'Pope Benedict XVI’s pontificate has been, since its beginning, markedly different to that of Blessed Pope John Paul II, who was recently beatified by Benedict XVI himself. While Benedict XVI has travelled surprisingly extensively, given his age, he has made what will be a lasting, dramatic impact upon the Church’s liturgical practice. The Pope, who displays moments of shyness in front of the glare of the World’s media, who wanted to retire as a Vatican librarian, will be remembered, whatever happens from now, as the Pope who laid the foundations for the reform of the Church’s liturgy. It is true to say that Blessed Pope John Paul II began this and that it continues apace under Benedict, but it is also true to say that Benedict XVI’s thought will have influenced even his predecessor, held in nearly univesal esteem.
These are, I think you will agree, exciting times to be a Catholic. While the current Pope may lack the magnetic personal charisma of his predecesor, few can doubt the growing popularity of Benedict XVI with the young, precisely because of his quiet, humble, fatherly and prayerful demeanour on the World stage. Not only that, but as men and women gathered here tonight will know, Benedict XVI has an appeal to the younger generation because of these attributes but also because of his great and well-documented interest in the Church’s liturgy. While this article will focus on the liturgical renewal taking place under Pope Benedict XVI, I would like to place the exciting developments surrounding his reform of the Church, reform that makes Benedict XVI both popular and unpopular at the same time, in the context of Pope Benedict’s first address to the young at World Youth Day, in Cologne, in 2005.
Learned but humble, with breathtaking intellect, yet childlike joy in the Lord, Benedict XVI was able to reach out to young people in Cologne, as he will do in Madrid this year, encouraging the young to play their part in God’s plan for the renewal of the Church and humanity. I will be drawing heavily upon his first World Youth Day address during this talk.
“The happiness you are seeking, the happiness you have a right to enjoy has a name and a face: Jesus of Nazareth, hidden in the Eucharist.”
If we could sum up, so far, Benedict XVI’s pontificate, we would, if we wished, need draw upon only that quote in order to explain it adequately. For the purposes of this talk, however, let us place this quotation in the context of the theme of those talks in Cologne: God’s Revolution. It is important for us to recall the dramatic upheavals within the Church that Benedict XVI had witnessed as Joseph Ratzinger. Joseph Ratzinger lived through a truly revolutionary period of the Church’s history, in which revolutions, sexual, gender, social, political and economic, took place with an undeniably huge impact upon the Church and when the Church opened Her “windows”, it is widely acknowledged that it was not just the Holy Spirit Who blew in.
“If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide.. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and [here is the key word] liberation.”
None of the revolutions which have taken place in Western society have brought happiness to men and women. Many of them have brought misery and despair. Liberation, in Benedict XVI’s view, is an interior transformation which we encounter in our lives through friendship with Our Lord Jesus Christ. In particular, the Pope alludes to the Magi who followed the star to Bethlehem, and who he describes as the first of the Saints. There, in Bethlehem, the Magi find the King who they wish to serve, the King that will bring freedom, justice and who will reign forever. Yet, who, or what do they find? They find a tiny child. A Babe.
“The Magi”, said the Pope, “had to change their ideas about power, about God and about man and in so doing they had to change themselves. Now they are able to see that God’s power is not like that of the powerful of this World. God does not enter into competition with earthly powers of this World. God did not send twelve legions of Angels to assist Jesus in the Garden of Olives.” Jesus, says the Pope, “contrasts the noisy and ostentatious power of this World with the defenseless power of love, which succumbs to death on a Cross and dies ever anew throughout history, yet it is this same love which constitutes the new divine intervention which opposes injustice and ushers in the Kingdom of God. God is different - they must become different - they must learn God’s ways. They had to place themselves at His service, model their kingship on His.” Speaking of their gifts to the Babe in the Virgin’s arms, Benedict says, “Through this act of adoration, they recognise the child as their King.”
Let us note too, at this point, that these are the Magi from the Orient - from the East! It is they, interestingly, from the East, who fall prostrate at the feet of the Babe.
The Holy Father continues, “Through this act of adoration, men from the East instead recognise the child as King and place their own power and potential at His disposal and on this they were on the right path. By serving and following Him, they would, together with him serve the cause of good and justice in the World. In this they were right. Now, though, they have to learn that this cannot be achieved simply through issuing commands from a throne on high. Now they have to learn to give themselves - no lesser gift would be sufficient for this King. Now they have to learn that their lives must be conformed to His divine way of exercising power - to God’s own way of being. They must become men of truth, justice, goodness, forgiveness, mercy. They will no longer ask, ‘How can this serve me? Instead they will ask, ‘How can I serve God’s presence in the World?’” He continues, “They must learn to lose their life and in this way to find it. Having left Jerusalem behind, they must not deviate from the path marked out by the true King, as they follow Jesus.”
