Thursday, May 05, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI on the Liturgy

Here are some notes on The Spirit of the Liturgyby Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI.

Extracts from this book are found on the Adoremus Bulletin Home Page. Please support this local Saint Louis group and join


Some contemporary liturgists reject kneeling, saying it is not appropriate for a redeemed man to approach Christ on his knees. We may be redeemed, but are we in mortal sin? Do we need forgiveness? Others say it is not part of our culture. The pagan Greeks and Romans rejected kneeling also, saying it was a barbaric practice, knowing that they were approaching immoral and demonic gods. However, Ratzinger says that "Kneeling does not come from any culture -- it comes from the Bible and its knowledge of God. The central importance of kneeling in the Bible can be seen in a very concrete way. The word proskynein alone occurs fifty-nine times in the New Testament, twenty-four of which are in the Apocalypse, the book of the heavenly Liturgy, which is presented to the Church as the standard for her own Liturgy. "

"When kneeling becomes merely external, a merely physical act, it becomes meaningless. One the other hand, when someone tries to take worship back into the purely spiritual realm and refuses to give it embodied form, the act of worship evaporates, for what is purely spiritual is inappropriate to the nature of man." Much contemporary New Age thinking is purely spiritual, and ignores the body, and this leads to errors such as the rejection of the Church's teachings on sexual morality and corporeal mortification.

"It may well be that kneeling is alien to modern culture -- insofar as it is a culture, for this culture has turned away from the faith and no longer knows the one before whom kneeling is the right, indeed the intrinsically necessary gesture." The Christian mission is to change the culture, not to be changed by it.


Art and Liturgy

The commandments prohibit the making of graven images, but an exception is made for the Ark of the Covenant, which has cherubim on top. Judaism now only allows radically non-figurative art in its synagogues, as does Islam in its mosques.

"As a result of archaeological discoveries, we now know that the ancient synagogues were richly decorated with representations of scenes from the Bible. They were by no means regarded as mere images of past events, as a kind of pictorial history lesson, but as a narrative (haggadah), which, while calling something to mind, makes it present...." God commands that the Temple be richly decorated with many images, although those images must not be worshiped, as was the bronze serpent made by Moses. And it was in the Temple and synagogues where the earliest Christians worshiped. "Christian images, as we find them in the catacombs, simply take up and develop the canon of images already established by the synagogue, while giving it a new modality of presence."

"One development of far-reaching importance in the history of the images of faith was the emergence for the first time of a so-called acheiropoietos, an image that has not been made by human hands and portrays the very face of Christ." The Shroud of Turin is one of these. "Thus the icon inevitably assumed in its form the status of a sacrament. It was regarded as bestowing a communion no less than that of the Eucharist." "It is not hard to see why the images modeled on the acheiropoietos became the center of the whole canon of iconography, which meanwhile had made progress and was understood better in its wider implications."

"Iconoclasm derived its passion in part from truly religious motives, from the undeniable dangers of a kind of adoration of the image, but also from a cluster of political factors. It was important for the Byzantine emperors not to give any unnecessary provocation to Muslims and Jews." So many times, we are told that our behavior offends someone else, and that we must change. "In the course of this struggle the true theology of icons matured and bequeathed us a message that has a profound relevance to us today in the iconographic crisis of the West."

The best icon of Christ is that of the Risen Lord, whom the disciples did not recognize. "In the icon it is not the facial features that count (though icons essentially adhere to the appearance of the acheiropoietos). No, what matters is the new kind of seeing. The icon is supposed to originate from an opening up of the inner senses, from a facilitation of sight that gets beyond the surface of the empirical and perceives Christ, as the later theology of icons puts it, in the light of Tabor." " Icon painters [says Orthodox icon painter Evdokimov] must learn how to fast with their eyes and prepare themselves by a long path of prayerful asceticism. This is what marks the transition from art to sacred art...The icon comes from prayer and leads to prayer."

