Oct 15, 2010

Benedict XVI and the Sacred Liturgy

Online Edition: October 2010

Vol. XVI, No. 7

Benedict XVI and the Sacred Liturgy

Proceedings of the First Fota International Liturgy Conference

by Father Marco Testa

Benedict XVI and the Sacred Liturgy, Proceedings of the First Fota International Liturgy Conference.

ed. Neil J. Roy and Janet E. Rutherford
Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2010


The importance of the Sacred Liturgy in the life, teaching, and ministry of Pope Benedict XVI — as theologian, Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and as pontiff — is the focus of the nine essays in this book. It is the published proceedings from the first Fota International Liturgy Conference, held in 2008 on Fota Island, County Cork, Ireland. The conference was sponsored by the St. Colman’s Society for Liturgy.

It is clear that the contributors bring to the topic evident expertise in their given fields and a familiarity with the theological and liturgical works of the pope, his love for the Sacred Liturgy and his profound understanding of its cosmic significance.

This common point of reference gives the volume a thematic unity that facilitates a continuous reading of the text. Though the essays discuss a variety of topics, including liturgical theology, history, art, architecture and language, the eschatological nature of the Sacred Liturgy is a constant theme throughout.

It is in the light of the cosmic and eschatological character of the liturgy that the essays discuss the liturgy principally as God’s work (opus Dei); not the artificial construct of committees or of particular groups or individuals. This volume however, is in no way a polemical work. Although the authors express the need for a thorough re-evaluation of the post-Conciliar liturgical reform, this need clearly arises out of the need to call to life the real heritage of the Second Vatican Council, and to free the Church of the liturgical fabrications that for too long have deprived the faithful of the Church’s liturgical treasures expressed in the beauty of her texts, art, and music. In too many places the faithful have had to endure what one scholar speaks of as the “apotheosis of the ugly”.

In his introduction to the collection, “Benedict XVI: pope and leitourgos”, Father D. Vincent Twomey, SVD, provides in the Holy Father’s own words a vision of the ultimate purpose of the Sacred Liturgy: “When the whole world will have become the liturgy of God, when in its reality it will have become adoration, then it will have reached its goal, then it will be whole and saved”. Father Twomey, who was moderator of the conference, is professor emeritus of moral theology at the Pontifical University of St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

“The Problem of Translation”, an essay by Argentine Cardinal Jorge Maria Mejía, a Scripture scholar and former Vatican archivist, notes that a multiplicity of languages in both biblical and liturgical translations has always existed in the Church. He rightly observes that those who are charged with the work of translation of sacred texts, both biblical and liturgical, must approach this task as a ministry and not merely as a practical task.

Father Dennis McManus, an American member of Vox Clara, the committee that assists the Holy See with English translations, also discusses translation theory specifically as it is presented in Liturgiam authenticam, the Fifth Instruction for the Right Implementation of the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council: On the Use of Vernacular Languages in the Publication of the Books of the Roman Liturgy. Father McManus’s highly informative essay provides a clear presentation of translation theory in both the broader historical context and the specific context of the twentieth century, particularly the context of the Second Vatican Council. Notably, as Father McManus observes, Liturgiam authenticam reasserts a theological basis for the discussion of liturgical language and its interpretation. This basis must serve as a starting point in any effort to correct both the flawed and the infelicitous translations of sacred texts. Liturgical prayer constitutes indeed a unique language, not accessible or capable of penetration without faith.

Father Manfred Hauke, a theologian of the University of Lugano, Switzerland, and one of Europe’s most educated and widely published Catholic scholars, discusses the influence of Monsignor Klaus Gamber on the “new liturgical movement”. Father Hauke contextualizes both the thought of Joseph Ratzinger concerning the liturgy and the importance of Klaus Gamber (1919-1989) in the development of a movement based on sound scholarship that questioned the direction of the post-Conciliar liturgical establishment.

We learn of Ratzinger’s observation that by Gamber’s remaining on the “outside” of the German-speaking liturgical establishment he was able to speak prophetically about the state of the liturgy in the aftermath of the Council, and to question whether one could really talk about a unity of the liturgical rite in the face of an abundance of what Gamber termed “‘individual rites’ since so many priests now design their own liturgy, just as they please”. Gamber’s prodigious writings on the liturgy address a multiplicity of issues. He is perhaps best known for his book The Reform of the Roman Liturgy, Its Problems and Background, which appeared in English in 1993.

“Pope Benedict XVI and the ‘reform of the reform’” is the contribution of Helen Hull Hitchcock, editor of The Adoremus Bulletin. Drawing from the considerable corpus of works devoted to the Sacred Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger, she discusses the Holy Father’s concern with the authentic renewal and proper celebration of the liturgy both inwardly and outwardly as an indispensable conduit for the transmission of the faith to future generations. Significantly, Hitchcock notes the similarity in perspectives of both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict in the evident need for a thorough re-evaluation of the post-Conciliar liturgical reform.

