Thursday, March 23, 2017

Ratzinger's Initial (Positive) Assessment of Vatican II Call for Liturgical Reform: October 1964

The Problem of Divine Worship

This may have seemed to the outsider the least important problem. He might have been tempted to see in it a kind of estheticism, a hobby for specialists and historians. But for the Church, divine worship is a matter of life and death. If it is no longer possible to bring the faithful to worship God, and in such a way that they themselves perform this worship, then the Church has failed in its task and can no longer justify its existence. But it was on precisely this point that a profound crisis occurred in the life of the Church. Its roots reach far back. In the late Middle Ages, awareness of the real essence of Christian worship increasingly vanished. Great importance was attached to externals, and these choked out essentials.

The essence of the ancient Christian liturgy in the texts was no longer visible in the overgrowth of pious additions. Luther‘s protest against the Catholic Church therefore involved a very basic protest against Catholic liturgy, which he denounced as idolatrous. He supplanted it with a simplified devotion concentrated on God‘s Word. This is not the place to discuss the loss of substance that accompanied this amputation. Without doubt vital members were removed along with diseased ones (as is often frankly stated by Protestant theologians today). But we want to study here the internal Catholic development. The Catholic reaction to Luther‘s attack took place at Trent. The reaction was on the whole inadequate, even if it did eliminate the worst abuses and make possible a certain measure of rebirth. Trent was content to do two things:

(a) To set forth integral Catholic doctrine, now (at least in regard to the idea of sacrifice) presented in purer form. But Trent did not sufficiently consider the Reformation‘s genuine problems of conscience, nor did it realize how problematic were the notions of adoration and sacrifice - the two main difficulties of late medieval eucharistie doctrine.

(b)The overgrowth of liturgical non-essentials was cut back and strict measures taken to prevent a recurrence of this.

The main measure was to centralize all liturgical authority in the Sacred Congregation of Rites, the post-concilliar organ for implementation of the liturgical ideas of Trent. This measure, however, proved to be two-edged. New overgrowths were in fact prevented, but the fate of liturgy in the West was now in the hands of a strictly centralized and purely bureaucratic authority. This authority completely lacked historical perspective; it viewed the liturgy solely in terms of ceremonial rubrics, treating it as a kind of problem of proper court etiquette for sacred matters. This resulted in the complete archaizing of the liturgy, which now passed from the stage of living history, became embalmed in the status quo and was ultimately doomed to internal decay.The liturgy had become a rigid, fixed and firmly encrusted system; the more out of touch with genuine piety, the more attention was paid to its prescribed forms. We can see this if we remember that none of the saints of the Catholic Reformation drew their spirituality from the liturgy. Ignatius of Loyola, Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross developed their religious life solely from personal encounter with God and from individual experience of the Church, quite apart from the liturgy and any deep involvement with it.

The baroque era adjusted to this situation by superimposing a kind of para-liturgy on the archaized actual liturgy. Accompanied by the splendor of orchestral performance, the baroque high Mass became a kind of sacred opera in which the chants of the priest functioned as a kind of periodic recitative. The entire performance seemed to aim at a kind of festive lifting of the heart, enhanced by the beauty of a celebration appealing to the eye and ear. On ordinary days, when such display was not possible, the Mass was frequently covered over with devotions more attractive to the popular mentality. Even Leo XIII recommended that the rosary be recited during Mass in the month of October. In practice this meant that while the priest was busy with his archaic liturgy, the people were busy with their devotions to Mary. They were united with the priest only by being in the same church with him and by consigning themselves to the sacred power of the eucharistic sacrifice. Perhaps the clearest example of the coexistence of archaic liturgy and living para-liturgy was the old form of celebration of Holy Saturday. In the morning the liturgical ceremony commemorating the resurrection was celebrated in virtually empty churches. The ceremony had no significance at all for the congregation. In the evening the people had their commemoration of the resurrection, with all the splendor of baroque delight in ceremony and display. Between the two ceremonies came a long day of silent remembrance of the stillness of Chrisťs tomb. Little did it matter that the official liturgy in its ivory tower had begun hours ago to intone the Alleluia.

With the end of the baroque period, the force of the baroque para-liturgy also went into decline, although in some regions it remained very much alive. The endeavors of the Sacred Congregation of Rites to preserve old forms had obviously resulted in the total impoverishment of the liturgy. If the Church‘s worship was once again to become worship of God in the fullest sense - i.e., for all the faithful - then it had to get away from fixed forms. The wall of Latinity had to be breached if the liturgy were again to function either as proclamation or as invitation to prayer. Experiments in "de-Latinization" by smaller groups or through the use of interpreters soon proved insufficient. It was now clear that behind the protective skin of Latin lay hidden something that even the surgery performed at Trent had failed to remove. The simplicity of the liturgy was still overgrown with superfluous accretions of purely historical value. It was now clear, for example, that the selection of biblical texts had frozen at a certain point and hardly met the needs of preaching. The next step was to recognize that the necessary revamping could not take place simply through purely stylistic modifications, but also required a new theology of divine worship. Otherwise the renewal would be no more than superficial. To put it briefly, the task only half finished at Trent had to be tackled afresh and brought to a more dynamic completion.

This also meant that the problems which Luther and the reformers had seen in the liturgy had to be dealt with once again. Not the least of these was their objection to the rigidity and uniformity already evident then in the ceremonies. The point was not, of course, for the Catholic Church to somehow work toward the positions of the Reformation. As we have already said, the amputation performed by the reformers could not supply any model for Catholic liturgical reform.

But the questions the reformers raised could well serve to spur a return to the ancient Christian heritage. It seemed well worthwhile to honor the positive seriousness of these questions and to see the possibilities they opened up as a help in our own effort for renewal. Both sides have much to learn from one another, and in the work of the liturgical movement this had already in fact happened.

If we view the Council‘s initiatives for liturgical reform in their historical context, then we may well consider them a basic reversal. The value of the reform will of course substantially depend on the post-conciliar commission of Cardinal Lercaro and what it is able to achieve. The problems and hopes of liturgical reform anticipate some of the crucial problems and hopes of ecclesiastical reform in general. Will it be possible to bring contemporary man into new contact with the Church, and through the Church into new contact with God? Will it be possible to minimize centralism without losing unity? Will it be possible to make divine worship the starting point for a new understanding among Christians? These three questions represent three hopes, all bound up with liturgical reform, and all in line with the basic intentions of the recent Council.

Ratzinger, Joseph: Theological Highlights of Vatican II. Paulist Press, 2009, s. 129-134.
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