Saturday, October 25, 2008

Benedict's Preface to the Ratzinger Opera Omnia: What is and is he not saying about Liturgical Orientation?

Zenit recently published this article concerning the collected writings of Ratzinger. It contains some interesting snippet quotes that will bear some looking at following the piece. Comments to follow.

Pope Hopes "Complete Works" Get Past Polemics: Recalls Stir Caused by 2000 Book on Liturgy

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 23, 2008 ( Benedict XVI says he hopes the publication of his complete works will help get past polemics regarding the liturgy.

The Pope affirmed this in the preface to the first of 16 German-language volumes, which was presented Wednesday. The "Complete Works" will contain previously unpublished texts, and range from Joseph Ratzinger's university years up to his election as Pontiff.

"It would please me very much if the new publication of my writings on the liturgy could contribute to making visible the great perspectives of our liturgy, putting again in their place the small and pitiful diatribes on exterior forms," the Holy Father writes in the preface, which was partially made available in Italian by Vatican Radio.

The Pope said that starting off his complete works with the theme of the liturgy, as happened at the Second Vatican Council, reflects the primacy of God.

The liturgy, he added, "has been for me the central reality of my life since childhood." He said it gives the answer to the question, "Why do we believe?"

"God before all else," Benedict XVI affirms in the preface. "Wherever the gaze at God is not determinant, everything else loses its orientation."

Seeking calm

The Pontiff acknowledged that to avoid polemics, he had considered removing nine pages from his book "The Spirit of the Liturgy: An Introduction," published in 2000. This book makes up the main portion of the first volume of the complete works.

Unfortunately, he recalled, almost all reports on the work focus on those pages where he wrote of the orientation of the priest during the liturgy.

Later, the Holy Father continued, he decided to keep the pages, satisfied that his overall intention is clear.

He recognized that his suggestion is gaining ground: "to not modify the structures, but simply to put a cross in the center of the altar, such that both the priest and the faithful look toward it, so as to allow themselves to be drawn toward the Lord, to whom we all pray together."

"The concept by which the priest and the assembly should look one another in the eye during prayer has been developed only in modern times and is totally foreign to ancient Christianity," the Pontiff wrote. "The priest and the assembly didn't pray facing each other, but directed toward the one Lord.

"Because of this, during prayer, they look in the same direction: Either toward the east, a cosmic symbol of the Lord who is to come, or, where this was not possible, toward an image of Christ in the apse, toward a cross, or simply all together toward the heights, as the Lord did during his priestly prayer the night before his passion."


Evidently, there is going to be some attention given to the Pope's statements about the question of orientation -- ironically perhaps given the context in which it comes up. But I would advise people not to get their hopes or their backs up too readily here -- depending upon how you are approaching this question -- for the Pope is not actually saying anything here that he hasn't said as a Cardinal.

First off, it is important that we quote the Pope's words in fuller form, which reveals them to be much less dramatic than they might otherwise sound. Consider the following quotes from the preface, as published in Italian in "30 Days", and presented here in an NLM translation:

"Unfortunately, almost all the reviews [of the Spirit of the Liturgy] have focused on a single chapter: 'The altar and orientation of liturgical prayer'. Readers of reviews would have had to conclude that the entire work had treated only of the orientation of the celebration and that its content was reduced to wanting to reintroduce the celebration of Mass 'with your back to the people'."

"In view of this misrepresentation I thought for a moment [NLM emphasis] to delete this chapter in order to bring the debate onto the real issue that interested me and still interests me in the book.

This was made all the more easily possible [to consider doing] by the fact that in the meantime appeared two excellent works in which the issue of orientation of prayer in the Church of the first millennium was clarified so persuasively. I think first of all the important little book by Uwe Michael Lang, Turning towards the Lord, of particular importance, and the important contribution of Stefan Heid, attitude and orientation of the first prayer in the Christian era (in the Journal of Christian Archeology, 72-2006), where sources and a bibliography on this issue are amply illustrated and updated.

