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The Spirit of The Spirit of the Liturgy

Commemorative edition of The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, including The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Romano Guardini, with a foreword by Cardinal Robert Sarah. Sewn Hardcover, 375 pages, $24.95. Contact Ignatius Press at 1-800-651-1531, or visit www.ignatius.com.

Editor’s note: Ignatius Press marks its 40th Anniversary with a commemorative edition of Joseph Ratzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy, a volume that includes Romano Guardini’s own text of his 1918 The Spirit of the Liturgy. Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, pens the foreword to Ignatius Press’s new volume, excerpts of which are printed here with Ignatius Press’s permission. May the Lord bless Ignatius Press for its work, particularly in fostering the liturgical apostolate, and grant it continued success in the years to come. For any readers who have followed Adoremus’s own treatment of the centenary of Guardini’s The Spirit of the Liturgy, consider further reading and reflection from these two sources, now together in a single volume, from Ignatius Press.


In selecting The Spirit of the Liturgy, written by his former teacher Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now our beloved Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI), as the title with which to mark the fortieth anniversary of Ignatius Press, Father Fessio himself does not fail to teach us. For of all the excellent theological, philosophical, spiritual, catechetical, historical, literary, and other works he has published, this title makes manifest the heart and soul of all his endeavors. While Ignatius Press is an exemplary and utterly professional publisher, it is the sacred liturgy that is the veritable “source and summit” of its life and mission.[1] How many publishing houses have at the center of their premises a chapel in which their staff daily participate in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass or pray the Divine Office together? The “spirit and power” of the sacred liturgy[2] permeates all of their professional work in a truly exemplary and edifying manner.

This, surely, must bring great joy and consolation to the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, whose preface to his own The Spirit of the Liturgy expresses the hope that: “If this book were to encourage, in a new way, something like a ‘liturgical movement’, a movement toward the liturgy and toward the right way of celebrating the liturgy, inwardly and outwardly, then the intention that inspired its writing would be richly fulfilled.”[3]

How much we owe Cardinal Ratzinger for what has come to be known as “the new Liturgical Movement.” How much the English-speaking world, and beyond, owes Ignatius Press for making Cardinal Ratzinger’s writings on the sacred liturgy available, writings that have truly become beacons lighting the path for that “movement toward the liturgy and toward the right way of celebrating the liturgy, inwardly and outwardly,” which I believe is growing and steadily advancing even today.

It is opportune to underline briefly this twofold dimension of the sacred liturgy—its internal and external realities—for it is always necessary to guard against the two temptations about which Pope Saint John Paul II warned us, namely, that “sacramental life is impoverished and very soon turns into hollow ritualism if it is not based on serious knowledge of the meaning of the sacraments, and catechesis becomes intellectualized if it fails to come alive in the sacramental practice.”[4]

Let us develop this teaching, substituting the word “liturgy” for “sacramental”; after all, we in fact celebrate all the sacraments liturgically. We can say, then, that our liturgical life is impoverished and very soon turns into hollow ritualism if it is not based on serious knowledge of the meaning of the liturgy and that catechesis becomes intellectualized if it fails to come alive in liturgical practice.

That is to say, we must penetrate the inner meaning of the sacred liturgy and not simply perform its external rituals without what is essential: the engagement of our hearts, minds, and souls. Certainly, this presupposes an understanding of the meaning of the rites and prayers appropriate to our age, ability, and state in life—that is why thorough liturgical catechesis and formation at every level is a crucial need of the Church in our times. As our Holy Father Pope Francis has reminded us, “it is necessary to unite a renewed willingness to go forward along the path indicated by the Council Fathers, as there remains much to be done for a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy on the part of the baptized and ecclesial communities. I refer, in particular, to the commitment to a solid and organic liturgical initiation and formation, both of lay faithful as well as of clergy and consecrated persons.”[5] Here, The Spirit of the Liturgy is a singularly rich resource and guide in our day, as are the other personal liturgical writings of the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI[6] and, indeed, his liturgical magisterium as Supreme Pontiff, which retains its validity.[7] So too are the classical writings of the twentieth century liturgical movement that nourished the Pope Emeritus’ own liturgical formation, and for this reason I am delighted that Father Fessio is also publishing here the text of Romano Guardini’s The Spirit of the Liturgy—a “decisive” text that, in Cardinal Ratzinger’s words, “helped us to rediscover the liturgy in all its beauty, hidden wealth, and time-transcending grandeur, to see it as the animating center of the Church, the very center of Christian life.”[8]

