Pope Benedict speaks to Italian bishops about liturgy

The Holy Father sent a message to the Italian bishops through the intermediary of the President of the Italian Bishops Conference (CEI) in anticipation of a plenary meeting they will perpetrate in Assisi.

He begins the meat of his address by quoting Il Poeta, which was very satisfying.   My emphases and comments, translation by Zenit.


1. You have met these days in Assisi, the city in which “a sun was born to the world” (Dante, “Paradiso,” Canto XI), and who was proclaimed by the Venerable Pius XII as patron of Italy: St. Francis, who keeps intact his freshness and timeliness — the saints never have a sunset! — due to his having been conformed totally to Christ, of which he was a living icon.

As our own, the time in which St. Francis lived was also marked by profound cultural transformations, fostered by the birth of universities, by the growth of municipalities and by the spread of new religious experiences. [Benedict is painting that era in terms that should be familiar to us in ours.]

Precisely in that time, thanks to the work of Pope Innocent III — the one from whom the Poverello of Assisi obtained the first canonical recognition — the Church undertook a profound liturgical reformation. Eminent expression of this is the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), which counts among its fruits the “Breviary.” This book of prayer includes in itself the richness of theological reflection and of the praying experience of the previous millennium. Adopting it, St. Francis and his friars made their own the liturgical prayer of the Supreme Pontiff: In this way, the saint listened to and meditated assiduously on the Word of God, to make it his own and then transmit it in the prayers of which he was author, as in general in all his writings. [The Holy Father has been sending clear signals for us all to follow.  We too should make the Supreme Pontiff’s liturgical objectives our own.]

The Fourth Lateran Council itself, considering with particular attention the sacrament of the altar, inserted in the profession of faith the term “transubstantiation,” to affirm the presence of the real Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice: “His Body and Blood are truly contained in the Sacrament of the altar, under the species of bread and wine, as the bread is transubstantiated into the Body and the wine into the Blood by the divine power” (DS, 802).

From attendance at Mass and reception with devotion of Holy Communion springs the evangelical life of St, Francis and his vocation to follow the way of the Crucified Christ: “The Lord — we read in the Testament of 1226 — gave me so much faith in the churches, which prayed simply thus and said: We adore you, Lord Jesus, in all the churches that are in the whole world and we bless you, because with your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world” (Franciscan Sources, No. 111). [Does that remind you of something?]

Found also in this experience is the great deference that he had toward priests and the instruction to the friars to respect them always and in every case, “because of the Most High Son of God I do not see anything else physically in this world, but his Most Holy Body and Blood which they alone consecrate and they alone administer to others” (Franciscan Sources, No. 113).  [Pope Benedict is deeply concerned for priests.  He gave us a Year for Priests.  He gave us Summorum Pontificum, which was clearly a gift for priests.  Perhaps he is suggesting to the bishops that they should value priests as well?]

Given this gift, dear brothers, what responsibility of life issues for each one of us! “Take care of your dignity, brother priests,” recommended Francis, “and be holy because He is holy” (Letter to the General Chapter and to all the friars, in Franciscan Sources, No. 220).  [NB:] Yes, the holiness of the Eucharist exacts that this mystery be celebrated and adored conscious of its greatness, importance and efficacy for Christian life, but it also calls for purity, coherence and holiness of life from each one of us, to be living witnesses of the unique Sacrifice of love of Christ[Note the connection of celebration of the “mystery” (mysterium = sacramentum) and identity.]

The saint of Assisi never ceased to contemplate how “the Lord of the universe, God and Son of God, humbled himself to the point of hiding himself, for our salvation, in the meager appearance of bread” (ibid., No. 221), and with vehemence he requested his friars: “I beg you, more than if I did so for myself, that when it is appropriate and you regard it as necessary, that you humbly implore priests to venerate above all the Most holy Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the holy names and words written of Him that consecrate the Body” (Letter to all the Custodians, in Franciscan Sources, No. 241).

2. The genuine believer, in every age, experiences in the liturgy the presence, the primacy and the work of God[Am I not forever harping about an “encounter with mystery”?] It is “veritatis splendor” (“Sacramentum Caritatis,” No. 35), nuptial event, foretaste of the new and definitive city and participation in it; it is link of creation and of redemption, open heaven above the earth of men, passage from the world to God; it is Easter, in the Cross and in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ; it is the soul of Christian life, called to follow, to reconciliation that moves to fraternal charity.

[We come to a concrete issue.  Note that when the Holy Father speaks to one group of bishops, he also speaks to others.  Surely what follows will also be important for the Anglophone world.] Dear brothers in the episcopate, your meeting puts at the center of the works of the Assembly the examination of the Italian translation of the third typical edition of the Roman Missal. The correspondence of the prayer of the Church (lex orandi) with the rule of the faith (lex credendi) molds the thought and the feelings of the Christian community, giving shape to the Church, Body of Christ and Temple of the Spirit. No human word can do without time, even when, as in the case of the liturgy, it constitutes a window that open beyond time. Hence, to give voice to a perennially valid reality calls for the wise balance of continuity and novelty, of tradition and actualization. [“actualization” here has to do with making things current, contemporary, apt for today’s exigencies.]

