I am still in the process of absorbing the document but I can make some observations.
First and foremost, if you were expecting Pope Benedict to "hammer" someone or let his inner Vader out, you were as naive as you are unfamiliar with Pope Benedict.
Second, this document has a purpose, that is, the respond to and re-propose things which the 2005 Synod of Bishops offered to the Pope for whatever use he might decide to make of them. Benedict was not obliged to write anything at all, much less anything innovative.
Third, while the Pope did not make sweeping changes, or legislate anything, or blacken any eyes, he did in fact offer some theological point which when considered in themselves are innovative. I will get to those below.
Fourth, Pope Benedict has been reflecting on liturgy for a long time and he has said on more than one occasion that a) he wants a "new liturgical movement" to breath life into the Church’s worship and life, but he knows that this must be done through a hermeneutic of continuity, which phrase he uses in the Exhortation (hereafter SacCar).
Here are some comments, not necessarily in order of importance, but interesting to me.
The document is huge, covering a vast number of topics. This reflects the work of the 2005 Synod, which discussed a wide range of topics and made offered many propositions to the Holy Father for his consideration. The Pope glosses the Synod’s propositions in his own way and uses them, along with some of his own reflections, as starting points. This is the value of the document.
Since the Eucharistic is the "source and summit" of the Church’s life (and this was precisely the theme of that 2005 Synod of Bishops), there is not a single aspect of the Church’s life which the Eucharist does not impact. This one reason why the document seems to cover so much ground. Also, each Congregation was able to stick their nose in with suggestions as well. Without providing specific legislation, Benedict expresses his desires concerning different matters.
If those desires are taken at face value and read in a spirit of filial obedience, rather than the spirit of a bratty tantrum, what the Pope says is good.
The Pope explicitly links SacCar to his encyclical Deus caritas est. SacCar is in three main parts. The three parts reflect the Pope’s presentation of a paradigm. This is the main structure of the document and it reveals where he mind is going. There is a relationship (par. 5) between "the eucharistic mystery, the liturgical action, and the new spiritual worship which derives from the Eucharist as the sacrament of charity."
My own observation is that years ago Joseph Ratzinger wrote in a book reprising the title of Romano Guardini’s The Spirit of the Liturgy that he desires to respark a new liturgical movement. Let’s call if a "reform of the reform" to use a common phrase.
There is an innovation in SacCar from the point of view of the direction of Benedict’s structure, which aims at "the new spiritual worship". Keep in mind that Joseph Ratzinger openly desired to spark a new liturgical movement. This hinge in the Exhortation seems to be a part of this program. For Benedict the "new liturgical worship" is the "liturgical action" itself. On the surface that might seem circular, but there is more going on here than meets first impressions. Benedict is forcefully underscoring the importance of the liturgical action itself. The action is the rite. Thus the celebration of the Eucharist conforms Christian life. It conforms the Christian through participation in a mystery which is to be lived. So, there is a direct connection between the way the rite, the actio, is celebrated and living like a Christian.
This logically leads to the necessary of a reform of the way the Church is celebrating the actio. The idea is this: celebrate the liturgy well (I would add especially Holy Mass, the Eucharist) and it forms us to live better. The impact of good liturgical celebration on Christian living requires, therefore, great vigilance and fidelity. Thus, there is both a qualitative dimension to the effect of good liturgical celebration (actio) and even the quantitative dimension! This is a wonderful thing to pick up from the Pope’s document. It is something I have written about not a few times here and in print. Remember the Save The Liturgy, Save The World argument? This is precisely what the Pope is driving at!
Thus the ars celebrandi or "art of celebrating" has a direct influence on "active participation" in the actio. Benedict argues for a direct dependence of actuosa participatio on the ars celebrandi. This is not so new, if you think about it with common sense. The Pope says that to go into the depths of the ars celebrandi (and thus create the proper impact on the Church through active "personal" participation, there must be close fidelity to the rite itself which is the the actio and which makes the actio happen. The ars celebrandi flows from obedience to all liturgical norms! (par 38)
The document then applies this principle to over dozens of questions. Pay attention to this: The document appears to be a laundry list of topics. However, when the Pope looks at all the elements, he is looking at them through the lens the "hermeneutic" I laid out above. If you don’t get what his theological starting points are, the document just seems like spaghetti thrown against the wall. (As a matter of fact, that was pretty much the reaction of the journalists in the press office.)
The heart of the text concerns the liturgical action itself. This is the second large section of the text. The third section gets into the living which is shaped by the ars celebrandi during the liturgical action. Here is an interesting quote which illustrates what I wrote above:
71. … Christians, in all their actions, are called to offer true worship to God. Here the intrinsically eucharistic nature of Christian life begins to take shape. The Eucharist, since it embraces the concrete, everyday existence of the believer, makes possible, day by day, the progrressive transfiguration of all those called by grace to reflect the image of the Son of God (cf. Rom 8:29 ff.). There is nothing authentically human – our thought and affections, our words and deeds – that does not find in the sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full. … [T]the worship of God in our lives cannot be relegated to something private and individual, but tends by its nature to permeate every aspect of our existence. Worship pleasing to God thus becomes a new way of living our whole life, each particular moment of which is lifted up, since it is lived as part of a relationship with Christ and as an offering to God. The glory of God is the living man (cf. 1 Cor 10:31). And the life of man is the vision of God.
