Following on from an earlier post dealing with the introductory remarks in then-Professor Joseph Ratzinger’s prescient 1966 article, “Catholicism after the Council”, it is time to move to the next part of that article, Liturgical Reform. Here again we see that even before the watershed year of 1968 Ratzinger was questioning the implementation of the decrees of the Council in which he played such a major rôle.
(NB By way of experiment Ratzinger’s own words not already blockquoted will be in a different colour to give them their due prominence.)
At the outset of this section of the article, Fr Ratzinger acknowledges a real problem regarding the post-conciliar liturgical reform:
But this very reform, so eagerly longed for and so joyfully welcomed, has become for many people “a sign of contradiction”.
He asserts straight way that “something really great and important” has been achieved in the reform, and introduces the two most common objections being then raised against it. The first is “ the movement towards the vernacular“, which was being lamented by many as denying to “the element of mystery in religion… a language all its own“, and also removing from the unity of the Church’s members across the globe its “linguistic extension… in the language of their worship” and their unity across time in those “who have praised and will praise God in the same way and in the very same language“.
The second feature being lamented was “the movement towards the community and communal worship” which eliminates “a sacred silence which is more suited to the mystery in religious worship than loud speech, a silence in which God can speak more audibly and in which the individual can really encounter his Lord…“, an encounter that suffers in the
uninterrupted succession of praying aloud, singing, standing, sitting, kneeling and so on. Liturgy then degenerates into movement and activity for its own sake, and this takes the place of the one thing that is vital in worship, namely the encounter between the individual soul and God.
Ratzinger has given a remarkably even-handed description of these objections given that he prefaced them by asserting that there would be “no difficulty in dismissing as superficial and unjustified the[se] two objections“. To them he briefly adds a third, “an iconoclastic strain in present-day communal worship” which replaces “artistic treasures of music and song” with
mob declamations which, in their want of taste and dignity, are neither suited to the greatness of the mystery being celebrated nor calculated to attract people to worship – if anything, they have rather the effect of repelling them.
It is worth pausing here to re-read what Ratzinger has just written. He is directly quoting no-one, but presenting in his own words the primary objections to the post-conciliar liturgical reforms as they were already manifesting themselves in Europe in 1966. Even though he feels they can be dismissed, his refusal to caricature or ridicule them suggests already to the alert reader a certain, if incipient, degree of sympathy. Perhaps he is beginning to feel torn.
Professor Ratzinger now sets out to deal with the matters raised by these objections by employing two categories: theory and practice. On the level of theory he seeks to show how untenable he believes these objections are, and how valid are the conciliar principles of liturgical reform. For this post we shall look at his comments regarding the theory; the next post will address his commentary on the practice.
Ratzinger has little time for the general tenor of the appeal to mystery:
We can easily prove that the argument about the element of mystery in religion is not a valid one, anymore than is the argument about retreat into the silence of individual piety, not to be disturbed by the community at worship; in fact, both these arguments stem from a basic failure to understand the essence of Christian worship.
He then proposes a more adequate understanding:
The essence of Christian worship is that it is the announcement of the Glad Tidings of God to the congregation bodily present, the answering acceptance by the congregation of this acceptance, and the whole Church talking together to God… Thus the liturgy, viewed solely from its linguistic structure, is built on an intermingling of the “I” and the “ye”, which are then being continually being united in the “we” of the whole Church speaking to God through Christ.
It is important to keep in mind he is speaking of the liturgy through the logic of its verbal structure, how it reveals itself in the language it employs. In a sense, it is to see how the liturgy understands itself through what it reveals of itself in its own language. So in liturgy,
language is not for the purpose of concealment but for the purpose of revealing, it is not meant to allow each one to retreat into the stillness of his own little island of prayer but rather to lead all together into the single “we” of the children of God, who say all together : Our Father.
On this understanding, the subject in the liturgy is not the individual but the Church, in particular the Church as embodied in the congregation gathered for worship. This authentic view is fostered by the conciliar releasing “of the word from the fetters of ritual… [to give] it back its original significance as a word”. He gives a particularly sharply-edged illustration:
We are gradually becoming aware today of how meaningless it was, in fact, of how unworthy and dishonest it was, when the priest prayed before the Gospel that God might purify his heart and lips… so that he might worthily and in a becoming manner proclaim the Word of God, when he knew very well that he was about to murmur this Word of God softly to himself just as he had done with the prayer, without any thought of proclaiming it… The word has lost its meaning and had become an empty ritual, and what the liturgical reform has done here was simply to restore meaning and validity to the word and to the Church’s worship which was enshrined in it.
