In 1995, Adoremus Bulletin was founded by three people—two priests and a laywoman. There was also a fourth figure who was instrumental in launching Adoremus—Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI, whose profound understanding of and writings on the liturgy had served as a main inspiration for the venture being undertaken by a trio of ecclesial entrepreneurs: Jesuit Father Joseph Fessio, who also founded Ignatius Press in 1976; Father Jerry Pokorsky, co-founder of Credo, a society of priests committed to promoting a faithful translation of the liturgy; and writer, editor, and passionate Catholic activist, Helen Hull Hitchcock, founder of Women of Faith and Family.
But the late pontiff also took a personal interest in the budding publication while serving as Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, encouraging the founders to reach beyond the in-house jargon and “committee-speak” of the liturgical world so prevalent at the time to inspire Catholics—bishops, priests, and laity alike—to deepen their love for and understanding of the sacred liturgy of the Church by showing that the riches of this storehouse of beauty, truth, and goodness was indeed accessible to all Catholics.
With Pope Benedict XVI’s passing into eternal life on the last day of 2022, his role in helping to establish Adoremus, now almost 30 years old, is presented as a matter of record to our readers.
Present at the Creation
The history of Adoremus Bulletin begins not with its first issue in November 1995, however—but in June 1995, and Cardinal Ratzinger was also an instrumental voice in this historical moment. At that time, Fathers Fessio and Pokorsky and Mrs. Hitchcock (as she preferred to be known) founded the Adoremus Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy which, as the masthead of the Bulletin states, “was established…to promote authentic reform of the Liturgy of the Roman Rite in accordance with the Second Vatican Council’s decree on the liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium.”
To help execute this mission, Adoremus Bulletin has served as the public face of the Society and, in the inaugural 1995 issue, Ratzinger’s writings were intentionally featured to spell out the founders’ vision. This first issue included a Q&A on the Society’s (and the Bulletin’s) purpose and goals, which quoted Ratzinger from his 1981 book Feast of Faith to explain its goals:
“Christian liturgy is cosmic liturgy, as Saint Paul tells us in the Letter to the Philippians,” Ratzinger writes. “It must never renounce this dignity, however attractive it may seem to work with small groups and construct homemade liturgies. What is exciting about Christian liturgy is that it lifts us up out of our narrow sphere and lets us share in the truth. The aim of all liturgical renewal must be to bring to light this liberating greatness.”
It wasn’t only Cardinal Ratzinger’s words that the founders of Adoremus used to help the faithful to better understand and love the liturgy of the Church. As a pope who made a renewal of the liturgy a showcase feature of his pontificate, Pope Benedict’s ideas and practices also became a virtual paradigm for how Adoremus saw the liturgy should be celebrated.
Spirit and a Letter
According to Father Fessio, the idea for Adoremus took shape after a conversation he had with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, whom the Jesuit would visit once a year in Rome.
“It really crystalized for me during the time that Cardinal Ratzinger was writing his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, from 1990 to 1999,” he said. During one of his visits with the cardinal, Father Fessio said, “I asked him what he was doing and he mentioned this book. Of course, it piqued my interest in what he was going to say in the book because he was a prelate with such a strong interest in the liturgy.”
After returning home, Father Fessio wrote a letter to Cardinal Ratzinger, dated April 19, 1995 (a copy of which Father Fessio provided to Adoremus), “to ask your counsel on something which has been developing in my own mind for the past two or three years. Generally, it has to do with the reform of the Roman Liturgy, and more precisely with a ‘reform of the reform.’”
The Jesuit related to the cardinal how he had received “letters and phone calls from people who are distraught with the liturgies they are subjected to in their parishes,” but he adds, they “are not just complaining about the state of the liturgy, but are asking what, if anything can be done for the sake of future generations in the Church.”
In the same letter, he sketched out an idea for a liturgical journal or sorts which eventually emerged as Adoremus.
“One thought that occurred to me,” Father Fessio writes, “was that Ignatius Press might begin publishing a journal of liturgical renewal—not directed specifically at experts, but for all interested Catholics, without excluding specialists.”
More generally, Father Fessio sought Cardinal Ratzinger’s advice in his letter on whether it was appropriate to begin “a new liturgical movement,” but he was particularly interested in the cardinal’s opinion about a new publication dedicated to liturgical renewal. He was encouraged by its prospects, in part, because John Paul II had recently promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in 1992.
“Now that the Catechism is here, and with that as a base, I wonder if I should make a commitment of my own time and energy…towards promoting genuine liturgical renewal,” Father Fessio writes in his letter to the cardinal.
According to Father Fessio, Cardinal Ratzinger’s response was both positive and encouraging. Cardinal Ratzinger “wrote back a letter within a month,” Father Fessio told Adoremus.
The Jesuit also asked the cardinal to respond to some of his reflections on the state of the liturgy at that time.
“While the former Liturgical Movement was centered mainly in monasteries in Europe,” Father Fessio writes, “it seems to me that there has to be a focus in any new Liturgical Movement on liturgy in the parish. It would therefore see much greater participation by parish priests, and even specific parishes which would become centers for liturgical renewal.”
In Cardinal Ratzinger’s reply, dated May 18, 1995 (Adoremus also obtained a copy of the German original and an English translation from Father Fessio), the future pontiff made it clear that Adoremus was the perfect vehicle for carrying on such a liturgical renewal.
“I believe we need a new liturgical movement—which, of course, must absolutely be inspired and directed in the right manner,” Ratzinger writes. “For this reason your idea of a liturgical journal, as you outlined it, seems to me to correspond exactly to the needs of this hour. I can only encourage you to go forward vigorously with this project….”
Liturgy for Everybody
This broad-based approach to inspiring the faithful to a deeper love for the liturgy, Father Fessio told Adoremus, was exactly in keeping with how Pope Benedict XVI saw the need to make the liturgy the focus of the entire Church, not only of the hierarchy, scholars, and liturgical specialists.
The founders of Adoremus, Father Fessio said, “believed that as Cardinal Ratzinger had basically said in the preface to his 2001 book The Spirit of the Liturgy, we needed a liturgical movement.”
At the same time, the Jesuit added, “clearly, it was inspired from the top down…but it doesn’t reach down to what people experience in the liturgy. Liturgy is for everybody, including for people who aren’t scholars, academics, and clerics. Their needs have to be taken into consideration. So, in starting Adoremus, we thought that helping to inform the laity on issue of the liturgy and the liturgical movement could help revive that movement.”
Joseph O’Brien is the managing editor of Adoremus Bulletin.
Image Source: AB/Levan Ramishvili on Flickr; public domain