Understanding Pope Benedict XVI on the Liturgy
Assessing Benedict’s views of the liturgy
In “Where Truth and Beauty Meet”: Understanding Benedict (The Tablet August 14, 2010) – Eamon Duffy, Professor of the History of Christianity, and Fellow and Director of Studies at Magdalene College, Cambridge, aptly summarizes Pope Benedict’s view of the liturgy and his calls for reform
[Pope Benedict] believes that behind many celebrations of the new liturgy lie a raft of disastrous theological, cultural, sociological and aesthetic assumptions, linked to the unsettled time in which the liturgical reforms were carried out. In particular, he believes that twentieth-century theologies of the Eucharist place far too much emphasis on the notion that the fundamental form of the Eucharist is that of a meal, at the cost of underplaying the cosmic, redemptive, and sacrificial character of the Mass.
The Pope, of course, himself calls the Mass the “Feast of Faith”, “the Banquet of the reconciled”. Nevertheless Calvary and the empty tomb, rather than the Upper Room, are for him the proper symbolic locations of Christian liturgy. The sacrificial character of the Eucharist has to be evident in the manner of its celebration, and the failure to embody this adequately in the actual performance of the new liturgy seems to him one of the central problems of the post-conciliar reforms. …
In his view, the liturgy is meant to still and calm human activity, to allow God to be God, to quiet our chatter in favour of attention to the Word of God and in adoration and communion with the self-gift of the Word incarnate.
The call for active participation and instant accessibility seem to him to have dumbed down the mystery we celebrate, and left us with a banal inadequate language (and music) of prayer. The “active participation” in the liturgy for which Vatican II called, he argues, emphatically does not mean participation in many acts. Rather, it means a deeper entry by everyone present into the one great action of the liturgy, its only real action, which is Christ’s self-giving on the Cross. For Ratzinger we can best enter into the action of the Mass by a recollected silence [emphasis mine – Chris], and by traditional gestures of self-offering and adoration – the Sign of the Cross, folded hands, reverent kneeling. […]
For the Pope … liturgical practice since the Council has taken a wrong turn, aesthetically impoverished, creating a rupture in the continuity of Catholic worship, and reflecting and even fostering a defective understanding of the Divine and our relationship to it.
Apropos is Ratzinger’s strong criticism of certain forms of contemporary music and dance, which take on the character of ‘performance’; the very spirit of which runs counter to that of authentic liturgy.
According to Professor Duffy, Benedict’s 2007 Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, permitting the free celebration of the Tridentine liturgy, “was intended both to repair that rupture and to issue a call to the recovery of the theological, spiritual and cultural values that he sees as underlying the old Mass.”
Criticism of the Novus Ordo – Can one go too far?
In a recent column, Dr. Jeff Mirus criticizes those who he believes go to the extreme in opposing and denigrating the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, claiming that they are simply following the lead and writings of Cardinal Ratzinger (“The Mind of the Church on the Novus Ordo ” Catholic Culture. August 13, 2010):
I want to emphasize that he expressed these concerns in scholarly work, and that, taken in context, it is always clear that Ratzinger as a cardinal was not ill-disposed toward the Novus Ordo. Rather, he was interested in improvements which might be made (no liturgy is perfect) and, in particular, he was opposed to the free-wheeling manner in which some ignored the rubrics when saying Mass.
Dr. Mirus reminds us that “it is absolutely critical to note that the mind of the Church or even of the Pope himself cannot be determined by looking at the writings of a future pope before he became pope,” and that “while in office, Pope Benedict XVI has made his approval of the Novus Ordo clear”:
[Pope Benedict XVI] has also made clear that his serious criticisms do not apply to the rite itself but to the false interpretation of the Missal of Paul VI as something that requires constant experimentation and innovation, as if priests are to superimpose their own improvisations on the official liturgy and, in so doing, frequently substitute the banal for the sublime.
Benedict made these points in explaining his decision to widen the use of the Tridentine Mass (the Missal of Pope John XXIII) in his 2007 Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum. Readers will recall that the Pope issued an accompanying Letter to the Bishops on the Occasion of the Publication of Summorum Pontificum to explain his decision. In that letter he recounted why he wanted to expand the use of what he now called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite and, in so doing, he deliberately responded to the fear that this expansion was somehow intended to demote the Novus Ordo or undermine the Second Vatican Council’s call for liturgical reform.
Dr. Mirus’ caution is a welcome one and worth reading in full, as he examines the commentary of Benedict on the liturgy as Pope — which may be contrasted with, and qualify — the more acerbic and oft-cited criticisms of Ratzinger the Cardinal. Dr. Mirus concludes with some advice (and admonishment) to critics of the Novus Ordo:
Admit your personal preference for the Extraordinary Form if you like; true Catholics should not criticize you for it, even if they prefer the Ordinary Form. Combat abuses of the Novus Ordo where you can; the Church will thank you for that. But do not denigrate the rite itself, as if it is something unworthy or profane, and never imply that the billion Catholics who use and have come to love it are somehow inferior in their Faith.
It is possible to debate the merits and demerits of any liturgy, but it is not possible to cite either Pope Benedict XVI or the mind of the Church as being anything less than in favor of the prescribed use of the ordinary form of the Roman Rite. Finally, no approved liturgy of the Church should ever be treated with disrespect, nor its adherents stigmatized if they are not disobedient, for it is a sacred thing.
Understanding Summorum Pontificum
Speaking of Summorum Pontificum, Ignatius Press has published a new book, The Old Mass and the New: Explaining the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum of Pope Benedict XVI, by Bishop Marc Aillet:
In July 7, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI released his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, allowing for unprecedented freedom for priests to celebrate the so-called Tridentine Mass, now referred to as the “Extraordinary Form” of the Mass, as opposed to the Mass of Paul VI, or the “Ordinary Form”. In this new book by French bishop Marc Aillet, the historical and cultural impetus for the motu proprio as well as the rich tradition of liturgical reform are explored.
As a priest of the Community of Saint Martin, which celebrates the Mass of Paul VI in Latin, Bishop Aillet has been committed to the promotion of liturgical reform that is rooted in tradition for many years. As bishop of the diocese of Bayonne in France, he has been instrumental in reintroducing the Extraordinary Form in his diocese.
A work that is both easy to understand and deeply rich, The Old Mass and the New gives an overview of the history and theology of the liturgy. At the same time, Bishop Aillet beckons us to look ahead to move beyond the crisis in the liturgy to a reconciliation of these two forms of the Latin rite. An excellent introduction for those interested in the theological foundations of the liturgy.
- The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. ( Ignatius Press (September 2000).
- How Should We Worship? | Preface to The Organic Development of the Liturgy
by Alcuin Reid, O.S.B. | by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
- Worshipping at the Feet of the Lord: Pope Benedict XVI and the Liturgy by Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. | Ignatius Insight April 28, 2005
- On Saying the Tridentine Mass | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. on Pope Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum | August 16, 2007
- The Mass of Vatican II, by Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.