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The Renewal of the Liturgy, Ratzinger’s a Good Place to Start

If you have in any way been following us on Twitter, you can’t help but notice the abundance of quotes from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, or Joseph Ratzinger, or Ratzi.  It’s because I had been engulfed by his 2000 work, The Spirit of the Liturgy.  If you remember, this book was part of our failed attempt at a summer reading.  This is why I picked up.

I had read parts of it in preparation for a talk on the importance of Mass a few years back.  Then, I gained some insights into the liturgy that helped me participate better.  When I entered into the full breadth of the work this fall, I got to understand the undergirding Scriptural and philosophical base of his theology of the liturgy.  He is honest.  With many things pertaining to the liturgy, many seem to be pushing an agenda, either this or that.  This work wishes to sift through the opinion and pull out the tradition of the Church guided by Ratzinger’s now famous “hermeneutic of continuity.”

There are those books in one’s life that alter your weltanschauung.  For me, this was one of those books.  So much of the Christian life is connected to the liturgy, some may know this and I had unclear suspicions that was the case, but much was cleared, the light of the liturgy shone forth before my eyes.  Symbolism had meaning.  Liturgical actions have symbolism not just utility.  Because of the age in which I have grown up (no doubt the same as yours), liturgical action and indeed liturgy seemed simple, to the point, and utilitarian.  It satisfied a need to make contact with God and fulfill Sunday obligation.  At some points in my life, it was something to endure.  The less there was the better, not just in time but in liturgical art.  Architecture, statuary, painting, and music were extras like the sprinkles on top of a hot fudge Sunday.  They made it taste better, but they weren’t necessary for it.

These thoughts were in ignorance, as high schooler.  Entering seminary my confreres and the monks who taught me, had different ideas that clashed with my closed, experiential understanding of the liturgy.    They had more knowledge and understanding of the nature and focus of liturgy.  I knew this implicitly as worship of God, but what I didn’t understand is how human ego can get in the way this very easily.  Along with this, I was and still to some extent am ignorant of the richness of the Church’s liturgical history.  What I am aware of, is the hermeneutic of discontinuity in which I grew up as a Catholic.  My experience is no different than many of the Catholics in the United States.

One of the main insights I received from this work was the importance of ad orientem worship.  By turning the priest toward the congregation, it turns the focus.  Egocentricity becomes that much more a temptation for the priest now that he prays looking at the congregation.  Does he now have to put on a show?  Now does he have to perform?  From a celebrant’s standpoint, it’s a nightmare.  Actors face their audience.  Generals lead their armies into battle with their backs turn to their men.  Priests lead their congregations in the worship of God through the sacrifice of Christ, his Son.  They look towards the east the place the rising sun, the image of the Risen Christ, the promise of our own resurrections and eternal life and happiness.  They look towards the Cross which as the crux (pun intended) for the whole liturgical action of the Church, the proclamation of the word, the unbloody sacrifice, all of the other sacraments.  Clericalism disappears when the worshiping body is focused solely on He alone who deserves worship.

Thank you Ignatius Press for printing this in English, thank you John Saward for providing a clear and eloquent translation.  Thank you Border’s for selling it to me.  Going into my final year of seminary, the lessons and insights learned from this book will be invaluable, and I’m positive I will return to it in years to come.

About Fr. Kyle

I am a priest of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. I was born and raised right outside New Orleans. I attended Catholic school my entire educational career. By the time I graduated high school, I had two paths to choose: rockstar or priesthood. I pursued both for awhile but eventually came to the understanding God's will was priesthood and my will was rockstardom. After making that decision, to allow God's will to be mine, I needed a new way to channel my creativity. I began writing as I finished up my formation for priesthood. I still play music, but priestly ministry comes first. My bride: St. Rita of Cascia Parish in Harahan, LA.

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