Pope Benedict XVI on Two Crucial Issues Facing the Church: The Liturgy and Priestly Celibacy
This little volume, The Spirit of the Liturgy, (232 small-sized pages) by Cardinal Ratzinger who, in addition to his work as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has long shown a deep interest in, and knowledge of, liturgical matters sets out to provide a brief overview of all these different facets of the Church's central acts of worship.
Ratzinger draws attention to the way in which Catholic churches manifest the succession between Old and New Covenants: the central altar as the place of sacrifice inherits and replaces the role of the Temple, while the lectern, pulpit or ambo for the proclamation of God's Word to the assembled people follows naturally from the disposition of the synagogue, with its "Shrine of the Torah" honouring the inspired Scriptures. In this context the author gives us a fascinating excursion into the origin of worshipping ad orientem. While synagogue worship was oriented toward Jerusalem, the place of the Temple, Christians now look toward Christ, whose future coming in glory is aptly symbolized by the brilliance of the rising sun. As is well known, Cardinal Ratzinger has been among those favoring a return to the traditional position of the priest at Mass, in which both he and the people are turned together towards Christ. Here (p. 68) he tells us that:
In the early Church, prayer towards the east was regarded as an apostolic tradition. We cannot date exactly when this turn to the east, the diverting of the gaze from the Temple, took place, but it is certain that it goes back to the earliest times and was always regarded as an essential characteristic of Christian liturgy (and indeed of private prayer).
These are strong words. Can something believed to be an "apostolic tradition," and indeed, an "essential characteristic" of Christian liturgy, be so readily discarded as it has been since the 1960s? The position versus populum, now almost universal in celebrations according to the post-conciliar Roman Missal, was in fact unheard-of for fifteen centuries after Christ, and had its origin in the heretical Eucharistic theology of the Protestant Reformers. Ratzinger dedicates an entire chapter ("The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer") to this question, pointing out that Vatican Council II never even suggested this novel change of position, and exposing the principal arguments in favor of it as being historically unfounded. "The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself" (p. 80).
This "self-centredness" of the community is in turn linked to the new emphasis on the Mass as a "meal." The liturgical innovators have assured us that the altar "had to be positioned in such a way that priest and people looked at each other and formed together the circle of the celebrating community. This alone so it was said was compatible with the meaning of the Christian liturgy, with the requirement of active participation" (p. 77). But even this concept of how a "meal" would have been celebrated in biblical and patristic times "gathered round the table of the Lord," as a popular post-conciliar ditty puts it is woefully anachronistic! Ratzinger quotes (p. 78) the noted French scholar Fr. Louis Bouyer, whose research has shown that:
In no meal of the early Christian era, did the president of the banqueting assembly ever face the other participants. They were all sitting, or reclining, on the convex side of a C-shaped table, or of a table having approximately the shape of a horseshoe. The other side was always left empty for the service. Nowhere in Christian antiquity, could have arisen the idea of having to "face the people" to preside at a meal. The communal character of a meal was emphasised just by the opposite disposition: the fact that all the participants were on the same side of the table.
Ratzinger concludes with even stronger words, insisting that "a common turning to the east during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of something accidental, but of what is essential. Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord" (p. 81). To this reviewer, this chapter alone is well worth the price of Cardinal Ratzinger's book.
The section on the arts and liturgy is largely historical in emphasis . . . Perhaps the most interesting part of this discourse comes with the author's observations on the link between sacred music and the logos the Word revealed in Christ. He points out that from the beginning the saving actions of God narrated in Scripture formed the main theme of liturgical music a fact which has given singing clear priority over merely instrumental music in the liturgy. Nevertheless, since music transcends the rational level of mere speech, it also gives an opening to the action of the Spirit who intercedes for us "with sighs too deep for words" (Rom. 8: 26): the Word thus supersedes mere human words, in what Ratzinger calls a "sober inebriation" (p.150). Finally, since it was the Word which created the cosmos, Ratzinger discerns a link between the beauty of music, whose melodies and harmonies are based (as the ancient Pythagoreans realized) on mathematical laws and proportions which are also reflected throughout the universe, and the glory of Creation. If the words of liturgical song proclaim mainly the work of the Logos for our Redemption (salvation history), the music itself proclaims His might, wisdom and power in the entire cosmos. Cardinal Ratzinger excoriates (p. 148), as a symptom of contemporary Western cultural decline, the current popularity of "rock" music among the young, linking it directly to their alienation from true worship:
"Rock" . . . is the expression of elemental passions, and at rock festivals it assumes a cultic character, a form of worship, in fact, in opposition to Christian worship. People are, so to speak, released from themselves by the experience of being part of a crowd and by the emotional shock of rhythm, noise, and special lighting effects. However, in the ecstasy of having all their defenses torn down, the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe.
