Wednesday, February 08, 2023

Translation of Ratzinger’s Preface to the French Edition of Klaus Gamber

One often comes across references to Cardinal Ratzinger’s famous preface to the French edition of Klaus Gamber’s The Reform of the Roman Rite (La Réforme liturgique en question, éd. Le Barroux: Sainte-Madeleine, 1992). Yet for some reason, this preface was not included in the English edition published by Roman Catholic Books, and it does not appear to be available in English on the internet. When I discovered this lacuna, I decided to search for the French preface (which I found here and checked against a scan of the book) and prepare a translation for NLM. It may be considered an addendum to the “best quotes on liturgy” from Ratzinger/Benedict XVI that were published here on January 2.

Klaus Gamber: The Fearlessness of a True Witness
by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

A young priest recently said to me: “Today we need a new liturgical movement.” This was the expression of a concern which, in our day, only the willfully superficial could dismiss.

What mattered to this priest was not to conquer new and daring freedoms: what freedom have we not already arrogated to ourselves? He felt that we needed a new beginning from within the liturgy, as the liturgical movement had wanted when it was at the height of its true nature, when it was not a matter of fabricating texts, inventing actions and forms, but of rediscovering the living center, of penetrating the very fabric of the liturgy, so that the fulfillment of the liturgy would come from its very substance.

The liturgical reform, in its concrete realization, has moved ever further away from this origin. The result has not been a revival but a devastation. On the one hand, we have a liturgy that has degenerated into a show, in which people try to make religion interesting by means of fashionable nonsense and enticing moral maxims, with momentary success in the group of liturgical fabricators, and an attitude of retreat all the more pronounced among those who seek in the liturgy not a spiritual showmaster, but an encounter with the living God before whom all “doing” becomes insignificant; for only this encounter can make us reach the true riches of being. On the other hand, there is the conservation of ritual forms whose greatness is always impressive, but which, pushed to the extreme, manifests an obstinate isolation and finally leaves only sadness.

Certainly, between the two there remain all those priests and their parishioners who celebrate the new liturgy with respect and solemnity; but they are called into question by the contradiction between the two extremes, and the lack of internal unity in the Church finally makes their fidelity seem (wrongly for many of them) to be merely a personal variety of neo-conservatism. Because this is so, a new spiritual impulse is needed to make the liturgy once again a communal activity of the Church for us and to remove it from the arbitrariness of parish priests and their liturgy committees.

One cannot “manufacture” a liturgical movement of this kind — any more than one can “manufacture” something living — but one can contribute to its development by striving to assimilate the spirit of the liturgy anew and by publicly defending what one has thus received. This new beginning needs “fathers” who are models and who do not merely suggest the way forward. Those who are looking for such “fathers” today will inevitably meet the person of Mons. Klaus Gamber, who was unfortunately taken from us too soon, but who perhaps, precisely by leaving us, has become truly present to us in all the strength of the perspectives he opened up for us. Precisely because in leaving us he escaped the quarrel of the parties, he could, in this hour of distress, become the “father” of a new beginning.

Gamber carried with all his heart the hope of the old liturgical movement. Perhaps because he came from a foreign school, he remained an outsider on the German scene, where he was not really accepted; even recently a dissertation ran into serious difficulties because the young researcher had dared to quote Gamber too extensively and with too much benevolence. But perhaps this sidelining was providential, because it forced Gamber to go his own way and spared him the burden of conformity.

It is difficult to express in a few words exactly what, in the liturgists’ quarrel, is essential and what is not. Perhaps the following indication might be helpful. J. A. Jungmann, one of the truly great liturgists of our century, defined liturgy in his time, as it was understood in the West, especially through historical research, as a “liturgy of development”; probably also in contrast to the Eastern notion which does not see in liturgy a process of historical becoming and growth but only the reflection of the eternal liturgy, whose light, through the sacred unfolding, illuminates our changing time with its unchanging beauty and grandeur. Both conceptions are legitimate and are not irreconcilable.

What happened after the Council is quite different: instead of a liturgy that is the fruit of a continuous development, a fabricated liturgy has been put in place. They left the living process of growth and becoming and entered into the manufacturing process. We no longer wanted to continue the organic becoming and maturation of a living thing that lives through the centuries, and we replaced it — in the manner of technical production — by a fabrication, a banal product of the moment.

Gamber, with the vigilance of an authentic seer and the fearlessness of a true witness, opposed this falsification and tirelessly taught us the living fullness of a true liturgy, thanks to his incredibly rich knowledge of the sources. As a man who knew and loved history, he showed us the multiple forms of the development and the path of the liturgy; as a man who saw history from within, he saw in this development and the fruit of this development the intangible reflection of the eternal liturgy, which is not an object of our making, but which can continue to mature and blossom marvelously, if we unite ourselves intimately to its mystery. The death of this eminent man and priest should stimulate us; his work may help us to gain new momentum.

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