Father Christopher Smith, a priest friend and theologian who writes frequently for the Chant Café, wrote eloquently on Pope Saint John XXIII. This excerpt about the pope’s liturgical sensibilities is worth highlighting, given attempts by the media to portray him as a liturgical progressive.
… That Romanità also formed the young Angelo Roncalli [John XXIII] in his attitude towards the sacred liturgy and popular piety. I have yet to come across any indications that he was a liturgical revolutionary. He could not have helped but be schooled as a seminarian in the Roman basilica tradition à façon de Carlo Respighi. He loved the ceremonies and the prayers of the Church, and for him, all of the pomp and circumstance of the papal liturgy was not dead vestiges of an imperial past, but the continuation of a glorious Roman tradition. Roma felix had no need of puritanical iconoclasm to shed the papal liturgy of its “imperial trappings” because by John XXIII, they had already been transformed interiorly into pomp and splendor of the King of Kings. Even the changes that happened under his reign, such as the new Good Friday prayer for the Jews and the 1960 breviary, were motivated less from new ideas about liturgics than his desire to be nice to people and not burden them. And he still lengthened the cappa magna back from the attenuated length that the author of Mediator Dei [Pope Pius XII] had cut it, a factoid that the propagandists of “John XXIII: Liturgical Revolutionary” are at sixes and sevens to explain.
My years in Rome overlapped with Father Smith’s and so his articles, peppered with anecdotes from the Eternal City, always bring back distinctly Roman memories for me. The entire piece, entitled Saints John XXIII and John Paul II: A Roman Seminarian Recounts, is well-worth reading.
And for those interested, check out this excellent article on liturgy by Father Christopher Smith, Benedict XVI: Towards a Liturgical Theology of Liberation?