Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Benedict XVI and Turning Back the Clock 200 Years

Medieval bas-relief at Luca Cathedral
showing Mass celebrated facing the people
I mentioned in recent posts that Benedict XVI has not been completely comfortable with the direction the Catholic Church has taken since the Second Vatican Council which is ironic because he, as a theological advisor to Cardinal Frings of Cologne—one of the leaders of the Council—had much to do with shaping the Vatican II Church.  I pointed out in recent postings that his discomfort with the policies of John Paul II in regards to ecumenism and to inter-religious dialogue have led to a cooling of the friendly conversations the Catholic Church has conducted with other Christian denominations and with non-Christian religions. But Ratzinger is also uncomfortable with the liturgical revisions issued under Paul VI in the Missal of 1970. 
I have long felt that the only people who understand the changes of Paul VI—really understand them—are those who, like those who followed Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in schism—have rejected the new liturgy.  Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly support the liturgical revisions and had hoped to see even more revision, but there is a discontinuity in the theology of the Mass of Pius V in the 1570 Missal and the Mass of Paul VI in the 1970 Missal.  I think the Pauline “Novus Ordo” is more faithful to the theological/liturgical heritage received from the Fathers of the Church and that it did well to clear away many of the medieval accretions and restore the Roman Rite to some degree of its original clarity and simplicity of expression.  I wanted—and still want—to see further simplification of the Rite along with a corresponding flexibility that frees it from rubricism and would permit it to be more authentically prayerful.  Not everyone sees it that way.  Ratzinger/Benedict XVI is one who does not.
From early on Josef Ratzinger identified himself with a faction in the Church that resisted the liturgical developments of 1970.  This is not to say that Ratzinger was opposed to any liturgical reform or renewal but he obviously though the reforms of 1970 went way too far.  For years he attended various seminars and workshops at the Abbey of Fontgombault, a French Benedictine Community of the Solesmes Congregation that has opted to maintain the pre-Conciliar Rite.  Fontbombault has been a center for neo-traditionalists who are anxious to minimize the liturgical changes of Paul VI’s revisions of the Missal and Breviary.  Ratzinger also was a close friend of the late Monsignor Klaus Gamber,(+ 1987) whose book Die Reform der römischen Liturgie, (in English: The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background, Una Voce Press, 1993) was an attack on the Reforms of Paul VI. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote an introduction to this book. I have mentioned Gamber in previous postings and believe he was distinctly inferior as a scholar to Josef Jungman (+1975) and Gregory Dix (+1952) whose works have prepared the way for the liturgical reforms at the Council.  But Ratzinger, a theologian and not a historian, has not seen the flaws in Gamber’s “scholarship” and has embraced many of his ideas for their theological import despite of their being grounded in poor historical understanding.  One of the particular issues that Ratzinger/Benedict has followed Gamber’s faulty research is the matter of “orientation”—that is the idea that priest and people alike should pray facing Eastwards.  Granted, that the tradition of the Eastern Churches (Orthodox and Catholic, Chalcedonian and non-Chalecdonian) and the prevalent custom in northern Europe was for Churches to be built facing eastwards so that priest and people together would face the rising Sun—a profound symbol of the Risen Lord, but a study of the ancient Churches in Rome shows us two things.  In Rome, unlike the East, churches were built to every point of the compass.  And in Rome, unlike the East and Northern Europe, altars were positioned so that the bishop or priest presiding at the Eucharist faced the congregation over the altar.  Cardinal Ratzinger was an ardent proponent of the priest celebrating with his back to the congregation.  As Pope he has in public celebrated facing the people.  We need to do a posting on the topic of the Roman Liturgy and the issue of versus populum or versus absidem or ad orientem—three distinct positions for the priest at prayer.
Benedict was also unhappy with the translation of the Latin “pro multis” in the consecratory words over the cup “This is the cup of my blood shed for you and for ????”  Benedict insists on a literal but misleading “for many” whereas most of the translations of the 1970 Rite had long used the more theologically accurate “for all.”   We need to look at that question too.  The pro multis issue has long been a thorn for neo-traditionalists because it was not being translated literally (though, as we will see in a future posting, it was being translated accurately.) 
In expanding the use of the pre-conciliar rites with the 1962 Missal of John XXIII as the so called “Extraordinary Form” of the Roman Rite Benedict has hoped that the traditional rites will bleed back into the revised rite of Paul VI and eventually “correct” the 1970 Rite with accretions from the earlier rite borrowed into the new.  That threatens to make a bit of a “dog’s dinner” of the Liturgy, a hodge-podge as it were—but the scholarly Benedict has little experience with the pastoral issues and practices.  The more significant point, however, is that he too is one whose enthusiasm for the Council is guarded, or even tepid and this is leading to the new hermeneutic that is re-interpreting the Council far from the intentions of the Council Fathers and, presumably, the Holy Spirit who inspired them.       

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