What is this other than a new form of idolatry? The folly of trying to attract young people to the Church by integrating "rock" and similarly debased forms of music into her liturgical expressions should be obvious.
The final section of the book "Liturgical Form" deals with certain more specific areas of the liturgy and contains some of the distinguished author's most interesting observations. The chapter entitled "Rite" seems especially opportune in the context of today's anguished, soul-searching discussions so common now among those who love Catholic tradition as to whether the massive changes to the historic Roman Rite introduced after Vatican Council II have in effect been so great as to abolish that rite, replacing it by a new and completely different one. Unfortunately, Ratzinger does not tackle that question directly a particularly delicate one for him, no doubt, given his position of great responsibility in the hierarchy. Nevertheless, he does give us insights which are pertinent to the question. He maintains, for instance, against the contemporary passion for liturgical "creativity," that there can be no such thing as the legitimate "creation" of a totally new liturgical rite, because the historic Eastern and Western rites all have their roots in one of the three ancient primatial sees of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, and so form part of or are at least inseparably linked to Apostolic Tradition. And this, by definition, is a patrimony which must forever be preserved in the Church. The last-mentioned of these three sees, the capital of ancient Syria and the first center of gentile Christianity, is prominent already in the Book of Acts. It is to Antioch, the original "See of Peter" before he went to Rome, that most of the Eastern rites trace their origin: Byzantine, West Syrian (Malankara and Maronite), and East Syrian (Chaldean and Malabar). Alexandria, linked to the Evangelist St. Mark and the liturgy that bears his name, was the origin of the Coptic and Ethiopian rites. (The origin of all Western rites in that of Rome is of course well known.) The Armenian rite is in a category all of its own, but even here, as Ratzinger points out, "Tradition traces [it] back to the Apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus" (p. 162). Thus, "individual rites have a relation to the places where Christianity originated and the apostles preached: they are anchored in the time and place of the event of divine revelation" (p. 163).
This insight has relevance in regard to the modern enthusiasm for "inculturation," with its concomitant danger of introducing such radical local novelties into the established liturgy as to obscure or even up-root its apostolic origins. Some liturgists have argued that all liturgical rites ever since the beginning have been nothing other than diverse fruits of inculturation, drawing the conclusion that as the ancients were liturgically "creative" and "innovative" in accordance with the "needs" of their particular cultures, so we can and should be equally inventive in the light of our own supposed cultural "needs" (feminization, democratization, etc.). Ratzinger (pp. 163-164) does not agree:
The Christian faith can never be separated from the soil of sacred events, from the choice made by God, who wanted to speak to us, to become man, to die and rise again, in a particular place and at a particular time . . . The Church does not pray in some kind of mythical omnitemporality. She cannot forsake her roots. She recognizes the true utterance of God precisely in the concreteness of its history, in time and place: to these God ties us, and by these we are all tied together. The diachronic aspect, praying with the Fathers and the apostles, is part of what we mean by rite, but it also includes a local aspect, extending from Jerusalem to Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and Constantinople. Rites are not, therefore, just the products of inculturation, however much they may have incorporated elements from different cultures. They are forms of the apostolic Tradition and of its unfolding in the great places of the Tradition.
