Benedict XVI’s sermon for Sts. Peter and Paul: be “liturgists of Jesus Christ”

I had posted images from the Mass of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, and the text of the sermons, in Italian.  I wanted to follow up with the English texts.  The texts are from Zenit –  not my translation, but me emphases and comments

At the very end I have comments about Pope Benedict’s description of us Catholic Christians as being true "liturgists of Jesus Christ" in the world.


Papal Homily for Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul

"Going to Rome Is for Paul the Expression of His Mission

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 30, 2008 ( Here is a translation of Benedict XVI’s homily for the Mass celebrated in St. Peter’s Square [Wrong.  It was in the Basilica, not the square] on the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, which was Sunday. Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I was present at the ceremony.

At vespers on Saturday, the Pope inaugurated the Pauline Jubilee Year, which ends June 29, 2009.

* * *

Your Holiness and fraternal Delegates,
Lord Cardinals,
Venerable brothers in the episcopate and priesthood,
Dear brothers and sisters

From the earliest times, the Church of Rome has celebrated the solemnity of the great apostles Peter and Paul as a single feast on the same day, June 29. [What we do today we do in continuity with the past and, today, with the Orthodox Church of Constantinople.] Through their martyrdom, they became brothers; together, they are the founders of the new Christian Rome. They are sung of as such in the hymn of the second vespers, which goes back to Paulinus of Aquileia (+806): "O Roma felix — Oh happy Rome, adorned with the crimson of the precious blood of such great princes, you surpass every beauty of the world, not by your own merit, but trough the merit of the saints whom you have killed with bloody sword". The blood of martyrs does not call for revenge — but reconciles[This is counter-intuitive, in terms of the world’s view of murder.] It does not present itself as an accusation but as a "golden light," according to the words of the hymn of the first vespers. It presents itself as the power of love which overcomes hate and violence, founding, in this way, a new city, a new community.

By their martyrdom, they — Peter and Paul — are now part of Rome. Through martyrdom, even Peter became a Roman citizen forever. Through their martyrdom, through their faith and their love, the two apostles show us where true hope lies, and are the founders of a new kind of city, which must again and again form itself in the midst of the old city of man, [An Augustinian image.] which continues to be threatened by the opposing forces of the sin and egotism of men.

By virtue of their martyrdom, Peter and Paul are in reciprocal relationship forever. A favorite image of Christian iconography is the embrace of the two apostles on the way to martyrdom. We can say that their martyrdom itself, in its deepest reality, is the realization of a fraternal embrace. [Another counter-intuitive idea.] They die for the one Christ and, in the witness for which they give their lives, they are one. [The Church holds that in authentic Christian martydom, the martyr fulfills all heroic Christian virtue.  In a formal study or investigation of a cause of martyrdom it is not necessary to demonstrate that the martyr lived a life of heroic virtue because enduring Christian martyrdom embodies all the virtues at that moment.] In the writings of the New Testament, we can, so to speak, follow the development of their embrace, this unity in witness and in mission.

Everything starts when Paul, three years after his conversion, goes to Jerusalem "to consult Cephas" (Galatians 1:18). Fourteen years later, he again goes up to Jerusalem to explain "to the most esteemed persons" the Gospel that he preaches in order so that he might not run the risk of "running, or having run, in vain" (Galatians 2:1f). At the end of this meeting, James, Cephas and John give him their right hands, thus confirming the communion that unites them in the one Gospel of Jesus Christ (Gal 2:9). A beautiful sign of this growing interior embrace, which develops despite the difference in temperaments and in tasks, I find in the fact that the co-workers mentioned at the end of the First Letter of St. Peter — Silvanus and Mark — were equally close co-workers of St. Paul. This having of the same co-workers makes the communion of the one Church, the embrace of the great apostles, visible in a very concrete way.  [Joseph Ratzinger’s motto on his coat-of-arms was Cooperatores veritatis.]

