Thursday, September 22, 2005

Book Review: Looking again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger

Book Review: Looking again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger: Proceedings of the July 2001 Fontgombault Conference. Edited by Dom Alcuin Reid, OSB. St. Michael's Abbey Press: 2003.

Reviewed by Shawn Tribe

Books of essays are not always appealing to the general public, but this is a collection that is simply too important to pass up. This publication presents essays that were given at a liturgical conference held deep in (what remains of) Catholic France, at the traditional Benedictine Abbey of Fontgombault – a conference organized and presided over by (then) Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now our beloved Pope. The nature of this conference is perhaps most succinctly explained by Dom Alcuin Reid in his introduction:

"How, today... do we achieve 'the true celebration of the liturgy'? Is the answer a wholesale return to the traditional rites? Is it in accepting a wide diversity of divergent uses – new, old and inculturated – in the Roman rite? Or is it in seeking an official reform of the liturgical reform that followed the Second Vatican Council? These are the issues that were discussed by both liturgists and well qualified non-liturgists alike..."

In the past, Cardinal Ratzinger and others have spoken of the need for a new liturgical movement, and this conference would certainly have to be classified as yet another step in that direction. Particularly important in this endeavour is that its speakers and invitees were equally representative of the Tridentine rite and Reform-of-the-Reform movement. This gives the book with a healthy, rigorous and moderate balance which helps to draw out the bigger liturgical issues in addition to the particular considerations which affect each community.

Four main themes are pursued in the book: the theology of the liturgy, anthropological aspects of the liturgy, the question of diversity of liturgical rites within the Roman rite, and the problems and lessons to be learned from the liturgical reform. The themes are tackled in an academic way, which is typically both constructive as well as critical – but a criticism that is free from polemics. A particular strength of the book is to be found in the addresses on the themes of the liturgical reform and the diversity of rites. The former essays lay bare the underlying theological and philosophical precepts which influenced and derailed both the original liturgical movement and the liturgical reform and gives a keen insight into some fundamental problems which need to be addressed. The latter tackles the issue of openness to legitimate liturgical diversity in the Latin rite, taking head on the kind attitudes which would marginalize the classical Roman rite, or which would pit those in the two communities represented in this book against one another. In this sense, implicit within this book is a subtle call for reason and common sense for the good of both communities and for the liturgy itself. The book's constructive dimension is particularly found in the practical considerations and suggestions for how we might move forward to a genuine renewal. This dimension is what particularly marks this text as one of the foundational documents of the new liturgical movement.

The spirit of this text is not that of a rejection of the Second Vatican Council, nor of the idea of reform or ressourcement as pertains to the liturgy. Rather, it is defined by a desire for a more genuine and thorough approach to the Council, faithful to the rule of Faith (lex credendi) and to the Church's tradition and Council's requirement for organic development. This is what must define our rule of prayer (lex orandi), for as Cardinal Ratzinger reminds us, "what we previously knew only in theory has become for us a practical experience: 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 centre of any renewal of the Church whatsoever."

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