Indeed, far from emphasising "creativity" and "spontaneity" in liturgy, we should be suspicious of such tendencies. In regard to the great historic rites, Ratzinger adds bluntly (p. 165):
Unspontaneity is of their essence. In these rites I discover that something is approaching me here that I did not produce myself, that I am entering into something greater than myself, which ultimately derives from divine revelation. This is why the Christian East calls the liturgy the "Divine Liturgy," expressing thereby the liturgy's independence from human control.
In the West, especially in recent centuries, the gradual centralizing tendency affecting all of Church life means that the Pope took an increasingly direct and personal role in liturgical legislation. Nevertheless, Ratzinger has no hesitation in declaring (pp. 165-166) that even the Supreme Pontiff's authority is limited in this area:
After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the pope really could do anything in liturgical matters, especially if he were acting on the mandate of an ecumenical council. Eventually, the idea of the givenness of the liturgy, the fact that one cannot do with it what one will, faded from the public consciousness of the West. In fact, the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope's authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. It is not "manufactured" by the authorities. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity . . . The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition . . . The greatness of the liturgy depends we shall have to repeat this frequently on its unspontaneity (Unbeliebigkeit).
The final chapter, entitled "The Body and the Liturgy" is also full of interest, in the light of certain current liturgical controversies. Ratzinger approaches the well-worn conciliar shibboleth of "active participation" participatio actuosa from a fresh angle. It has become rather commonplace among tradition-conscious Catholics to observe, correctly, that "active" participation in the Mass is essentially spiritual in nature and so does not necessarily have to mean constant visible or external action. Ratzinger also makes this point, but then poses a new question. Noting that "the word 'participation' refers to a principal action in which everyone has a 'part,' (p. 171), he then asks: What, exactly, is the central actio in which the people are supposed to "participate"? His answer, based on his reading of the liturgical and patristic sources, is that this actio is quite simply the Canon the Eucharistic Prayer. In a sense this is obvious, for every Catholic knows that this great prayer, in which Christ becomes present par excellence in His Body and Blood in the renewal of the Sacrifice of Calvary, is the centrepiece of the entire celebration. But in the context of the present question this answer is not quite so obvious; for the Eucharistic Prayer is, of course, that part which is most especially reserved to the priest, by virtue of his sacramental ordination, and during which the laity, it might seem, are necessarily less "active" than they are at almost any other moment of the Mass!
Ratzinger explains his answer by emphasizing, first (p. 173), that this central actio of the Mass is fundamentally neither that of the priest as such nor of the laity as such, but of Christ the High Priest:
This action of God, which takes place through human speech, is the real "action" for which all creation is in expectation. The elements of the earth are transubstantiated, pulled, so to speak, from their creaturely anchorage, grasped at the deepest ground of their being, and changed into the Body and Blood of the Lord. The New Heaven and the New Earth are anticipated. The real "action" in the liturgy in which we are all supposed to participate is the action of God himself. This is what is new and distinctive about the Christian liturgy: God himself acts and does what is essential.
How, then, can we mortals "participate" at all in a divine action? Precisely, answers Ratzinger, by virtue of the Incarnation and its redemptive consequence: our incorporation as members of the very Body of Christ. While the ordained priest's role is essentially distinct here from that of the laity, priest and laity alike must join in the one "action" of Christ by prayerfully uniting ourselves with His own self-offering to the Father, begging to be taken up ever more fully into Him, becoming ever more integrally members of His Body, "one spirit with him" (I Cor 6: 17). All other "activity" in the Mass is therefore secondary to this and has value insofar as it contributes to our deeper union with Christ. Our reception of Holy Communion itself will be fruitful precisely to the extent that we are inwardly prepared by prayer to receive the Lord's Body.
