Vol. XIX, No. 2
The Legacy of Pope Benedict XVI – Continuity: Sacred Liturgy, and the New Evangelization
by Helen Hull Hitchcock
Pope Benedict XVI, likely the greatest theologian ever to serve as pope, is also the most profound liturgist. In the vast work of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict, we can see that theology and liturgy are intrinsically related — inseparable, really. This is because the “Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life,” as the Second Vatican Council succinctly stated (Sacrosanctum Concilium 47), and “the other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ Himself, our Pasch” (Lumen Gentium 11).
This is revealed in the many works of Joseph Ratzinger, long before he became pope — in particular during his long tenure as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), from 1981 until he became pope in April 2005. Among these are several invaluable books directly concerning the sacred liturgy: Called to Communion (1991), The Spirit of the Liturgy (1999), and A New Song for the Lord (1995).
Most English-speaking Catholics today probably think that the new English translation of the Missal is the most significant sign of Pope Benedict’s concern with the Church’s liturgy. Certainly this far more accurate and sacred-sounding translation, in use since Advent 2011 in the English-speaking world, signals the then-Holy Father’s effort to recover and restore and intensify the sacredness of Catholic worship. Only days before the new Missal translation was introduced, with his letter Porta Fidei (the Door of Faith) Pope Benedict declared a Year of Faith, which began last October.
What far fewer people know is that his concern with accurate translation dates from his years at the CDF, and from his personal involvement in producing the Catechism of the Catholic Church and his responsibility for overseeing scripture trans- lation. The CDF developed norms for scripture translation that were later incorporated into the 2001 instruction on translation, Liturgiam authenticam (authentic liturgy), which governed the translation of the new edition of the Missal.
Though the new Missal translation is the most dramatic, it is only one example of Pope Benedict’s actions as pope to ensure that the truth and beauty of God are united in our liturgical worship — and that this union may take several forms. This is reflected in what can be termed his ecumenical outreach — to Eastern Orthodox Christians as well as to others. Two striking examples of this ecumenical effort are the apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, “on the use of the Roman Liturgy prior to the reform of 1970” (July 7, 2007), and the unprecedented apostolic constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, “Providing for Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans Entering into Full Communion with the Catholic Church” (November 4, 2009).
It seems providential that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005, during the Year of the Eucharist convened by his predecessor, Blessed Pope John Paul II. The synod of bishops, “The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church,” took place in October of his first year as pope.
In his Christmas address to the Roman curia that same year, he famously spoke of the misinterpretation of the Second Vatican Council as a “rupture” or “discontinuity” with the Church’s tradition; and emphatically called for a different interpretation (hermeneutic): that of continuity with the authentic tradition of the Church. Certainly he demonstrated his commitment to this continuity throughout his papacy.
Continuity and the New Evangelization
Pope Benedict’s first apostolic exhortation, Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Love), followed the 2005 Synod on the Eucharist. It was released on March 13, 2007. And only months later, in October 2007, he released his first encyclical, Spes Salvi — “in hope we were saved.”
The next synod of bishops, “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church,” was held in October 2008. The pope’s apostolic exhortation following that synod, Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord), released September 30, 2010, devoted a section to “The Liturgy, Privileged Setting for The Word of God”; and closed with a call to a “new hearing” of the Word of God, essential to the “new evangelization.”
In clear continuity with this significant body of work is the most recent general synod: “New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith,” which concluded in October 2012.
In proclaiming this Year of Faith with an apostolic letter in 2011, Porta Fidei (Door of Faith), Pope Benedict noted that its beginning coincided with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the twentieth anniversary of Blessed Pope John Paul II’s release of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Both events are of singular importance in the history and life of the Church.
At the beginning of this Year of Faith, the synod of the world’s bishops on the New Evangelization explored the ways in which the mission of the Church can be fulfilled in our time. How can we begin to address the great need of renewal and revitalization of the Christian faith in today’s conflicted world?
In Porta Fidei, Pope Benedict emphasized the essence of the Christian message — of personal conversion, and of faith working through God’s love:
The Year of Faith … is a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord, the one Savior of the world. In the mystery of His death and resurrection, God has revealed in its fullness the Love that saves and calls us to conversion of life through the forgiveness of sins (cf. Acts 5:31). For Saint Paul, this Love ushers us into a new life… Through faith, this new life shapes the whole of human existence according to the radical new reality of the resurrection. To the extent that he freely cooperates, man’s thoughts and affections, mentality and conduct are slowly purified and transformed, on a journey that is never completely finished in this life. “Faith working through love” (Gal 5:6) becomes a new criterion of understanding and action that changes the whole of man’s life (§6).