This will have implications not only for the celebration of the Eucharist at Holy Mass, but also for Eucharistic Adoration.
Okay… how to get at all this. Let’s do so by means of a little repetition of the point.
The Pope wants a deep liturgical reform and renewal of the way liturgy is celebrated. While this is my interpretation, I think it is not beyond the pale to say that Benedict XVI means a "reform of the reform". Thus, he focuses strongly on the ars celebrandi, in what I mention above has what might superficially be seen as a laundry list of topics. For example, the ars celebrandi and its purpose has an impact on the ministers, that is the priest and those immediately (and properly) associated with him. What they do influences "actuosa participatio" of all present.
Benedict reminds us that "active participation" is far deeper a concept than mere exterior action.
52. … "We must not overlook the fact that so me misunderstanding has occasionally arisen concerning the precise meaning of [active] participation. It should be made clear that the word "participation" does not refer to mere external activity during the celebration… … it must be understood in more substantial terms."
In footnote 150:
"Taking into account ancient and venerable customs and the wishes expressed by Synod Fathers, I have asked the competent curial offices to study the possibility of moving the sign of peace to another place, such as before the presentation of the gifts at the altar. To do so would also serve as a significant reminder of the Lord’s inisistance that we be reconciled with others before offering our gifts to God (cf. Mt 5:23 ff.); cf. Propositio 23.
To strength one’s "personal and conscious" participation, there is great need of not only a sound ars celebrandi but a strong mystagogical catechesis which must respect three elements (par. 64). Mystagogical catechesis must a) interpret the rites in light of the events of our salvation b) present the meaning of the signs in the rites and c) must bring out the significance of the rites for Christian life.
Okay… so I don’t get too long, I will move on to what some of you will want to focus on more than anything else. Some concrete things.
Holy Father expresses himself about the abuse of general absolution. This is always a problem at this time of year and also before Christmas. In par. 21 the Pope asks pastors to be "vigilant" regarding the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to limit the practice of general absolution exclusively to the cases permitted, since individual absolution is the only form intended for ordinary use." The Pope also urges that there be a Penitentiary in each diocese.
Connected to the issue of the Sacrament of Penance, he speaks (21) warmly about indulgences.
In paragraph 23 Benedict writes about priests and how they say Mass.
"Any attempt to make themselves the centre of the liturgical action contradicts their very identity." Thus the priest must use "obedience to the rite, uniting himself to it in mind and heart and avoiding anything that might give the impression of an inordinate emphasis on his own personality."
While we might immediately think that ad orientem celebrations would aid this, the Holy Father makes no mention of this.
The sign of peace is of symbolic importance (par. 49). The fathers of the Synod discussed:
…the appropriateness of greater restraint in this gesture, which can be exaggerated and cause a certain distraction in the assembly just before the reception of Communion. It should be kept in mind that nothing is lost when the sign of peace is marked by a sobriety which preserves the proper spirit of the celebration, as for example, when it is restricted to one’s immediate neighbours.
During the press conference The journalist Marco Politi beat me to the topic of the derestriction of the older Missal in light of liturgy and communion. (cf. par. 15). Politi was interested to know how you can have a different rites in light of the desire to create unity. The presenter Angelo Card. Scola responded that were liturgy to become a point of division would be a contraditio in terminis. He thinks that Latin and Gregorian chant can already help He made reference to the experience of his Patriarcate of Venice, where the indult was applied already by his predecessor and which has eliminated conflict, in his opinion. Scola said that only about 30 people or so attend the older Mass. Card. Scola also said we cannot diminish either the importance of the rite of Paul VI or the rite of Pius V. The were never a time in the past when changes of rites resulted in a total abolition of the preceding. Concerning what he might know about a forthcoming derestriction of the older Mass, he was not forthcoming with anything new.
When asked by my friend Greg Burke of Fox News about U.S. politicians who receive communion though they are publicly out of step with the Church in some important issues, Card. Scola replied that a politician doesn’t fulfill his duty if they do not clearly things which are nonnegotiable. Scola would not directly indicate if bishops must deny Communion to politicians who are out of step with the Church on non-negotiable issues. But that is what was implied.
The Holy Father spoke about having more Latin, and that the language of celebration should be Latin (except for readings) especially in international celebrations. He said that proper song of the Church is Gregorian Chant and that seminarians should be prepared in Latin and chant. He said that the tabernacle should be on the main altar if there is one, or close to the altar there is but, no matter where, it should be made visible and obvious. There should be no confusion of liturgical ministries so that the hierarchical distinctions are blurred.
You see… these things flow from the theological starting point, not the other way around. If you get this mixed up, you will merely shrug and say there is nothing new here.
I will perhaps write more later, but you can chew on this for now. And remember: