Book Finds Christ at the Center of Ratzinger’s Liturgical Theology
Jan 13, 2023

Book Finds Christ at the Center of Ratzinger’s Liturgical Theology

A Living Sacrifice: Liturgy and Eschatology in Joseph Ratzinger by Roland Millare. Steubenville, Ohio: Emmaus Academic, 2022. 309 pp. ISBN: 978-1-64585-203-2 $34.95 hardcover; $22.95 digital.

Liturgy is inherently eschatological. This overly brief one-line summary of Roland Millare’s A Living Sacrifice: Liturgy and Eschatology in Joseph Ratzinger may not be fodder for a Catholic Mass homily as it stands, but it expresses an essential truth about divine worship that preachers must proclaim from the pulpit. The sacred liturgy is the work of the Word made Flesh, Christ offering himself, head and members of his body, to the Father in sacrificial worship. Sharing in the communion and love of the Trinity at Mass, the liturgy is also our preparation for eternal life. This is a far cry from the view of Sunday worship as a mere obligation.

Scholars as well as students of theology will be grateful to Millare for this book, especially those who accord with Joseph Ratzinger’s Christocentric theology shaping, as it does, Ratzinger’s liturgiology and eschatology. Millare says that Ratzinger’s work is unique in that it focuses “exclusively on the intrinsic relationship between the liturgy and eschatology,” not just on one or the other, especially in light of Ratzinger’s “insistence upon the primacy of logos (word, meaning, or reason) over ethos (habit, custom, or moral values)” (3, 4). Of course, Christ is the Logos, the second person of the Trinity, and not merely an abstract concept. The liturgy is our central place of contact with the Logos because the Word makes himself present in the proclamation of the Scriptures and the transubstantiation of bread and wine. For Ratzinger “every Eucharist is Parousia,” meaning, Millare says, that “the sacraments prepare and anticipate the Parousia of Christ” (7). In this light, the sacred action of the liturgy is clearly seen as divine worship where we daily encounter Christ in preparation for that eternal liturgy where he is manifest in all his glory. Liturgical techne, which so often reduces the Mass and sacraments to banal celebrations of the self or of the community, is eschewed when the liturgy, as Christ’s own sacred action, forms us rather than the reverse. The priority of the logos, and the Logos, in the liturgy is the only way that we will arrive safely in the eschaton: “The Logos can lead the liturgy, eschatology, and ultimately the culture to their authentic end, which is communion with God in Jesus Christ” (267).

Word One

The argument of the book is well laid out in five chapters and a conclusion. Millare begins chapter one with an overview discussing the “Primacy of logos” in the work of Ratzinger, whose own work was influenced by Romano Guardini. Millare offers a brief study of Guardini’s logos theology, for whom the “problem of power” has led to a culture of dissolution and death. The necessary “redirection will require the recovery of the sense of the transcendence that leads to God” (25).

Ratzinger emphasizes logos theology as a corrective to the exaltation of ethos, where praxis is placed over theory. This insistence on praxis as primary is particularly noxious when the popular definition of liturgy is stated as “the work of the people,” lacking all nuance. “A subordination of logos to ethos subjects the liturgy to be manipulated or changed solely at the discretion of the people” (55). Human technocracy militates against a sacramental worldview; man places himself over God. In this backward way, man decides what is truly divine worship devoid of an encounter with the Logos, just as Adam and Eve sought to hide from God in order to develop their own ethos apart from God. The “work of the people” must be understood as the people’s participation in the “work of God,” as we learn from Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7, and from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1069. Millare is aware that, like the emphasis on the wrong understanding of the liturgy as the work of the people, eschatology, too, may be caricatured when the role of politics and social justice is over stressed (55).

Chapter two, “A Sacrificial People in the Incarnate Logos,” takes up a response to the problem of misplaced emphasis on the work of the people. This chapter elucidates “Ratzinger’s emphasis on the relationship between the sacrifice and logos in his spiritual Christology” (57). At the start Millare points out that Ratzinger defines sacrifice in terms of “self-giving love, which is the authentic ethos for Christians” (57). This second corrective (the first dealt with the misunderstanding of “the work of the people”) is much needed, especially today when sacrifice is taken as a synonym for destruction. True sacrifice is a matter of giving a gift, particularly the gift of self. Granted, sacrifices entail a kind of destruction (e.g., one’s bank account is depleted when buying an expensive Christmas gift), but the “destruction” is offset by the love that motivates the giving in the first place. This is the proper ethos for Christians according to Ratzinger and is the foundation for Christ’s gift of himself in the Eucharist. On this point Ratzinger disagrees with Guardini, who emphasizes the meal aspect of the Eucharist over the sacrificial. (A subsequent section of this chapter deals with the Grundgestalt [the fundamental form] of the Eucharist, further exposing the sacrifice vs. meal debate.) Self-giving is the key to the Eucharist for the Church as a whole and for every Christian. The reader may be drawn back to the concept “the work of the people.” When the meal takes prominence over sacrifice, liturgists often feel free to create new themes to explain the Eucharist meal, which often are self-serving rather than self-giving. Our work is, rather, to do what Christ does at the Mass: to give himself for us that we may give ourselves to him and our brothers and sisters.

