Pope Benedict XVI on the Crisis of the Church, God, and the Liturgy

As katholisch.de reports, Benedict XVI received an additional ecumenical birthday gift five months after his 90th birthday. The Russian Orthodox metropolitan Hilarion gave him a copy of the Russian edition of the volume on liturgy from Ratzinger’s complete works. It appeared with the title “Theology of the Liturgy” from the publish house of the Moscow Patriarchate. In fact, Benedict XVI himself wrote the foreword for the Russian edition.

Today La Stampa published the entire text of Benedict’s foreword. Here is my quick translation of Benedict’s text from the Italian – I welcome your improvements and corrections.

Let nothing be preferred to the sacred liturgy. With these words in his Rule (43:3) St. Benedict established the absolute priority of the sacred liturgy over any other task of monastic life. But even in monastic life this was not immediately taken into account, because agricultural and intellectual work was also an essential task for monks. In agriculture as well as in the crafts and the work of formation, there could be some temporal matters that might appear more important than the liturgy. Against this backdrop, Benedict, with the priority given to the liturgy, unequivocally emphasizes the priority of God himself in our lives: “On hearing the signal for an hour of the divine office, the monk will immediately set aside what he has in hand, yet with gravity.”

In the consciousness of the people of today, the things of God and thus of the liturgy do not appear at all urgent. There is an urgency about every possible thing. But the matter of God does not seem to be urgent. Now one might point out that monastic life is in any case something different from the life of people in the world, and that is certainly correct. And yet the priority of God whom we have forgotten holds true for everyone. If God is no longer important, the criteria for establishing what is important are displaced. Humans, in putting aside God, submit themselves to the constraints that make them the slave of material forces and thus at odds with their dignity.

In the years following the Second Vatican Council I became aware again of the priority of God and of the sacred liturgy. The misunderstanding of the liturgical reform which has spread widely in the Catholic Church has led to more and more emphasis on the aspects of education and one’s own activity and creativity. The doings of people almost obliterated the presence of God. In such a situation it became increasingly clear that the Church’s existence lives from proper celebration of the liturgy and that the Church is in danger when the primacy of God no longer appears in the liturgy nor consequently in life.

The deepest cause of the crisis that has upset the Church lies in the obscuring of the priority of God in the liturgy. All this led me to devote myself to the theme of the liturgy more than previously because I knew that the true renewal of the liturgy is a fundamental condition for the renewal of the Church. Based on this belief, the studies that have been collected in this volume 11 of the Opera Omnia were born. But fundamentally, the essence of the liturgy in the East and West, albeit with all the differences, is one and the same. And so I hope that this book will also help the Christians of Russia to understand in a new and better way the great gift that has been given to us in the sacred liturgy.










9 responses to “Pope Benedict XVI on the Crisis of the Church, God, and the Liturgy”

  1. Chip Stalter Avatar
    Chip Stalter

    If, as I have often heard, the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith, and the liturgy is the means by which we have the Eucharist, it makes sense to me that the Liturgy must be the priority. And that liturgy should be sacred and worthy of the Eucharist whether NO or EF.

  2. Bill deHaas Avatar

    Sorry – find this *problem* to be in the mind of Benedict. Did not God *create* us to use our talents, skills, etc. to praise him (he appears to dismiss in a negative way folks participating via various roles, etc.)? Is the Eucharist not a *community activity* – Benedict appears to focus on an aspect of individualism?
    Just some idle thoughts?

    1. Ronald Smith Avatar
      Ronald Smith

      It is not a matter of individual vs community, but of right worship. God completed his creation in six days, then elevated it on the seventh to ‘blessing and resting’ with him – a formula for liturgy. The first chapter in Genesis lays out creation in the form of a temple –
      the ‘dome’ of the sky. He placed man in a ‘garden’ representing the holy sanctuary, where man could ’till the garden’ – perform the work of the temple. In the middle was the tree of life – the cross, and the fruit/bread of life – the eucharist.