"Thus in the icon we find the same spiritual orientations that we discovered when emphasizing the eastward direction of the liturgy. The icon is intended to draw us onto an inner path, the eastward path, toward the Christ who is to return." "Only when we have understood this interior orientation of the icon can we rightly understand why the Second Council of Nicaea and all the following councils concerned with icons regard it as a confession of faith in the Incarnation and iconoclasm as a denial of the Incarnation, as the summation of all heresies." "Iconoclasm rests ultimately on a one-sided apophatic [negative] theology, which recognizes only the Wholly Other-ness of the God beyond all images and words, a theology that in the final analysis regards revelation as the inadequate human reflection of what is eternally imperceptible." Iconoclasm, in a way, denies the Incarnation. "But if this is the case, faith collapses... On the one hand, matter is absolutized and thought of as completely impervious to God, as mere matter, and thus deprived of its dignity."

Ratzinger then questions whether the Eastern Orthodox theology of the icon is true. Christian art in East and West remained similar until the end of the Romanesque period, although western emphasis was on the educational value of images. "Art is still ordered to the mystery that becomes present in the liturgy. The figures of the angels in Romanesque art are essentially no different from those in Byzantine painting. They show that we are joining with the cherubim and seraphim, with all the heavenly powers, in praise of the Lamb. In the liturgy the curtain between heaven and earth is torn open, and we are taken up into a liturgy that spans the whole cosmos."

"With the emergence of Gothic, a change slowly takes place...But the central image becomes different. The depiction is no longer of the Pantocrator, the Lord of all...It has been superseded by the image of the crucified Lord in the agony of His passion and death. The story is told of the historical events of the Passion, but the Resurrection is not made visible. The historical and narrative aspect of art comes to the fore." "It has been said that the mystical image has been replaced by the devotional image. Many factors may have been involved in this change of perspective. Evdokimov, in The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty, thinks that the turn from Platonism to Aristotelianism during the thirteenth century played a part."

"Platonism sees sensible things as shadows of the eternal archetypes." See my article Philosophy 101 about the Allegory of the Cave. "Aristotelianism rejects the doctrine of Ideas. The thing, composed of matter and form, exists in its own right. Through abstraction I discern the species to which it belongs. In place of seeing...comes abstraction. The relationship of the spiritual and the material has changed and with it man's attitude to reality as it appears to him." Ratzinger is well known to be a Platonist rather than an Aristotelian philosopher, unlike centuries of previous Popes. "For Plato, the category of the beautiful had been definitive. The beautiful and the good, ultimately the beautiful and God, coincide...Something of this Platonic foundation lives on in the theology of icons, even though the Platonic ideas of the beautiful and of vision have been transformed by the light of Tabor."

"Salvation history is seen less as a sacrament than as a narrative unfolded in time. Thus the relationship to the liturgy also changes. It is seen as a kind of symbolic reproduction of the event of the Cross." Ratzinger says that Western devotionalism is more based on the historical events of the Life of Christ and not on the sacramental liturgy which is following the Risen Lord. The Rosary can be seen in this sense as a very Western devotion, while the Jesus Prayer is more Eastern.

"Nevertheless, we should not exaggerate the differences that developed. True, the depiction of Christ dying in pain on the Cross is something new, but it still depicts him who bore our pains, by whose stripes we are healed. In the extremes of pain it represents the redemptive love of God...The[se Crucifixion] images are consoling, because they make visible the overcoming of our anguish in the incarnate God's sharing of our suffering, and so they bear within them the messages of the Resurrection. These images, too, come from prayer, from the interior meditation on the way of Christ. "

Art in the Renaissance emphasized beauty for its own sake, and romanticized pagan imagery flourished, while religious art lost the sense of sacredness. The brutality of the pagans were forgotten but were instead idealized, and the brutality of the Cross was too much for people seeking pleasure to take anymore. "Perhaps the iconoclasm of the Reformation should be understood against this background, though doubtless its roots were extensive."

