Monday, January 02, 2023

Best Quotes on the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger / Benedict XVI

Cardinal Ratzinger after Solemn Pontifical Mass in Wigratzbad
Given the passing of Benedict XVI on Saturday, December 31, 2022 (may he rest in the Lord's peace), it seems only fitting to repost the following florilegium of texts. Benedict will surely be remembered for many things (the Regensburg address and the Ordinariate for former Anglicans among them), but there is no doubt that his work as the theologian who restored to liturgy its centrality in theological discourse and debate, and as the pope who gave a mighty impetus to the recovery of tradition, will stand out most prominently as his legacy. 

Although online one can find a smattering of relevant quotes by Ratzinger, no one has collected all the most famous quotes in one place; and that has been our goal here. Moreover, their chronological order gives a fascinating insight into both the consistency and the development of his ideas. [UPDATE: I have added on 1/7/23 some passages from Ratzinger's preface to Alcuin Reid's The Organic Development of the Liturgy.]

It is all too easy to find fault with Benedict XVI for having abdicated the papacy; for seeming to do too little to clean up the corruption in the Vatican, which has only ramified and hardened since his departure; for creating the circumstances in which, humanly and temporarily, much of his legacy has been undone. I share the sorrow and the sense of abandonment. However, let us also be rigorously fair. Without Ratzinger as head of the CDF under John Paul II; without his copious, inspiring, and still valuable writings on the liturgy; and without his initiatives as pope to liberate the Latin rite, the Church would be in a far worse situation today than it is, and, what is more, the movement for the restoration of traditional liturgy would not be a global phenomenon embracing millions. If the defense of tradition eventually prevails, as it surely must, one of the few great figures who will need to be mentioned as an element of its victory is surely he.

Father Joseph Ratzinger

Letter to Prof. Wolfgang Waldstein, 1976

The problem of the new Missal lies in its abandonment of a historical process that was always continual, before and after St. Pius V, and in the creation of a completely new book, although it was compiled of old material, the publication of which was accompanied by a prohibition of all that came before it, which, besides, is unheard of in the history of both law and liturgy. And I can say with certainty, based on my knowledge of the conciliar debates and my repeated reading of the speeches made by the Council Fathers, that this does not correspond to the intentions of the Second Vatican Council. (Wolfgang Waldstein, “Zum motuproprio Summorum Pontificum”, in Una Voce Korrespondenz 38/3 [2008], 201–214)

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy

As “feast”, liturgy goes beyond the realm of what can be made and manipulated; it introduces us into the realm of given, living reality, which communicates itself to us. That is why, at all times and in all religions, the fundamental law of liturgy has been the law of organic growth within the universality of the common tradition. Even in the huge transition from the Old to the New Testament, this rule was not breached, the continuity of liturgical development was not interrupted. … Neither the apostles nor their successors “made” a Christian liturgy; it grew organically as a result of the Christian reading of the Jewish inheritance, fashioning its own form as it did so. (pp. 66-67)

In part it is simply a fact that the Council was pushed aside. For instance, it had said that the language of the Latin Rite was to remain Latin, although suitable scope might be given to the vernacular. Today we might ask: Is there a Latin Rite at all any more? Certainly there is no awareness of it. (p. 84)

Even the official new books, which are excellent in many ways, occasionally show far too many signs of being drawn up by academics and reinforce the notion that a liturgical book can be “made” like any other book. In this connection I would like to make a brief reference to the so-called Tridentine Liturgy. In fact there is no such thing as a Tridentine liturgy, and until 1965 the phrase would have meant nothing to anyone. The Council of Trent did not “make” a liturgy. Strictly speaking, there is no such thing, either, as the Missal of Pius V. The Missal which appeared in 1570 by order of Pius V differed only in tiny details from the first printed edition of the Roman Missal of about a hundred years earlier. Basically the reform of Pius V was only concerned with eliminating certain late medieval accretions and the various mistakes and misprints which had crept in. Thus, again, it prescribed the Missal of the City of Rome, which had remained largely free of these blemishes, for the whole Church. (p. 85)

