Friday, August 1, 2008

"Recouping" the Sacred

"Why Ratzinger is recouping the sacred"

by Marco Politi in La Repubblica

The signal was unmistakable. First Corpus Christi in Rome, then seen live all over the word from Sydney. Benedict XVI is demanding that, before him, Communion be received on one’s knees. It is one of many reclamations of this pontificate: Latin, the "Tridentine" Mass, celebration with the back to the faithful (+ mcitl: better put, celebration with all the faithful, including the priest, facing God together).

Pope Ratzinger has a plan and the Sri Lankan [Archbishop] Malcolm Ranjith, whom the Pontiff wanted with him in the Vatican as Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, lays it out with efficacy.

Attention to liturgy, he explains, has the objective of an "openness to the transcendent". At the request of the Pope, Ranjith states in advance, the Congregation for Divine Worship is preparing a Compendium on the Eucharist to help priests to "prepare themselves well for Eucharistic celebration and adoration".

Does Communion kneeling aim in this direction?

"In the liturgy one feels the necessity to recover the sense of the sacred, above all in Eucharistic celebration. Since we believe that what happens at the altar goes far beyond what we can humanly imagine. And so the faith of the Church in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species is expressed through adequate gestures and comportments different from those of daily life".

Indicating a discontinuity?

"We are not in front of a political figure or a personage of modern society, but before God. When the presence of eternal God descends on the altar, we must place ourselves in a posture more apt for adoring It. In my culture, in Sri Lanka, we ought to prostrate ourselves with head to the pavement as the buddhists and muslims do in prayer."

Does putting the Host in the hand diminish the sense of transcendence of the Eucharist?

"Yes, in a certain sense. It risks that the communicant feels It to be as normal bread. The Holy Father speaks often of the necessity of safeguarding the sense of 'otherness' in the liturgy in its every expression. The gesture of taking the Sacred Host and putting it ourselves in the mouth and not receiving It reduces the profound meaning of Communion."

Is there a desire to oppose trends that banalize the Mass?

"In some places that sense of the eternal, sacred or heavenly has been lost. There was a tendency to put man at the center of the celebration, and not the Lord. But the Second Vatican Council speaks clearly about the liturgy as actio Dei, actio Christi. Instead, in certain liturgical circles, either for an ideology or a certain intellectualism as you please, the idea spread of a liturgy adaptable to various situations, in which one had to leave room for creativity, so that it be accessible and acceptable to all. Then, rather, there were those who introduced innovations without even respecting the sensus fidei and the spiritual sentiments of the faithful."

At times even bishops grap the microphone and go out to their listeners with questions and answers.

"The modern danger is that the priest thinks that he is at the center of the action. In that way the rite can take on an aspect of theatre or the performance of a television host. The celebrant sees the people who see him as the point of reference and there is a risk that, to have the greatest success possible with the public, he makes up gestures and expressions as if he were the main character."

What would be the right attitude?

"When the priest knows that it is not he at the center, but Christ. In humble service to the Lord and the Church respecting the liturgy and its rules, as something to be received and not to be invented, it means leaving greater room for the Lord, because through the priest as the instrument He can spark the awareness of the faithful."

Are sermons by lay people also deviations?

"Yes. Because the sermon, as the Holy Father says, is the way in which Revelation and the great Tradition of the Church is explained, so that the Word of God can inspire the life of the faithful in their daily choices and render the liturgical celebration rich with spiritual fruits. The liturgical tradition of the Church reserves the sermon to the celebrant. To bishops, to priests, and to deacons. But not to laypeople."

Absolutely not?

"Not because they are not capable of making a reflection, but because in the liturgy roles must be respected. There exists, as the Council said, a difference ‘in essence and not only in grade' between the common priesthood of all the baptized and that of priests".

Some time ago Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) was complaining about the loss in the rites of the sense of mystery.

"Often the conciliar reform was interpreted or considered in a way not entirely in conformity with the mind of Vatican II. The Holy Father defines this tendency as the ‘anti-spirit’ of the Council.

A year now since the full reintroduction of the Tridentine Mass (Extraordinary Form or EF), what is the assessment?

"The Tridentine Mass (EF) has its very profound internal values which reflect the whole tradition of the Church. There is more respect toward the sacred through gestures, genuflections, the times of silence. There is greater room reserved for reflection on the action of the Lord and also for the celebrant’s personal sense of devotion, who offers the sacrifice not only for the faithful but also for his own sins and his own salvation. Some important elements of the old rite can help also a reflection on the manner of celebrating the Novus Ordo (Ordinary Form). We are in the midst of a journey."

Some day in the future is there foreseen a rite that takes the best of the old and of the new?

"That could be, ... but perhaps I don’t see that. I think that in the coming decades we will move toward a comprehensive evaluation both of the older rite and of the new, safeguarding whatever is eternal and supernatural happening at the altar and reducing every desire to be the in the limelight so as to leave space for effective contact between the faithful and the Lord through the figure, but not predominantly, of the priest."

With alternative positions of the celebrant? When the priest would be turned around toward the apse?

"You could consider the offertory, when the offerings are brought to the priest, and from there all the way to the Eucharistic prayer, which represents the culminating moment of "transsubstantiatio" and "communio".

The priest who turns his back disorients the faithful.

"It is a mistake to speak in that way. On the contrary, he is turned to the Lord together with the people. The Holy Father, in his book The Spirit of the Council, explained that when people are sitting around looking at each other, a closed circle is formed. But when the priest and the faithful together a looking to the East, toward the Lord who comes, that is a way of opening up to the eternal".

In this view you put also the rehabilitation (recupero) of Latin?

"I don’t like the word ‘rehabilitation’. We are implementing the Second Vatican Council, which explicitly affirmed that the use of the Latin language, except in the case of particular law, was to be preserved in the Latin Rites. So, if room was also left for the introduction of vernacular languages, Latin wasn’t to be completely abandoned. The use of a sacred language is a tradition in the whole world. In Hinduism the language of prayer is Sanskrit, which isn’t in use anymore. In Buddhism Pali is used, a language which only Buddist monks study. In Islam the Arabic of the Koran is used. The use of a sacred language helps us to a lived experience of 'otherness'".

Latin as the sacred language of the Church?

"Of course. The Holy Father himself speaks in his Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum caritatis in paragraph 62: 'In order to express more clearly the unity and universality of the Church, I wish to endorse the proposal made by the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the directives of the Second Vatican Council, that, with the exception of the readings, the homily and the prayer of the faithful, it is fitting that such liturgies be celebrated in Latin.' Of course, in during international gatherings."

What does Benedict XVI want to accomplish, giving new force back to the liturgy?

"The Pope wants to offer the possibility of arriving at the wonder of life in Christ, a life that in the very living here on earth already leads us to sense the freedom and the eternity belonging to the children of God. And this kind of experience is lived powerfully through an authentic renewal of the faith which presupposes a foretaste of the heavenly reality in the liturgy one believes in, one celebrates and one lives. The Church is, and must become, the powerful instrument and the means for this liberating liturgical experience. And it is her liturgy that makes it possible to spark such an experience in her faithful".

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