Now, let us pause a moment, for this passage will serve us well in understanding Benedict XVI’s pontificate a little more. Going back to the Holy Father’s actions and response to the many upheavals which have taken place within the Church and the World, his own behaviour reflects something of what the Magi learned about Christ’s Kingship in Bethlehem. Our Pope is not President Obama. Benedict does not issue ‘dictates from on high’, even with all of his Petrine authority, but he does, in the liturgy, encourage similar devotion, reverence and adoration of Christ to that exemplified by the Magi. His concern for Divine Worship is something evidenced by his writings, especially in The Spirit of the Liturgy, written as a Cardinal and Sacramentum Caritatis, written as Pope, and also by his apostolic actions. Nowadays, in a break with recent Petrine tradition, whenever the Holy Father gives Holy Communion, he gives the Lord to the Faithful kneeling and on the tongue. The best way of telling, is, in the Holy Father’s view, by showing. People who saw the Holy Father’s visit to the United Kingdom, where he joyously beatified Blessed John Henry Newman, will have seen the very real devotion that the Pope has to the Eucharistic Lord. Yet, this is not a complete picture of his pontificate.
If Blessed Pope John Paul II will be remembered as the Pope who destroyed communism and a whole regime through his holiness of life and his dedication to Our Lady, then Pope Benedict XVI may yet be remembered as the Pope who liberated, or laid the foundations for the liberation, of the Church Herself, from what some most assuredly regard as an unholy empire within Her - one built on a cult of man - not on the adoration and worship of Almighty God. Summorum Pontificum could yet be the ‘Prague Spring’ moment of the Catholic Church on a global scale.
This key document, as well as the new translation of the Mass which again, has caused anger in liberal circles, projects a bright future in which real liberation is proclaimed once more by the Church founded by the Man-God, Jesus, who promised not only that the gates of Hell would never prevail against the Church built on Peter, but Who proclaimed ‘the good news to the poor’ and who would ‘set captives free’. Blessed John Henry Newman who looks down on us today testified to this truth. It is also the experience of those who have taken up the Holy Father’s other bold gesture, Anglicanorum Coetibus, to dissaffected Anglicans.
Yes, liberation is the mission of the Church and it is certainly Benedict XVI’s vision The Catholic Church preaches the forgiveness of sins. She is the instrument of God’s salvation, the place in which we find the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the World. The Lord is truly present in His Church, revered in the Tabernacle, made present upon the Altar! Yes, this is a new springtime for the Church and you only have to look at the many priests who are celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass, the many priests and lay people who are part of the new evangelisation begun by his blessed predecessor and the new converts coming over from the quagmire of Anglicanism - the captives, set free.
The World, of course, preaches a kind of freedom that is at odds with that espoused by the Church, the freedom proclaimed by Pope Benedict XVI. The kind of freedom promoted by the secular world is a freedom of the self, that is concerned primarily with the self. True freedom, true liberation, comes only from God. This is the theme of the Cologne talks to young pilgrims. Freedom is in Christ and outside of Christ, is only slavery. Let us return to those talks in Cologne, in which the Holy Father speaks of true freedom.
“The Lord has given us examples - Saints who tell us about Christ. The Magi are just the first in a long procession of men and women who have constantly tried to gaze upon God’s star in their lives, going in search of God who has drawn close to us and shows us the way. It is the great multitude of the Saints, known and unknown, in whose lives the Lord has opened up the Gospel before us and turned the pages, through history and today, in their lives, as if in a great picture book, the riches of the Gospel are revealed like a shining path which God himself has traced through history and still today. Saints and blesseds did not doggedly seek their own happiness, but wanted to give themselves because the light of Christ shone upon them. They show us the way to attain happiness. They show us how to be truly human. These were the true reformers of history, who constantly rescued it from plunging into the valley of darkness, who constantly shed upon it the light that was needed to make sense, even in the midst of suffering. Saints Benedict, Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, Ignatius, Charles Borromeo, the founders of the 19th century religious orders who inspired and guided the social movements or the saints of our day, Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, Mother Teresa, Padre Pio. Contemplating these figures we learn what it means to adore and what it means to live by the measure of the child of Bethlehem, by the measure of Jesus Christ and God himself.”
It is here, now, at this juncture of his Cologne talks to the World’s Youth that we can see a glimpse of the kind of revolution in which the Holy Father is encouraging us to be active participants. The Saints and Blesseds are spiritual warriors. None of them had a spiritual life without trial, disappointment, a sense of abandonment, weakness, temptation and failure. Indeed, only Our Lady and Our Lord were and ever will be, sinless.
The Holy Father then spells out to us exactly what he means by ‘God’s Revolution’ and what it consists of in its nature.
“The Saints are the true reformers. Now I want to express this in an even more radical way. Only from the Saints, only from God, does true revolution come - the definitive way to change the World. In the last century we experienced revolutions with a common programme. Expecting nothing more from God, they assumed total responsibility for care of the World in order to change it. And this, as we saw meant that a human and partial view was always taken as an absolute guiding principle. Absolutising what is not absolute but relative is called totalitarianism. It does not liberate man, but takes away his dignity and enslaves him. It is not ideologies that save the World, but only a return of the living God, our Creator, the guarantor of our freedom, the guarantor of what is really good and true. True revolution consists in simply turning to God who is the measure of what is right and who is at the same time everlasting love. And what could ever save us apart from love?”