Cardinal Ratzinger concludes with some valuable reflections on specific liturgical gestures and postures: that most ancient, primordial Christian gesture, the Sign of the Cross; the indispensable role of kneeling, presented with its abundant biblical foundations; the appropriateness of standing and sitting at different moments, and the inappropriateness of "liturgical dance" in any shape or form! Here too (p. 198), Ratzinger is again very blunt, warning against any tendency to turn the liturgy into a form of entertainment wherein attention is self-consciously drawn to merely human attractiveness or achievement:
Dancing is not a form of expression for the Christian liturgy. In about the third century, there was an attempt in certain Gnostic-Docetic circles to introduce it into the liturgy. For these people, the Crucifixion was only an appearance . . . Dancing could take the place of the liturgy of the Cross, because, after all, the Cross was only an appearance. The cultic dances of the different religions have different purposes incantation, imitative magic, mystical ecstasy none of which is compatible with the essential purpose of the liturgy as the "reasonable sacrifice." It is totally absurd to try to make the liturgy "attractive" by introducing dancing pantomimes (wherever possible performed by professional dance troupes), which frequently (and rightly, from the professionals' point of view) end with applause. Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. Such attraction fades quickly it cannot compete in the market of leisure pursuits, incorporating as it increasingly does various forms of religious titillation.
Interestingly, however, Ratzinger sees no incompatibility between this unequivocal judgment against "liturgical dance" and approval for those forms of "inculturation" which the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship has allowed (since its Instruction of 1995) for certain African liturgies. He says (p. 199):
None of the Christian rites include dancing. What people call dancing in the Ethiopian rite or the Zairean [Congolese] form of the Roman liturgy is in fact a rhythmically ordered procession, very much in keeping with the dignity of the occasion. It provides an inner discipline and order for the various stages of the liturgy, bestowing on them beauty and, above all, making them worthy of God.
While this may well be true in the case of the Congolese liturgy in question (which this writer has never witnessed), one suspects that in the inevitable extension of such gestures, the line of division between "dance" on the one hand, and "rhythmically ordered" movements on the other, might in practice turn out to be rather fine and difficult to draw.
Although one would have liked to see some treatment of certain current liturgical questions which Cardinal Ratzinger does not discuss in this volume the future of the "Tridentine" Mass . . . Communion in the hand, the question of liturgical feminization (female altar service, "inclusive" language, etc.) The Spirit of the Liturgy contains much depth and wisdom, and will certainly assist any reader to appreciate more fully the riches and the beauty of the historic Catholic liturgical tradition.
Father Brian Harrison, O.S., a convert to the Catholic faith from Presbyterianism, is a native of Australia. He earned his doctorate in Theology, summa cum laude, from the Roman Athenaeum of the Holy Cross and is now an Associate Professor of Theology in the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico. He is a member of the Priestly Society of the Oblates of Wisdom.
Celibacy and the Priesthood: An Interview with the Future Pope Benedict XVI
During the period from the death of Pope John Paul II to the present moment (a week after the election of Pope Benedict), celibacy has been constantly referred to as a mere "discipline" which may well be considered "reformable" under the new Pontiff. The Latin Mass has selected a small portion from Salt of the Earth, a book published in 1997 by Ignatius Press. In part of a chapter entitled "The Canon of Criticism," the then Cardinal Ratzinger addresses the tradition of celibacy for priests in Western Catholicism. The catalyst for his exposition is German interviewer Peter Seewald:
Peter Seewald: Curiously, nothing enrages people more than the question of celibacy. Even though it concerns directly only a tiny fraction of the people in the Church. Why is there celibacy?
Cardinal Ratzinger: It arises from a saying of Christ. There are, Christ says, those who give up marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and bear testimony to the kingdom of heaven with their whole existence. Very early on the Church came to the conviction that to be a priest means to give this testimony to the kingdom of heaven. In this regard, it could fall back analogously to an Old Testament parallel of another nature. Israel marches into the land. Each of the eleven tribes gets its land, its territory. Only the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe, doesn't get an inheritance; its inheritance is God alone. This means in practical terms that its members live on the cult offerings and not, like the other tribes, from the cultivation of land. The essential point is that they have no property. In Psalm 16 we read, You are my assigned portion; I have drawn you as my lot; God is my land. This figure, that is, the fact that in the Old Testament the priestly tribe is landless and, as it were, lives on God and thereby also really bears witness to him was later translated, on the basis of Jesus' words, to this: The land where the priest lives is God.
