The Liturgy and Pope Benedict XVI

(This is Neil.) Since Pope Benedict XVI is arriving in the United States today, I thought that I would glance again over some of his writings, as well as some writings about him. In an issue of Logos from earlier this year, Bishop Basil Meeking wrote about “Celebrating the Liturgy with Pope Benedict XVI” (11.1 [2008], p. 127-148) Much of his article is a good summary of Benedict/Joseph Ratzinger’s thought that, I think, will be somewhat familiar to our readers (see my earlier short post on “Pope Benedict on Liturgy” here).

But I was struck by the following two paragraphs. Might our discussion of the Liturgy be more fruitful if we begin by talking about how the Liturgy limits and binds us – presumably, as the Marian analogy would suggest, by conforming us to the Word of God? And should we then talk about how this limiting and binding results in, not self-destruction, but a transformed self rooted in the presence of God?

Obviously, many people will closely observe the liturgies that Pope Benedict will celebrate in the United States. Perhaps we should look for the Pope to embrace “self-limitation,” even when, before thousands of people and news cameras, there exists the temptation to instrumentalize the Liturgy and turn it into some sort of dramatic experience, stunning display of papal splendor, or even (to borrow one of Bishop Meeking’s phrases) “educative tool.”

Or perhaps I’ve misunderstood everything.

(I probably should note here that Bishop Meeking is careful to say that the Liturgy has changed and in fact must change.)

Here are the two paragraphs:

Still in the same chapter [1 Corinthians 11 – ed], St. Paul goes on to describe the authentic celebration of the Eucharist. “I received from the Lord what I delivered to you” (v. 23). He says the Eucharist is at the heart of the living tradition (what is handed on) of the whole Church that transmits in its entirety the mystery of Christ. What Paul has received from the Lord, what he hands on is most holy and most fundamental to the life of the Church. This is tradition that claims our obedience to the very last word. Left to himself, Paul was impetuous, creative, ready to improvise. Faced with what God has given, he can only accept, only obey (which has been the response of the Church in every age). In this central area of the Christian faith, Paul hands on the Eucharist as the precious gift of God, which is beyond our arbitrary will. Cardinal Ratzinger points out, “The Eucharist unites us with the Lord and does so in fact by limiting us, binding us. Only thus,” he says, “are we freed from ourselves.” It is the limitation accepted by Mary which made her the Mother of God when she said, “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

The Incarnation—a historical event of the Son of God taking on human nature—is the point at which God has broken into history, into the human situation, with all that implies of limitation for God the Son. If we, as followers of Christ are associated with his Incarnation—as we are through baptism—then we have to accept some part in this self-limitation. It means, for example, that we accept the liturgy with its sacramental reality as it is given to us in the Church, not as we might like it to be; we accept the gifts that come to us through that liturgy as it is. That then will determine our attitude to the preparation, the presentation, and the celebration of the liturgy. Our response to God’s humble coming to us can only be one of obedience; through that obedience we are able to receive the tradition—the truth and the gifts that are handed on—and remain faithful to it; in return we receive the certainty of God’s close presence—more intimate to me that I am to myself.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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