As katholisch.de reports, Benedict XVI received an additional ecumenical birthday gift five months after his 90th birthday. The Russian Orthodox metropolitan Hilarion gave him a copy of the Russian edition of the volume on liturgy from Ratzinger’s complete works. It appeared with the title “Theology of the Liturgy” from the publish house of the Moscow Patriarchate. In fact, Benedict XVI himself wrote the foreword for the Russian edition.
Today La Stampa published the entire text of Benedict’s foreword. Here is my quick translation of Benedict’s text from the Italian – I welcome your improvements and corrections.
Let nothing be preferred to the sacred liturgy. With these words in his Rule (43:3) St. Benedict established the absolute priority of the sacred liturgy over any other task of monastic life. But even in monastic life this was not immediately taken into account, because agricultural and intellectual work was also an essential task for monks. In agriculture as well as in the crafts and the work of formation, there could be some temporal matters that might appear more important than the liturgy. Against this backdrop, Benedict, with the priority given to the liturgy, unequivocally emphasizes the priority of God himself in our lives: “On hearing the signal for an hour of the divine office, the monk will immediately set aside what he has in hand, yet with gravity.”
In the consciousness of the people of today, the things of God and thus of the liturgy do not appear at all urgent. There is an urgency about every possible thing. But the matter of God does not seem to be urgent. Now one might point out that monastic life is in any case something different from the life of people in the world, and that is certainly correct. And yet the priority of God whom we have forgotten holds true for everyone. If God is no longer important, the criteria for establishing what is important are displaced. Humans, in putting aside God, submit themselves to the constraints that make them the slave of material forces and thus at odds with their dignity.
In the years following the Second Vatican Council I became aware again of the priority of God and of the sacred liturgy. The misunderstanding of the liturgical reform which has spread widely in the Catholic Church has led to more and more emphasis on the aspects of education and one’s own activity and creativity. The doings of people almost obliterated the presence of God. In such a situation it became increasingly clear that the Church’s existence lives from proper celebration of the liturgy and that the Church is in danger when the primacy of God no longer appears in the liturgy nor consequently in life.
The deepest cause of the crisis that has upset the Church lies in the obscuring of the priority of God in the liturgy. All this led me to devote myself to the theme of the liturgy more than previously because I knew that the true renewal of the liturgy is a fundamental condition for the renewal of the Church. Based on this belief, the studies that have been collected in this volume 11 of the Opera Omnia were born. But fundamentally, the essence of the liturgy in the East and West, albeit with all the differences, is one and the same. And so I hope that this book will also help the Christians of Russia to understand in a new and better way the great gift that has been given to us in the sacred liturgy.