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Online Edition: September 2008

Vol. XIV, No. 6

Conference Explores Pope Benedict's Thought on Liturgy

Pope Benedict XVI’s concern for authentic reform of the liturgy was the focus of a liturgical conference held in Ireland July 12. Titled “Benedict XVI and the Sacred Liturgy”, the conference, held on Fota Island near Cork, was sponsored by St. Colman’s Society for Catholic Liturgy, and was addressed by an international panel of speakers.

The conference Mass was celebrated at the Cathedral of St. Colman (Diocese of Cloyne) in nearby Cobh, an impressive nineteenth-century Gothic Revival church overlooking the harbor. The Mass was celebrated in Latin in the current form, and featured music by the acclaimed Lassus Scholars of Dublin.

Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mejía, former Vatican archivist, gave the opening address on the challenges of translation. The very need for translation is a consequence of sin, he observed, noting that it was sinful arrogance that led to the Tower of Babel, hence the confusion of languages that was overcome only on the day of Pentecost, when everyone understood whatever was spoken by the inspired disciples. The cardinal commented on various translations of the Scripture, emphasizing the importance of translation in communicating the Word of God. (Cardinal Mejía was also principal celebrant of the conference Mass at the cathedral.)

Father Vincent Twomey, SVD, a former professor of theology at Maynooth University, Ireland, a former student of Joseph Ratzinger, and author of Pope Benedict XVI, The Conscience of our Age: A Theological Portrait, was the conference moderator. His address focused on Cardinal Ratzinger’s sacramental theology and his emphasis on the “cosmic dimension” of the liturgy, which was ignored in the initial reform of the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council.

“Continuity and Disruption in the Liturgy: A Cultural Approach” was the topic addressed by historian James Hitchcock, of St. Louis University. Dr. Hitchcock, author of The Recovery of the Sacred, described the way the post-conciliar reform went wrong, primarily because secular assumptions of modernity became the determining factors in liturgists who “shaped” the liturgy according to their views. The liturgical experts were captive to the “spirit of the age”, and ignored the work of anthropologists such as Mary Douglas, who had observed the nature and function of symbol and ritual in forming cultures, and the centrality of ritual and tradition in forming a transcendent worshipping community that reaches beyond the here-and-now to God.

In his address, “The Liturgical Reform of Benedict XVI”, Australian liturgist Alcuin Reid, author of The Organic Development of the Liturgy, identified what he termed “four pillars” of the “Benedictine Reform”: Pope Benedict’s personal liturgical example, his insistence on historical and intellectual honesty concerning liturgical developments, on correct celebration of the liturgy, and his desire for fidelity to received liturgical tradition. An example of Pope Benedict’s “hermeneutic of continuity” can be seen in Summorum Pontificum, which affirmed that Mass may be celebrated according to the 1962 Missal, the “extraordinary form”.

Father Manfred Hauke, German professor of theology at Lugano, Switzerland, addressed the group on the work of Monsignor Klaus Gamber, as “father of the new liturgical movement”. Father Hauke, who is the author of Women in the Priesthood and God or Goddess?, stressed several aspects of Monsignor Gamber’s important contribution to authentic reform of the liturgy. In the early 1960s, Monsignor Gamber was head of the Liturgical Institute in Regensburg, Germany, and is perhaps best known for a collection of critical essays titled The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background, published posthumously. In the preface to the French edition of Monsignor Gamber’s book, then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote that after the Council “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”, and he called Monsignor Gamber “a true prophet” who “taught us about the living fullness of a true liturgy”.

Helen Hull Hitchcock’s address, “Benedict XVI and the ‘Reform of the Reform’”, focused on Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict’s own copious writings on the Sacred Liturgy. She began with then-Father Ratzinger’s assessment, as a peritus (expert) at the Council, of the Council’s decisions on the liturgy; and concluded with his apostolic exhortation following the Synod on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, and his motu proprio on use of the pre-conciliar Missal, Summorum Pontificum. Mrs. Hitchcock, who is editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, director of Women for Faith & Family, and author/editor of The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God, stressed Ratzinger/Benedict’s consistent theme of continuity in Catholic worship and of the urgent necessity to recover the sense of the sacred, the union of truth with beauty, and the transcendent and cosmic dimension in all celebrations of the Sacred Liturgy.

“Sacred Art in the Thought of Joseph Ratzinger” was the title of the address by Father Uwe Michael Lang, a German priest of the London Oratory who was recently appointed to the staff of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and is the author of Turning Toward the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer. Father Lang observed that Pope Benedict is acutely aware that the contemporary crisis in art is a symptom of modernity’s crisis of identity: modernity denies the transcendental nature of beauty, the identity of beauty with truth and goodness. This “new iconoclasm” has profoundly affected the art and architecture in churches today. Father Lang also criticized the notion that any one form or style of art is truly Catholic (a view that prevailed in the 19th-century Gothic Revival). Genuine creativity in sacred art must always be cultivated carefully in order to unite the beautiful with the true, he said.

Father Neil J. Roy, a native of Canada, theologian and editor of Antiphon, the journal of the Society for Catholic Liturgy, spoke of the theological and historical richness of the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I). He drew attention to the two groups of saints invoked before and after the prayer of consecration. It is significant, Father Roy observed, that the two groups of “holy apostles and martyrs” named in the Canon are headed by the Blessed Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, both of whom, as he demonstrated, have often been depicted in sacred art of both the East and West as interceding for sinners.

Principal organizers of the conference were Monsignor James O’Brien, a priest of the Diocese of Cloyne who is a member of the staff of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, and Mrs. Terry Pender of the St. Colman’s Society for Catholic Liturgy.

Papers from this first conference sponsored by St. Colman’s Society for Catholic Liturgy, are expected to be published later in book form.

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