Now, let us take up this theme and place it in the context of Benedict XVI’s reforms, in the context of Summorum Pontificum, in the context of the liturgical preferences he himself displays, that irritate and gladden men and women in the Church seemingly simultaneously. Pope Benedict XVI is a reformer - of that there can be little doubt. In my opinion, for what my opinon is worth, he is also a living Saint, but that only adds to the sense of beauty about the passage I have just read in which His Holiness says, ‘The Saints are the true reformers’.
Pope Benedict XVI is the Sovereign Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. Yet, he is also the saintly leader of a revolution in which Christ is placed firmly back at the centre, in which Christ overcomes, with our co-operation, evil within the Church and the World, within ourselves and through us, with the power of His grace, with the power of His redeeming love. This is key to his reforms. He says in The Spirit of the Liturgy, written a full six years before his Pontificate, published on the Feast of St Augustine of Hippo:
‘...our knowledge of this universality [of God] is the fruit of revelation: God has shown himself to us. Only for this reason do we know him; only for this reason can we confidently pray to him everywhere. And it is precisely because of this reason is it appropriate, now as in the past, that we should express in Christian prayer our turning to the God who has revealed himself to us.’
So, why does Benedict XVI desire to see the reform of the Church’s liturgy now? Cardinal Ratzinger makes his private beliefs quite evident in The Spirit of the Liturgy, when he continues...
Now, the priest - the “presider”, as they now prefer to call him - becomes the real point of reference for the whole liturgy. Everything depends on him. We have to see him, to respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing. Not surprisingly, people try to reduce this newly created role by assisgning all kinds of liturgical functions to different individuals and entrusting the “creative” planning of the liturgy to groups of people who like to, and are supposed to, “make their own contribution”. Less and less is God in the picture. More and more important is what is being done by the human beings who meet here and do not like to subject themselves to a “pre-determined pattern”. The turning of the priest towards the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle.”
The liturgy is central to Pope Benedict XVI’s revolution because he knows that true revolution comes only from God. This revolution is about our encounter with Christ and with His transforming love. His Holiness’s desire for the Church is united to God’s desire for the Church - the regeneration of man from within, from being self-centred, to being Christ-centred. Only Christ can save us from ourselves. Only Christ can heal us. Only Christ can set us free. Only Christ can show us the ‘Way, the Truth and the Life’.
The renewal of the liturgy under Benedict XVI is in order to awaken us to our true condition as sinners who, touched by God’s merciful love are able to communicate that love to others. The Benedictine renewal has arrived so that we may glimpse, with our own eyes, the infinite horizon of the vision of God in which we turn towards and walk towards the Lord - so that we might become the people we were made to be - Saints.
'We kneel before the humilty of Christ. The kneeling of Christians is not a form of incultration into existing customs. It is quite the opposite, an expression of Christian culture, which transforms the existing culture through a new and deeper knowledge and experience of God. When kneeling becomes merely external, a merely physical act, it becomes meaningless. On the other hand, when someone tries to take the worship back into the purely spiritual realm and refuses to give it embodied form, the act of worship evaporates, for what is purely spiritual is inappropriate to the nature of man. That is why bending the knee before the presence of the living God is something we cannot abandon. Worship is one of those fundamental acts that affect the whole man.’
The ‘whole man’ is what Pope Benedict XVI is concerned about, just as Christ is concerned for the whole man, body and soul. There is much more I could say about Pope Benedict XVI’s liturgical efforts and how they affect us as men and women called to worship God ‘in spirit and in truth’. We are fortunate, perhaps, to have Priests in our parishes who are listening to Pope Benedict XVI and who are favourable to his wishes to see the liturgy of the Church renewed and reformed, so that God is not made to appear as peripheral to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Benedict XVI is engaged in a strenuous, but gradual, re-orientation of the Church, towards Christ in the liturgy. His Holiness has seen the outcomes of liberation theology among the many efforts to assist the poor and seen how good intentions are not enough for the Church’s mission to the poor. It is a fruit of the Gospel that men and women of prayer, men and women committed to Christ, will recognise Him in the poor and bear fruit in serving Him in the poor. This is a fruit of worship, adoration and prayer - the service of God and the service of His poor.
This is certainly the Church’s experience seen in the lives of St Francis of Assisi, St Anthony of Padua, St Martin de Porres, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and St Vincent de Paul among many others, known and unknown. None claimed their love to have been from themselves, but from God who worked though them with their prayerful co-operation. Their fruit is fruit that will last. Their orders, are orders that will last. That love is the love that is everlasting, that ripples throughout time and still touches men and women today. Why? Because we can all, whether we rich or poor, pray to these heroic witnesses to the One True Faith today and ask for their intercession. The re-creation of sinners - the creation of Saints. That is God’s Revolution!'