What Ratzinger Tells Us About Benedict

Ever notice how many NCReporter letters to the editor are markedly more radical than the editorial line of the paper itself? Or how many letters to Catholic Replies at the The Wanderer are more traditionalist than that paper’s editorial line? Wanderer readers probably don’t give many compliments to the NCR, and vice versa. But one could view the NCR as a moderating force serving to bring the most radical folks closer to center. Same with the Wanderer. Each paper moderates some of its most extremist followers.

These observations occurred to me as I read the very fine article by David G. Bonagura, Jr. in the current issue of Antiphon“The Future of the Roman Rite: Reading Benedict in the Light of Ratzinger.” The thought of Pope Benedict about liturgical reform is, compared to many of the “Reform of the Reform” folks, rather moderate. The more zealous ones in the RotR camp speak of rebuilding “brick by brick.” One gets the impression that the goal is a complete reconstitution of the status quo ante – the 1950s, or 1920s, or something like that.

Pope Benedict is on another planet. He supported the goals of the preconciliar liturgical movement. He fundamentally supports the idea of structural liturgical reform, however much he regrets the way it was carried out after V2. His goal is not a widespread a return to the TLM. He approves of the offertory prayers in the missal of Paul VI, and also the multiple eucharistic prayers. And so forth.

On matters such as these, including creative proposals for a future reform of the missal of Paul VI, there is wide room for a variety of opinions. (Unless if you think the missal of Paul of Paul VI will be used from now until the parousia, which I rather doubt.) When German liturgists expressed concern about Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy, he willingly met with them for a scholarly discussion of their disagreements. And yet, within this wide room for opinion, one may hope that Ratzinger’s writings will, like the NCR and the Wanderer, moderate some of the overly zealous would-be followers. Toward this end, articles such as Bonogura’s are most helpful. My favorite part is his speculation about what the Pope might do next with the liturgy! (Not that much, most likely.)

If you’re tracking the discusson of RC liturgical renewal, you really should be reading Antiphon, of course along with many other publications. Thanks to Fr. Thomas Kocik for graciously granting us permission to reprint this article.



  1. Very good article and very true. When you watch Pope Benedict on the Vatican Website celebrating Mass in Roman parishes, he experiences it all, traditional music, contemporary, guitar strumming music and the like. He prays the Mass in Italian, uses a variety of Eucharistic Prayers. But he does insist on the crucifix facing him, dead center on the altar and communicants kneeling to receive Holy Communion. These two reforms would do a great deal of good for the entire Church without changing much of anything else!

    1. I suspect “insist” on kneeling is a little stronger than the reality: obviously, he doesn’t insist when it’s not reasonably possible, and I believe he has not refused communion to anyone who has not knelt…

  2. An article with some good insights, but at times it draws conclusions from the preponderance of minutiae rather than from the obvious. I would claim that while Cardinal Ratzinger certainly acknowledged the legitimacy of the 1970 Missal, and continues to do so most strongly in Summorum Pontificum, it is perhaps disingenuous to reduce his criticism of the 1970 Missal to nothing more than it being just “the idea of a new book”. I think this misses something of the seriousness of his criticism of it’s discontinuity with the past, a major concern of his. Pope Benedict most certainly understands that radical change cannot be mandated from the top. This is a distinct issue from whether he believes such radical change is needed.

    1. “Pope Benedict most certainly understands that radical change cannot be mandated from the top.”
      But you keep saying that that is what Paul VI (wrongly) did. If it cannot be done, how can it be that it was done? Are we critiquing history or re-writing it?

      1. I mean that Pope Benedict understands that it cannot be mandated from the top if the objective is to succeed. Paul VI did so, and as a result there were many problems, some directly related to the method by which change was implemented. Pope Benedict has clearly chosen instead to take a more measured approach, seeking concensus before mandating anything.

        I don’t actually remember saying anywhere that Paul VI did so previous to this…

  3. A general concern, among His Holiness, and others, is that the rite celebrated reflect what is found in the ritual itself, the General Instruction, and Sacrosanctum Concilium. We have all, sadly, been to liturgies that have not (on both ends of the spectrum). The article does a good job pointing out that the objections many make to the “Novus Ordo” are not the ritual itself but specific manifestations of it by certain priests and parishes.

    1. I must admit to going back and forth myself on this point. I believe that the missal of Paul VI lends itself to illicit creativity even if none of the words or rites in it are problematic in and of themselves as codified. Some of the rubrics are so sparse and devoid of insturction that it is not clear whether harsh austerity and economy were intended or some creative enrichment was envisioned as appropriate. Is this a defect of the missal’s mechanics or a defect in the unity of the underlying rite itself?