We have such difficulty understanding this renunciation today because the relationship to marriage and children has clearly shifted. To have to die without children was once synonymous with a useless life: the echoes of my own life die away, and I am completely dead. If I have children, then I continue to live in them; it's a sort of immortality through posterity. For this reason the ultimate condition of life is to have posterity and thereby to remain in the land of the living.
The renunciation of marriage and family is thus to be understood in terms of this vision: I renounce what, humanly speaking, is not only the most normal but also the most important thing. I forego bringing forth further life on the tree of life, and I live in the faith that my land is really God and so I make it easier for others, also, to believe that there is a kingdom of heaven. I bear witness to Jesus Christ, to the gospel, not only with words, but also with this specific mode of existence, and I place my life in this form at his disposal.
In this sense, celibacy has a christological and an apostolic meaning at the same time. The point is not simply to save time so I then have a little bit more time at my disposal because I am not a father of a family. That would be too primitive and pragmatic a way to see things. The point is really an existence that stakes everything on God and leaves out precisely the one thing that normally makes a human existence fulfilled with a promising future.
PS: On the other hand, it's certainly not a dogma. Couldn't the question perhaps be negotiated one day in the direction of a free choice between a celibate and a non-celibate form of life?
CR: No, it's certainly not a dogma. It is an accustomed way of life that evolved very early in the Church on good biblical grounds. Recent studies show that celibacy goes back much farther than the usually acknowledged canonical sources would indicate, back to the second century. In the East, too, it was much more widespread than we have been able to realize up until now. In the East it isn't until the seventh century that there is a parting of the ways. Today as before, monasticism in the East is still the foundation that sustains the priesthood and the hierarchy. In that sense, celibacy also has a very major significance in the East.
It is not a dogma. It is a form of life that has grown up in the Church and that naturally always brings with it the danger of a fall. When one aims so high, there are failures. I think that what provokes people today against celibacy is that they see how many priests really aren't inwardly in agreement with it and either live it hypocritically, badly, not at all, or only live it in a tortured way. So people say . . .
PS: . . . it ruins them . . .
CR: The poorer an age is in faith, the more frequent the falls. This robs celibacy of its credibility and obscures the real point of it. People need to get straight in their minds that times of crisis for celibacy are always times of crisis for marriage as well. For, as a matter of fact, today we are experiencing not only violations of celibacy; marriage itself is becoming increasingly fragile as the basis of our society. In the legislation of Western nations we see how it is increasingly placed on the same level as other forms and is thereby largely "dissolved" as a legal form. Nor is the hard work needed really to live marriage negligible. Put in practical terms, after the abolition of celibacy we would only have a different kind of problem with divorced priests. That is not unknown in the Protestant Churches. In this sense, we see, of course, that the lofty forms of human existence involve great risks.
The conclusion that I would draw from this, however, is not that we should now say, "We can't do it anymore," but that we must learn again to believe. And that we must also be even more careful in the selection of candidates for the priesthood. The point is that someone ought really to accept it freely and not say, well now, I would like to become a priest, so I'll put up with this. Or: Well then, I'm not interested in girls anyway, so I'll go along with celibacy. That is not a basis to start from. The candidate for the priesthood has to recognize the faith as a force in his life, and he must know that he can live celibacy only in faith. Then celibacy can also become again a testimony that says something to people and that also gives them the courage to marry. The two institutions are interconnected. If fidelity in the one is no longer possible, the other no longer exists: one fidelity sustains the other.
PS: Is that a conjecture when you say that there is a connection between the crisis of celibacy and the crisis of marriage?
CR: That seems quite apparent to me. In both cases the question of a definitive life decision is at the center of one's own personality: Am I already able, let's say at age twenty-five, to arrange my whole life? Is that something appropriate for man at all? Is it possible to see it through and in doing so to grow and mature in a living way or must I not rather keep myself constantly open for new possibilities? Basically, then, the question is posed thus: Does the possibility of a definitive choice belong in the central sphere of man's existence as an essential component? In deciding his form of life, can he commit himself to a definitive bond? I would say two things. He can do so only if he is really anchored in his faith. Second, only then does he also reach the full form of human love and human maturity. Anything less than monogamous marriage is too little for man.