There are four ways in which we are called to engage actively in this renewal of faith, as Pope Benedict wrote: 1) to “profess the faith with renewed conviction, with confidence and hope”; 2) to “intensify the celebration of the faith in the liturgy, especially the Eucharist”; 3) to live the faith; and 4) to pray: “To rediscover the content of the faith that is professed, celebrated, lived and prayed, and to reflect on the act of faith, is a task that every believer must make his own, especially in the course of this Year” (§9).
Faith and love are inseparable. “Faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt,” the pope said. “Faith and charity each require the other, in such a way that each allows the other to set out along its respective path. Indeed, many Christians dedicate their lives with love to those who are lonely, marginalized or excluded, as to those who are the first with a claim on our attention and the most important for us to support, because it is in them that the reflection of Christ’s own face is seen. Through faith, we can recognize the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love” (§14).
An apostolic letter was expected following the synod; however, though reportedly there was a draft of it in progress, it did not appear before Pope Benedict announced his renunciation of the papal office on February 11, effective February 28.
In due course a papal letter on the New Evangelization will probably be given to the Church by our new Holy Father, Pope Francis, who was elected as the successor of Saint Peter on March 13, and who is known to be deeply committed to the Church’s mission of evangelization.
Liturgy celebrates “the central event of human history”
The fundamental importance of liturgy to the Catholic faith has always been a consistent focus of the teaching of Pope Benedict.
“The liturgy is indeed the celebration of the central event of human history, the redemptive sacrifice of Christ,” Pope Benedict said in an ad limina address to French bishops last November 17. “Thus it bears witness to the love with which God loves humanity, to the fact that human life has a meaning and that it is through their vocation that men and women are called to share in the glorious life of the Trinity.”
“Humanity needs this witness,” he continued. “People need to perceive, through the liturgical celebrations, that the Church is aware of the lordship of God and of dignity of the human being. She has the right to be able to discern, over and above the limitations that will always mark her rites and ceremonies, that Christ ‘is present in the sacrifice of Mass and in the person of the minister,’” he said. It is crucial, therefore, to “cultivate the art of celebrating,” and to “work ceaselessly for the liturgical formation of seminarians and of the faithful. Respect for the established norms expresses love and fidelity for the faith of the Church, for the treasure of grace that she preserves and transmits; the beauty of celebrations, far more than innovations and subjective adjustments, makes evangelization a lasting and effective work.”
Gratitude for his fatherly example
In his final address to the Roman clergy on February 14, in which he briefly explained the Second Vatican Council (and misinterpretations of it), he said he regarded it as an “act of Providence that at the beginning of the Council was the liturgy; God; adoration.” Pope Benedict spoke of the reasons why the liturgy needed to be reformed, so that believers could more deeply comprehend the profundity of the Paschal Mystery: “Truly the liturgy of the altar and the liturgy of the people should form one single liturgy, an active participation, such that the riches reach the people. And in this way, the liturgy was rediscovered and renewed.”
In his Wednesday audience January 30, the Holy Father spoke of the Fatherhood of God, and said that God’s Fatherhood is “infinite love, tenderness that stoops over us, weak children, in need of everything.”
He assured us that “Faith gives us this certainty, which becomes a secure rock in constructing our lives: we can face all the moments of difficulty and danger, the experience of the darkness of crisis and of times of pain, supported by our faith that God does not leave us alone and is always near.”
Truly, Pope Benedict has been an example to us all of true fatherhood — giving us guidance and encouragement, knowledge and strength to live our Catholic faith with integrity and fidelity.
To this great man who served the Church at the Vatican for more than two decades — as Cardinal Ratzinger and as our Holy Father Pope Benedict XIV — with great wisdom and intelligence, courage and love, our gratitude is profound. We pray for him, as he continues to pray for us; for all Christ’s holy Church.
(An earlier version of this article was published in the National Catholic Register, March 5, 2013, titled: “Benedict: Profound Liturgist.”)