      I like the comment that someone on another blog had recently that the old mass was like naval equipment: designed by geniuses so that it could be operated by idiots. Would that the same could be said of the new missal!

  4. What Card. Ratzinger said and wrote prior to his election to the papacy is a good indicator of his interest and concern in the realm of liturgical reform. I would recommend reading Milestones (pages 146-149, quoted here: http://tinyurl.com/yg7sdpj ) and Feast of Faith (pages 87: “I do regard it as unfortunate that we have been presented with the idea of a new book [Missal] rather than with that of continuity within a single liturgical history. In my view, a new edition will need to make it quite clear that the so-called Missal of Paul VI is nothing other than a renewed form of the same Missal to which Pius X, Urban VIII, Pius V and their predecessors have contributed, right from the Church’s earliest history.”)

  5. In fairness, it needs pointing out that there are traditionalists today who fully endorse the goals of the 20th-century Liturgical Movement which culminated in Vatican II’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. They contend, however, that the principles enunciated in SC could (and should) have been implemented differently, i.e., according to what is now styled the “hermeneutic of continuity” with the past. We must be careful not to paint all traditionalists with the same brush. I don’t know many (in fact, any) who think the classical Liturgical Movement was a big mistake.

  6. This generation x-er Catholic finds this typical Antiphon article quite depressing. That the “proper” ars celebrandi and its expression of continuity is found in “older style embroidered vestments” totally misses the deeper continuity that the IGRM is so clear to highlight in addition to being devoid of any serious consideration of philosophies of aestetics. The “antique use” was celebrated after all in Matisse’s Dominican Chapel under the full artistic weight of modernity. That the Pope and Guido feel it necessary to reject modern arts as incapable of being beautiful or expressing continuity is precisely a problem of his liturgical vision and why it does call into question the Council – SC#123. The Church has not adopted any…

  7. “He supported the goals of the preconciliar liturgical movement. He fundamentally supports the idea of structural liturgical reform, however much he regrets the way it was carried out after V2.”

    It’s important to be clear that the second need not follow from the first.

    “I don’t know many (in fact, any) who think the classical Liturgical Movement was a big mistake.”

    Well, define “classical Liturgical Movement”. There are plenty of traditionalists who think it was off the rails by the early 20th century. Largely because of what I note above, that a large part of the liturgical movement became *about* structural reform. Also that it tried to impose one form of spirtuality on the lay faithful.

    1. Yes, there are “plenty of traditionalists” who think that. But the point is, Pope Benedict doesn’t. This is the crucial difference.

      1. The Holy Father truly wants liturgical renewal in all of the rites of the Church. What Cardinal Levada said yesterday at the dedication of the FSSP seminary chapel was not received too well by many traditionalists. What Msgr. Marini told John Allen of the NCR is controversial too, for many people on both sides of the liturgical questions. I have a commentary on Marini’s interview in the NCR with pictures in living color:

  8. A concise report by a young admirer of the Pope. Like many commentators here, for all his love of and strong opinions toward the liturgy, our present pope is not a liturgist. And by his fruits shall we know him. He has not appointed liturgists to head the Congregation for Worship. He seems uninterested in naming liturgists as bishops. His thesis about organic growth is refuted by the history of how changes have taken place. His slurs about professors are belied by the process in which bishops headed and tookactive parts in every reform commission. He disregards two key conclusions of SC: the insistence on participation by everyone, and the initiating role of regional bishops’ conferences. Look not only to his writings but to his acts

    1. What is the definition of “liturgist” that you (and others) are using that disqualifies Pope Benedict?

      Have you compared Benedict’s “thesis about organic growth” with that put forward by Dom Alcuin Reid in “The Organic Development of the Liturgy”? The latter shows how certain attempts at reform failed (and were often repealed) because of they were not “organic”.

      And, not to beat a dead horse, but what is your interpretation of what SC means when it speaks of participation by everyone? Vatican II only ONCE mentioned lay liturgical ministries (in Apostolicam Actuositatem 24, in a single sentence, in three words).

    2. He has, however, appointed liturgists to the office of papal liturgies.

      Slurs? What slurs? Belied? In what ways?

      When has the pope dismissed participation? Whenever I see video of papal events, everyone seems to have a prorgram, is following along, singing, responding, apparently aware of their relevance to the liturgy.

      Initiating role of bishops’ conferences? When has Pope Benedict violated SC 22.2 (I’m presuming that that is the section to which you are referring).


      1. He has, however, appointed liturgists to the office of papal liturgies.

        I’m not aware that Guido Marini has any liturgical qualifications whatsoever. The fact that he acted as MC in Milan does not make him a liturgist.