But it is also to say—and this is indispensable—that our external liturgical practices must be acts of love and adoration that truly arise from the reality of our intrinsically ecclesial and profoundly personal worship of Almighty God. We know this from the simple acts of making the sign of the cross or of genuflecting: they can be merely routine acts largely devoid of meaning, or they can become small but intimate expressions of the heart and soul of one who truly loves and worships and, indeed, places God at the center of his life and gives him primacy in all of his activities. “This does not mean that we must always be thinking of God, but that we must really be penetrated by the reality of God so that our whole life…may be a liturgy, may be adoration.”[9] Let us live the sacred liturgy with reverential awe and rejoice in and draw from the wealth and richness of its traditional signs, gestures, and rites, large and small, as true lovers of Almighty God—quite the opposite of those somehow “obliged” to perform servile acts of obeisance. Where necessary, let us rediscover why our Holy Mother the Church introduced the powerful symbols with which the sacred liturgy is replete and let Christ acting in and through them inform, enrich, guide, and sustain our lives of faith and our particular mission in the world, which is none other than the sanctification of the whole of humanity.

Let us, then, truly live from the sacred liturgy, which surpasses all other acts, for no other action of the Church can equal its efficacy by the same title and to the same degree.[10] In so doing we discover the spirit and power of the sacred liturgy, and, if I may be so bold, this is the right way of celebrating the liturgy, inwardly and outwardly, that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has so earnestly sought.

In 1997, two years before publishing the German edition of The Spirit of the Liturgy,

Cardinal Ratzinger wrote:

“The Church stands and falls with the liturgy. When the adoration of the divine Trinity declines, when the faith no longer appears in its fullness in the liturgy of the Church, when man’s words, his thoughts, his intentions are suffocating him, then faith will have lost the place where it is expressed and where it dwells. For that reason, the true celebration of the sacred liturgy is the center of any renewal of the Church whatever.”[11]

Our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has captured in these breathtaking words the essence of our present dilemma, and so, before closing, I wish to take this opportunity once again to express my deep gratitude to His Holiness for his precious contributions, which have, I believe, only just begun to shower forth their blessings upon Holy Mother Church, both for her life of prayer and for faith, for indeed lex orandi, lex credendi!


[1] Cf. Second Vatican Council, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 4 December 1963, n. 10.

[2] Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 14.

[3] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2000, pp. 22–23.

[4] Pope St. John Paul, Apostolic Exhortation, Catechesi Tradendae 16 October 1979, n. 23.

[5] Pope Francis, Message to participants in the Symposium ‘‘Sacrosanctum Concilium: Gratitude and Commitment for a Great Ecclesial Movement’’ 18 February 2014.

[6] Cf. Joseph Ratzinger, Theology of the Liturgy, Collected Works vol. 11, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2014.

[7] In addition to his many papal discourses reflecting the primacy of the Sacred Liturgy in the life and mission of the Church, I would highlight Pope Benedict XVI’s Post Synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (22 February 2007) and his Apostolic Letter given motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum (7 July 2007), together with his Letter of the same date to Bishops accompanying Summorum Pontificum.

[8] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 21.

[9] Pope Benedict XVI, Lectio divina, Seminary of the Diocese of Rome, 15 February 2012.

[10] Cf. Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 7.

[11] Preface to Franz Breid, ed., Die heilige Liturgie, papers from the ‘‘Internationale Theologische Sommerakademie 1997’’ of the Priests’ Circle of Linz, Ennsthaler Verlag, Steyr 1997.

Cardinal Robert Sarah

Cardinal Robert Sarah

Cardinal Robert Sarah was born in Guinea, West Africa. He was made an Archbishop by Pope Saint John Paul II, a Cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI, and named the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments by Pope Francis in 2014.