Peter and Paul met each other at least twice in Jerusalem; at the end their paths take them to Rome. Why? Was this perhaps more than just pure chance? Is there perhaps a lasting message in it? Paul arrived in Rome as a prisoner, but at the same time as a Roman citizen who, after his arrest in Jerusalem, as a Roman citizen appealed to the emperor, to whose tribunal he was brought. But in a more profound sense, Paul came to Rome voluntarily. Through the most important of his letters, he had already drawn close to this city interiorly: to the Church in Rome, he had addressed the writing which, more than any other, is the synthesis of his whole proclamation and his faith. In the opening salutation of the letter, he says that the whole world speaks of the faith of the Christians of Rome and that this faith, therefore, was known everywhere as exemplary (Romans 1:8). And then he writes: "I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I often planned to come to you, though I was prevented until now" (1:13). At the end of the letter he comes back to this theme, now speaking of a plan to travel to Spain. "When I go to Spain I hope to see you when I pass through and to be helped by you on my way to that region, after having enjoyed your presence for a little while" (15:24). "And I know that, having come to you, I shall come in the fullness of Christ’s blessing" (15:29). There are two things made evident here: Rome is for Paul a stage on the way to Spain, that is — according to his conception of the world — towards the extreme end of the earth. He considers his mission to be the fulfillment of the task received from Christ, the bringing of the Gospel to the very ends of the world. Rome is along this route. While Paul usually only goes to places where the Gospel had not yet been announced, Rome is an exception. There he finds a Church whose faith the world speaks about. Going to Rome is part of the universality of his mission as one sent to all peoples. The way to Rome, which, already before his external trip, he had traveled interiorly with his letter, is an integral part of his task of bringing the Gospel to all peoples — of founding the Church, catholic and universal. Going to Rome is for him the expression of his mission’s catholicity. Rome must make the faith visible to the whole world, it must be the meeting place in the one faith.

But why did Peter go to Rome? About this the New Testament does not say anything directly. But it gives us some indication. The Gospel of St. Mark, which we may consider a reflection of the preaching of St. Peter, is intimately oriented towards the moment when the Roman centurion, facing the death of Christ on the cross, says, "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (15:39). At the cross the mystery of Jesus Christ is revealed. Beneath the Cross the Church of the gentiles is born: the centurion of the Roman execution squad recognizes the Son of God in Christ. The Acts of the Apostles describe the episode of Cornelius, the centurion of the Italic cohort, as a decisive stage for the entrance of the Gospel into the pagan world. Following a command of God, he sends someone to get Peter, and Peter, also following a divine order, goes to the centurion’s house and preaches. While he is speaking, the Holy Spirit descends on the gathered domestic community and Peter says: "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people, who have received the holy Spirit even as we have?" (Acts 10:47).

Thus, in the Council of the Apostles, Peter becomes the intercessor for the Church of the pagans who do not need the Law because God "has purified their hearts with faith" (Acts 15:9). Certainly, in the Letter to the Galatians, Paul says that God gave strength to Peter for the apostolic ministry among the circumcised, and to Paul himself, the ministry among the pagans instead (Gal 2:8). But this assignment could be in force only as long as Peter remained with the 12 in Jerusalem in the hope that all of Israel would adhere to Christ. In the face of later developments, the 12 recognized the time in which they too must go forth into the world to announce the Gospel to it. Peter who, following divine order, had been the first to open the door to pagans, now leaves the leadership of the Christian-Jewish Church to James the Less, in order to dedicate himself to his true mission: to the ministry of the unity of the one Church of God made up of Jews as well as pagans. The desire of Paul to go to Rome highlights above all, as we have seen, the word "catholica" ["catholic"] among the characteristics of the Church.

St. Peter’s journey to Rome, as representative of the peoples of the world, is above all associated with the word "una" ["one"]: he has the task of creating the "unity" of the "catholica," of the Church made up of Jews and pagans, the Church of all peoples. And this is the permanent mission of Peter: to make sure that the Church never identifies herself with any one nation, any one culture or any one state. That it may always be the Church of all. That it may unite mankind beyond every frontier and, amidst the divisions of this world, make God’s peace present, the reconciling power of his love. [Watch this next move…] Due to technology that is now the same everywhere, due to the global information network, and due also to the linking of common interests, there are new modes of unity in the world, which have caused the explosion of new oppositions and given new impetus to old ones. In the midst of this external unity, based on material things, we have all the more need of interior unity which comes from the peace of God – the unity of all those who, through Jesus Christ, have become brothers and sisters. This is the permanent mission of Peter, as well as the special task entrusted to the Church of Rome.