      2. I’m thinking of the scholars as consultors. I have to admit that it does not strike me as necessary to have liturgists actually acting as m.c. in order to make an important contribution. Scholars are not always the most organized people.

  9. The full impact of Benedict XVI’s reign will not be apparent until after his reign. Perhaps it’s better to reserve judgment until the reign of the next pope or even the one after him.

    Speculation that concerns the merger of the two Roman liturgical books currently in force should be cautiously approached. A merger of the two forms may not happen for another fifty years, another century, or even later. It’s still quite possible that the Roman Rite will remain divided into two equal forms of separate liturgy and traditions for a significant period within Church history (i.e. the length of the Tridentine era). For the moment, the divide between liturgical schools suggests that a merger of the two authorized forms will not occur spontaneously and in cooperation.

  10. “One gets the impression that the goal is a complete reconstitution of the status quo ante – the 1950s, or 1920s, or something like that.”

    Dear Fr. Anthony,
    This is the exactly kind of comment that really makes traditonalists wonder whether the words that we write are the same as the words that progressivists read. Nobody (not even Fr. Z) has the magical power to predetermine what impressions are created by his or her writing, but when impressions are contradicted by what is actually written, then the responsibility for the inaccurate impressions are with the reader, in this case, you. There are a few die-hard conservatives who will only countenance the pre-conciliar mass. Most of us genuinely want organic reform, brick by brick.

    1. Ioannes – thanks for this and all of your great comments. The impression of wanting to go back to 1950 or 1920 is given quite clearly all over the place on the web. One commentor above claims that the liturgical movement was already off the rails by the early 20th century! I’m really glad if you don’t think that or want to go back to 1950 – not do I get that impression from your writings. But I do get that impresson from many, many others. I stand by my comment.

      1. “One commentor above claims that the liturgical movement was already off the rails by the early 20th century!”

        I didn’t write that. I wrote that some traditionalist commentators have taken that position. For instance, Fr. Didier Bonneterre. (He’s in favor of the early liturgic. mov.) But even if the liturgic. mov. went off the rails early, it doesn’t follow that he (or I) want things to be like they were in 20s or 50s. Of course not, since if one holds that the lit. mov. went off the rails then, surely one wouldn’t want to recreate the time/conditions of that disintegration. (The character limit is frustratingly short. One can’t really say anything nuanced. Won’t this encourage sloganeering/oversimplification/etc?)

  11. The basic issue is that there was a rapture from organic and traditional developement of the liturgy. Liturgical development must always be organic and not abrupt. The abrupt change promoted an artificial liturgy. The reason why the current pope wants the EF to influence the OF is that the EF is a liturgy that has organic connections with tradition, while there is a perception that the OF is an invented liturgy and detached from the ordinary flow of liturgical development.

    1. In my previous parish prior to the EF Mass we celebrated the new Latin Edition of the 2002 Roman Missal in its pure form at our Saturday Vigil Mass once a month. Our choir director developed a very good men’s schola to sing the Latin Introit for the OF Mass which was the processional song, the offertory verse and communion verse. They also sang Latin motets at these times. Organ recessional. Of course we used the current lectionary in English. We celebrated everything in Latin, facing the people. If ad orientem, I don’t think people would have realized much difference between OF and EF. The 2002 missal is clearly related to the EF, although many more options for prefaces, Eucharistic prayers and flexibility which is very good.

    2. There was no rupture. Baldovin and Pecklers, to name just two recent authors on this topic, have effectively demonstrated that, and Alcuin Reid’s position in this regard has been successfully challenged. (And, come to that, no one has yet satisfactorily demonstrated why liturgical development shouldn’t be quite radical. Another thread?)

      I don’t think you can maintain that the current pope’s perception is that the OF is invented and not organically derived from the past. If this were true, he would have begun to take steps to have removed it by now. On the contrary, he has reaffirmed that the OF is precisely that ─ the Ordinary Form. What he is concerned with, as we all are, is the way in which it is celebrated.

      1. Very true Paul, but with that said, the concept of the “hermeneutic of continuity” is that we celebrate the OF Mass with as much care, reverence, awe and mystery as we celebrate the EF Mass. This has ramifications in terms of style, music, bodily postures and etiquette and spiritual attitude. Recovering ad orientem priestly posture and kneeling for Holy Communion as a form of adoration and worship are a part of this “continuity” of both Masses.

      2. “Successfully challenged”? Would love to read more. Please give some suggested reading, other than Fr. Baldovin;s recent book, which was not entriely convincing.

      3. In case I seemed insincere, I really am interested in reading more.

        I would like to say that I see nothing necessarily wrong in large-scale changes. Vatican II called for some extensive changes (certainly more for the divine office than for the mass) but also put limits on the nature of the innovations.

