June 3, 2017, Saturday, Eve of the Feast of Pentecost
“I’m going to let you have this missal. It will be the most important book you will ever own…” —My father to me, handing me his own Latin-English missal of the liturgy of the old Mass in 1960; I was six years old
“In 1918… the (Roman Catholic) liturgy was rather like a fresco. It had been preserved from damage, but it had been almost completely overlaid with whitewash by later generations… The fresco was laid bare by the Liturgical Movement and, in a definitive way, by the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). But since then the fresco has been endangered… In fact, it is threatened with destruction, if the necessary steps are not taken… What is imperative is a new reverence in the way we treat it, a new understanding of its message and its reality, so that rediscovery does not become the first stage of irreparable loss.” —Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco 2000), Preface, p. 7-8.
“…And every phrase
And sentence that is right…
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning…”
—T. S. Eliot, from his poem Little Gidding, one of The Four Quartets
“Take the Ratzinger book on the liturgy. It will be one less item to sort through when the time comes…” —My father, the last time I visited with him; he is 90 years old
A Much-Thumbed Book
Before me on my writing desk lies a much-thumbed and much-annotated book, owned by my father, until he gave it to me recently, just after his 90th birthday.
It is The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, published in the year 2000 by Ignatius Press in San Francisco.
Some consider it the single most important, profound book on the liturgy published in the past 100 years.
The book is now 17 years old — published on January 1, 2000, in its original German edition, and a few months later in English.
The year 2000 was five years before Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, seven years before he promulgated Summorum Pontificum in 2007 (the July 7 motu proprio which permitted the wider use of the old liturgy, in the face of much opposition and sharp criticism from many of the world’s bishops, who would never forgive him for that decision) and long before 2013, when he suddenly and unexpectedly retired from his post… a little more than four years ago now.
Here is a picture of the book; it is the one on the left:
On the right of the Ratzinger liturgy book is another book, a new one, from this year, 2017, containing a series of essays given as a gift to Emeritus Pope Benedict on his own 90 birthday on April 16 — as a Festschrift, to use the German term, that is, a collection of essays composed for a scholar or mentor on the occasion of a special anniversary. The words Cooperatores Veritatis are the Latin for “Co-Workers of the Truth,” the episcopal motto Joseph Ratzinger chose for his coat-of-arms when he was consecrated a bishop in 1977… There are several essays in this book of considerable interest, and I will be citing from them…
My copy of The Spirit of the Liturgy contains many of my father’s notes on the text, some summaries, some underlinings, some observations…
So my intention is to read through the entire book, and all of my father’s notes, and to write a commentary on the book, but also on his notes.
In the process, I hope to come to a clearer understanding of the nature and meaning of the Catholic liturgy, and at the same time, to understand better the mind of Joseph Ratzinger, and of my own father.
In a profound sense, then, this commentary will also be a type of exploration of my own relationship to two very different men who have influenced me deeply.
“This is the use of memory:
For liberation — not less of love but expanding
Of love beyond desire, and so liberation
From the future as well as the past…” —T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding
(to be continued)