  3. Jim McKay Avatar
    Jim McKay

    “The priority of God”

    In English, at least, this has two meanings:
    1) God is our priority, the focus of our concern. This is the way Benedict means it, I am sure.

    2) God cares most about this. God so loved the world… I desire mercy, not sacrifice…

    Can God be our priority if we do not focus on God’s priorities? While I agree with, even love, much of what Benedict has written, this is questionable. The most obvious example is his preference for facing East, because the Sun come from the East, over facing the altar, from which the Son comes to us. Or preferring sacrifice language, though sacrifice is shared through a meal, over meal language, though shared meals require sacrifice.

    Those are quick restatements meant to show how close different sides of this question are. They sound trite because of their brevity.

    1. Margaret Duffy Avatar

      Umm. I think that when one is facing east one is, in fact (and certainly was for many centuries) also facing the altar. Tradionally, altars have been situated against the east wall of the nave or in the apse, which forms the east end of the church, and Mass would be celebrated with both priest and congregation facing it, which also means facing east. Altars facing in other directions or with a detached altar with the priest facing the congregation (which also means in most places that he is facing west) is a very modern idea.

      1. Anthony Ruff, OSB Avatar
        Anthony Ruff, OSB

        The history is actually more complicated than you suggest – and the theology infinitely more so! And the real issue is that the history is being used as a pawn in our post-Vatican II liturgy wars, so that people cite history to push their current-day agendas.

        Here are some posts Pray Tell has put up on the topic:

        “Martin Stuflesser on the Orientation of the Presider”:

        “Liturgical Orientation and Idolatry”:

        “Did the Presider Face East in the Early Church?”

        “Celebration Facing the People: A Centuries-Old Practice”:

        “The Worst Cases for Ad Orientem”:


  4. Devin Rice Avatar
    Devin Rice

    It is always good to see Metropolitan Hilarion & BXVI together. I have always suspected if Providence would have allowed these two more opportunities to work together, much fruit would have been harvested.

    As an aside, do any of the readers here know where I would be able to find in English the collect and the 2nd Reading from Matins for the memorial of St. John XXIII? The USCCB and Vatican provide the texts for JP2 but not JXXIII.

  5. Christina Tsuchida Avatar
    Christina Tsuchida

    It seems to me that here in Japan, we are experiencing a revival of interest in KAMI (Japanese word used to translate “God” but not specific about singular or plural) and in Shinto (or Kami no Michi). The complete forgetfulness of God described in the brief quote of retired Pope Benedict XVI may be limited to Europe. Is it not important, however, to distinguish “God” from what we might call “a concept of God”? These latter vary much (and former Pope Benedict’s work in the Vatican before his election involved some rejection of other concepts as determined to lead humans astray). As a Cardinal, he is said to have concluded that Hindu or Buddhist meditation practices are dangerous in themselves. I have sometimes agreed with him, but further study and reflection leads me to conclude that the dangers are not worse than those encountered in Christian prayer practice, even with very regular Church support. Certainly, the examples of these traditions DO free humans from enslavement to the powers of the time and the universe. Alas, even when one has linked up with Church guidance and regular sacramental life, one may fall prey to dangers similar to those of solitary meditation attempting to follow, say, a Hindu tradition. Even if one chooses from comparative ethics the best and highest standards for imitation, there is no guarantee due to belonging to this tradition over that of being “saved” at least as far as this life is concerned. Is it not important to seek “res sine verbis”–God as [mysteriously] ‘He’ is, not merely one concept of ‘Him’? In Buddhism, this might mean looking variously at Nirvana, the Buddha nature, the Buddhas and Bodhisatvas who have come and who are to come, even the Sangha as historically linked to the Buddha Shakyamuni, the Dharma-body of the Buddha, and so forth. In Hindu philosophy, what Europeans have called God’s “presence of immensity” (Abbe Monchanin, “Hermites du Satchitananda”) cannot be different from God conceived as Trinity.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: