by the Second Vatican Council, above all with a regard for the different cultures, because John Paul II was very sensitive to the different cultures. He himself used to say that the Gospel needs to be expressed in each person’s own culture, otherwise there is no participation. The participation that the Council wanted makes enculturation necessary.



You worked closely with him. How did the Holy Father manifest his wish to put into practice everything you’ve just mentioned?


Well, the Pope was a pastor. He was not a theologian; he was not a biblical expert. He was an expert in connecting with people. Above all, this experience of the Council remained with him. He wanted to put into action the experience that he lived at the Council…. He wanted to put into action, around the world, that which the Council had hoped for.


I had met him in Krakow in 1973 on the occasion of a visit with the Cardinal Prefect of my congregation. We visited all of Poland and found ourselves in Krakow for three days. I remember this Cardinal (Wojtyla), his courtesy and, above all, I saw his way of celebrating, of being with people. It was the feast of St. Stanislaw. I remember we celebrated (mass) at this church, among the scaffolding… because it wasn’t yet finished. But I remember most this meeting between the Cardinal of Krakow and the people. For example, some farmers came and they were dancing in front of him. The impression that I was left with was that of a pastor who was close to the people.


He continued to exercise this same role throughout his pontificate. Right away we understood each other. Of course, in the beginning I would go to him often to show him things, but then we understood each other. Or to put it better, it was a reciprocal trust. I knew what he wanted. He was secure with what I was doing. Sometimes all we needed was to make eye contact. And then we would go ahead.



Yes, I saw that.


This was the key to my service in his pontificate. I knew when I did something that it was how the Pope wanted it. Naturally, there was always an understanding. Before every trip I’d meet with the Holy Father, and so on; there was this sense of being in a family. With the Holy Father I could even make suggestions that might sometimes seem a bit “out there” without the fear of being misunderstood, because there was this, let’s call it a friendship, even though that’s a big word, but it was true.


After I was there about ten years, they wanted to move me, because one generally holds that position for about seven, eight, maybe ten years and then they move you. But the Pope said, “Stay here with me.” This would have been at the beginning of his illness in ’96, ’97. That’s why I stayed for so many years. The Holy Father wanted to continue this working relationship he had with me, which made his job easier.


The whole word saw your very important role with us some memories of those last days – his illness, his death, and the funeral?


I have to say the last years of his life were difficult years – difficult for me, too, because we had to find solutions for his physical state. The Pope had a body that was suffering. He had sores, bed sores. He had to use a cushion. Then he couldn’t walk anymore. So first we found that railing to put in front of him and help him stay still, because he had the shaking that comes with Parkinson’s. Then we found the moving platform. Then we found that little elevator we put next to the altar of St. Peter, so that we could safeguard his dignity even in celebrating Mass, despite the physical difficulties. I have to say, thanks to the collaboration with other entities within the Vatican, we were able to let him celebrate right up until the end, with dignity.


Then in the last years of his life, he spoke less.  He spoke less because his illness made him sad, even if it hadn’t taken his courage and will to make visits, to announce the Gospel.



I imagine that last period is something that remains with you to this very day.


I remember the last time I saw him. He died Saturday night. I saw him Friday. I was in contact with the Pope’s doctor, Doctor Buzzonetti, who would call me. He called and said, look, the Pope is in a final stage of his condition. So I called his secretary and said I’d like to say goodbye to the Pope and he said, okay, come. So I went at midday. I walked into that room where he was. I was amazed because the bed was in the middle of the room, then I understood why. It was because behind him there was a doctor helping him breathe.


So the Pope was lying on the bed, he was covered; he had two or three cushions to help him breathe better. Unfortunately, he had a nasogastric tube, and it ran behind him. I remember it was rather ornate, it was made to look as if it was a nice thing, and behind him was a doctor who was helping breathe. Monsignor Stanislaw called his name, he lifted his eyes, and he saw me. Then Stanislaw left us alone for a while. It’s hard to tell how long that moment lasted, how many minutes we were together.


I was a little embarrassed to be before him in this difficult situation. I managed to say, “Holy Father, pray for me, and pray for the Church.” Then at a certain point the Pope lifted his arm, like this, from the bed, and I didn’t understand if he wanted to give me a blessing or what he wanted, until the doctor, who would poke his head in from the door every once in awhile, said to me, “Take his arm”. See, the Pope wanted to greet me. He couldn’t speak, but he wanted to greet me. So I took his hand and we stayed like that a little while. I don’t know. There are those moments that are brief, but are also eternal.


Then I saw some movement, it was Cardinal Deskur coming to see him. I let go of him. I remember, when I turned around again towards his bed, before leaving the room, the Pope raised his eyes again. I still remember his hands as they held mine. They were the hands he laid on my head on the day of my ordination. I remember his eyes, the last time he looked at me. Those are my last memories of him alive, those hands and those eyes, which I hope still accompany me today, throughout my life.

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One comment on “Archbishop Piero Marini: “We carried out the liturgy that was thought out by the Second Vatican Council”

  1. Well this +Marini was part of the Bugnini group which brought us the Novus Ordo debacle. Creatures of the “spirit of Vll” in action. Breathtakingly arrogant and worldly.

    How he must loathe the current Marini who serves Pope Benedict XVl and who is trying, together with the Holy Father, to bring back some sanity and beauty to the Pontifical Masses.

    What a contrast between the two Marini’s. Ugliness and beauty. Circus and reverence.

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