The conclusion is quite clear: the idea that a priest and the people should look one another in the eye was only [an idea] in modern Christianity and is completely alien in the ancient [Church]. The priest and people certainly do not pray to each other, but to the one Lord. They look in prayer in the same direction: towards the East as cosmic symbol for the Lord that is to come, or where this is not possible, to an image of Christ, to a cross, or simply to heaven, as the Lord did priestly prayer in the evening before his Passion (Jn 17:1).

Meanwhile, fortunately the proposal I made in my work at the end of this chapter works its way [into practice] more and more: not a new change, but simply the putting of a cross on the middle of the altar towards which priest and faithful can together look, to be guided in this way to the Lord, [toward which] we all pray together."

As is evident in the fuller quotation, the Pope did not think of deleting his chapter on liturgical orientation because he thought it was a misguided or unimportant subject, but because he thought it was distracting from the broader, deeper focus of his own work. Further, it is an extraordinarily relevant detail that he considered doing so ("for a moment") in the light of the fact that others, like Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, had since then made the case ("so persuasively") for the historic form of orientation in Christian liturgical prayer in their own studies, and therefore he did not have to. Clearly this is not a Pope who sees the matter as unimportant -- but, let it be said that any writer can relate to the frustration of writing something and having one single point come to distract from the greater whole and more substantive thesis.

The Pope, as is evident in his writing here and elsewhere, clearly sees the problematic nature of the change in orientation at the altar which focused upon this idea of looking upon each other. One point he wishes to drive home is that regardless of the exterior form, our focus ought to be upon the Lord. Therefore, even in our present situation which finds so many priests directed toward the nave of the Church (and hence toward the people) our focus should be upon the Lord and not each other.

Accordingly, the Pope, like the Cardinal, has put forth a pragmatic proposition in the light of present circumstance: namely, exclude the notion that we must see each other eye-to-eye -- that we are the point of focus within the liturgy -- and place a central cross upon the altar thereby beginning the process of re-orienting the priest and the faithful towards the symbol of the Cross, making it a symbolic "East".

The Pope, being a pastor, is also concerned with pastoral questions, and this is where his consideration of the changing of structures seems to enter in, which is a key contextual point. Let's consider what he said in Fontgombault in 2001 which shows the consistent theme of his thought and gives us further context to understand it:

The third problem is the celebration versus populum. As I have written in my books, I think that celebration turned towards the east, toward the Christ who is coming, is an apostolic tradition. I am not however in favour of forever changing churches around completely; so many churches have now been restructured that starting all over again right now [NLM emphasis] does not seem to me at all a good idea.

-- From "Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger"

Ratzinger's thought, and Benedict's apparent echo of that thought, would seem to be pastorally motivated and pragmatic in nature. He seems to be considering a situation of change on a vast scale (similar to what happened following the Council) to both permanent structural arrangements of churches as well as to a widescale shift in liturgical practice. Ratzinger has made clear that he saw this approach following the Council as being quite harmful and he clearly is not eager to see a repetition.

That said, some will no doubt try to suggest that Benedict is therefore stating that we should not celebrate Mass ad orientem in the traditional sense, nor even make minor, non-structural re-arrangements, but this would seem to mischaracterize his thought, not to mention his practice. Evidently, Benedict is giving a primacy at this point to the use of a central altar cross as a primary means by which to begin re-orienting our approach to the liturgy. This much is clear -- and really comes as no surprise given its consistency with all he has said before. It really is the most realistic method, and in some cases, it would be physically the only way to accomplish it short of substantial renovations to permanent arrangements. This method will allow each and every Mass and each and every parish to begin the process of re-orientation, and with the least general disruption.

