Saturday, April 13, 2013

Benedict XVI: A Liturgical Liberation Theologian?

Not really. A writer over at The Chant Cafe` has got his spin on, however. He lifts a quote from one of Josef Ratzinger's early works - in this case, a reflection on one of the closing sessions of the Second Vatican Council.

The writer wants to make the point that the apparently "progressive" or "liberation" sounding excerpt came from a pope most persons would describe as "conservative" or "reactionary." Or, more precisely, the image his friend has in mind of Papa Francesco aptly fits Pope Benedict XVI.

Okay. Well, it's a neat trick but we need to recall three little words of caution: context is everything.

It's no wonder the writer's friend thought it came from the new pope (or some one other than Josef Ratzinger). Only the greatest of intellectual acrobatics can allow one to ignore the "shift" that occurred in Josef Ratzinger's thought after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council. Josef Ratzinger, like most every theological superstar of the time, was firmly in the "progressive camp" in the years leading up to and including the Second Vatican Council. It's only in the late 60s/early 70s that the Josef Ratzinger known to most of his devotees today really emerges (in toto). There is no mistaking to the two periods of his thought - they are at times startlingly different. The Josef Ratzinger writing during the midst of the Second Vatican Council bears all of the marks of a progressive theologian and will easily appeal to those persons who find a bit of reprieve in Papa Francesco.

The fact is, look at Ratzinger's pontificat. Compare it to the quote from Josef Ratzinger the young theologian. Would that young Josef Ratzinger, the man taking a jab at the Roman Church's penchant for Baroque dress, been sympathetic to his older self's attempt at reintroducing baroque era triumphantalism and frilly lace?

Context is everything. Josef Ratzinger the young theologian is a man in a different time and place and intellectual space compared to Josef Ratzinger, the man who was doctrinal tsar then pope.

As I wrote earlier, there are many types, usually of a liturgical mindset, who are trying to handle the change in pontiffs and the accompanying shift in liturgy. Above all, they are trying to find some sort of social praxis to complement their liturgical theory - because, ultimately, its the promise of a social praxis that seems to have propelled Papa Francesco's momentum.

The challenge for those who would like to see some form of liturgical restoration is to firmly establish that the old missal is not only not contrary to social justice or political theology, but indeed the "source" from which such theology rightfully springs, it is the supernatural compliment to effecting change in the order of human society. Virgil Michel was able to see the connection as was Dorothy Day. If our generation is unable to comprehend the connection, then the onus is one us, not them. Ours is the generation that has lost something in its comprehension of reality. My prediction (for what it is worth): the future of the old Roman liturgy will be largely determined by how well our generation (and all those who are liturgically inclined) can re-establish the connection between the old missal and substantial social justice theology. If people stay lost in a world of "frilly" non-essentials, then the old liturgy has essentially had it...which would be a great shame.