The Missal can no more be mummified than the Church herself. Yet, with all its advantages, the new Missal was published as if it were a book put together by professors, not a phase in a continual growth process. Such a thing has never happened before. It is absolutely contrary to the laws of liturgical growth, and it has resulted in the nonsensical notion that Trent and Pius V had “produced” a Missal four hundred years ago. The Catholic liturgy was thus reduced to the level of a mere product of modern times. This loss of perspective is really disturbing. Although very few of those who express their uneasiness have a clear picture of these interrelated factors, there is an instinctive grasp of the fact that liturgy cannot be the result of Church regulations, let alone professional erudition, but, to be true to itself, must be the fruit of the Church’s life and vitality. (pp. 86-87)

Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (1988)

There is no doubt that this new missal [after Vatican II] in many respects brought with it a real improvement and enrichment; but setting it as a new construction over against what had grown historically, forbidding the results of this historical growth, thereby makes the liturgy appear to be no longer a living development but the product of erudite work and juridical authority; this has caused us enormous harm. For then the impression had to emerge that liturgy is something ‘made’, not something given in advance but something lying within our own power of decision. From this it also follows that we are not to recognize the scholars and the central authority alone as decision makers, but that in the end each and every ‘community’ must provide itself with its own liturgy. When liturgy is self-made, however, then it can no longer give us what its proper gift should be: the encounter with the mystery that is not our own product but rather our origin and the source of our life. A renewal of liturgical awareness, a liturgical reconciliation that again recognizes the unity of the history of the liturgy and that understands Vatican II, not as a breach, but as a stage of development: these things are urgently needed for the life of the Church. I am convinced that the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy, which at times has even come to be conceived of etsi Deus non daretur, in that it is a matter of indifference whether or not God exists and whether or not he speaks to us and hears us. But when the community of faith, the worldwide unity of the Church and her history, and the mystery of the living Christ are no longer visible in the liturgy, where else, then, is the Church to become visible in her spiritual essence? Then the community is celebrating only itself, an activity that is utterly fruitless. And because the ecclesial community cannot have its origin from itself but emerges as a unity only from the Lord, through faith, such circumstances will inexorably result in a disintegration into sectarian parties of all kinds - partisan opposition within a Church tearing herself apart. This is why we need a new Liturgical Movement, which will call to life the real heritage of the Second Vatican Council. (pp. 148–49)

Revue Theologisches (1990)

The liturgical reform, in its concrete execution, has moved further and further away from this origin [in the best of the Liturgical Movement]. The result has not been reinvigoration but devastation…. [I]n place of the liturgy that had developed, one has put a liturgy that has been made. One has de-serted the vital process of growth and becoming in order to substitute a fabrication. One no longer wanted to continue the organic developing and maturing of that which has been living through the centuries, but instead, one replaced it, in the manner of technical production, with a fabrication, the banal product of the moment. (Commentary in Simandron—Der Wachklopfer. Gedenkschrift für Klaus Gamber (1919-1989), ed. Wilhelm Nyssen [Cologne: Luthe-Verlag, 1989], 13–15, cited in Theologisches, 20.2 (Feb. 1990), 103–4; translation mine.)

Salt of the Earth (1997)

I am of the opinion, to be sure, that the old rite should be granted much more generously to all those who desire it. It’s impossible to see what could be dangerous or unacceptable about that. A community is calling its very being into question when it suddenly declares that what until now was its holiest and highest possession is strictly forbidden and when it makes the longing for it seem downright indecent. Can it be trusted any more about anything else? Won’t it proscribe again tomorrow what it prescribes today? (pp. 176–77)

Address of 24 October 1998

It is good to recall… what Cardinal Newman said when he observed that the Church, in her entire history, never once abolished or prohibited orthodox liturgical forms, something which would be entirely foreign to the Spirit of the Church. An orthodox liturgy, that is to say, a liturgy which expresses the true faith, is never a compilation made according to the pragmatic criteria of various ceremonies which one may put together in a positivist and arbitrary way — today like this and tomorrow like that. The orthodox forms of a rite are living realities, born out of a dialogue of love between the Church and her Lord. They are the expressions of the life of the Church in which are condensed the faith, the prayer and the very life of generations, and in which are incarnated in a concrete form at once the action of God and the response of man. …

