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The Spirit of the Liturgy Hardcover – September 1, 2000
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This magnificent little book is divided into four parts, each of which has its own chapters.
Part One: The Essence of the Liturgy
1. Liturgy and Life: The Place of the Liturgy in Reality
3. From Old Testament to New: The Fundamental Form of the Christian Liturgy-Its Determination by Biblical Faith
Part Two: Time and Space in the Liturgy
1. The Relationship of the Liturgy to Time and Space: Some Preliminary Questions
2. Sacred Places-The Significance of the Church Building
3. The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer
4. The Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament
5. Sacred Time
Part Three: Art and Liturgy
1. The Question of Images
2. Music and Liturgy
Part Four: Liturgical Form
2. The Body and the Liturgy (sub-divided into "Active Participation," The Sign of the Cross, Posture (Kneeling (prostration), Standing and Sitting - Liturgy and Culture), Gestures, The Human Voice, Vestments, Matter)
While this book is scholarly, its deepest insights have no doubt been long understood by pious people with little formal education. While there is no way to do justice to this masterpiece in a brief review, I would like to share a few of my own favorite snippets.
Part One's Liturgy and Life concludes as follows: "The narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship. Ultimately, it is no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one's own resources. Then liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around. Or still worse it becomes an apostasy from the living God, an apostasy in sacral disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God" (p. 23).
In the concluding paragraph of Part Two's The Relationship of the Liturgy to Time and Space, we are reminded that: "We do indeed participate in the Heavenly liturgy, but this participation is mediated to us through earthly signs....The liturgy is the means by which earthly time is inserted into the time of Jesus Christ and into its present. It is the turning point in the process of redemption. The Shepherd takes the lost sheep onto His shoulders and carries it home" (p. 61).
As per Part Two's The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer: "even in architecture, there is both continuity and newness in the relationship of the Old Testament to the New....praying toward the east is a tradition that goes back to the beginning....what about the altar? In what direction should we pray during the Eucharistic liturgy?....[In recent times, there was] a misunderstanding of the significance of the Roman basilica and of the positioning of the altar....[Previously] the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together `toward the Lord'....The point is to discover the essence amid all the changing appearances. It would surely be a mistake to reject all the reforms of our century wholesale....a common turning to the east during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential....What matters is looking together at the Lord....Where a direct common turning toward the east is not possible, the cross can serve as the interior 'east' of faith. It should stand in the middle of the altar and be the common point of focus for both priest and praying community" (pp. 74 - 83).
As per the very last sentence of Part Two's The Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament, "If the Presence of the Lord is to touch us in a concrete way, the tabernacle must also find its proper place in the architecture of our church buildings" (p. 91).
As per Part Three's The Question of Images: "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. Two of these images appeared in the East at about the same time in the middle of the sixth century....The second was the mandylion, as it was later called, which was brought from Edessa in Syria to Constantinople and is thought by many scholars today to be identical with the Shroud of Turin" (p. 119). About a month and a half prior to this writing, I was privileged and blessed to be in Turin and to see the Shroud! (As per another review I penned: "While the Church has not definitively said so, there are compelling reasons to think that the Shroud of Turin and the Veil of Manoppello are the burial cloths described in John: 20. Paul Badde believes that seeing these marked the beginning of Jesus' sheepish pals becoming powerful witnesses" (cf., The True Icon: From the Shroud of Turin to the Veil of Manoppello). While the Veil is less well known than the Shroud, Badde maintains that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI believes this of the Veil.).
As per Part Four's Rite, "the liturgy becomes personal, true, and new, not through tomfoolery and banal experiments with the words, but through a courageous entry into the great reality that through the rite is always ahead of us and can never quite be overtaken" (p. 169).
As per Part Four's The Body and the Liturgy, "one must be lead toward the essential action that makes the liturgy what it is, toward the transforming power of God, who wants, through what happens in the liturgy, to transform us and the world. In this respect, liturgical education today, of both priests and laity, is deficient to a deplorable extent. Much remains to be done here" (p. 175).
This book is filled with tremendous insights. I’ll only mention a few. Ratzinger spends nearly two chapters addressing the celebration of Mass ad orientam. He explains that this is the consistent tradition of the Church. It even precedes the Church. In the Jewish synagogues, they prayed toward the Temple in Jerusalem. Christ himself is the true Temple. And it is right for us to pray to Christ in the East. He is the rising son. In praying ad orientam, we recall Christ’s Resurrection and await his second coming. Our prayers are directed to God, not to one another. Ratzinger explains that the practice of versus populum has no basis in the entire history of the Church. It is a historical accident that St. Peter’s Basilica faces west. Thus, to face East, the Pope ends up facing the congregation, but this is of no significance. He is facing East. Ratzinger again refers to the practice in the Jewish synagogues. First, there was the reading from the Chair of Moses. Now, we read from the Gospels. Then, there was a sacrificial aspect of the liturgy. This was directed toward Jerusalem and the Temple. Ratzinger does not object to the priest at Mass proclaiming the readings facing the people; he thinks this may even be better. But then the people and priest should turn to the Lord, with the priest offering the Eucharistic sacrifice at the altar. Where churches do not face East, the priest can face the tabernacle--a sort of liturgical East. Or if it’s impossible without reconfiguring the altar, the priest can face the crucifix on the altar. But it is critical that the Eucharistic sacrifice be accomplished facing Christ.
Ratzinger offers some general principles regarding sacred music, art, and architecture. He distinguishes between the sacred and the religious. Religious art can have more freedom, but sacred art must be rooted in certain principles that come from the Church. Regarding music, this requires fidelity to the liturgical text. The Church’s songbook from comes from the 150 psalms of the Old Testament. In David’s psalms, we actually sing the songs of Christ. The early Church adopted the psalms as its principal song book. Our sacred music must be rooted here.
This book is well worth re-reading.
Author Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) is one of the Catholic Churches foremost theologians and, possibly, its best teacher. While not a quick, easy read, he has taken care to write a readable book for lay and clergy alike. This book will appeal to those who have a real interest in the liturgy of the Catholic Church - the Mass, the use of art, posture (sitting, standing, and kneeling) - and/or in its theological/historical basis.
Ratzinger begins the book with a discussion on what liturgy is, and how it serves us as a center and source of inspiration, an anchor in an uncertain world. He writes extensively on the roots of worship (bound up with three dimensions - personal, social, and the universal), the relationship of God to man, a sacred space, a sacred time, and mediating symbols.
Ratzinger includes the events and history around the setting of the major Christian feast days, Easter and Christmas. As an example, pegging Christmas to December 25th related both to the feast of the Annunciation, and to the time of the winter solstice. The latter was important as up to this day, dark days increase but from this day, the darkness decreases. Theologically: "The light advances while the night retreats; Christ must increase but I must decrease."
My review covers only a sliver of Cardinal Ratzinger's valuable work. I have over nine pages of high quality notes from "Spirit" which I would love to share with you, but believe you would be better served to buy a copy to read if this provokes your interest. You will not be disappointed.