Benedict XVI to Roman Curia for Christmas… some liturgical observations

The other day Pope Benedict addressed the Roman Curia for the annual exchange of Christmas greetings.

You might recall his foundational speech in 2005 which defined much of the work of his pontificate.

This year, the Holy Father reviewed the year, spending a good deal of time on reflections about his trip to Africa and the Synod on Africa.

During these remarks he spoke about his experience of liturgy in Africa…. translating, as it were, the immaterial into the material… always a challenge.

Here is my overly fast translation of the Italian original posted in haste from my phone:

There was impressed on my memory in an especially profound way memory of the liturgical celebrations.  The celebrations of the Holy Eucharist were truly feasts of faith.  I would like to mention two elements which seemed to me especially important.  There was above all a great shared joy, which was expressed also through the body, but in a disciplined manner also directed to the presence of the living God.  With this there was indicated the second element: the sense of the sacrality, of the mystery present of the living God formed (plasmava), so to say, each individual gesture.  The Lord is present  – the Creator, He to whom everything belongs, from whom we have our origin and toward whom we are journeying.  Spontaneously there came to my mind the words of St. Cyprian, who in his commentary on the Our Father wrote: "Let us remember that we are in the sight of God which is turned upon us.  We must be pleasing to God’s eyes, both with the attitude of our body as also with the use of our voice" (De dom. or. 4 CSEL III 1 p 269).  Yes… this understanding was there [I think he means in Africa].  From this there does not come fear or inhibition, nor even an exterior obedience to the rubrics and even less a putting of oneself on display to others or a shouting in an undisciplined way.  There is rather what which the Fathers called "sobria ebrietas": being filled up with a joy that nevertheless remains sober and orderly, which unites persons from within, leading them in common praise of God, a praise which at the same time arouses love of neighbor, reciprocal responsibility.

 

Forgive errors in this fast work… I am waiting for a flight.

I suspect some of you will find his comments a little challenging.

Also in this speech the Holy Father spoke of the ecclesiology of the Council.

This was a very "conciliar" speech in many ways.

I may try to add to this a little later.

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23 Responses to Benedict XVI to Roman Curia for Christmas… some liturgical observations

  1. Mike says:

    “There is rather what which the Fathers called “sobria ebrietas”: being filled up with a joy that nevertheless remains sober and orderly, which unites persons from within, leading them in common praise of God, a praise which at the same time arouses love of neighbor, reciprocal responsibility.”

    This sounds right out of “The Spirit of the Liturgy”–especially the section on music–sacred and profane.

    I have sworn to a friend–no more “Youth Masses”. My kids don’t like them; though the time (Sunday, 6pm) is convenient. The drums, the guitars, the lisping youth director leading us in song–enough!

    Follow Peter…

  2. thefeds says:

    Mike,

    You are right! I have four sons, between 20 and 13, and none of them want to go to the youth mass. And the only ones clapping along with the music are the sixty-somethings. Kumbayah, anyone?

  3. Henry Edwards says:

    Surely there must somewhere be some youth who would voluntarily join the clapping, grinning, swaying aging-hippie set at the youth Mass even if it weren’t the 6 pm Sunday Mass. However, I’ve never personally run across any real live young folks with such poor taste. Has anyone?

  4. Hidden One says:

    @Henry

    None. Ever.

  5. MikeM says:

    I always felt like I was supposed to like youth masses, but that I was missing something. Eventually I accepted that the music at those Masses really just isn’t good, and that what I was missing was the sense of reverence that comes with a “proper celebration” of the Mass.

    I went to a youth mass (at an overall pretty good parish) this past sunday because of the snow on the east coast. They did a song that had lyrics “modernized” from “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” with guitars, drums and a flute playing a melody that completely conflicted with the message and tone of the lyrics. Oh boy.

    When I was younger, I had assumed that more traditional celebrations than I was used to were dominated by robotic movements as a substitute for real worship. That was just the impression I was given by many of those around me when I was a kid. When, more recently, I discovered the full (or, fuller) riches of catholic worship for myself, I was so encouraged to find out that things like what the Pope describes here do exist.

    I know I’ve mentioned them in comments on this blog before, but I commend a community of the Little Sisters of the Poor that I’ve encountered recently for being a good model of Catholic worship. Seeing their worship encouraged me to further enrich my own.

  6. Mike says:

    The kicker is that my parish has young people (in the choir!) with beautiful voices, and yes, sometimes the selections do work, albeit with a dash more sentimentality than should be.

    Would B16′s Spirit of the Liturgy be too much for a gift to the good Pastor this Christmas?

  7. M J Ryan says:

    I switched to the extraordinary form for the first week of Advent. A week later my family joined me. My 17 year old told me he immediately understood my preference to the old mass and now attends with me. My 11 year old is on the fence. My 8 year old who is autistic (but a real deep thinker – his teacher calls him cerebral) told my wife (who perfers the ordinary form) that he doesn’t want to go back to his old parish. He really prefers the extraordinary form. He says the old mass (to him, new to us) is too noisy and people are doing and saying so much – it bothers him. He loves the quiet and the solemn chanting.

    It will be interesting on Christmas Eve, my wife is planning on taking him to the 4pm children’s mass but he knows my oldest and I are attending midnight mass at St. Mary’s in Norwalk. (Sorry Father Z – NYC is just too far to drive home at 3am in the morning.)

    Merry Christmas! :-)

  8. jmvbxx says:

    Where can I find the original text?

    Thx

  9. Lee says:

    Wait a minute commenters. Do you appreciate the fact that the Pope, he of the Benedicine Reform, is speaking here of African liturgy? This is not about the extraordinary form, Latin or Gregorian chant.

    “Spontaneously there came to my mind the words of St. Cyprian, who in his commentary on the Our Father wrote: “Let us remember that we are in the sight of God which is turned upon us. We must be pleasing to God’s eyes, both with the attitude of our body as also with the use of our voice” (De dom. or. 4 CSEL III 1 p 269). Yes… this understanding was there [I think he means in Africa]. From this there does not come fear or inhibition, nor even an exterior obedience to the rubrics and even less a putting of oneself on display to others or a shouting in an undisciplined way.”

    Evidently, according to the pope, shouting in a disciplined way is okay, together with somewhat uninhibited dancing that lacks exterior obedience to the rubrics!!! But this is alright, because it is done with a view to pleasing God. This seems to be Pope Benedict’s view, or am I wrong, Fr. Z?

    Obviously the litugy has to be different in Africa and the pope is endeavoring to find an authentic inner principle to govern it.

  10. Mike says:

    B16 has written about how certain things are ALWAYS inappropriate, no matter the place or culture…the piece Fr. Z has is not very clear, and so I wouldn’t get all bothered by it…

  11. chironomo says:

    It’s difficult to say exactly what is being spoken of here. There is obviously something specific that made an impression, and perhaps the Holy Father is trying to find some way to rationalize what may seem innapropriate in some other context. Perhaps what is appropriate in Africa might not be appropriate elsewhere… that would be consistent with the Vatican II vision of evangelization and, dare I say, inculturation. Would it ALWAYS be appropriate though…or would there come a time when liturgy, even there, would move beyond the “inculturation” stage? Difficult to figure this out…

  12. Mike says:

    I suggest reading “Truth and Tolerance” by Benedict. He’s got some VERY deep answers to the inculturation issue, and it’s not what some might exspect…it asks a lot of non-Western cultures…it maintains the Greco-Roman traditions of the Faith even as it asks all to see that no culture perfectly expresses the human person in his or her totality…only the Blessed Trinity can do that…

  13. Doc Angelicus says:

    These remarks by the Pope are somewhat informal and thus lack a high level of doctrinal authority as well as a confident representation of his deeper thoughts and teachings on this issue. Also, the translation is hasty, so it would seem imprudent to put too much on the words themselves.

    That said, what is there does not contradict the notion that all cultures ought to follow the rubrics without addition or subtraction or lopsided “inculturation” that imposes the local culture upon the Mass inordinately. So, it’s the understanding of St. Cyprian’s principles of being pleasing to God in body and voice that he saw in African Masses. This understanding does not lead to “fear or inhibition” — that is, following the rubrics ought not to come from being afraid of not following them nor from suppression of contrary impulses; rather, following the rubics ought to come from being united in body and voice (and mind and heart) with what the rubrics are designed to attain and represent.