        There have attended an OF masses that were beautiful, solemn, respectfful, and kept as much as possible to the EF as the current rubrics permit. I don’t know that I would have thought of such masses in terms of “rupture” or “inorganic”. I have been to some OF masses that have really upset me in the choices made, even though they were permitted by the rubrics. I would argue that at least some OF developments are inorganic.

  12. ‘…the “hermeneutic of continuity” is that we celebrate the OF Mass with as much care, reverence, awe and mystery as we celebrate the EF Mass’

    Yet this begs the question: are all EF masses today actually celebrated with care, reverence, awe and mystery and only OF masses lacking these characteristcs? (I am old enough to have participated in pre-V II masses that were mumbled, hurried and sadly lacking in care, reverence, awe and mystery.) There is still not nearly enough ongoing formation of clergy, liturgical ministers AND laity in why and how we should celebrate Mass together, regardless of the form.

    1. I think there is less of a chance of abuse in the EF than in the OF if priests do the red and read the black. I think super-creativity in the OF is the culprit for bad celebrations.Certainly the visual looks of the priest count for nothing in the EF, since he’s facing away, so it could be anyone. But rushing, mumbling (although the rubrics call for hushed tones for many prayers including the Roman Canon) were a problem. I’ve heard stories of some EF Low Masses lasting 12 minutes. I can’t finish one in less that 35 minutes. My OF Mass week days, gospel acclamation, Sanctus, mystery of faith, Great Amen and Agnus Dei chanted, lasts about 25 minutes, plus short, short homily.No creativity either!

  13. As someone who was not around prior to the 60s (or 80s for that matter), could someone with experience in the Missal of Pius V and then the current celebration of the EF (Missal of John XXIII) compare the two? I would venture a guess that the Mass is probably celebrated “better” today than 1962 (for a number of reasons, scrutiny being one).

    1. I think some but not all priests did rush this Mass. But the congregation understood and participated in this Mass as they were taught or accustomed. It wasn’t foreign to them, especially its “spirituality.” Today when introducing this form of the Mass-we have to teach people that it has a different type of “spirituality” than the OF Mass and that it is a bit more complicated for them to participate. So from the congregation’s point of view, especially new comers, we have an opportunity to bring to bear the “conscious, active participation” that we understand now with the OF. I think in the past there was too much of a separation between what the priest did and what the congregation/choir did, not good. Some today continue this unfortunate custom. But there was no making up rubrics and imposing one’s personality on the EF, then or now which occurs frequently in the OF.

  14. As a Cantor for both the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Roman Rite and as a former Altar Boy under the 1965 Missal, which we knew then as the “new mass” I have long wondered why the 1970 Missal was ever necessary.

    Was not the 1965 Missal essentially what the Fathers of the Council asked for in SC? Certainly, the wider selection of readings was still to come, but it was in the vernacular the priest could and almost always did face the people, it was slimmed down and the rubrics were simplified. I still have my brown hard cover St. Joseph Missal from then and an Altar Missal and every time I open them, I wonder “what if?”.

    1. I wonder the same thing! I have a mint edition of the 1965 missal–only difference from it and the 1962 version is the prayers at the foot of the altar make the Requiem ones the norm and in English, these can be done if so desired from the chair,along with the English Gloria and Collect. English Creed, Prayers of the Faithful are added. Still has old offertory and canon, but some new English prefaces. Only has Roman Canon, with same rubrics except at the “per ipsum.” All priestly prayers and Canon silent in Latin. Lord’s Prayer in English, slight modification with the return of the “paten” for the host. Same format and order as 1962 for post communion and blessing. Last Gospel eliminated. Everything heard by the laity in English. This could easily be adapted to our current calendar and lectionary.

      1. This is a hindsight being 360 thing, but you can wonder what would have been the result had the new rite in 1965 included the current Liturgy of the Word (3 readings, vernacular) with a simplified, vernacular version of the 1962 Missal for the Liturgy of the Eucharist…almost a hybrid between the OF and Book of Divine Worship. Also, I think one place where the motu proprio dropped the ball is in the calendar issue. Both forms really should be using the same calendar–especially if a parish celebrates both on a Sunday (is Epiphany January 6 or a Sunday?).

  15. In the Northeast, we still celebrate Ascension on the proper day. It would be nice if Epiphany was moved back to January 6 (“Saint-elect Andre could be moved?). The other calendar change that has to be made in the US is the whole “if certain holy days of obligation fall on Sat or Mon there is no obligation attached” idea. The result is that less people come to Mass for those days as well as the added confusion as to which days that rule counts for and which days it does not.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.