CARDINAL RATZINGER ON THE LITURGY
This is a complete translation of the French text of a speech given by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, whilst Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, given in Rome on October 24 1998.
Ten years after the publication of the Motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, what kind of balance sheet of its successes and failures can we draw up? I think it is above all an occasion to show our gratitude and to give thanks. The diverse communities born thanks to this pontifical text have given to the Church a great number of vocations to the priesthood and to religious life. These men and women, filled with zeal and joy and profoundly loyal to the Pope, are rendering their service to the Gospel during this present historical epoch – our own. By means of them, many of the faithful have been confirmed in the joy of being able to live the liturgy and in their love of the Church, or perhaps through them they have rediscovered both of these things. In many dioceses – and the number is not that small! – they serve the Church in collaboration with the bishops and in a fraternal relation with those faithful who feel themselves at home in the renewed form of the new liturgy. All of this causes us today to express our profound gratitude!
Nevertheless, it would not be very realistic to pass over in silence some less pleasant facts. In many places, there have been and still are difficulties. Why? Because many bishops, priests and lay-people see this attachment to the old liturgy as a divisive factor. They think the attachment does nothing but trouble the ecclesial community. They see the attachment as evidence that the Council is being accepted “only with certain reservations” and suspect that it means the obedience due to the Church’s legitimate pastors is less than it should be.
We must, therefore, pose the following question: How can these difficulties be overcome? How can the necessary trust be built up so that these communities which love the old liturgy can be fully integrated into the life of the Church? But there is another question underlying the first.. What is the profound reason for this distrust or even this refusal to accept a continuation of the old liturgical forms? It is of course possible that in this area there are reasons which are anterior to any theology and which have their origin in the individual characters of people or in the conflict between different characters, or even in other entirely exterior circumstances. But it is certain that there are also deeper reasons which explain these problems. The two reasons one most often hears are:
- the lack of obedience to the Council, which is said to have reformed the liturgical books; and
- the disruption of Church unity, which is said to follow necessarily if one allows the use of different liturgical forms.
It is in theory relatively easy to refute these two arguments. First, the Council did not itself reform the liturgical books; it ordered their revision and, to that end, set forth certain fundamental rules. Above all, the Council gave a definition of what the liturgy is, and this definition gives a criterion which holds for every liturgical celebration. If one wished to hold these essential rules in disdain and if one wished to set to one side the normae generales found in paragraphs 34-36 of the Constitution De Sacra Liturgia – then yes, one would be violating the obedience due to the Council!
It is therefore in accordance with these criteria that one must judge liturgical celebrations, whether they be according to the old books or according to the new. It is good to recall in this regard what Cardinal Newman said when he observed that the Church, in her entire history, never once abolished or prohibited orthodox liturgical forms, something which would be entirely foreign to the Spirit of the Church. An orthodox liturgy, that is to say, a liturgy which expresses the true faith, is never a compilation made according to the pragmatic criteria of various ceremonies which one may put together in a positivist and arbitrary way – today like this and tomorrow like that. The orthodox forms of a rite are living realities, born out of a dialogue of love between the Church and her Lord. They are the expressions of the life of the Church in which are condensed the faith, the prayer and the very life of generations, and in which are incarnated in a concrete form at once the action of God and the response of man.
Such rites can die, if the subject which bore them historically disappears, or if the subject is inserted into another order of life. The authority of the Church can define and limit the usage of rites in different historical circumstances. But the Church never purely and simply prohibits them.
And so the Council did ordain a reform of the liturgical books, but it did not forbid the previous books. The criterion the Council expressed is at once more vast and more strict: it invited everyone to make a self-critique! We will return to this point.
Now for the second argument, that the existence of the two rites can harm Church unity. Here one must make a distinction between the theological and the practical aspects of the question. On the theoretical and fundamental side of the question, it must be stated that many forms of the Latin rite have always existed, and that these rites declined only slowly as a consequence of the unification of human living space in Europe. Up until the Council there existed, alongside the Roman rite, the Ambrosian rite, the Mozarabic rite of Toledo, the rite of Braga, the rite of the Chartreux and of the Carmelites, and the best known of all: the rite of the Dominicans. And perhaps there were still other rites with which I am not familiar.
No one was ever scandalised that the Dominicans, often present in our parishes, did not celebrate Mass like our parish priests, but had their own rite. We had no doubt that their rite was as Catholic as the Roman rite, and we were proud of this richness in having many different traditions.
Moreover, this must be said… the freedom that the new Ordo Missae allows to be creative, has often gone too far; there is often a greater difference between liturgies celebrated in different places according to the new books, than there is between an old liturgy and a new liturgy when both are celebrated as they ought to be, in accordance with the prescribed liturgical texts.
An average Christian without special liturgical training finds it hard to distinguish between a Mass sung in Latin according to the old Missal and a Mass sung in Latin according to the new Missal. In contrast, the difference between a liturgy celebrated faithfully according to the Missal of Paul V1 and the concrete vernacular forms and celebrations with all the possible liberties and creativities – the difference can be enormous!
With these considerations, we have already crossed the threshold between theory and practice, where things are naturally more complicated, because they involve relations between living persons.
