Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cardinal Ratzinger's 2002 defense of his liturgy book

Two years before his death in 2004, Father Pierre-Marie Gy, O.P. published a critical review of Cardinal Ratzinger's The Spirit of the Liturgy, which appeared in La Maison-Dieu 229.1 (2002), 171-78. The future Pope Benedict XVI did not take a benign view of Fr. Gy's criticisms, and asked that he be allowed to publish a response to the review in the same journal, as soon as possible. The two articles have recently been published in English translation in Antiphon 11.1 (2007), 90-102.

The reader need not look far to find what provoked Cardinal Ratzinger to respond. In his article, "Cardinal Ratzinger's The Spirit of the Liturgy: Is It Faithful to the Council or in Reaction to It?" not only is the French Dominican critical of Cardinal Ratzinger, but he takes to making bald assertions such as
The Spirit of Liturgy obliges one to wonder whether the Cardinal [Ratzinger] is in harmony with the Council's Constitution on the Liturgy. He is faithful to the piety of his Christian childhood and of his priestly ordination, but insufficiently attentive, on the one hand, to the liturgical rules currently in place (should he not, when he writes on this subject, give an example of attentiveness and fidelity?) and, on the other hand, to the liturgical values affirmed by the Council.
In the final analysis, it is appropriate to admit that Cardinal Ratzinger, though a great theologian, is not on the same level of greatness when it comes to knowledge of the liturgy and the liturgical tradition, whereas precisely the latter quality characterized the works and the decisions of the conciliar liturgical reform.
Further, Gy refers to the liturgical conference in which Cardinal Ratzinger participated at Fontgombault in 2001 a "traditionalist conference," implying that Ratzinger is a "traditionalist."

Although Cardinal Ratzinger's book is concerned with liturgy, says Gy, none its ten or so references to the liturgy mention any important aspects of the Vatican II Constitution on the Liturgy "with the single exception of 'active participation,'" which, he says, the Cardinal considers dangerous because it seems to involve "a risk that the Church may celebrate itself." In particular, he finds surprising that Cardinal Ratzinger does not even refer to article 48 of the Constitution on the Liturgy, which he considers seminal. Article 48 is the one that states that the Church desires that the faithful at Mass "should not be there as strangers or silent spectators," but "should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing," learning also "to offer themselves." Gy reads Ratzinger's Spirit of the Liturgy as a reactionary document. He insists that "it is hard to see why not a whisper is breathed about the way Paul VI constantly followed the work of the Consilium for the Implementation of the Constitution on the Liturgy ... as was witnessed not only by Msgr A. Bugnini, secretary for the work of liturgical reform, but also by its principal architects."

The theme of "active participation" surfaces again when Fr. Gy turns to the question of "celebration ad orientem," to which Cardinal Ratzinger devotes a chapter in The Spirit of the Liturgy. Gy finds Ratzinger's treatment "unsatisfactory both historically and with regard to the issue of active participation." On the historical side, Gy faults it for its explicit dependence on Louis Bouyer, who was a "great voice of the liturgical movement," but was "not necessarily a great historian," as demonstrated, in Gy's view, by his assumption that praying toward the East was a liturgical concern of the "entire West." Yet neither Bouyer nor Ratzinger take into account, says Gy, the work of the Bonn liturgist Otto Nussbaum, according to whom the celebration versus orientem was not introduced into the papal liturgy until Avignon. "It is a mistake ... to see celebration facing the people as the result of the Protestant denial of the eucharistic sacrifice," asserts Gy.

On the side of "active participation," Gy faults Ratzinger for a reactionary piety that is marked "by an attachment to the priestly prayers said in a low voice, that the faithful of his country began to follow in a missal around the beginning of the twentieth century (if they did not recite the rosary during the Mass)." He suggests that Ratzinger seems unaware of the distinction between the private prayers of the priest and the prayers said by hims as celebrant, "and he situates himself de facto in the untraditional line, begun at Trent, of the private Mass as the fundamental form of the Mass, which subsequently allowed music to cover over the canon of the Mass spoken in a low voice, a practice criticized by the 1970 missal and that seems to be a bit missed by the Cardinal and by the Church musicians of his country."

Cardinal Ratzinger's article, "The Spirit of the Liturgy or Fidelity to the Council: Response to Father Gy," is divided into five points and a conclusion. First, writes the Cardinal:
It is quite simply false to say, as Father Gy does ... that I see in participatio actuosa "a risk that the Church may celebrate itself." The entire second chapter of the fourth part of my book is dedicated to "active participation" as an essential component of proper celebration of the liturgy. What is needed in the first place is to set aside a false and superficial interpretation of this fundamental notion: active participation cannot consist in assigning exterior activities in the liturgy to all the faithful gathered for the eucharistic celebration.... How one could have mistakenly read a rejection of the dispositions of the Council in my criticism of superficial interpretations of active participation and in my attempt to confer on it a deeper and ultimately more concrete modality, remains a mystery to me.
Second, Cardinal Ratzinger expresses his pleasure that Fr. Gy insists on fidelity to liturgical rules, assuring him that they are of one mind on the question. Yet he notes that such is not the attitude of a considerable portion of liturgists these days. Liturgical anarchy, he says, constitutes the principle obstacle to a general and positive reception of the missal of Paul VI: "The liturgy is often so different from one parish to another, that the common missal is scarecely visibiel anymore."

Third, Ratzinger writes
It is true that Paul VI approved the missal published in 1970 in forma specifica, and I hold to it with an inner conviction, even if I regret certain deficiencies and do not consider each of the decisions made the best possible. I should prefer, on this point, not to get into the question how far, in the preparation of the missal, the wishes of the pope were truly sought out and maintained in detail. That is a matter for future historians to resolve, once all the material is available.... Why did the Pope withdraw his confidence from Bugnini in the end and remove him from the work on the liturgy? That must certainly remain an open question. Questions like it naturally change nothing in the obligatory character of the missal, and I could wish, as I have said, that all liturgists should bring to this matter the seriousness it deserves. But that the impression should arise as a consequence that nothing in this missal must ever be changed, as if any reflection on possible later reforms were necessarily and attack ont he Council -- such an idea I can only call absurd. ... a cardinal of the Roman curia, since deceased, an iminent man, completely involved in the conciliar reform, told me personally that one day he had asked Bugnini about the longevity that he attributed to "his missal." Bugnini answered that he estimate it at approximately twenty or thirty years. On this point, I am altogether decidedly in disagreement with Bugnini: a missal is not a book good for only 20 or 30 years; rather it is situated in the great continuity of the history of the liturgy, in which there is always growth and purification, but not rupture.
Fourth, on the question of the ad orientem direction of the liturgy, Cardinal Ratzinger says that he finds Fr. Gy's statements "inconceivable." Gy's suggestion "that the question of 'orientation' is valid only for the eastern half of the Mediterranean basin I find utterly incomprehensible." Moreover, in his summary of his own position, Ratzinger states "that the great tradition of 'orientation,' the act of turning toward the 'Orient' as the image of the return of Christ, in no way requires that all altars must once again be reversed and that the priest's place be changed as a consequence. On the contrary, one can satisfy the internal requirements of this apostolic tradition without undertaking great external transformations, by arranging things such that the Cross ... should be the common focal point of the priest and the faithful - such that it is placed in the middle of the altar, and not to the side." He adds that none of his critics has yet told him why this very simple idea of the Cross as the focal point of the liturgy is false.

Fifth, in response to the observation that he is not a liturgest and therefore lacks adequate training in the subject, Cardinal Ratzinger responds that non of the great fathers of the liturgical renewal -- Guardini, Jungmann, Bouyer, Vagaggini, etc. -- was originally a liturgist; and "this was so quite simply because this discipline did not yet exist at the time. Hence, such criticisms, he suggests, are superficial and without value.

In closing, Cardinal Ratzinger adds a final remark:
Father Gy's declaration that the meeting at Fontgombault was a gathering of traditionalists irritated me. In reality, the invitees were only well-known persons who clearly accept the Second Vatican Council -- in continuity with the history of the Church -- and who represent at the same time quite diverse orientations. The question being raised, which really is one of pastoral significance, was how liturgical reconciliation, and hence a fuller acceptance of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, could be achieved. I am reluctant to label as traditionalist all those who are not in agreement with the current mainstream of liturgists, and to raise to the level of an obligation a uniformity of thought that cannot be reconciled with the breadth of the conciliar reform. Such partisan labels are contrary to the dialogue that we must all strive to conduct today, and to which the present attempt at dialogue with Father Gy hopes to make a modest contribution.
Of related interest:
Alcuin Reid, ed., Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy With Cardinal Ratzinger: Proceedings of the July 2001 Fontgombault Liturgical Conference (St. Augustine's Press, 2004).
[Hat tip to Prof. E.E.]