Cardinal Ratzinger's "The Spirit of the Liturgy"
When future generations look back at the pontificate of Benedict XVI, the first thing that will probably spring to mind is the fact that he was the first modern pope to resign. This one act of his may overshadow all the other things Joseph Ratzinger did during his time as Bishop of Rome. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen, though, as there are many wonderful things he gave the Church, for which we, and future Christians, should be immensely grateful.
The Benedictine Reform
Personally, I will be grateful to Benedict XVI for his 'Benedictine Reform' of the liturgy -- which saw the rehabilitation of the traditional Latin Mass as well as a gradual (pun intended) introduction of greater reverence to the post-Conciliar liturgy. But the Benedict-inspired liturgical reform has only really just started. It is vital, therefore, for the whole Church to now continue the work which was hinted at during Ratzinger’s time as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and which was eventually brought to an (as yet) imperfect fruition during his Pontificate.
Liturgy is crucial for the Church – Christianity does not exist without it. The worship of Almighty God is fundamental to our humanity – we become truncated beings when we forget to adore and give thanks to the one true God. Catholicism presents the world with the most perfect liturgy, the act of worship known as the Mass: at which God the Son offers Himself, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, to God the Father on our behalf – and we are invited to unite ourselves as a living sacrifice to Christ’s eternal offering of love.
A 'banal' liturgy will not do!
Sadly, as we now know, and as Pope Benedict XVI taught us only last week, a false interpretation of the Second Vatican Council, aided by the secular media, led to the development of a 'banal' liturgical tradition in the Church of our times.
The ‘new’ liturgy – and sometimes even the Ordinary Form of the Mass – has often been hijacked so as to become little more than a community interaction, all about ‘man’ offering himself to himself, at which God is merely a spectator or an extra. Mass in many places is about massaging the ego, not participating in the great Sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Instead of providing the space for us to offer our lives back to God, and submit to His will in pure adoration, some ‘spirit of Vatican II’ Catholics now view the liturgy as something whereby we offer our talents to each other: the man with the actor’s voice reads for us, the woman with the priest-vocation-complex dons a sash to give us Communion from her hands, the guitar-playing hippy plays a 1970’s tune for the people … God is hardly allowed to enter the scene.
It is sad to note that although Benedict XVI initiated a much needed reform of the post-Conciliar liturgy and restored the traditional Mass to its proper dignity, his work in this important matter did not really go far enough. Maybe he thought that he, by himself, could only enact so many changes and stop certain abuses? Perhaps he couldn’t face the inevitable fight that restoring reverence in the Church’s liturgical life would cause? Possibly, Benedict XVI really believed that the Church would naturally reform herself, without instructions from above? But the Church needs leaders – Popes matter: it is they who set agendas and get things done. Great popes can do great things – good ones do what they can and then hope for the best.
Does the Church wish to continue the Benedictine reform?
If the Church wishes to see the Benedictine reform of the liturgy continue, and therefore really desires to create a generation of saints and joyful missionaries of the Gospel, then we must have a courageous successor to Benedict XVI -- one who shares his passion for the beauty of holiness and the splendour of truth, but who will also have the strength to really reform the Church 'root and branch'. We need a man who is strong enough to legislate against abuses and fundamentally promote a return to the crux of the liturgy – which is a Divine act of gracious love, not merely some human invention. For the Benedict-inspired reform of the liturgy to continue and come to full fruition, for the Church to survive, for the world to come to know the truth and enjoy a deep relationship with Jesus Christ, we need a man like this:
Many claim that Cardinal Raymond Burke could never be elected to the Throne of St Peter because he’s an American, and apparently it’s unheard of for a pope to hail from a nation which is also a global superpower. What tosh! When France was a superpower in the Middle Ages, we had many French popes! The truth of the matter is, though, that there may be too many princes of the Church who are weary of traditional/ist Catholicism, or who do not understand the reasoning behind Pope Benedict XVI’s liturgical theology, to ensure enough Conclave votes for a man like Cardinal Burke. It is sad to say that too many Catholics – including bishops – do not really know the real and transcendent value of Catholic liturgy, which -- when properly celebrated -- is truly a pearl of great price.
Please, no more abuses!
Recently, I found myself at a Novus ordo Mass. During Communion, three Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion appeared only for the priest to disappear. In good conscience, I cannot anymore receive Communion in the hand; neither do I think Our Lord should be ‘doled out’ by those of us whose hands are not consecrated for the purpose of giving Holy Communion. So, I decided to stay in my seat. As a traditional-minded Catholic, I was effectively denied Holy Communion that day.
Situations like the one just mentioned are quite common – many priests are oblivious to the reasons why the laity would rather receive Holy Communion at their hands than from a ‘duly appointed Lay Minister’. They often get angry when they notice that more people join the ‘priest’s queue’ during Communion than stand in ‘Lay Minister’ Mrs Smith's or ‘Lay Minister’ Mr Jones’s queue. As a result, I have often witnessed priests (usually the ones that declare themselves 'servant priests') leave half-way through Communion shouting ‘Go to the Eucharistic minister’ as they huff and puff back to the altar with a half-full ciborium in hand.
May God grant us a Pope who rejoices in our heritage
Situations such as the one just described must stop! No more liturgical abuses! No more banality at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass! No more anthropomorphic self-congratulatory worship! It’s time for the Church to orientate herself towards her Lord once more. It’s time for Catholic liturgy to be saved, for the richness of our heritage to be restored, and for God to be given His rightful place in Catholic acts of worship – especially the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. For this reason, I hope and pray that the Cardinal Electors will be brave enough to entrust the Barque of Peter to a man like Burke.
In the meantime, let us pray, fast, and make sacrifices ... begging God to save his people and asking Him for a good and holy pope!