The Baroque period followed the reforms of the Council of Trent. "In line with the tradition of the West, the Council again emphasized the didactic and pedagogical character of art, but, as a fresh start toward interior renewal, it led once more to a new kind of seeing that comes from and returns within.

"The altarpiece is like a window through which the world of God comes out to us. The curtain of temporality is raised, and we are allowed a glimpse into the inner life of the world of God. This art is intended to insert us into the liturgy of heaven.

"Again and again, we experience a Baroque church as a unique kind of fortissimo of joy, an Alleluia in visual form. "The joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 10). These words from the Old Testament express the basic emotion that animates this iconography. "

"Contemporary culture turned away from the faith and trod another path, so that faith took flight in historicism, the copying of the past, or else attempted compromise or lost itself in resignation and cultural abstinence." This is our present era, where Catholic churches resemble meeting halls: "[t]he last of these led to a new iconoclasm, which has frequently been regarded as virtually mandated by the Second Vatican Council. The destruction of images... Eliminated a lot of kitsch and unworthy art, but ultimately it left behind a void, the wretchedness of which we are now experiencing in a truly acute way." "Today we are experiencing not just a crisis of sacred art, but a crisis of art in general of unprecedented proportions. "

"The crisis of art for its part is a symptom of the crisis of man's very existence." The philosophy of modern science, Positivism, which now pervades our entire culture, sharply narrows our perspectives. "What is more, art itself, which in impressionism and expressionism explored the extreme possibilities of the sense of sight, becomes literally object-less. Art turns into experimenting with self-created worlds, empty "creativity", which no longer perceives the Creator Spiritus, the Creator Spirit. It attempts to take his place, and yet, in so doing, it manages to produce only what is arbitrary and vacuous, bringing home to man the absurdity of his role as creator."

Ratzinger provides a roadmap of what we should do.

Ratzinger's "fundamental principles of an art ordered to divine worship:"

1. Iconoclasm is incompatible with the Incarnation. "Images of beauty, in which the mystery of the invisible God becomes visible, are an essential part of Christian worship." Iconoclasm is not Christian.

2. The subject of sacred art is images of salvation history, from Creation to the Resurrection to the Second Coming. Images of Biblical History have "pride of place", but also histories of the Saints.

3. Images of salvation history should not be just sequences of events, "but display the inner unity of God's action," particularly in reference to the Sacraments, above all, Baptism and the Eucharist. Icons of Christ must contain within all of the central mysteries: the Passion, Resurrection, and Real Presence both now and in the Second Coming.

4. Images of Christ and the Saints are not to be photographs, but must take us beyond the material.

5. The Western Church should consider Orthodox Theology of Icons as normative for herself, without abandoning purely Western devotional-style art, and without rigidly accepting Eastern norms as is established in the Orthodox canons. The Church needs to be open to new intuition and piety, but cannot accept completely free expression.

Ratzinger concludes, "Art cannot be "produced", as one contracts out and produces technical equipment. It is always a gift. Inspiration is not something one can choose for oneself. It has to be received, otherwise it is not there. One cannot bring about a renewal of art in faith by money or through commissions. Before all things it requires the gift of a new kind of seeing. And so it would be worth our while to regain a faith that sees. Wherever that exists, art finds its proper expressions."

Music and Liturgy

Song is present in the Bible, from the Israelites fleeing Egypt in the Book of Genesis, to Heaven in the Book of Revelation. The early song of the Church came from the song of the Temple and synagogues, and the living, unbroken tradition of this song is still heard when monks chant the Divne Office.

"During the nineteenth century, the century of self-emancipating subjectivity, this led in many places to obscuring of the sacred by the operatic. Pope Pius X tried to remove the operatic element from the liturgy and declared Gregorian chant and the great polyphony of the age of the Catholic Reformation to be the standard for liturgical music."

