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Vincent Twomey
Benedict XVI:
Pope and Leitourgos

On July 2008-07-12 an International Liturgical Conference was held in Fota, Co. Cork, Ireland, devoted to the topic:"Benedict XVI and the Sacred Liturgy".The conferences explored the unexpected phenomenon of what is being called the "Benedictine reform" of the Liturgy – sometimes called the reform of the reform. In his introductory comments, Prof. D. Vincent Twomey, SVD (Maynooth, Ireland) singled out Ratzinger’s theology of creation to highlight two central concerns to be found in the Pope’s extensive writings on liturgy, namely (1) the cosmic dimension of the liturgy and (2) the roots of the ritual of the Mass not only in the Word-liturgy of the Synagogue but also in the Temple worship now transformed in Christ.

D. Vincent Twomey
Benedict XVI: Pope and Leitourgos

Presiding at the Mass for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, 2008, Pope Benedict concluded his sermon with a commentary on Romans 15:126, which sums up St Paul ’s own understanding of his mission:

[Paul] knows he has been called ‘to be a leitourgos of Christ Jesus for the Gentiles, serving the Gospel of God as a priest, so that the pagans become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the Holy Spirit’ (15:16). Only in this passage does Paul use the [Greek] word hierourgein  – serving as a priest – together with leitourgos – liturgist [cultor in the Roman Canon] … Paul speaks of the cosmic liturgy, in which the world of men itself must become worship of God, an offering in the Holy Spirit. When the whole world will have become the liturgy of God, when in its reality it will have become adoration, then it will have reached its goal, then it will be whole and saved. And this is the ultimate objective of St. Paul ’s apostolic mission and of ours. It is to such a mystery that the Lord calls us. Let us pray in this hour that he may help us carry it out in the right way, to become true liturgists of Jesus Christ. Amen. (1)

This passage also sums up in a few dense lines the central concerns of the theology that Joseph Ratzinger had systematically developed over the course of his life as a theologian. Over sixty years ago, while researching his doctoral dissertation on St Augustine’s theology of the Church, he would have discovered – or, rather, his own conviction born of his own practice as a devout Catholic (2) would have been confirmed – that the Liturgy, in particular the Eucharist, is at the heart of the Church: it makes the Church and is made by the Church. As a theologian, Ratzinger devoted many articles and books to developing his theology of the Litugy.(3) But even when treating other subjects, above all creation, the Liturgy found a central place in his writings. Let us consider briefly his theology of creation.(4)

The first account of creation in Genesis has nothing to do with how we were created (such as is proposed by the scientific theory of evolution). Its message, rather, is to convey to the reader why we were created. According to Ratzinger, the cosmos has been brought into existence for one thing only: worship. More precisely, God called the cosmos into being so that humanity could share in God’s Sabbath rest and hence experience that life is good, and that creation, especially humanity, is very good. In the Old Testament, creation and covenant form a unity. In other words, God created humanity so that he might enter into a covenant relationship with us, so that he might heal our infirmities and restore us to the relationship that he intended from the beginning of the world: union with him in Christ, the source of that joy which God intends for humanity and which is the object of the church’s mission. As Ratzinger reminds us, St Paul expressed it in another way:‘the whole of creation has been groaning in travail together until now.’ Paul was acutely conscious that ‘the creation itself will be set free from bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Romans 8:21 -2). This is already realized in the transformation of bread and wine – fruit of the earth and the work of human hands – into the actual body and blood of Christ, and in the further transformation of those who receive the sacred species, who become one with Christ and are made into the body of Christ, the Church. St Paul expresses it in 1 Corinthians 10:16-17: ‘The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.’ Further, Ratzinger once pointed out that St Augustine was once granted a mystical experience of the true nature of that transformation when he heard the Lord’s voice saying: ‘This is the bread of the strong; eat me. However, you will not change me into you [as is the case with ordinary bread] but I will change you into me.’ I single out Ratzinger’s eucharistic theology of creation and covenant because it highlights two of the central concerns of his extensive writings on liturgy, namely, 1. the cosmic dimension of the liturgy, and 2. the roots of the ritual of the Mass not only in the word-liturgy of the Synagogue, but also in the Temple worship now transformed in Christ. (5) In the flawed reform of the liturgy after the Second Vatican Council, both – the cosmic dimension of the liturgy as well as the influence of the Temple worship – were, for various reasons, practically ignored. The result is a truncated liturgy. Finally, in Ratzinger’s sacramental theology and in his theology of the world religions, we find his profound appreciation of the fact that the ultimate roots of Christian sacred liturgy are to be found in the cultic rituals of humanity which reach back to the dawn of time.(6) These were taken up in the course of the history of salvation and, transformed by the Word of God, became memorials of God’s saving interventions in the Old Testament and eventually centred on the Temple . This process reached its climax in the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper in anticipation of Christ’s death and resurrection. The same primordial, ritual nature of humanity enabled the Church in the course of the following centuries to unfold the mystery of the divine liturgy and express it in diverse rites of increasing density and richness of expression, including sacred art and music. This unfolding happened organically, subject only to the inner dynamics of the nature of the liturgy and the discipline of the church’s teaching authority. That is, until after Vatican II, when, it could be argued, contrary to the intention of the Council, for the first time in history, the professional experts in liturgy (for the most part academics) began to restructure the liturgy around a committee table, or to use a phrase I once heard Professor Ratzinger using during a discussion of the liturgy, vom grünen Tisch fallen, translated as ‘from a bureaucratic ivory tower.’ The results are all too evident.

Pope Benedict’s urgent concern for a true reform of the liturgy was expressed in his classic work, The Spirit of the Liturgy,(7) written during his holidays and any spare time he found as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The permission he granted for the general use of what is now called ‘the extraordinary rite,’ the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, was, it seems to me, an attempt on his part to underline existentially the continuity between it and the novus ordo Missae of Pope Paul VI, between the pre-Vatican II rite and the post-Vatican II rite, as well as reminding us of what true liturgical ritual involves: organic continuity. But the Pope’s concern for a true reform of the liturgy is also expressed in the care and attention he gives to every celebration of Holy Mass according to the new rite over which he presides as Pope. Today he teaches the Church not only by word but by example.

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