The missal itself is placed within this process. Every true reformer, in fact, is obedient to faith: He does not move arbitrarily, nor does he arrogate to himself any discretion about the rite; he is not the owner but the guardian of the treasure instituted by the Lord and entrusted to us. The whole Church is present in every liturgy: To adhere to its form is the condition of the authenticity of what is celebrated[This is another way of saying “Say The Black – Do The Red”.]

3. May this reason drive you, in the changing conditions of the time, to make ever more transparent and practicable that same faith that dates back to the age of the nascent Church.  [continuity] It is a very urgent task in a culture that — as you yourselves say — knows the “eclipse of the sense of God and the obfuscation of the dimension of interiority, the uncertain formation of personal identity in a plural and fragmented context, the difficulties of dialogue between generations, the separation between intelligence and affectivity” (“Educare alla vita buona del Vangelo,” No. 9). These elements are the sign of a crisis of confidence in life, and influence in a considerable way the educational process, in which sure references become fleeting.

Contemporary man has invested much energy in the development of science and technology, attaining in these fields objectives that are undoubtedly significant and appreciable. This progress, however, has often taken place at the expense of the foundations of Christianity, in which is rooted the fecund history of the European Continent: the moral sphere has been confined to the subjective realm and God, when he is not denied, is nevertheless excluded from the public conscience. And yet, a person grows in the measure in which he experiences the good and learns to distinguish it from evil, beyond the calculation which considers only the consequences of an individual action or that uses as criterion of evaluation the possibility of carrying it out.

To change the direction a generic call to values is not sufficient, [I love that phrase: “a generic call to values is not sufficient”.  I have blasted away at this a few times.  It is very gratifying that the Pope states this so well.] or an educational proposal that is content with purely functional and fragmentary interventions. Necessary instead is a personal relationship of fidelity between active subjects, protagonists of the relationship, capable of taking sides and of putting into play their own liberty (cf. ibid., No. 26).  [You cannot have a personal relationship with a “value” or with a “educational proposal”.]

Because of this, most opportune is your decision to call for mobilization on educational responsibility all those who give importance to the city of men and the good of the new generations. This indispensable alliance cannot but begin from a new proximity to the family, which recognizes and supports its educational primacy: It is within it that the face of a people is molded.

As the Church that lives in Italy, attentive to interpreting what happens in depth in today’s world and, hence, to understanding man’s questions and desires, renew the commitment to work willingly to listen and to dialogue, making available to all the Good News of the paternal love of God. You are encouraged by the certainty that “Jesus Christ is the way that leads each one to a complete fulfillment of himself according to the plan of God. It is the truth, which reveals man to himself and guides him on the way of growth in liberty. It is life, because in it every man finds the ultimate meaning of his existence and of his action: full communion of love with God for eternity” (ibid., No. 19).

4. On this way, I exhort you to appreciate the liturgy as perennial source of education to the good life of the Gospel. The latter introduces to the encounter with Jesus Christ, who with words and deeds constantly builds the Church, forming her in the depths of listening, of fraternity and of mission. The rites speak through their intrinsic rationality and educate to a conscious, active and fruitful participation (cf. “Sacrosanctum Concilium,” No. 11).

Dear brothers, let us lift our heads and let us allow Christ to look into our eyes, the only Teacher, Redeemer from whom proceeds all our responsibility to the communities that have been entrusted to us and to every man. May Mary Most Holy, with a Mother’s heart, watch over our way and accompany us with her intercession.

On renewing my affectionate closeness and my fraternal encouragement, I impart to you, Venerable Brother, to the Bishops, to the collaborators and to all those present my heartfelt Apostolic Blessing.

In the Vatican, Nov. 4, 2010


[Translation by ZENIT]

I think I would have given my right arm had the Holy Father written:

Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, exercise your oversight and energy in correcting liturgical abuses.  For those of you in the Latin Church, you have the additional treasure which is the Extraordinary Form.  Be generous in your participation in worship with the traditional rites of our Holy Church, for what was sacred then is still sacred now.

If the Holy Father needs a speech writer, I am available.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Martial Artist says:

    Fr. Z,

    Please forgive me, but I feel it necessary to disagree with your assertion that you are “forever harping about an ‘encounter with mystery’.” If we are not aware of that aspect of our worship in the liturgy, then we are not engaged in the “active participation” in the liturgy to which we are called—instead we become simply observers of a ritual performed by someone else. Without being reminded of that reality, we see the sorts of liturgical abuses about which you so often receive questions from readers here. I think you agree that, if we wish to see an end of such abuses, it is important that we all understand, insofar as we are capable, why proper liturgy is important to our growth in faith in Christ.

    If the Holy Father is not “harping about” it, which I would maintain that he is not, then neither are you.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  2. irishgirl says:

    I’d like to see you as the Holy Father’s speechwriter, Father Z!
    That last paragraph is short and to the point!

  3. AngelineOH says:

    Send the Holy Father your resume, Fr. Z!

  4. joan ellen says:

    Fr, if you are hired, please only take the job if you can keep the Fr. Z blog. Thanks.

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