James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University, discusses the influence of contemporary culture on the liturgical reformers in the immediate aftermath of the Second Vatican Council and the influence of then-contemporary cultural trends on the work of the reformers. Perhaps more than any of the other contributions, this essay by the author of Recovery of the Sacred chronicles the demise of the sacred element in liturgy as traditionally understood by the Church, and the dire consequences of such a breakdown. Professor Hitchcock astutely observes that “the ultimate root of liturgical disorder is an only half-understood version of the modern age’s besetting heresy of Neo-Pelagianism — a denial of human sinfulness”. In view of this observation, one can easily understand the almost total devastation of all things sacred experienced by the faithful at various cultural levels.

Oratorian Father Uwe Michael Lang’s essay also addresses cultural matters; specifically, the crisis of sacred art and the sources for its renewal in the thought of Pope Benedict XVI. Father Lang, who is author of Turning Toward the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer, notes the Holy Father’s concern that a crisis of unprecedented proportions in art in general is a symptom of the crisis of man’s very existence. In the Catholic tradition beauty is understood as an ontological and ultimately theological category.

The crisis of sacred art is discussed vis-à-vis modernity’s denial of beauty’s ontological significance and the convertibility of beauty with truth and goodness. The pervasiveness of this crisis has resulted in the squandering of much of the Church’s cultural and artistic patrimony. There is, according to the Holy Father, ultimately one criterion for the recovery of sacred art: a faith that sees. As the Pope himself observes, iconoclasm is not a Christian option and the complete absence of images that seems to characterize many modern churches is incompatible with faith in the incarnation of God. Sacred art is certainly not peripheral to the Church’s solemn worship.

In his essay, Alcuin Reid, author of The Organic Development of the Liturgy, outlines four pillars of the Holy Father’s liturgical reform: his personal liturgical example, his insistence on historical and intellectual honesty with regard to the liturgical life of the Church in recent decades, his insistence on the correct celebration of the liturgy according to the liturgical books and his desire for fidelity to received liturgical tradition.

Each essay in this collection in some manner exposes the foundation of these pillars while others propose apposite developments and reforms faithful to the “hermeneutic of continuity” that will ultimately serve to enhance the liturgical life of the Church.

In his essay “Joseph Ratzinger and the liturgy: a theological approach”, Father Joseph Murphy, a priest of the diocese of Cloyne, Ireland, and an official of the Vatican Secretariat of State, explores the many important writings on the liturgy of Pope Benedict and assesses the consequences of these profound theological insights on the genuine renewal of the liturgy.

Father Neil J. Roy, one of the two capable editors of this collection, presents the last in the sequence of essays: “The Roman Canon: deësis in euchological form”. Father Roy examines the liturgical and ecclesiological underpinnings of the arrange- ment of the saints as they appear in the Roman Canon. He explains the magisterial and institutional representatives of the Church ranked beneath the Virgin Mother, and the charismatic figures arrayed behind the Forerunner.

The christological and pneumatological components of the Church Triumphant flank the Lord Himself as He takes His place on the altar during the narrative of institution. The train of five virgin martyrs points to the Lamb of God as the Eucharistic Prayer unfolds toward the doxology and ultimately, after the Lord’s Prayer, to the fraction. It concludes with a reference to the Sacred Liturgy’s eschatological dimension, thereby illustrating, with the vision of the Heavenly Jerusalem, the ultimate end of the Sacred Liturgy.

This is the vision proposed by Pope Benedict XVI — a vision consistently enunciated in the course of a life of dedicated service to the Church as priest, theologian, bishop and pope. The Holy Father’s liturgical vision challenges all of the faithful to understand and to participate in the transforming reality of the Sacred Liturgy.

It is in the liturgy that one encounters what the Second Vatican Council describes as the culmen et fons — the source and summit, of the entire life of the Church. Clearly, the essays in this book enable the reader to appreciate the vital importance to the life of the Church and to one’s personal growth in Christian holiness of the Sacred Liturgy properly celebrated.

This volume constitutes a comprehensive collection that succinctly and faithfully summarizes and presents the liturgical theology of Pope Benedict XVI. It serves as an excellent introduction to the Holy Father’s liturgical writings. All of the essays are well documented and the references provided in the footnotes will enable the serious reader to explore further a given topic. As such, this volume would be a welcome addition to the collection of any serious-minded student of the liturgy and most certainly of any university, seminary and religious house of formation.

If heeded, the work of these scholars will most certainly help English-speaking Catholics to respond to the Holy Father’s liturgical reform; a reform that seeks to lead all the faithful to a return to mystery, to adoration, to the sacred and to the cosmic and eschatological character of the liturgy.

The thematic unity of this volume facilitates a continuous reading of the texts. This unity is enhanced by the elegant prose and clarity of the text, which is both erudite and intelligible.


Father Marco Testa is a priest of the Archdiocese of Toronto, Canada. He serves as a faculty member and chaplain of De La Salle College “Oaklands” in Toronto.



Father Marco Testa