Benedict's Liturgy: Traditional

To switch briefly from philosophy to other things, there has been much happening in the Vatican in recent days that is worthy of note. Principally (at least in terms of visible notice), the latest trends in papal liturgies have begun to cause quite the stir within Catholic blogs and seminary dinner-table discussions. In case you haven’t noticed—which is probably the case, since I’m sure that most of you don’t have the time to justifiably watch for such things—the Holy Father has been associating himself more and more with the strong liturgical traditions of the Church, particularly during his recent Christmas and New Year celebrations. Although Benedict XVI has always been reputed as a solid liturgist, it wasn’t until lately that the depth of his love for the traditional Catholic liturgy was brought to light. Here are a few examples and explanations…

Upon the appointment of the new papal master of ceremonies (the man responsible for directing papal Masses, etc.), an effort has been in the works to restore some of the liturgical glory proper to the celebrations of the Roman Pontiff. In other words, Benedict realized that much of the Church’s rich traditions had been lost in past decades and decided to take up the task of re-establishing what was always good and true in the liturgy. The issuing of Summorum Pontificum was one step in that direction (click here for the document and here for my post on it). In addition to simply reinvigorating a love of the Tridentine Mass though, the pope has also been keen to instill anew the beauty proper to the novus ordo Mass, celebrated after Vatican II.

While the details of this project would take a long time to hash out, looking at the pope’s Christmas and New Year’s liturgies might shed some light on the underlying reality. The primary goal of Benedict, it seems, is to properly utilize and respect some of the symbolism that was cast out in many cases throughout the last forty years. Some visible examples of this have been his use of older, more ornate vestments, beautiful vessels (to hold the Blessed Sacrament), more well-planned and properly ‘Catholic’ liturgies, and an increased use of Latin when celebrating the Mass. For a brief time in recent history, each of these things was popularly deemed as causing separation between priest and people—between the simplicity of life needed to be Christ-like, and the lavishness of worldly pleasure. However, in his much more objective and apostolic foresight, the Holy Father has seen past this deceptive claim and is beginning to promote the truth which has always underlined Catholic tradition.

I suppose what I intend to say could be summed up by this: we ought to be thankful for our current Holy Father’s insight, both spiritually and academically, which is able not only to integrate the current trends in thought and spirituality, but also to meld them with the illustrious tradition given to us by the Church. Whether it is in his pastoral and educated approach to Church doctrine, or in the more ostensible area of liturgy, Benedict XVI is doing great things to preserve and renew the totality of the Catholic faith handed on to us from the Apostles. We certainly ought to support him with our prayers, but we also need to support him with our willingness to accept and respond positively to this great resurgence and ‘springtime’ of the Church. The real beauty of the Kingdom of God is only just beginning to show itself, and the more we approach the source of that beauty in the Eucharist, the more it will become totally manifest in our homes and in the world.

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    # by Anonymous - January 8, 2008 at 9:20 AM

    Andrew, I know I'm late to this post but I was glad to see some blog comment on it. In my fleeting glimpses of the Christmas time Vatican liturgies (in between flying between one Christmas task & another around here!), it seemed to me that there were subtle changes in what I was seeing & I'm glad!
    A friend remarked to me yesterday that she was glad to see this Holy Father didn't hestitate to take the reins, gently but firmly, & do his job. How much we need shepherds like that now!

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    # by Andrew Haines - January 8, 2008 at 9:47 AM

    Benedict's appointment of Guido Marini as papal emcee was the beginning of a liturgical (and hopefully just general) trend of reining back in what has slowly been lost in past years. You are right: we do need pastors that are not afraid to do things the way the Church wants them to be done, while at the same time being ever so charitable and kind in caring out this mission. It's been a few years since his election, and I'm under the impression that Benedict XVI has been using this time as a period of preparation for the bigger plans he has in store--some of which have already been released (think Motu Proprio and Midnight Mass).

    So as not to overly-romanticize this all though (as seems to be sickeningly popular on some Catholic blogs), our Catholic faith isn't about the liturgy; our liturgy is about our faith in Christ. The Holy Father's changes cannot be seen as ends in themselves, but only as means toward the ultimate end of love for our Creator, more fully represented and shown in the traditional beauty of the Mass.