If the unity of faith and the oneness of the mystery appear clearly within the two forms of celebration, that can only be a reason for everybody to rejoice and to thank the good Lord. Inasmuch as we all believe, live and act with these intentions, we shall also be able to persuade the Bishops that the presence of the old liturgy does not disturb or break the unity of their diocese, but is rather a gift destined to build-up the Body of Christ, of which we are all the servants. (

God and the World (2000)

For fostering a true consciousness in liturgical matters, it is also important that the proscription against the form of liturgy in valid use up to 1970 [the older Latin Mass] should be lifted. Anyone who nowadays advocates the continuing existence of this liturgy or takes part in it is treated like a leper; all tolerance ends here. There has never been anything like this in history; in doing this we are despising and proscribing the Church’s whole past. How can one trust her at present if things are that way? (Eng. edition 2002, p. 416.)

The Spirit of the Liturgy (2000)

After the Second Vatican Council, the impression arose that the pope really could do anything in liturgical matters, especially if he were acting on the mandate of an ecumenical council. Eventually, the idea of the givenness of the liturgy, the fact that one cannot do with it what one will, faded from the public consciousness of the West. In fact the First Vatican Council had in no way defined the pope as an absolute monarch. On the contrary, it presented him as the guarantor of obedience to the revealed Word. The pope’s authority is bound to the Tradition of faith, and that also applies to the liturgy. It is not ‘manufactured’ by the authorities. Even the pope can only be a humble servant of its lawful development and abiding integrity and identity….The authority of the pope is not unlimited; it is at the service of Sacred Tradition. (pp. 165–66)

Address, in Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger: Proceedings of the July 2001 Fontgombault Liturgical Conference (2003)

A sizable party of Catholic liturgists seems to have practically arrived at the conclusion that Luther, rather than Trent, was substantially right in the sixteenth century debate.... It is only against this background of the effective denial of the authority of Trent, that the bitterness of the struggle against allowing the celebration of Mass according to the 1962 Missal, after the liturgical reform, can be understood. The possibility of so celebrating constitutes the strongest, and thus (for them) the most intolerable contradiction of the opinion of those who believe that the faith in the Eucharist formulated by Trent has lost its value. (p. 20)

Personally, I was from the beginning in favour of the freedom to continue using the old Missal, for a very simple reason: people were already beginning to talk about making a break with the pre-conciliar Church, and of developing various models of Church – a preconciliar and obsolete type of Church, and a new and conciliar type of Church. This is at any rate nowadays the slogan of the Lefebvrists, insisting that there are two Churches, and for them the great rupture becomes visible in the existence of two Missals, which are said to be irreconcilable with each other. It seems to me essential, the basic step, to recognise that both Missals are Missals of the Church, and belong to the Church which remains the same as ever. (pp. 148–49)

In order to emphasise that there is no essential break, that there is continuity in the Church, which retains its identity, it seems to me indispensable to continue to offer the opportunity to celebrate according to the old Missal, as a sign of the enduring identity of the Church. This is for me the most basic reason: what was up until 1969 the Liturgy of the Church, for all of us the most holy thing there was, cannot become after 1969 – with  incredibly positivistic decision – the most unacceptable thing. (p. 149)

Preface to The Organic Development of the Liturgy by Alcuin Reid, OSB (Ignatius Press, 2005) [full text here, in its original form as a review, before it was incorporated into the second edition as a Preface]

In the last few decades, the matter of the right way to celebrate the Liturgy has increasingly become one of the points around which much of the controversy has centered concerning the Second Vatican Council, about how it should be evaluated, and about its reception in the life of the Church.

There are the relentless supporters of reform, for whom the fact that, under certain conditions, the celebration of the Eucharist in accordance with the most recent edition of the Missal before the Council — that of 1962 — has once more been permitted, represents an intolerable fall from grace...

Just as a gardener cares for a living plant as it develops, with due attention to the power of growth and life within the plant, and the rules it obeys, so the Church ought to give reverent care to the Liturgy through the ages, distinguishing actions that are helpful and healing from those that are violent and destructive....

