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“Pitiful Diatribes on Exterior Forms”

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Oct 27, 2008

If you argue endlessly about this or that form of the liturgy and can be satisfied with nothing less than what you regard as ideal, Pope Benedict wants to yank your chain. The comments in question were made in his preface to the first volume of a German language edition of his complete works, a volume collecting Joseph Ratzinger’s writings on the liturgy from his university days until his election as Pope.

In the preface, Benedict wrote: “It would please me very much if the new publication of my writings on the liturgy could contribute to making visible the great perspectives of our liturgy, putting again in their place the small and pitiful diatribes on exterior forms.”


Apparently Benedict had seriously considered removing nine pages from his book The Spirit of the Liturgy: An Introduction (2000), which is the chief item in the first volume of the collected works. These nine pages covered his ideas on the orientation of the priest when celebrating Mass, and Benedict was concerned at the amount of petty and partisan controversy those pages generated. He did not want to see that happen again.

He hopes people will take a broader and more balanced view of the same issues when they are revisited in the collected works. His goal is to get beyond “often pedantic questions about one form or another” to a greater understanding of the cosmic significance of the liturgy, which “embraces together creation and history” with Christ at the center as Savior, on Whom we are all to be focused in liturgical prayer. For Benedict, this same cosmic significance ultimately lies behind every liturgical form.

Jeffrey Mirus holds a Ph.D. in intellectual history from Princeton University. A co-founder of Christendom College, he also pioneered Catholic Internet services. He is the founder of Trinity Communications and See full bio.

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