Benedict XVI’s ‘radical renewal’ of worship: “Benedict XVI fundamentally and irreversibly changed the way the Church understands divine worship.”
Jan 14, 2023

Benedict XVI’s ‘radical renewal’ of worship: “Benedict XVI fundamentally and irreversibly changed the way the Church understands divine worship.”

The lasting legacy of Pope Benedict XVI will be a  shift in the way the Church thinks about worshipping God, one scholar suggested after the late former pope’s death.

“Benedict XVI fundamentally and irreversibly changed the way the Church understands divine worship, and the effect of that radical renewal is only just beginning to be seen,” said Fr. James Bradley, a priest of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, a professor of canon law at The Catholic University of America, and a PhD candidate in liturgical studies at the University of Vienna.

And while the former pope’s expansion of the use of the 1962 Missal is no longer in effect, Bradley believes Benedict’s more enduring contribution to the Church is in the way that the liturgy is emphasized and understood.

Bradley suggested that Benedict’s writings – both during his papacy and leading up to it – have helped the Church understand the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council.

“His entire conception of the Christian life was intimately wrapped up in the sacred liturgy, and for him it was the absolute priority: God first,” Bradley told The Pillar.

“From the perfect worship of the Trinity flows the life of the Church, and so in the period following the [Second Vatican] Council he saw the liturgy not as a point of division to be fought over, but of divinely given unity to be prized and held up.”

Bradley told The Pillar that Pope Benedict XVI pursued a “deeply liturgical life not just for himself but for the whole Church.”

“He sought to draw people to Jesus God not according to a program or man-made itinerary, but through the action of Christ the High Priest in authentic Christian worship,” he said.

“The liturgy is the action of Jesus Christ. How, then, can it be anything other than the answer to our divisions and also the most fundamental source of the renewal of the Church?”

Vatican II

Before he was elected pope and took the name Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger participated in the Second Vatican Council as a peritus, or theological advisor. During the council, he wrote pamphlets reflecting on its doings and inner aspects.

Writing in his late 30s in what was collected as “Theological Highlights of Vatican II,” he demonstrated his concern for the centrality of the liturgy, saying, “The decision to begin with the liturgy schema … was a profession of faith in what is truly central to the Church.”

At the time of the council, Ratzinger warned that “the problem of divine worship” was that “the essence of the ancient Christian liturgy in the texts were no longer visible in the overgrowth of pious additions.”

Since the reform of the Council of Trent, the liturgy had been archaized and impoverished, he said, lamenting that the spiritual lives of the great saints of the Counter-Reformation were separated from their experience of the liturgy.

To respond to these problems, he suggested, “a new theology of divine worship” was needed.

After the conclusion of the council, Ratzinger continued to reflect on its implementation. He criticized those who failed to properly implement the liturgical reforms, as well as those who rejected them altogether.

In a 1975 journal article, reprinted in “Principles of Catholic Theology”, Ratzinger warned of “sectarian zealotry” reacting to the problems following the council, illustrated by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and the Society of Saint Pius X.

While firmly rejecting this mindset, Ratzinger also encouraged an examination of conscience for the Church based on the concerns raised by…


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by Carl Bunderson