It seems to me most important that the Catechism, in mentioning the limitation of the powers of the supreme authority in the Church with regard to reform, recalls to mind what is the essence of the primacy as outlined by the First and Second Vatican Councils: The pope is not an absolute monarch whose will is law, but is the guardian of the authentic Tradition, and thereby the premier guarantor of obedience. He cannot do as he likes, and is thereby able to oppose those people who for their part want to do what has come into their head. His rule is not that of arbitrary power, but that of obedience in faith. That is why, with respect to the Liturgy, he has the task of a gardener, not that of a technician who builds new machines and throws the old ones on the junk-pile. The "rite", that form of celebration and prayer which has ripened in the faith and the life of the Church, is a condensed form of living tradition in which the sphere which uses that rite expresses the whole of its faith and its prayer, and thus at the same time the fellowship of generations one with another becomes something we can experience, fellowship with the people who pray before us and after us. Thus the rite is something of benefit which is given to the Church, a living form of paradosis — the handing-on of tradition....

The author expressly warns us against the wrong path up which we might be led by a neo-scholastic sacramental theology which is disconnected from the living form of the Liturgy. On that basis, people might reduce the "substance" to the material and form of the sacrament, and say: Bread and wine are the material of the sacrament, the words of institution are its form. Only these two things are really necessary, everything else is changeable....

Many priests today, unfortunately, act in accordance with this motto; and the theories of many liturgists are unfortunately moving in the same direction. They want to overcome the limits of the rite, as being something fixed and immovable, and construct the products of their fantasy, which are supposedly "pastoral", around this remnant, this core which has been spared, and which is thus either relegated to the realm of magic, or loses any meaning whatever. The Liturgical Movement had in fact been attempting to overcome this reductionism, the product of an abstract sacramental theology, and to teach us to understand the Liturgy as a living network of tradition which had taken concrete form, which cannot be torn apart into little pieces, but has to be seen and experienced as a living whole. Anyone like myself, who was moved by this perception in the time of the Liturgical Movement on the eve of the Second Vatican Council, can only stand, deeply sorrowing, before the ruins of the very things they were concerned for....

Archaeological enthusiasm and pastoral pragmatism – which is in any case often a pastoral form of rationalism – are both equally wrong.

These two might be described as unholy twins. The first generation of liturgists were for the most part historians. Thus they were inclined to archaeological enthusiasm: They were trying to unearth the oldest form in its original purity; they regarded the liturgical books in current use, with the rites they offered, as the expression of the rampant proliferation through history of secondary growths which were the product of misunderstandings and of ignorance of the past. People were trying to reconstruct the oldest Roman Liturgy, and to cleanse it of all later additions.

A great deal of this was right, and yet liturgical reform is something different from archaeological excavation, and not all the developments of a living thing have to be logical in accordance with a rationalistic or historical standard. This is also the reason why — as the author quite rightly remarks — the experts ought not to be allowed to have the last word in liturgical reform.... It was one of the weaknesses of the first phase of reform after the Council that to a great extent the specialists were listened to almost exclusively....

But what is "pastoral"? The judgements made about these questions by intellectual professors were often influenced by their rationalist presuppositions, and not infrequently missed the point of what really supports the life of the faithful. Thus it is that nowadays, after the Liturgy was extensively rationalized during the early phase of reform, people are eagerly seeking after forms of solemnity, looking for "mystical" atmosphere and for something of the sacred....

If the Liturgy appears first of all as the workshop for our activity, then what is essential is being forgotten: God. For the Liturgy is not about us, but about God. Forgetting about God is the most imminent danger of our age. As against this, the Liturgy should be setting up a sign of God’s presence. Yet what is happening, if the habit of forgetting about God makes itself at home in the Liturgy itself, and if in the Liturgy we are only thinking of ourselves? In any and every liturgical reform, and every liturgical celebration, the primacy of God should be kept in view first and foremost.

Pope Benedict XVI

Homily upon taking possession of his cathedral (2005)

The power that Christ conferred upon Peter and his Successors is, in an absolute sense, a mandate to serve. The power of teaching in the Church involves a commitment to the service of obedience to the faith. The Pope is not an absolute monarch whose thoughts and desires are law. On the contrary: the Pope’s ministry is a guarantee of obedience to Christ and to his Word. He must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God’s Word, in the face of every attempt to adapt it or water it down, and every form of opportunism….

The Pope knows that in his important decisions, he is bound to the great community of faith of all times, to the binding interpretations that have developed throughout the Church’s pilgrimage. Thus, his power is not being above, but at the service of, the Word of God. It is incumbent upon him to ensure that this Word continues to be present in its greatness and to resound in its purity, so that it is not torn to pieces by continuous changes in usage. (source)

Letter to Bishops Con Grande Fiducia, accompanying Summorum Pontificum (2007)

It is not appropriate to speak of these two versions of the Roman Missal as if they were “two Rites”. Rather, it is a matter of a twofold use of one and the same rite.

As for the use of the 1962 Missal as a Forma extraordinaria of the liturgy of the Mass, I would like to draw attention to the fact that this Missal was never juridically abrogated and, consequently, in principle, was always permitted.…Many people who clearly accepted the binding character of the Second Vatican Council, and were faithful to the Pope and the Bishops, nonetheless also desired to recover the form of the sacred liturgy that was dear to them. This occurred above all because in many places celebrations were not faithful to the prescriptions of the new Missal, but the latter actually was understood as authorizing or even requiring creativity, which frequently led to deformations of the liturgy which were hard to bear. I am speaking from experience, since I too lived through that period with all its hopes and its confusion. And I have seen how arbitrary deformations of the liturgy caused deep pain to individuals totally rooted in the faith of the Church.

Pope John Paul II thus felt obliged to provide, in his Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei (2 July 1988), guidelines for the use of the 1962 Missal; that document, however, did not contain detailed prescriptions but appealed in a general way to the generous response of Bishops towards the “legitimate aspirations” of those members of the faithful who requested this usage of the Roman Rite.… Immediately after the Second Vatican Council it was presumed that requests for the use of the 1962 Missal would be limited to the older generation which had grown up with it, but in the meantime it has clearly been demonstrated that young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them. 

[T]he fear was expressed in discussions about the awaited Motu Proprio, that the possibility of a wider use of the 1962 Missal would lead to disarray or even divisions within parish communities. This fear also strikes me as quite unfounded. The use of the old Missal presupposes a certain degree of liturgical formation and some knowledge of the Latin language; neither of these is found very often. Already from these concrete presuppositions, it is clearly seen that the new Missal will certainly remain the ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, not only on account of the juridical norms, but also because of the actual situation of the communities of the faithful.

I now come to the positive reason which motivated my decision to issue this Motu Proprio updating that of 1988. It is a matter of coming to an interior reconciliation in the heart of the Church. Looking back over the past, to the divisions which in the course of the centuries have rent the Body of Christ, one continually has the impression that, at critical moments when divisions were coming about, not enough was done by the Church’s leaders to maintain or regain reconciliation and unity. One has the impression that omissions on the part of the Church have had their share of blame for the fact that these divisions were able to harden. This glance at the past imposes an obligation on us today: to make every effort to enable for all those who truly desire unity to remain in that unity or to attain it anew. I think of a sentence in the Second Letter to the Corinthians, where Paul writes: “Our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return … widen your hearts also!” (2 Cor 6:11-13). Paul was certainly speaking in another context, but his exhortation can and must touch us too, precisely on this subject. Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.

In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. (source)

Last Testament (2016)

Benedict XVI: I have always said, and even still say, that it was important that something which was previously the most sacred thing in the Church to people should not suddenly be completely forbidden. A society that considers now to be forbidden what it once perceived as the central core—that cannot be. The inner identity it has with the other must remain visible. So for me it was not about tactical matters and God knows what, but about the inward reconciliation of the Church with itself.
       Peter Seewald: The reauthorization of the Tridentine Mass is often interpreted primarily as a concession to the Society of Saint Pius X.
       Benedict XVI: This is just absolutely false! It was important for me that the Church is one with herself inwardly, with her own past; that what was previously holy to her is not somehow wrong now. (pp. 201–202)

Letter to Gerhard Cardinal Müller (2017)

In the confused times in which we are living, the whole scientific theological competence and wisdom of he who must make the final decisions seem to me of vital importance. For example, I think that things might have gone differently in the Liturgical Reform if the words of the experts had not been the last ones, but if, apart from them, a wisdom capable of recognizing the limits of a “simple” scholar’s approach had passed judgment. (source)

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