The Spirit of the Liturgy

The Spirit of the Liturgy

by Pope Benedict XVI, as Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (2000)

This book is where Cardinal Ratzinger suggests what you may have seen at some churches: the altar with a crucifix facing the priest. Some have dubbed it the “Benedict arrangement” or some such terminology. It’s an interesting proposal.

Beyond getting into some of the trickier theological questions about the liturgical changes since Vatican II, this book is written in a spiritual prayerful style compared to a lot of Ratzinger’s other theological output. It is definitely worth a read if you are interested in getting deeper into the liturgy as well as understanding some of the differing approaches that various people are in favor of or against.

While the sections on Sacred Space and Sacred Time are particularly strong, they are too long to quote. Instead, here is something from the first chapter, “The Question of Images”, of Part Three, “Art and Liturgy”:

The icon of Christ is the icon of the risen Lord. That truth, with all its implications, now dawned on the Christian mind. There is no portrait of the risen Lord. At first the disciples do not recognize him. They have to be led toward a new kind of seeing, in which their eyes are gradually opened from within to the point where  they recognize him afresh and cry out: “It is the Lord!” Perhaps the most telling episode of all is that of the disciples on the road to Emmaus. Their hearts are transformed, so that, through the outward events of Scripture, they can discern its inward center, from which everything comes and to which everything tends: the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. They then detain their mysterious companion and give him their hospitality, and at the breaking of bread they experience in reverse fashion what happened to Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: their eyes are opened. Now they no longer see just the externals but the reality that is not apparent through their senses: it is the Lord, now alive in a new way. In the icon it is not the facial features that count (though icons essentially adhere to the appearance of the acheiropoietos). No, what matters is the new kind of seeing. The icon is supposed to originate from an opening up of the inner senses, from a facilitation of sight that gets beyond the surface of the empirical and perceives Christ, as the later theology of icons puts it, in the light of Tabor. It thus leads the man who contemplates it to the point where, through the interior vision that the icon embodies, he beholds in the sensible that which, though above the sensible, has entered into the sphere of the senses. As Evdokimov says so beautifully, the icon requires a “fast from the eyes”. Icon painters, he says, must learn how to fast with their eyes and prepare themselves by a long path of prayerful asceticism. This is what marks the transition from art to sacred art (p. 188). The icon comes from prayer and leads to prayer. It delivers a man from that closure of the senses which perceives only the externals, the material surface of things, and is blind to the transparency of the spirit, the transparency of the Logos. At the most fundamental level, what we are dealing with here is nothing other than the transcendence of faith. The whole problem of knowledge in the modern world is present. If an interior opening-up does not occur in man that enables him to see more than what can be measured and weighed, to perceive the reflection of divine glory in creation, then God remains excluded from our field of vision. The icon, rightly understood, leads us away from false questions about portraits, portraits incomprehensible at the level of the senses, and thus enables us to discern the face of Christ and, in him, of the Father.

– pp. 120-122

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