Vatican Radio’s report (linked by Richard Malcolm in the comments of my last post — thanks Richard) on Pope Benedict’s address to the parish clergy of Rome, in which he reminisced on Vatican II and ruminated on its significance, contains a couple of interesting sets of remarks on the liturgy.
First, he speaks of each of the major constitutions and what they were trying to achieve. In speaking of the Liturgy Constitution he gives a pretty ringing endorsement of the pre-conciliar liturgical movement:
Referring to the reform of the liturgy, the Pope recalled that “after the First World War, a liturgical movement had grown in Western Central Europe,” as “the rediscovery of the richness and depth of the liturgy,” which hitherto was almost locked within the priest’s Roman Missal, while the people prayed with their prayer books “that were made according to the heart of the people”, so that “the task was to translate the high content, the language of the classical liturgy, into more moving words, that were closer to the heart of the people. But they were almost two parallel liturgies: the priest with the altar servers, who celebrated the Mass according to the Missal and the lay people who prayed the Mass with their prayer books”. ” Now – he continued – “The beauty, the depth, the Missal’s wealth of human and spiritual history ” was rediscovered as well as the need more than one representative of the people, a small altar boy, to respond “Et cum spiritu your” etc. , to allow for “a real dialogue between priest and people,” so that the liturgy of the altar and the liturgy of the people really were “one single liturgy, one active participation”: “and so it was that the liturgy was rediscovered, renewed.”
The Pope said he saw the fact that the Council started with the liturgy as a very positive sign, because in this way “the primacy of God” was self evident”. Some – he noted – criticized the Council because it spoke about many things, but not about God: instead, it spoke of God and its first act was to speak of God and open to the entire holy people the possibility of worshiping God, in the common celebration of the liturgy of the Body and Blood of Christ. In this sense – he observed – beyond the practical factors that advised against immediately starting with controversial issues, it was actually “an act of Providence” that the Council began with the liturgy, God, Adoration.
The Pope also points to difficulties that arose after the Council:
The Holy Father then recalled the essential ideas of the Council: especially the paschal mystery as a centre of Christian existence, and therefore of Christian life, as expressed in Easter and Sunday, which is always the day of the Resurrection, “over and over again we begin our time with the Resurrection, with an encounter with the Risen One. ” In this sense – he observed – it is unfortunate that today, Sunday has been transformed into the end of the week, while it is the first day, it is the beginning: “inwardly we must bear in mind this is the beginning, the beginning of Creation, the beginning of the re-creation of the Church, our encounter with the Creator and with the Risen Christ. ” The Pope stressed the importance of this dual content of Sunday: it is the first day, that is the feast of the Creation, as we believe in God the Creator, and encounter with the Risen One who renews Creation: “its real purpose is to create a world which is a response to God’s love. ”
The Council also pondered the principals of the intelligibility of the Liturgy – instead of being locked up in an unknown language, which was no longer spoken – and active participation. “Unfortunately – he said – these principles were also poorly understood.” In fact, intelligibility does not mean “banalizing” because the great texts of the liturgy – even in the spoken languages – are not easily intelligible, “they require an ongoing formation of the Christian, so that he may grow and enter deeper into the depths of the mystery, and thus comprehend”. And also concerning the Word of God – he asked – who can honestly say they understand the texts of Scripture, simply because they are in their own language? “Only a permanent formation of the heart and mind can actually create intelligibility and participation which is more than one external activity, which is an entering of the person, of his or her being into communion with the Church and thus in fellowship with Christ.”
It strikes me that his remarks amount to a strong affirmation of the official reform, as well as an understanding of actuosa participatio that involves something more than the attentive observing to which some people want to reduce it. At the same time, he is also expressing doubts about how some of those reforms got implemented more locally.
Toward the end he returns to the liturgy in the context of a contrast he draws between what the Council did and how it was portrayed in the media — which in turn sometimes influenced the local reception and implementation of the reform:
There was the Council of the Fathers – the true Council – but there was also the Council of the media. It was almost a Council in and of itself, and the world perceived the Council through them, through the media. So the immediately efficiently Council that got thorough to the people, was that of the media, not that of the Fathers. And while the Council of the Fathers evolved within the faith, it was a Council of the faith that sought the intellectus, that sought to understand and try to understand the signs of God at that moment, that tried to meet the challenge of God in this time to find the words for today and tomorrow. So while the whole council – as I said – moved within the faith, as fides quaerens intellectum, the Council of journalists did not, naturally, take place within the world of faith but within the categories of the media of today, that is outside of the faith, with different hermeneutics. It was a hermeneutic of politics. The media saw the Council as a political struggle, a struggle for power between different currents within the Church. It was obvious that the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world. There were those who sought a decentralization of the Church, power for the bishops and then, through the Word for the “people of God”, the power of the people, the laity. There was this triple issue: the power of the Pope, then transferred to the power of the bishops and then the power of all … popular sovereignty. Naturally they saw this as the part to be approved, to promulgate, to help. This was the case for the liturgy: there was no interest in the liturgy as an act of faith, but as a something to be made understandable, similar to a community activity, something profane. And we know that there was a trend, which was also historically based, that said: “Sacredness is a pagan thing, possibly even from the Old Testament. In the New Testament the only important thing is that Christ died outside: that is, outside the gates, that is, in the secular world”. Sacredness ended up as profanity even in worship: worship is not worship but an act that brings people together, communal participation and thus participation as activity. And these translations, trivializing the idea of the Council, were virulent in the practice of implementing the liturgical reform, born in a vision of the Council outside of its own key vision of faith.
This division between the Council of the Fathers and the Council of the media is interesting, but perhaps too simple. It might be taken to imply that all local developments that went beyond what the Council Fathers explicitly intended were simply a result of people drinking too deeply of the media’s distorted vision of the Council. Communion in the hand? The media’s overemphasis on the meal aspect of the Eucharist. Female altar servers? The media’s distorted emphasis on the egalitarianism of the Council. You get the idea.
All in all, the amount of time Benedict spends discussing the liturgy in this address testifies to the importance that the liturgy holds for him. It also indicates some of the complexity of his thinking, and maybe some places where his thought might need to be a bit more complex.