Joseph Ratzinger and the New Liturgical Movement

The struggle to define and to understand active participation is a fruit of two different conceptions of the liturgy. Joseph Ratzinger constantly affirmed the view that the liturgy is the the work of God and not a product of man.

Unfortunately, division characterizes our present culture and, subsequently, the Church. Are you a Vatican II Catholic? A traditionalist Catholic? A Novus Ordo Catholic? Identity politics has influenced and shaped our unhealthy discourses about the sacred liturgy.

We now find ourselves locked into a “new” liturgical war when we need the liturgical wisdom of great theologians such as Joseph Ratzinger to guide us back to appreciating the authentic spirit of the liturgical movement, lest we drown ourselves in the present bitter and acrimonious sea that fills up our social media feeds or inboxes. 

Joseph Ratzinger, in his autobiographical reflection Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, argues for the need for a “new liturgical movement.” The purpose of this movement will call to life the “real heritage of the Second Vatican Council.” In Milestones, Ratzinger calls for a “renewal of liturgical awareness” and a “liturgical reconciliation that again recognizes the unity of the history of the liturgy and that understands Vatican II, not as a breach, but as a stage of development: these things are urgently needed for the life of the Church.”

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In order to promote liturgical renewal, the early members of the liturgical movement supported the active and intelligent participation of the faithful in the celebration of the sacred liturgy before they called for changes such as celebrating evening Masses, offering the Mass versus populum, etc. According to one of the early pioneers of the liturgical movement, Dom Lambert Beauduin, liturgical movement promotes active participation “by means of understanding and following the liturgical rites and texts [of the Mass].” We need the liturgical wisdom of great theologians such as Joseph Ratzinger to guide us back to appreciating the authentic spirit of the liturgical movement.Tweet This

The first magisterial use of the phrase “active participation” (participatio actuosa) in a magisterial document comes from Pope St. Pius X’s motu propio on sacred music, Tra le sollecitudini:

Filled as we are with a most ardent desire to see the true Christian spirit flourish in every respect and be preserved by all the Christian faithful, we deem it necessary to provide before anything else for the sanctity and dignity of the temple, in which the faithful assemble for no other object than that of acquiring this spirit from its foremost and indispensable font, which is the [active] participation in the divine mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church.

The fact that the original use of the phrase “active participation” occurs in a magisterial document on Gregorian chant should disabuse us of the idea that participation should be focused solely on the celebration of the liturgy in the vernacular, the flourishing of liturgical ministries for lay people, liturgy facing the people (versus populum), or merely our outward actions and responses within the sacred liturgy.

The real actio within the liturgy is oratio. In his work Spirit of the Liturgy, Ratzinger argues that participation is not simply our external action during the liturgy, it is our share in God’s action whereby each person prays that they “may be transformed into the Logos, conformed to the Logos, and so be made the true Body of Christ.” Ratzinger is very clear that external actions are secondary to internal prayer: 

Doing really must stop when we come to the heart of the matter: the oratio. It must be plainly evident that the oratio is the heart of the matter, but that it is important precisely because it provides a space for the actio of God. 

Oratio assists the worshipping member of the Body of Christ to enter into the self-giving love of Christ. 

The manner in which the liturgy is celebrated in the average parish suggests that one should be “doing” something to participate fully in the liturgy. Contrary to this notion that would have us focus on the external at the expense of the internal or the visible over and above the invisible. All of the responses, the singing of hymns, the chanting of the Propers of the Mass, and all liturgical gestures should move us into a transcendent silence lifting us into the celebration of the sacrificial and eschatological nuptial banquet of the Lamb, who was once slain.

The struggle to define and to understand active participation is a fruit of two different conceptions of the liturgy. In one of his interviews with the journalist Peter Seewald, Ratzinger notes that we can view the liturgy as “something living and growing” or “something that has been made.” Hence, Ratzinger constantly affirms the view that the liturgy is the “opus Dei” (the “work of God”) and not a product of man as symbolized by the false worship of the Golden Calf in Exodus.

The concern of Ratzinger with the implementation of the reformed post-Vatican liturgy and simply the Missal of St. Paul VI is that it has characteristics of something that has been made by a committee of experts and not the fruit of organic development and growth.

The hermeneutic of reform in continuity remains a foundational theme for Ratzinger/Benedict throughout his thought. It is one of the reasons Ratzinger is critical of referring to the Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) as the “Tridentine Mass.” It is a misnomer insofar as the Missal of St. Pius V (1570) has been reformed by Clement VIII (1604), Urban VIII (1634), Leo XIII (1884), Benedict XV (1920), and most recently by St. John XXIII (1962). Hence, we can refer to the TLM as Mass celebrated according to the Missal of St. John XXIII. 

In their assessment of Benedict XVI’s allowance for the wider celebration of the Missal of St. John XXIII as the “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite and the Missal of St. Paul VI and St. John Paul’s Missal as the “ordinary form” of the Roman Rite, Fr. Weinandy, et alia, raise this concern: “By reestablishing the extraordinary form, Benedict unwittingly employed a hermeneutic of discontinuity, as if the revised rite were not in continuity with the old.” Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum and the accompanying letter addressed to the bishops, Con Grande Fiducia, articulate a motive of “liturgical reconciliation” intent on preserving the unity between the two forms of the one Roman Rite. In other words, his aim has always been the preservation of the hermeneutic of reform in continuity. 

Monsignor Klaus Gamber has been referred to as the “Father of the New Liturgical Movement” by the eminent German theologian Manfred Hauke. Monsignor Gamber argued for allowing the two most recent Roman missals to coexist: 

The traditional ritus Romanus [the Missal of St. John XXIII] and the ritus modernus [the Missal of St. Paul VI] should both be accepted as legitimate forms of worship. The two rites are to exist as independent rites and must be kept separate and unique in such a way that the traditional Roman rite and the traditionally used Missale Romanum, together with all other liturgical texts (Rituale and Pontificale), be reinstated or be authorized for use in the form in which they existed prior to the Council. 

It is not difficult to see how Gamber influenced Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum. The key distinction between the two is that Benedict maintains the view that there is one rite celebrated in two different forms.

Fr. Weinandy, et alia, have questioned the rationale and the wisdom of Benedict’s Summorum Pontficum because, in their view: 

Benedict’s accommodation of the Tridentine liturgy, while pastorally motivated, undercut the fundamental principle of the liturgical renewal, for the faithful who now attend that liturgy have little opportunity for active participation. 

In light of our discussion above of the authentic meaning of “active participation,” I would argue that he did no such thing. One of the key elements necessary to promote active participation is reverential silence, which is often nowhere to be found in the implementation of the reformed liturgy. 

One of the fruits of the “mutual enrichment” of allowing the two forms of the Roman Rite to exist is that it may assist the faithful to understand the true nature of “active participation” as envisioned by the liturgical movement. Benedict is trying to bring clarity to active participation that is both interior and exterior within the sacred liturgy. Further, he has tried to recover the notion that worship and participation extend beyond the celebration of the liturgy in the mission of charity toward our neighbor. 

Benedict has favored the gift of liturgical pluralism because it can strengthen unity when it is promoted well and given proper pastoral care and accompaniment. I attend a suburban parish that is filled with a diverse body comprised of Nigerians, Hispanics, Latinos, Filipinos, Vietnamese, and Anglos. Mass celebrated according to the Missal of St. John XXIII was offered as one of the main Sunday Masses, and several hundred people attended this Mass regularly. Additionally, you had people who would go back and forth between this Mass and one of the other Masses celebrated according to the Missal of St. Paul VI/John Paul II. 

I never encountered any animus toward Vatican II or the “new” Mass. I have and continue to encounter individuals and families in my parish who simply long for reverent liturgy wherein we take beauty and the ars celebrandi seriously. I also participated with regularity in Masses celebrated according to Divine Worship: The Missal (the liturgy of the Personal Ordinariate for former Anglicans/Episcopalians). I have also had the great fortune of participating in varying liturgies of the Eastern Churches (Byzantine, Ruthenian, Syro-Malabar, Maronite, etc.). My participation in liturgical plurality has taught me that we would all benefit from the treasure of rich liturgical and ecclesial diversity. 

Benedict, in his pastoral and liturgical wisdom, was not naïve; nor has his vision failed. If anything, the present situation confirms Benedict’s wisdom and the veracity of Christopher Ruddy’s assessment: “A Church that lives from tradition cannot reject its past without mortally wounding itself.” 

We need more prayer, fasting, study of the liturgy, greater liturgical formation, and more dia-logos. When the history of this period is written, we will come to appreciate that Joseph Ratzinger was the eldest son of the new liturgical movement, and his theology of liturgy may offer us the hermeneutic we need to appreciate the true heritage of the Second Vatican Council on the sacred liturgy.

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