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.
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.