    Likewise, neither should that understanding lead to “exterior obedience” — that is, merely following the rubrics but without understanding or uniting oneself to their purpose. And even less do St. Cyprian’s principles justify being a show-off or undisciplined. All in all, he seems to be saying that the Mass ought to be celebrated properly in terms of the mechanics, but ideally those mechanics ought not to be merely mechanical or coerced, but voluntary and whole-hearted. I thus don’t think he is implying that shouting in a disciplined way is permitted, or things that deviate from the rubrics. I’m not even sure that there is such a thing as shouting in a disciplined way.

    Could one say that he doesn’t seem to be totally condemning everything that doesn’t conform to the rubrics if such things honestly conform to being pleasing to God? Maybe. But, if deviating from the rubrics is disobedient to the Church, it’s hard to say how doing so is pleasing to God. Something that may be pleasing to God in itself may become displeasing if the circumstances make it to be an act of disobedience. For instance, the consecration of bread and wine by a priest surely pleases God — but what if that priest has been disciplined and is prohibited from that?

    So, it seems to me, that the understanding of the importance of being pleasing to God in both body and voice in the Mass in Africa does not mean that everything they were doing was okay.

  14. GordonB says:

    I am reminded by something my priest once pointed out, and this is how the Church became more visibly international after Vatican II – his personally observation was that he saw many more non-Western Cardinals (for example). Its hard to imagine an African native community celebrating the Tridintine Mass, and to some extent the liturgy and God comes to meet people where they are at. The problem with some of the VII reforms is that there was an element of personal and self centered creativity that drove innovations which were not appropriate. I see Pope Benedict pointing to the fact of a sincerely felt and God centered celebration of the Eucharist in Africa. However, the Carmelite leanings in me are always cautious of putting to much on interior good feelings about God– which seems to be the focus of Teen Masses for example; and is what I think may be what we sense Benedict is talking about in Africa… looking forward to Father Zs insights.

  15. Ogard says:

    “It’s difficult to say exactly what is being spoken of here. There is obviously something specific that made an impression, and perhaps the Holy Father is trying to find some way to rationalize what may seem inappropriate in some other context. Perhaps what is appropriate in Africa might not be appropriate elsewhere…”, comments Chironomo. It seems to be a correct interpretation.

    In The Spirit of the Liturgy we read: “each of the various ritual families grew out of the ‘apostolic sees’, the central places of the apostolic Tradition…From this it follows that there can be no question of creating totally new rites. However, there can be variations within the ritual families…An example of this kind seems to me to be the Missal that may be used in Zaire. It is the Roman rite ‘in the Zairian mode… that rite is now, so to speak, clad in Congolese garments…” (pp 169-170).

    “Could one say that he doesn’t seem to be totally condemning everything that doesn’t conform to the rubrics if such things honestly conform to being pleasing to God? Maybe. But, if deviating from the rubrics is disobedient to the Church, it’s hard to say how doing so is pleasing to God. Something that may be pleasing to God in itself may become displeasing if the circumstances make it to be an act of disobedience”, comments Doc Angelicus, and I would tend to agree.

    Unless the “Congolese Rite” was approved by the Church in its initial stages (I do not know), it could have developed only by violation of rubrics. Something illegitimate has become legitimate. Isn’t it a green light for the so much abhorred liturgical abuses elsewhere? Or, they they are “abuses” of the great Abuse that has opened a door to them.

    On the hand, who am I to judge the Supreme Legislator’s application of his own legislation? Fr.Z’s suspicion that some of us “will find his comments a little challenging” is justified. But what can an individual do if it can’t be as he would like?

  16. Joe Magarac says:

    There is a world of difference between: a) inculturating the Roman Rite in Africa; and b) trying to make liturgies in the United States more “inclusive” by adopting music or dancing inspired by native customs in Africa.