But while speaking of what will be the primary course for re-orienting our liturgies in most of our parishes, it wouldn't seem to mean that ad orientem in its traditional expression is outside the pale -- indeed, it is envisioned and allowed for by the Missal and by liturgical law. We should note that what he has clearly spoken about not being done is pursuing a large scale program of significant structural changes to permanent sanctuary arrangements, or a widescale shift in general liturgical practice. This doesn't, however, preclude a gradual or longer term process however, either on a general scale or an individual parish level. I would propose that the introduction of some Masses ad orientem in a parish setting, or less significant re-arrangements would seem to be quite consistent here, as would seem to be clarified by three facts:

One is the testimony of his own practice. Not only does he celebrate this way each day in his private chapel, but he also recently did so in the Sistine Chapel. This occured in the context of a parish like situation and they could have, as had been done every other time prior to that (see image), done so at an altar ad populum with a central altar cross upon it. He did not however. The fact this wasn't done and that the original high altar was instead used is suggestive that Benedict does not see this as inimical to pastoral consideration in any kind of general way, or a practice to be avoided.

Second, Benedict praises Fr. Uwe Michael Lang's treatment of the subject, which is not only a historical examination, but also includes practical liturgical considerations on the recovery of traditional orientation for the second half of the liturgy, "the Liturgy of the Eucharist", in the modern liturgical context. Perhaps relevant is that Ratzinger himself wrote a preface to that work which not only consistently re-states some of the very points we have been discussing here (i.e. our true orientation regardless of the incidentals of where the priest is facing) but which also defends the fact that present liturgical law (as clarified by the Congregation for Divine Worship) does not make Mass ad populum obligatory. Given the consistency we see in Benedict's thoughts on these matters, this may be important to help contextualize his thought here.

Finally, it is also worth remembering that Benedict has "freed" and encouraged a form of the liturgy which will predominantly (if not entirely) be celebrated in the traditional orientation at those same parish altars and in the parish context, and he has couched this in terms of its possibility for "enrichment." This opens the door to this orientation to the typical parish and may also require minor-arrangements to accommodate this. If Benedict saw this as generally pastorally problematic, regardless of the fact we are speaking of the use of a different missal, it would seem rather inconsistent to say the least.

What then are we to make of his thought? What is he proposing or not proposing?

First, he seems to desire to steer people away from polemical hostility and into greater liturgical calm in the hopes of fostering a better overall liturgical climate that will allow us to reclaim our liturgical senses and sensibilities. He does so while affirming the tradition of the Eastward direction of liturgical prayer and the novelty in the approach taken toward versus populum.

Second, he suggests that any kind of general project of major structural renovation throughout the Church is not best pursued and that general liturgical upheaval, both of which happened following the Council, is also to be avoided -- both no doubt informed by the quite negative post-conciliar experience in this regard, which, as he has noted elsewhere, he sees as having been quite damaging. He does not want to see that experience and approach repeated.

Third, in the light of the second point, he also seems to envision the use of the central altar cross as the primary means by which to begin this process of re-orienting ourselves, priest and faithful, within the liturgy; regaining our sense of the liturgy as fundamentally theocentric and not rather about ourselves in dialogue, looking upon one another. But at the same time, if we take his words and actions into consideration, he does not seem to intend to suggest this as the only appropriate means or that there might not also be a secondary means; namely some recovery of the traditional expression of ad orientem liturgicum.

Further, in speaking against the modification of structures, he doesn't seem to be suggesting a parish couldn't take simple actions like move a free-standing altar a little further back in a sanctuary to allow for ad orientem (as might be necessary to accommodate the usus antiquior) or that it couldn't even remove a non-fixed altar where the original high altar remains in tact (as was done in the Sistine Chapel). Neither is he speaking of churches being newly built. Rather, he clearly seems to be speaking against widescale projects to alter permanent and fixed sanctuary arrangements, similar to what followed the Council. I cannot but stress that the Pope's own decision in the Sistine Chapel speaks to this point quite significantly.

In the end, the conclusion of all this would seem to be that all of the normal considerations that parish priests have been considering and pursuing to date as part of the reform of the reform apply. There is really nothing new in all this and it simply emphasizes again the point that the reform of the reform is a process, and one that requires pastoral preparation and sensitivity in its application.

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