At this point, Millare offers a review of the theology that undergirds the traditional view of the Eucharist as primarily sacrificial. This theology undergirds Ratzinger’s stance, which addresses “theologians and liturgists who espouse views regarding the Eucharist that have more in common with Martin Luther than…Trent” (60). Self-giving love is the “authentic logos of sacrifice,” the key contribution of Ratzinger’s sacrifice theology, Millare says (61).

Faithful Exit

Millare then turns to a discussion of Ratzinger’s “exodus” theology. The Exodus event is often seen as primarily the escape of Israel from Egypt. Key to Ratzinger’s theology, expressed at the beginning of his The Spirit of the Liturgy, is the telos of God’s command to Israel to leave Egypt. In Egypt the Israelites were unable to offer sacrifice to the one God. The divine rescue of Israel allows God’s people to live fully their identity by giving the gift of themselves through sacrificial offerings which God himself mandated. Astute readers will recall that St. Thomas Aquinas teaches about sacrifice in the context of the virtue of religion, which is a potential part of the virtue of justice (Summa Theologiae, IIaIIae, Qq. 80-85). The virtuous life leads to human flourishing. Justice, giving to another his due, is essential to human happiness, and this includes giving God his due, particularly by giving oneself to him. This is the essence of sacrifice. The Israelites are free not simply because they were no longer in Egypt but because they gave themselves to God in right-ordered sacrificial worship. Right-ordered worship is not manmade; it is given by God to man who, after the fall, no longer knows how to offer proper worship to God. Similarly, Christians offer right worship, logike latreia, having been taught by Christ who instituted the Eucharist as the true sacrifice.

Lastly, Millare discusses Ratzinger’s spiritual Christology. Spiritual Christology means that “the entire person of Jesus is contained in his prayer,” as Ratzinger sums it up (95). In other words, as Millare explains, Jesus’ identity as Son is found in his prayer, in which a Christian’s communion with God is found through participation in the filial life of Christ. Ratzinger insists on the entirety of Christ, that is, the union of his human nature with the divine person, lest we fall into an over-emphasis on Christ’s humanity, the consequences of which lead to a horizontalism both in liturgy and eschatology. For eschatology, horizontalism focuses on political theologies that prioritize the kingdom of God as an earthly reality. Spiritual Christology, which prioritizes the divine Logos, properly orders earthly realities to the eternal. The correct priority makes Christian charity look beyond this world. A fuller clarification of this point is found in Millare’s subsequent chapters. When it comes to the importance of Ratzinger’s spiritual Christology for liturgy, Millare turns our attention to the Christian’s union with Christ begun at baptism and deepened in Eucharistic worship, a union that emulates Christ’s self-giving love through grace (108).

Foremost Communion

In chapter three, “Eucharistic Communio in a Logos-centric Key,” Millare writes about the Church as both sign and instrument of communion in this world on account of receiving its existence from the incarnate Logos (109). Sign and instrument are sacramental terms meant to convey the rich sacramental activity of the Church as a communion, both with the Logos and among Christians. The Church and the Eucharist are so bound together, Ratzinger writes, that “the Eucharist is the sacramentum Christi and, because the Church is Eucharistia, she is therefore also sacramentum—the sacrament to which all the other sacraments are ordered” (120). Ratzinger’s is a Eucharistic ecclesiology, Millare notes. The Church “is the visible realization of our communion with God.” In fact, she was conceived at the institution of the Eucharist by Christ at the Last Supper, according to Ratzinger (120-121). Our present communion in the Eucharist foreshadows our eschatological communion.

