Benedict is in an uncomfortable position with the liturgy. He himself has had very limited pastoral experience having been a theology professor and then a Vatican bureaucrat with only a slight interval as a residential archbishop—archbishop of Munich—if being the metropolitan of a large see can even be called pastoral experience. For most of his years as a priest and even as Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he celebrated mass privately with only a server or his secretaries in attendance. It can be expected that his own experience of the Eucharist has been focused on the celebrant in his relationship to God to whom the sacrifice is offered and to Christ as whose alter persona he offers it. It should not surprise us then that his theological reflection on the Eucharist will be different than the understanding of the Eucharist of a person who has normally celebrated the Eucharist in the context of a large community of the faithful who are bringing to the altar a wide variety of hopes, concerns, anxieties, and life experiences. The theologian or the prelate can be expected to have a more “high” or even ethereal interpretation of the Mysterium while the pastor or the lay theologian (or member of the lay faithful) may have a more “low” or even experiential understanding. This does not have to be problematic in an inclusive Church. The Eucharist should be understood and appreciated on a variety of levels—the complexity and variety of meaning is what makes it a mysterium. Nevertheless, Joseph Ratzinger had publically identified himself with both the Restorationist and Reform of the Reform schools before being chosen as pope and it should not surprise us that he is more open to liturgical developments on the right side of the spectrum than on the left. He long attended conferences on the traditional liturgy at the abbey of Fontgombault, a daughter house of Solesmes but a monastery which, unlike its motherhouse, never accepted the Reformed Missal of Paul VI. Cardinal Ratzinger also wrote the preface for Klaus Gamber’s book, The Reform of the Roman Rite, giving an endorsement to Gamber’s position that the liturgical reforms implemented by Paul VI after the Council exceeded the Council mandate and created a flawed liturgy. In his preface to Gamber, Ratzinger showed his hand very clearly
In the place of the liturgy as the fruit of development came fabricated liturgy. We abandoned the organic, living process of growth and development over centuries, and replaced it, as in a manufacturing process, with a fabrication, a banal on-the-spot product.
At the same time, however, and this is what makes Benedict’s position so uncomfortable—as pastor of the Universal Church Benedict cannot himself deviate—at least deviate far—from the established norms. He has yet to publically celebrate the extraordinary form permitted by his own motu proprio Summorum Pontificium. Claims that he privately does so have not been substantiated. And the failure of the pope to personally use the traditional rite leaves the extraordinary form without the highest endorsement. Cardinal Dario Castrillon-Hoyos, a strong advocate of the Extraordinary form—has claimed that the Holy Father wants at least one liturgy each Sunday in every parish to follow the extraordinary form, but this claim has never been substantiated and Castrillon Hoyos is a notoriously unreliable source for an inability to differentiate his dreams and fantasies from fact. Benedict has, on at least one occasion, celebrated the liturgy of the 1969 missal of Paul VI ad absidem—on the high altar of the Sistine Chapel—but as the papal altar in all four major basilicas in Rome face the people—as they have always faced the people, his public masses are invariably versus populum. This too must make him uncomfortable as before his election as Pope he had written extensively on the theological rationales for celebrating the liturgy while facing in the same direction as the congregation. Such celebration is impossible in the papal basilicas—where it has never been done—as the main altars are designed in such a way that one cannot ascend much less stand on the people’s side of the altar.
One area which Pope Benedict has been able to demonstrate his preferences is that he himself only distributes communion directly on the tongue and to kneeling communicants, though in his diocese—the diocese of Rome—communion in the hand and to standing communicants is both permitted and the all-but-universal practice. This has created a dilemma for some other bishops. While the directives of the American bishops supposedly guarantee communicants the choice of receiving in their hands or directly on the tongue, bishops find themselves unable or unwilling to discipline those priests who refuse to administer the Eucharist into the hands of the faithful. In some places such as the Dioceses of Arlington Virginia, Lincoln Nebraska, Oklahoma City, and Colorado Springs this is an increasingly common phenomenon. Priests argue that if the pope can do something in the Vatican Basilica, then they can also in their parish church. Now, I am just waiting to see the red pradas peeking out from beneath their albs.