Dear confreres in the Episcopate! I wish now to address those of you who have come to Rome to receive the pallium as the symbol of your rank and your responsibility as archbishops [Notice that Pope Benedict does not speak of the pallium as being a papal symbol.] in the Church of Jesus Christ. The pallium is woven from the wool of the sheep that the Bishop of Rome blesses every year on the Feast of Peter’s Chair, thus setting them apart, so to speak, to be a symbol for the flock of Christ, over which you preside.

When we put the pallium on our shoulders, this gesture reminds us of the Shepherd who puts the lost sheep upon his shoulders — the lost sheep who by himself can no longer find the way home — and takes him back to the sheepfold. The Fathers of the Church saw in this sheep the image of all mankind, of human nature in its entirety, which is lost its and can no longer find the way home. The Shepherd who takes the sheep home can only be the Logos, the eternal Word of God himself. In the Incarnation, he placed us all — the sheep who is man — on his shoulders. [Nice move.  The Logos, being God, is capable of taking up all humanity, but the Logos needs the shoulders of our human nature to do it.] He, the eternal Word, the true Shepherd of mankind, carries us; in his humanity he carries each of us on his shoulders. On the way of the Cross, he carried us home, he takes us home. [The Cross is the doorway to our true home, our patria.] But he also wants men who can "carry" together with him. [We also bring to completion what Christ did not suffer during His earthly life.] Being a shepherd in the Church of Christ means taking part in this task, which the pallium commemorates. When we put it on, he asks us: "Will you also carry, together with me, those who belong to me? Will you bring them to me, to Jesus Christ?" What comes to mind next is the order Peter received from the Risen Christ, who links the command, "Feed my sheep" inseparably with the question, "Do you love me? Do you love me more than others do?" Every time we put on the pallium of the shepherd of Christ’s flock, we should hear this question, "Do you love me?" and we must ask ourselves about that "more" of love that he expects from the shepherd.  [He brings the symbol of the pallium back around to the a dimension of the Petrine ministry, shared by the whole college of bishops.]

Thus the pallium becomes a symbol of our love for the Shepherd Christ and our loving together with him — it becomes the symbol of the calling to love men as he does, together with him: [He certainly is not stressing the papal prerogative of the pallium.] those who are searching, those who have questions, those who are self-assured and the humble, the simple and the great; it becomes the symbol of the calling to love all of them with the strength of Christ and in view of Christ, so that they may find him, and in him, find themselves. But the pallium which you will receive "from" the tomb of Peter has yet another meaning, inseparably connected with the first. To understand this, a word from the First Letter of St. Peter may help us. In his exhortation to priests to feed the flock in the correct way, St. Peter calls himself a "synpresbýteros" — co-priest (5:1). This formula implicitly contains the affirmation of the principle of apostolic succession: the shepherds who follow are shepherds like him; together with him, they belong to the common ministry of the shepherds of the Church of Jesus Christ, a ministry that continues in them. But this "co-" (in co-priest) has still two other meanings. It also expresses the reality that we indicate today by what is said today about the [1] "collegiality" of bishops. We are all "co-priests." No one is a shepherd by himself. We are in the succession of the apostles thanks only to being in the communion of the college in which the college of apostles finds its continuation. [This was spoken the day before the "deadline" given to the leadership of the SSPX to sign off on those famous Five Conditions which focused on respect for Peter, his role, and a positive desire for unity.] The communion — the "we" — of the shepherds is part of being shepherds, because there is only one flock, the one Church of Jesus Christ. [He is saying this while sitting next to Bartholomew I.]  Finally, this "co-" also refers to [2] communion with Peter and his successor as a guarantee of unity. [There it is.  Communion with Peter.] Thus, the pallium speaks to us of the catholicity of the Church, of the universal communion of shepherd and flock. And it refers us to apostolicity: to communion with the faith of the apostles on which the Church is founded. It speaks to us of the "ecclesia" that is "una," "catholica," "apostolic," [In the Creed which Pope Benedict and Patriarch Bartholomew will in a few moments speak together in Greek.] and naturally, binding us to Christ, it speaks to us of the fact that the Church is "sancta" us that the Church is holy, and that our work is a service of this holiness.

This brings me back, finally, to St. Paul and his mission. He expressed the essence of his mission, as well as the most profound reason for his desire to go to Rome, in Chapter 15 of the Letter to the Romans, in an extraordinarily beautiful passage. He knows he has been called "to be a ‘leitourgos["liturgist", if you push that ancient term into our modern word!] of Christ Jesus for the Gentiles, serving the Gospel of God as a priest, so that the pagans become an acceptable offering, sanctified by the holy Spirit" (15:16). Only in this passage does Paul use the word "hierourgein" — serving as a priest — together with "leitourgos"liturgist: [There!  The Pope did it!  Liturgist.] he speaks of the cosmic liturgy, in which the world of men itself must become worship of God, an offering in the Holy Spirit. When the whole world will have become the liturgy of God, when in its reality it will have become adoration, then it will have reached its goal, then it will be whole and saved. And this is the ultimate objective of St. Paul’s apostolic mission and of ours. It is to such a mystery that the Lord calls us. Let us pray in this hour that he may help us carry it out in the right way, to become true liturgists of Jesus Christ. Amen.

[Translation by Joseph G. Trabbic]

This last point needs to be spun out a bit more.

The role of lay people in the world is to shape the world around them, each in their own sphere, according to their own vocation, according to their influence and means, etc., and to be sanctified in doing so, to seek the kingdom of God beyond this world by doing so.  The role of priests is the teach, govern and sanctify the laity for their task, and thus seek for themselves entrance to the kingdom of heaven together with the laity to whom they bring order and the ordinary means of salvation.

The role of liturgy in this is absolutely central.  There is a reciprocal relationship between what we believe, and therefore how we pray and how we act in the macro and the micro dimensions of our lives.  Since the Eucharist, both the Sacrament and Its celebration, are the "source and summit" of Christian life, how we celebrate the Eucharist affects our ability to keep hold of the kingom of God opened for us by the Logos who took up our humanity.  Our celebration of the Eucharist forms us into a people of the Gospel, which in its essence concerns the proclamation of the kingdom of God. 

Formed in this way, lay people then form the world.

If we pray a certain way, that will affect what we do in and to the world around us.  This is one way to understand what Pope Benedict is saying when he raises up the ideal of being Christ’s liturgists in the world. 

Moreover, liturgy ought to be an encounter with mystery, and an anticipation of what we will gain in full in the kingdom of God to come. Our daily acts, informed by our lifelong participation in the Church’s liturgy, open outward to the ultimate mystery, past our own fear of death, through the doorway which is our own share in Christ’s Cross.  When we are doing the work of our vocation, in prayer which is both individual the collective prayer of the Church, each of our acts opens out beyond the immediate here and now to their ultimate fulfillment in the celestial eternal liturgy before the throne of God, when Christ will have taken all things (which we also shaped) to Himself and then presents them to God, in the cosmic liturgy, so that God may be all in all.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Rellis says:

    That excellent analysis comes awfully close to “The Universal Call to Holiness.” We wouldn’t want to offend our SSPX bretheren by bringing in such “modernist” thoughts.

    I’m of course kidding, as this goes back at least to Augustine. It’s just unfortunate that some antiquarians can’t seem to reconcile themselves to the full engagement of the Church in the world that the Council called for.

    What a beautiful sermon.

  2. Joe says:

    are you sure His Holiness is talking to ‘us Catholic Christians’ and not specifically the Archbishops? The word ‘liturgy’ is commonly taken to mean ‘the work of the people’ but in its original Greek sense it was a ‘work of the people’ – a public work – undertaken by a patron, who paid for it and ensured it was done. The modern liturgical movement, by emphasizing ‘the work of the people’, overlooks the fact that is Jesus Christ who ‘did’ this great work for us and our salvation, and who continues to do it through His Church and specifically the Hierarchs of His Church. but I might be wrong.

  3. … for the Mass celebrated in St. Peter’s Square [Wrong. It was in the Basilica, not the square]

    Thanks be to God! I hope one of the next “bricks” will be an end to outdoor Masses and a message that Holy Mass should be celebrated in a church.

  4. Chironomo says:


    I agree entirely with your point… a big deal is always made about “liturgy” being the “work of the people”, but the aspect that it is a work done by those who are priveleged and able to do so on behalf of the people is always left out. To me at least, it seems absolutely clear that “liturgy” is work done by the Church on behalf of the people for the sanctification of the faithful. That is… the laity have a specific mission to go forth in the world, and the Mass is there to give them the sanctification to do so. However, the Mass is the work of the Church, not the work of the people. The misconception that the Mass is to be “done” by the laity seems to be a destructive mistake, and one which is continued by Bishops and clergy alike, all of whom should know better. I haven’t seen this view clearly outlined anywhere, so I wonder if I am mistaken in this view… perhaps I am…

  5. Paul J. B. says:

    I personally, don’t think outdoor Masses are at all unobjectionable in the right circumstances. When you have crowds that cannot be accommodated outside it allows all to be present at the holy sacrifice. It is also Church tradition. The great medieval preachers, like St. Bernadine would occasionally hold outdoor masses when none of the churches of a town he was visiting could accommodate the crowds coming to his mission.

  6. Paul J. B. says:

    In the previous post, that should be “at all objectionable.” Sorry for the double negative!

  7. mpm says:

    One small aspect of the “liturgy”, whether ancient pagan or modern Catholic,
    is the seriousness with which it should be accomplished. The laity should
    take their professional work with the same seriousness as a holy priest should
    take in offering the Holy Liturgy. That is the service to which they have
    been called. Professional work is, of course, also public.

  8. Nick says:

    Actually all the Eastern Orthodox Churches celebrate the joint feast of Sts. Peter and Paul on June 29 either on the Julian or the Gregorian calendars.

  9. Obedential Potency, Love It says:


    Your heart is about to go all liturgical, for I bear great news!

    You have been worrying that the SSPX rejects the “universal call to holiness” and this because they misrecognize it under the description “modernist.”

    But I have been watching the SSPX and I can tell you that you have nothing to worry about on this score. Friend, it is the case that without reservation the works of the late Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P., are referenced and promoted in SSPX preaching, schools, seminaries, and media. And Fr. Garrigou’s works on mystical theology argue for the universal nature of the call to holiness, as against such writers as Fr. Giovanni Battista Scaramelli, S.J. You will find an echo of the SSPX’s commitment to the universal call to holiness in their frequent use of the saying, ‘Instaurare omnia in Christo.’ (See, for instance, the Angelus Press website.)

    With this in mind, now consider what it means when you embrace what you read in paragraph 40 of Lumen Gentium. As you assent to what the Church teaches there, in that very moment, you, the SSPX, and everybody else who embraces the universal call to holiness, are all joined in a bond of friendship. You are with them, and they are with you, united together in the possession of and sharing in a spiritual good, making contact in friendship.

    Is that heart singing yet? Picture your favorite SSPX personality calling out to you: “Let’s hug it out. It’s ‘Rellis and SSPX forever’ time!”


    Obedential Potency, Love It

  10. Obediential Potency, Love It says:

    There I was, acting as though I were the clever one, while misspelling my own name. Fitting.

    For the same reason we get excited over grace perfecting nature, we ought to get excited over that which the Perfector inscribed in it to make it perfectible. Because we all ought to love it, I will spell it right this time.

    A big apology to all you obediential potency lovers out there. Rellis, I apologize for my tone.

    Obediential Potency, Love It

  11. Lee says:

    Is that heart singing yet? Picture your favorite SSPX personality calling out to you: “Let’s hug it out. It’s ‘Rellis and SSPX forever’ time!”

    Made my day, confirmed me in my liturgical blog addiction.

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