    I join what I think is the vast majority of the American Catholic population in noting that b) doesn’t work and never has. Trying to get Americans of Irish, German, Italian, or Eastern European descent to participate in liturgical music or dance fabricated by another American using what he thinks are authentic African customs is a fool’s errand. I vividly remember being in the Notre Dame marching band and playing salsa music in mid-November before a crowd of middle-aged Irish and German Catholics because the band director thought it’d be fun. It wasn’t fun, and in fact was completely wrong for the weather, the season, and the crowd. Western music is melodic more than rhymthic (chant, not drums) and trying to get Westerners to have rhythm never works.

    That said, I don’t know very much at all about a) and I suspect few Americans do. Though it was before my time, I once heard a missionary’s attempt to combine the Gregorian Rite/TLM with authentic African music: it is called the “Missa Luba” and it is very well done. If you have a moment, hunt for the Missa Luba “Kyrie” – it is on youtube – and listen to it. It suggests that there is more than one way to skin a cat and more than one way to have a reverent adaptation of the Gregorian Rite. If that’s the sort of thing the Pope was talking about here – and I think it is – then it seems fine to me.

  17. Joe Magarac says:

    Just noticed that the “Missa Luba” I discussed above is the same Congolese liturgy that the Pope as Ratzinger discussed, as quoted by Ogard at 4:55 am above. Here is a link to the Kyrie so you can get an idea of what the Pope/Ratzinger may be speaking of here:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ToNb-02n3KY

  18. ncstevem says:

    Several posters above expressed that this quote from Pope Benedict is not very clear. I’ve heard similar comments about other writings from Popes Benedict XVI and John Paul II.

    The little I’ve read of these pope’s writings have typically been on Catholic websites like this one. I generally find them wordy almost to the point of incomprehension. I recognize that may not be a fair statement but that’s certainly the impression I have from the little I’ve read.

    What prevents them from being more concise in their writings?

  19. MikeM says:

    I think some of you are misreading this.

    “From this there does not come fear or inhibition, nor even an exterior obedience to the rubrics and even less a putting of oneself on display to others or a shouting in an undisciplined way.”

    I think the point is that “putting oneself on display” or “shouting in an undisciplined way” would be problematic. I think his point is that the Masses he attended DID conform to the rubrics, but not out of an abiding obsession with rubrics, and not in a robotic/formulaic way. They conformed because people were focused on pleasing God and they let the structure of the Mass serve as a guide to unite them in doing so.

  20. DarkKnight says:

    My pre-teen autistic son hates the OF. He does much better with the EF, too. As a matter of fact, he is now serving. I sometimes wonder if such children are canaries that God sends us when we are in the coal mines of worship.

  21. Jason Keener says:

    It seems the overall theme of Pope Benedict XVI’s teaching on the Liturgy is that the Sacred Liturgy must be oriented towards the Lord. It also seems it is not so important to the Holy Father if the priest is literally facing east during the Mass or using Latin, so long as the reverent focus of the worshipping community is on Jesus Christ.

    The issue of inculturation is tricky, but I do think it’s possible for peoples of the African culture to bring some of their own distinctive ways of praying into the Sacred Liturgy as long as those elements respect the purpose and nature of the Sacred Liturgy. After all, it seems different cultures have brought their own influences to bear on the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy in both the East and the West over the centuries. Should the African people not also be allowed to contribute some part of their own culture to the celebration of the Liturgy in their part of the world?

    Having said that, there are some Extraordinary Form parishes in Africa that are thriving. I think the Sacred Mysteries as celebrated in the beautiful Traditional Latin Mass with Gregorian Chant can be basically understood and appreciated by people of any culture.

  22. RichardR says:

    You go Mike! Lispers, in fact any one with a speech impediment or other disability, should be prohibited from public prayer. If they have to pray (and since God has punished them by inflicting them with their particular punishment, why should they? It’s not like He is going to hear them) at least let them do it it in private and spare the rest of us.

  23. Mike says:

    RichardR–sorry, I think you misunderstood, or I wasn’t being clear. The guy I am refering to has a very noticeable, effeminate, “lisp”, and his singing is, well, rather…whimpy…

    I think your sarcasm is a little misplaced.