A key insight in this chapter is that the Church is also a logos, which is communio with the Logos. Consistent with the earlier theme that logos precedes and directs ethos, Millare says that “the logos of communio directs every Christian to an ethos of self-love in imitation of Jesus Christ” (123). The reference to “self-love may seem out of place in light of what was said about the true nature of sacrifice, but this self-love is different. “The goal of eucharistic communion is a total recasting of a person’s life, breaking up a man’s whole ‘I’ and creating a new ‘we’” (123). To use a contemporary phrase, one finds oneself only in union with Christ who is the source of self-giving and union with the Church. This is the logos and ethos of communio. The earthly communio will be fulfilled at the general resurrection of the dead (123-124). This is a correction to what Millare says has been an overemphasis on the concept of “people,” by which the Church is reduced to a sociological body. It is the liturgy that “reorients worshippers to the eschaton,” Millare says (135). This wonderful phrase reminds us that the liturgy is not about us, whether on earth or the world to come; it is about God and our union with him. As a result, when the logos— the nature—of the Church is understood as given by Christ, she does what he does (ethos) and gives herself sacrificially in love; she is the sacramentum caritatis (161).

Mission: God

In chapter four, “Logike Latreia and an Ethos of Charity,” Millare argues that Ratzinger, following Aquinas, sees the Eucharist as the identity and mission of the Church: “The ethos of charity flows forth from Eucharistic worship understood as logike latreia (163). Of the points that Millare makes in this chapter, the most interesting is that charity, as an essential feature of normal Christian living, manifests the eschatological life of the Christian. This is a “sacramentalized view of the eschaton,” Millare says (164), which does not eschew the Christian obligation of service in this world, but it is a service that looks to communion with God as its goal. Christians are to become what they consume: a “Eucharist and thereby themselves a ‘heart’ and ‘love’ for the Church” (171, quoting Ratzinger). Far from a sterile mental concept, this is the Logos in full form, active charity that is the ethos of sacrificial love. Liturgy is the expression of that charity with the hope of the eschaton.

The fifth and final part of Millare’s exposition, “The Logos-Centric Beauty of Heavenly Worship,” discusses the elements of the actual celebration of our earthly liturgy. Man as a homo adorans looks to God, making God the center of his life. This is the important reason for stressing Ratzinger’s preference for the Mass to be celebrated ad orientem. As much as Guardini was formative for Ratzinger’s theology, ad orientem worship was not high on Guardini’s list of priorities. For Ratzinger, however, ad orientem worship derives from logos-centric liturgy. As such, the tradition of the Church has been to face east, a point Aquinas makes in his Summa Theologiae (Millare wrongly cites the tertia pars rather than the IIaIIae, Q. 84, a. 3, ad 3). Ratzinger explains the historical dimensions of the ad orientem stance of the priest, even when it meant standing at the altar behind the people so that all faced east together. This detail is important considering the post-Vatican II notion that “active participation” necessitates the priest and people face each other, emphasizing the Eucharist as a communal meal (209). Millare explains that the ad orientem position of the priest is not “something accidental; it is a matter of what is essential” (210), especially because the priest is leading the people to the Christ, the true Oriens (211), thereby assisting Christians to fulfil their “eschatological vocation” (249). The remaining part of chapter five explains Ratzinger’s ideas about participatio actuosa, including liturgical aesthetics: silence, sanctuary appointments, postures and gestures, and sacred music. Our earthly worship, Millare concludes, is a preparation for cosmic worship (249).

Worshipful Praise

Millare has done a great service to the contemporary study of liturgy. While this may not be a book for the masses, it forms part of an array of important secondary literature for clerics and seminary professors and all students of liturgy, particularly because there is nothing more important that we do on earth than to worship God rightly on our way to worshiping him face-to-face in the heavenly liturgy.

Father Paul J. Keller, O.P., is a member of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph. He has served as past president of the Society for Catholic Liturgy. He is a parochial vicar at St. Patrick Church in Columbus, OH, and interim director of divine worship for the Diocese of Columbus. He has previously taught in colleges and seminaries and is the author of several books, including A Year with the Eucharist: Daily Meditations on the Blessed Sacrament (Saint Benedict Press, 2018).

Father Paul Jerome Keller, O.P.

Father Paul J. Keller, O.P., is a member of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph. He has served as past president of the Society for Catholic Liturgy. He is a parochial vicar at St. Patrick Church in Columbus, OH, and interim director of divine worship for the Diocese of Columbus. He has previously taught in colleges and seminaries and is the author of several books, including A Year with the Eucharist: Daily Meditations on the Blessed Sacrament (Saint Benedict Press, 2018).