Wednesday, February 27, 2013

One Estimation of Pope Benedict's Influence on the Roman Liturgy.

Vatican Radio recently conducted an interview featuring Monsignor Wadsworth  highlighting the liturgical importance of Pope Benedict XVI. Among other things, Wadsworth states, "I think we will be unpacking the significance of his impact on the liturgy for many years to come." This complements the editorial content of the piece: 


One of the lasting legacies of Benedict XVI’s pontificate will be the mark he has left on the Liturgy as it is celebrated today. In short, he has re-focused our attention on how we, as Catholics, celebrate our faith in the light of tradition. From his highly discussed 2007 Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontififcum, to his approval of the equally debated New English Language translation of the Roman Missal; from his elimination of all rites and gestures that are not specifically sacramental in nature from Papal liturgies to his recent changes to rites for the beginning of a pontificate, the Ordo Rituum pro Ministerii Petrini Initio Romae Episcopi, Benedict XVI has brought the Universal Churches’ focus back to prayer and the Eucharist, the source and summit of what makes us Church. In a way Benedict XVI has been a supremely liturgical Pope.


First, the well received Ordo Rituum pro Ministerii Petrini Initio Romae Episcopi was largely the pride and joy of the former pontifical MC, the often vilified Piero Marini. It was the climax of his liturgical theory (in the Latin language). Begun during the papacy of John Paul II by a man who was fully devoted to his mentor, Archbishop Bugnini, the Ordo Rituum pro Ministerii Petrini Initio Romae Episcopi received approval for publication by Pope Benedict XVI for his own papal inauguration. It was, along with Ordo Rituum Exsequiarum and Ordo Rituum Conclavis, one of three new liturgical books published with the influence of Piero Marini's hand.  Indeed, in light of the praise which even Benedict XVI lavished upon Marini's liturgical composition, it was a surprise in many quarters that Piero was effectively exiled to liturgical obscurity. Benedict's alterations to the ordo, according to published reports, the changes concern the separation of non sacramental rites and gestures from the Mass itself as well as the restoration of act of obedience by the college of cardinals. Additionally, provision has been made for the newly installed pontiff to visit St. Paul Outside the Walls and St. Mary Major when he deems fit (as opposed to within two weeks) and the allowance for an expanded repetiore of chant. The book remains substantially the work of Piero Marini and, it is to be noted, the Odro Rituum Conclavis remains unchanged. I've highlighted the substantial influence of Piero Marini on the Ordo Rituum pro Ministerii Petrini Initio Romae Episcopi to provide some much needed perspective - this liturgy remains essentially Marini's liturgy and the suggestion that Benedict engaged in a dramatic reworking of the text is, to me, disingenuous. (Note: for additional background, see Piero Marini's own presentation of the published book)

Second, the sentiments that Benedict has "re-focused our attention on how we, as Catholics, celebrate our faith in the light of tradition" and "brought the Universal Churches’ focus back to prayer and the Eucharist, the source and summit of what makes us Church" strikes me as an over statement. I do not doubt Benedict's grasp of the liturgy nor the excellence of his liturgical theology. Additionally, I have no doubt that Benedict fully understands the objectives and goals of the original liturgical movement. I do, however, question how well the ritual praxis  and liturgical sensibilities of the pontifical liturgies have diffused throughout the Roman Church. How many parishes can honestly claim to have undergone a transformation of liturgical celebration during this pontificate? In my experience, things have remained essentially the same. The parishes which emphasized good liturgy continue to celebrate such a liturgy. Those parishes continue to be few in number. 

Third, the longevity of the new English translation is any one's guess, but this is the area in which Benedict's papacy has had wide liturgical impact. The depth of the impact, however, remains to be seen.

Fourth, Benedict's liturgical theology is a result of his desire to devote time to understanding the liturgy as a sacred encounter with divine power, as opposed to a human production. He sees it as something to be studied and prayed. His view is rare outside of monasteries in the Western Church. For his papacy to have any effect, there must be a change in the greater approach to liturgy in Roman Catholicism, there must be an infusion of monastic sensibilities.

No one, in my estimation, can doubt Benedict's significance as a theologian and the impetus he has given to those persons concerned that the Roman Church rise above materialist or nominalist conceptions of the liturgy. How effective his theology has been and what long term effect this pontificate will have on the Roman liturgy remains, however, debatable.