Ratzinger here touches on a subject that I am yet to see satisfactorily dealt with by more exclusivist proponents of the Extraordinary Form. Silence does indeed have a place in the liturgy, but its true value comes from its contrast to the ritual language and action. Silence allows the word to echo, or resound, in our minds and hearts, to implant itself more deeply within us. This process is short-circuited when there is nothing but word and action. Yet it can never begin unless there are words actually proclaimed in the first place that can then echo in our hearts.
Naturally, the words in question are generally those addressed to the people, though it can be argued the the collects and prayers offered on behalf of the people by the priest should be heard by those very same people: it is their prayer too. The silent canon, however, is more easily justified since the words are changeless, needing no fresh proclamation in the ears of the people. It is a most intimate moment of Christ addressing his Father, an intimacy heightened by the inaudibility of its words.
This example from Ratzinger is, I presume, the sort of thing that the Council Fathers had in mind for the liturgical reform: that the ritual words and the ritual action should be more clearly in harmony, and make sense of each other. The attendant danger, of course, is to over-rationalize liturgy, to subject it to the efficiencies of time-and-motion experts, which would be to make it more and more exclusively a work of man. Nor does this mean that the whole of the liturgy was in need of such refinement. It is still totally beyond me why the Eucharistic Canon had to be changed, and even others added. I can find so conciliar justification, however oblique, for this unnecessary tampering.
Ratzinger now moves, reversing the order of the objections, from the matter of the communal nature of the liturgy to the matter of its language, which is to say, its tongue. The argument that the Latin liturgy must be retained so “that the Catholic should be able to find it wherever he goes, even on Mars or the moon…” (NB Ratzinger is not being sarcastic; he is referring explicitly to Friedrich Heer’s critique.) This, says Ratzinger, “would amount to making the liturgy a museum piece, an artistic and aesthetic treasure from the past”. He makes a more positive argument in favour of the vernacular by referring to St Paul’s assertion that he would rather speak 5 intelligible words than 10,000 in a tongue (I Cor 14:19). Though St Paul had in his sights the practice of ecstatic speaking in tongues or glossolalia, nevertheless it is on the basis of this Pauline teaching that “the Greek liturgy, which by this time had become unintelligible, was translated into Latin in Rome in the fourth century, in other words, it was made available again in the vernacular of the time”. Ratzinger cites liturgical historian Theodore Klauser in agreement that the Roman liturgists in the fourth century were confusing the unintelligibility of glossolalia with the incomprehensibility of a foreign language. Nevertheless,
St Paul would have had no objection whatever to this interpretation of his pronouncements; even if he was referring to glossolalic utterances rather than foreign languages, the one was just as much at variance with his idea of liturgy as the other.
Ratzinger dismisses the idea of a language of mystery for the liturgy, as if the veiling of the liturgy in words not understood by the majority somehow safeguards, or even enhances, the mystery embodied in the Sacred Mysteries. The text of the Mass details an engagement, and even a dialogue, at the appropriate times, between priest and people which does not sit harmoniously with the employment of a mystery language. For “it is not the purpose of liturgy to fill us with awe and terror in the presence of sacred things… [nor] to provide a festive and richly-adorned setting for silent meditation and communion of the soul with itself, but rather to incorporate us into the ‘we’ of the children of God”.
That said, there are still compelling arguments for the retention of Latin as the universal language of the liturgy. Its use would eliminate the divisive debates about vernacular translations especially in such political languages as English. Moreover, in a word growing smaller yet more divided the use of Latin would circumvent ethnic and national tensions and provide a point of unity. How tragically absurd it was, for example, that in the wake of the Council the great Catholic University of Leuven/Louvain in Belgium was split in two between Flemish and Walloons, as indeed were some Belgian monasteries.
It is very much a 1960s theologian speaking here. That said, Ratzinger raises issues that still demand the attention of those whose preference is for the pre-conciliar Mass, especially those who would prefer to restore it as the sole liturgical form for the western Church. These issues do seem to be faced in the liturgies of 1964-67, even if by 1967 the observant could see where it would all end in 1970. Ratzinger appears to be one of them, to judge by his critique of the post-conciliar liturgical practice as it was rapidly developing. That critique is for the next post, act II of Part 2!