The liturgy via the “hermeneutics of politics”

I’ve seen a few references online to the unscripted “chat” by Pope Benedict to priests and clergy of the Diocese of Rome (e.g., Fr. Z here). And while I admit I didn’t read it all (I should be grading assignments right now, actually) I was blown away by a section on the liturgy.

Photo by Catholic Church (England and Wales)

Most folks have pointed to the section near the end where Benedict, in discussing Vatican II, contrasts the “Council of the Fathers” with the “Council of the media.” It is well-timed since the Pope describes how the media distorted the true intentions of the Council for its own ends, and we can point to numerous media reports in the past few days where stories of Pope Benedict’s renunciation have themselves contained distortions. Quoting Benedict:

[T]he Council of journalists did not, naturally, take place within the world of faith but within the categories of the media of today, that is outside of the faith, with different hermeneutics. It was a hermeneutic of politics. The media saw the Council as a political struggle, a struggle for power between different currents within the Church. It was obvious that the media would take the side of whatever faction best suited their world.

What follows, though, is a wonderful discussion of the impact this had on people’s perception of the liturgy (emphasis added):

There were those who sought a decentralization of the Church, power for the bishops and then, through the Word for the “people of God”, the power of the people, the laity. There was this triple issue: the power of the Pope, then transferred to the power of the bishops and then the power of all … popular sovereignty. Naturally they saw this as the part to be approved, to promulgate, to help. This was the case for the liturgy: there was no interest in the liturgy as an act of faith, but as a something to be made understandable, similar to a community activity, something profane. And we know that there was a trend, which was also historically based, that said: “Sacredness is a pagan thing, possibly even from the Old Testament. In the New Testament the only important thing is that Christ died outside: that is, outside the gates, that is, in the secular world”. Sacredness ended up as profanity even in worship: worship is not worship but an act that brings people together, communal participation and thus participation as activity. And these translations, trivializing the idea of ​​the Council, were virulent in the practice of implementing the liturgical reform, born in a vision of the Council outside of its own key vision of faith. And it was so, also in the matter of Scripture: Scripture is a book, historical, to treat historically and nothing else, and so on.

Perhaps this is on my mind because I recently had the opportunity to attend Mass while out of town. How commonplace are parishes where the aim of the liturgy seems to be participation and feel-good-ism! In hindsight, the main reason why I drifted off into twice-a-year Mass attendance is precisely because of what Pope Benedict describes. Being somewhat introverted, church-as-community-activity did (and does) not appeal to me. It always gave me the impression of lowering the bar.

I praise God that my family is able to attend a (Cathedral) parish where the liturgy is celebrated more in line with the “Council of the Fathers,” as “an act of faith.” If you had to ask this non-theologian, non-philosopher, only-recently-serious Catholic what Pope Benedict will be most remembered for, I would hope it would be his attempt to draw the Church back to the beauty and timelessness of the authentic liturgy. Not because he’s stuck in the past, but because he cares about our future. He wants us all to be encouraged and strengthened on our journey towards the Father, and he knows how crucial the liturgy is in attaining that goal.




    Tim — Indeed, liturgy cannot be reduced to communal participation (without a clear addressee for the worship!), and of course it must remain an act of faith. At the same time, Ratzinger’s commentaries *during* the Council (in his _Theological Highlights of Vatican II_) provide an important supplement to these points. At the time of the Council, Ratzinger was “appalled” by its opening Mass, which, he noted, hadn’t adopted any of the insights from the Liturgical Movement that had been going on for decades. He went so far as to say that the liturgy during the time leading up to the Council was an “archeological” picture “so encrusted that the original image could hardly be seen.” In fact, he said that the “success” of the Council could be gauged by how different its closing Mass was from the opening one! (see Aidan Nichols’s _The Thought of Pope Benedict XVI_ pp. 53, 67). I guess my point is that as flawed as some (and certainly not all) post-Vatican II liturgies may be, Ratzinger wasn’t exactly enthusiastic (Nichols actually describes him as “acerbic”) about the pre-conciliar liturgy either. Thus, in correcting some instances of the former, we ought to be wary of too closely approximating the latter, especially if we’re using Ratzinger’s/Benedict’s lights as our guide,

  • Greg Smith

    Tim ~ Please explain to me why the liturgy celebrated at your cathedral is “better” than the one celebrated at my parish in San Francisco or, it seems, most other parishes in America. Pax tecum, Greg

    • Tim Shaughnessy

      You put quotes around “better” even though I never used that adjective to describe the liturgy at our parish. I also was not claiming that I myself am “better” because I attend it. I’m not sure I can answer your question any more clearly than Benedict himself did. I believe our rector and parochial vicar have a vision of the liturgy that is consonant with that of Pope Benedict. See above.

  • abadilla

    As I read his words yesterday, I realized for the first time what went wrong with the Council, who hijacked such a beautiful idea, and how much damage has been done not just to the liturgy, but to catecheses and the entire life of the Church. No wonder even today it is hard to come out of the nightmare many modernists embraced 50 years ago.



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