"A clear distinction was made between liturgical music and religious music in general, just as visual art in the liturgy has to conform to different standards from those employed in religious art in general. Art in the liturgy has a very specific responsibility, and precisely as such does it serve as a wellspring of culture, which in the final analysis owes its existence to cult."

There are three recent developments in liturgical music:

1. Enculturation. How much needs to be changed when localizing liturgical music while still being universal? Even traditional Western and Eastern Catholic forms are quite different, and that particular enculturation was never in question.

2. Classical music is now in an elite ghetto and no longer influences popular music. See my article High Art or Low?. Our liturgical music tradition is now relegated to the present obscurity of Classical music.

3. Popular music is no longer the music of the people, however, but is industrially produced for the masses. With Rock music, "the participants sink, as it were, beneath the elemental force of the universe," to where the whisperings of the Holy Spirit cannot be heard. No current popular forms of music are appropriate, in my opinion, to liturgical worship.

Ratzinger proposes three solutions to the current problems in liturgical music:

1. Singing the liturgy takes priority over, but does not exclude instrumental music. The center of liturgical singing is the Paschal Mysteries of the Cross, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Christ. It is based on biblical faith. "It goes without saying that the biblical and liturgical texts are the normative words from which liturgical music has to take its bearings," but it is good that he says it anyway.

2. "Prayer is a gift of the Holy Spirit" and everything is related to Christ, the Word, or logos. "There is always an ultimate sobriety, a deeper rationality, resisting any decline into irrationality and immoderation." The pagan philosophers Plato and Aristotle described two kinds of music, describing two kinds of cultic worship in their day. The Apollonian form " the music that draws senses into spirit and so brings man to wholeness. It does not abolish the senses, but inserts them into the unity of this creature that is man. It elevates the spirit precisely by wedding it to the senses, and it elevates the senses by uniting them with the spirit. Thus this kind of music is an expression of man's special place in the general structure of being." The Dionysian form however, "...drags man into the intoxication of the senses, crushes rationality, and subjects the spirit to the senses." "Does [music] integrate man by drawing him to what is above, or does it cause his disintegration into formless intoxication or mere sensuality? That is the criterion for a music in harmony with logos, a form of that logike latreia (reasonable, logos-worthy worship)." Ratzinger has been highly criticized by the culture for stating that Rock music has no part in the Liturgy, but I think his reasoning is sound.

As an aside, many Bible Christians may be uncomfortable with this constant Catholic quoting of pagan sources, instead of just quoting scripture alone. However, quoting a Bible verse to an atheist is often apparently useless, since the atheist will just say that he is not a believer, and so the argument ends there, and he will listen no longer. Catholics will quote truth from any reasonable source, since truth cannot contradict truth. Atheists can and do listen to Plato and Aristotle, and both of those authors, in their own way, point to God. Also, those authors are the foundation for reason and logic in the world today; no other area of the world has independently developed reason beyond its primitive forms.

3. "Christian Liturgy is always a cosmic liturgy." It extends even beyond space and time and the Communion of Saints. We sing "together with the cherubim and seraphim and with all the choirs of heaven" as in the Book of Isaiah. According to both the ancients and the moderns, the whole cosmos is ordered mathematically, and that those musical notes and harmonies that sound beautiful to us also happen to have the same mathematical ratios that govern the universe. "The beauty of music depends on its conformity to the rhythmic and harmonic laws of the universe. The more that human music adapts itself to the musical laws of the universe, the more beautiful will it be." Mathematics and music are closely related, and expertise in both is usually found in the same persons. But when music became to be seen not as part of a universal harmony, but as the mere subjective will of the musician, then even the whole conception of Christianity is turned upside-down by its application in the Liturgy. "Deconstructionism" in music is the ultimate form of musical subjectivity and anarchism and its rejection may lead us back to the recognition of the universal in music.

We are in a grave crisis in the Church, but what is dead in museums is alive in the Liturgy.