PS: But if the figures about the breakdowns of celibacy are correct, then celibacy collapsed de facto a long time ago. To say it again: Is this question perhaps one day negotiable in the sense of a free choice?
CR: The point is that, in any case, it has to be free. It's even necessary to confirm by an oath before ordination one's free consent and desire. In this sense, I always have a bad feeling when it's said afterward that it was a compulsory celibacy and that it was imposed on us. That goes against one's word given at the beginning. It's very important that in the education of priests we see to it that this oath is taken seriously. This is the first point. The second is that where there is living faith, and in the measure in which a Church lives faith, the strength to do this is also given.
I think that giving up this condition basically improves nothing; rather, it glosses over a crisis of faith. Naturally, it is a tragedy for a Church when many lead a more or less double life. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that has happened. In the late Middle Ages we had a similar situation, which was also one of the factors that caused the Reformation. That is a tragic event indeed that calls for reflection, also for the sake of the people, who also really suffer deeply. But I think that, according to the findings of the last synod of bishops, it is the conviction of the great majority of bishops that the real question is the crisis of faith and that we won't get better and more priests by this "uncoupling" but will only gloss over a crisis of faith and falsely obtain solutions in a superficial way.
PS: Back to my question: Do you think that perhaps one day priests will be able to decide freely between celibate and noncelibate life?
CR: I understood your question. I simply had to make it clear that in any event, at least according to what every priest says before his ordination, celibacy is not a matter of compulsion. Someone is accepted as a priest only when he does it of his own accord. And that is now the question, of course: How deeply do priesthood and celibacy belong together? And is not the wish to have only one [without the other] a lower view of the priesthood? Nor do I think that in this matter it's enough simply to point to the Orthodox Churches and Protestant Christianity. Protestant Christianity has per se a completely different understanding of office: it is a function, it is a ministry coming out of the community, but it is not a sacrament in the same sense; it is not priesthood in this proper sense. In the Orthodox Churches we have, on the one hand, the full form of the priesthood, the priest monks, who alone can become bishops. Alongside them are the "people's priests," who, if they want to marry, must marry before ordination but who exercise little pastoral care but are really only liturgical ministers. This is also a somewhat different conception of priesthood. We, on the other hand, are of the opinion that everyone who is a priest at all must be so in the way that the bishop is and that there cannot be such a division.
One ought not to declare that any custom of the Church's life, no matter how deeply anchored and well founded, is wholly absolute. To be sure, the Church will have to ask herself the question again and again; she has now done so in two synods. But I think that given the whole history of Western Christianity and the inner vision that lies at the basis of the whole, the Church should not believe that she will easily gain much by resorting to this uncoupling; rather in any case she will lose if she does so.
PS: Can one say, then, that you do not believe that one day the Catholic Church will have married priests?
CR: At least not in the foreseeable future. To be quite honest, I must say that we do have married priests, who came to us as converts from the Anglican Church or from various Protestant communities. In exceptional cases, then, it is possible, but they are just that exceptional situations. And I think that these will also remain exceptional cases in the future.
PS: Must not celibacy be dropped for the simple reason that otherwise the Church won't get any more priests?
CR: I don't think that the argument is really sound. The question of priestly vocations has many aspects. It has, first of all, to do with the number of children. If today the average number of children is 1.5, the question of possible priests takes on a very different form from what it was in ages when families were considerably larger. And there are also very different expectations in families. Today we are experiencing that the main obstacles to the priesthood often come from parents. They have very different expectations for their children. That is the first point. The second point is that the number of active Christians is much smaller, which means, of course, that the selection pool has become much smaller. Looked at relative to the number of children and the number of those who are believing churchgoers, the number of priestly vocations has probably not decreased at all. In this sense, one has to take the proportion into account. The first question, then, is: Are there believers? And only then comes the second question: Are priests coming from them?
The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (translated by John Saward) was published by Ignatius Press in 2000. Salt of the Earth was published in 1997 by Ignatius Press. www.ignatius.com
This item 6624 digitally provided courtesy of CatholicCulture.org