It seems to me that the aversions of which we have spoken are so great because the two forms of celebration are thought to reflect two different spiritual attitudes, two different ways of perceiving the Church and the whole of Christian life. There are many reasons for this. The first is that the two liturgical forms are judged on the basis of exterior elements and so the following conclusion is reached: there are two fundamentally different attitudes.
The average Christian considers it essential that the re-formed liturgy be celebrated in the vernacular and facing the people, that there be large areas for creativity and that lay-people exercise active roles. On the other hand, it is thought essential to the old liturgy that it be celebrated in the Latin language, that the priest face the altar, that the ritual be rigidly prescribed and that the faithful follow the Mass by praying in private, without having an active role. In this way of viewing things, certain outward phenomena are essential for a liturgy, not the liturgy in and of itself. In this view, the faithful understand and express the liturgy by means of concrete, visible forms and are spiritually quickened by these very forms, and do not penetrate easily to the profound levels of the liturgy.
But the oppositions we have just enumerated do not come from either the spirit or the letter of the conciliar texts.
The Constitution on the Liturgy itself does not say a word about celebrating Mass facing the altar or facing the people. And on the subject of language, it says Latin ought to be preserved while giving greater space to the vernacular “especially in the readings and directives, and in some of the prayers and chants” (36, 2). As for the participation of lay-people, the Council insists first in general that the liturgy concerns the entire Body of Christ, Head and members, and that for this reason, it belongs to the entire Body of the Church “and consequently the liturgy is to be celebrated in community with the active participation of the faithful,” And the text specifies: In the liturgical celebrations, each person, whether as a minister or as one of the faithful, should perform his role by doing solely and totally what the nature of things and liturgical norms require of him.” (28) “By way of promoting active participation, the people should be encouraged to take part by means of acclamation, responses, psalmody, antiphons, and songs, as well as by actions, gestures and bodily attitudes. And the proper time all should observe a reverent silence.” (30)
These are the directives of the Council: they can provide matter for reflection to all. A number of modern liturgists, however, have unfortunately shown a tendency to develop the ideas of the Council in only one direction. If one does this, one ends up reversing the intentions of the Council.
The role of the priest is reduced by some to one of pure functionality. The fact that the entire Body of Christ is the subject of the liturgy is often deformed to the point that the local community becomes the self-sufficient subject of the liturgy distributes the different roles in it. There is also a dangerous tendency to minimise the sacrificial character of the Mass to cause mystery and the sacred to disappear, under the proclaimed imperative of making the liturgy more easily understood. Finally, one notes the tendency to fragment the liturgy and to emphasise only its communal character by giving the assembly the power to decide the celebration.
Happily, there is also a certain distaste for the rationalism banality and the pragmatism of certain liturgists, be they theoreticians or practitioners. One can see evidence of a return to mystery, to adoration, to the sacred and to the cosmic and eschatological character of the liturgy, as is witnessed by the “Oxford Declaration on Liturgy” of 1996.
Moreover, it must be admitted that the celebration of the old liturgy had slipped too much into the domain of the individual and the private, and that the communion between priests and faithful was insufficient. I have a great respect for our ancestors, who recited during low Masses the “Prayers During the Mass” contained in their book of prayers. But certainly one cannot regard that as the ideal for the liturgical celebration! Perhaps these reduced forms of celebration are the profound reason why the disappearance of the old liturgical books had no importance whatsoever in many countries and caused no sorrow. People had never been in contact with the liturgy itself.
On the other hand, in those places where the liturgical Movement had created a certain love for the liturgy – in those places where this movement anticipated the essential ideas of the Council, as for example the praying participation of all in the liturgical action – in those places there was greater suffering in the face of a liturgical reform undertaken in too much haste and limiting itself often to the exterior aspect. Where the liturgical Movement never existed, the reform did not at first pose any problem, The problems arose only in a sporadic way in those places where a wild creativity caused the disappearance of the sacred mystery.
This is why it is so important that the essential criteria of the Constitution on the Liturgy, which I cited above, be observed, even if one is celebrating according to the old Missal!
When this liturgy truly moves the faithful with its beauty and profundity, then it will be loved, and then it will not be in irreconcilable opposition to the new Liturgy – provided that these criteria are truly applied as the Council wished. Different spiritual and theological accents will continue, certainly to exist. But they will no longer be two opposing ways of being a Christian, but rather two riches which belong to the same Catholic faith.
When, several years ago, someone proposed “a new liturgical movement” to ensure that the two forms of liturgy did not diverge too much and to show their inner convergence, several friends of the old liturgy expressed the fear that this was nothing other than a stratagem or ruse to eliminate the old liturgy entirely.
Such anxieties and fears must cease! If in the two forms of celebration the unity of the faith and the unicity of the mystery should appear clearly, that could only be a reason to rejoice and thank the Good Lord. In the measure to which all of us believers live and act according to these motivations, we can also persuade the bishops that the presence of the old liturgy does not trouble or harm the unity of their diocese, but is rather a gift destined to build up the Body of Christ, of which we are all the servants.
So, dear friends, I would like to encourage you not to lose patience – to keep trusting – and to find in the liturgy the force needed to give our witness to the Lord for our time.