"Today, too, joy in the Lord and contact with His presence in the liturgy has an inexhaustible power of inspiration. The artists who take this task upon themselves need not regard themselves as the rearguard of culture. They are weary of the empty freedom from which they have emerged. Humble submission to what goes before us releases authentic freedom and leads us to the true summit of our vocation as human beings."

The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer

The Christian church building developed directly from the Jewish Temple and synagogues, and so the Old Testament tradition in architecture developed in a living and unbroken way into our New Testament architecture. But for all of the changes that occurred in this tradition, "praying toward the East is a tradition that goes back to the beginning."

But since we now believe that God is everywhere, and that He can be accessed anywhere -- this universality being a consequence of Christianity and its universalism itself -- we don't think that we need a concrete posture for worship, so our church design is now arbitrary. However, this universality is due to revelation, and our religion of the Incarnation -- God becoming man -- is very concrete. So the symbol of the rising sun in the East can be very appropriately used, like icons can be used by Christians.

In Byzantine churches, the people, and the priest, all face to the altar, which is to the East. Due to geography though, Saint Peter's basilica faces to the West, and the altar is not joined to the wall, so the priest has to face the people so that he can pray in the Eastern direction. During the Eucharistic Prayer, the people would turn around and face East also. This model was copied to other major basilicas. Liturgical change in recent decades followed this "alleged model", that mass was to be said versus populum, or toward the people -- but this is a novelty without precedent. "...priest and people looked at each other and formed together the circle of the celebrating community," being "...the primordial model of the Last Supper."

The communal meal analogy fails because in ancient banquets, all participants sat on the same side of a single table. Also, the Eucharist is also remembrance of the Cross and a fulfillment of the Temple sacrifices, so the elements of both the Cross and of an altar of sacrifice is critical. Finally, the ancient tradition of altars being made over tombs of martyrs reminds us that the Church is made of living stones, in this case of the living Saints in Heaven.

Subtly, the traditional orientation to the East was denigrated by labeling it as "celebrating towards the wall" or "turning your back on the people". "In reality what happened was that an unprecedented clericalization came on the scene. Now the priest -- the "presider", as they now prefer to call him -- becomes the real point of reference for the whole Liturgy. Everything depends on him. We have to see him, to respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing." Ratzinger observers that "Not surprisingly, people try to reduce this newly created role by assigning all kinds of liturgical functions to different individuals and entrusting the "creative" planning of the Liturgy to groups of people who like to, and are supposed to, "make a contribution of their own". Less and less is God in the picture. More and more important is what is done by the human beings who meet here and do not like to subject themselves to a "pre-determined pattern"."

Nowadays people celebrate in a self-enclosed circle, excluding others, instead of the priest and congregation together progressing towards Christ.

Ratzinger says that all reforms are not to be rejected. The altar should be brought closer to the people. The Liturgy of the Word should be kept distinct from the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and should be proclaimed facing the people, and the Psalm should be heard and responded to by the people.

However, "...a common turning to the East during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential." " Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord. It is not now a question of dialogue, but of common worship... What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle, but the common movement forward expressed in a common direction for prayer...."

Some object that we should not look to the East or at a crucifix during common prayer, but towards each other, to see God in our fellow man. Ratzinger says this is not a serious argument. We do not see God in man in a photographic way with our senses but in an interior way with our faith. I used to attend Mass at a church-in-the-round and found that kind of worship highly distracting and hardly leading to holiness. This attitude also leads to pantheism or materialism.

"Are we really going to re-order everything all over again? Nothing is more harmful to the Liturgy than constant changes, even if it seems to be for the sake of genuine renewal." Orientation to the actual East is often not practical, but a common orientation to the Cross, located in a central place in the middle of the altar, can "be the common point of focus for both priest and praying community."

"This mistake should be corrected as quickly as possible; it can be done without further rebuilding. The Lord is the point of reference. He is the rising sun of history."

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