Benedict XVI’s sermon for Mass in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium: “Every one of us is faced with this choice.”

The Holy Father’s Mass in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium continues as I write.  The music for the offertory was as bad as anything I have ever heard for a Papal Mass anywhere.  But I digress.

I love this quote from Augustine used by Benedict:

As much as any man loves the Church of Christ, so much has he the Holy Spirit.

Let’s have a look at his sermon with some emphases and comments.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

As I look around the vast arena of the Olympic Stadium, where you have gathered today in such large numbers, my heart is filled with great joy and confidence. I greet all of you most warmly – the faithful from the Archdiocese of Berlin and the Dioceses of Germany as well as the many pilgrims from neighbouring countries. It was fifteen years ago that Berlin, the capital of Germany, was first visited by a Pope. We all remember vividly the visit of my venerable predecessor, Blessed John Paul II, and the beatification of the Berlin Cathedral Provost Bernhard Lichtenberg – together with Karl Leisner – here in this very place.

If we consider these beati and the great throng of those who have been canonized and beatified, we can understand what it means to live as branches of Christ, the true vine, and to bring forth rich fruit. Today’s Gospel puts before us once more the image of this climbing plant, that spreads so luxuriantly in the east, a symbol of vitality and a metaphor for the beauty and dynamism of Jesus’ fellowship with his disciples and friends.  [“in the east”.. he is in what was East Germany, now reconnected to West Germany.]

In the parable of the vine, Jesus does not say: “You are the vine”, but: “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:5). In other words: “As the branches are joined to the vine, so you belong to me! But inasmuch as you belong to me, you also belong to one another.” This belonging to each other [At his arrival in Germany, the Pope spoke of relationships and individualism.] and to him is not some ideal, imaginary, symbolic relationship, but – I would almost want to say – a biological, life-transmitting state of belonging to Jesus Christ. Such is the Church, this communion of life with him and for the sake of one another, a communion that is rooted in baptism and is deepened and given more and more vitality in the Eucharist. “I am the true vine” actually means: “I am you and you are I” – an unprecedented identification of the Lord with us, his Church.

On the road to Damascus, Christ himself asked Saul, the persecutor of the Church: “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). With these words the Lord expresses the common destiny that arises from his Church’s inner communion of life with himself, the risen Christ. He continues to live in his Church in this world. He is present among us, and we are with him. “Why do you persecute me?” It is Jesus, then, who is on the receiving end of the persecutions of his Church. At the same time, when we are oppressed for the sake of our faith, we are not alone: Jesus is with us.  [Can we take this as anything other than a reference to rising secularism and the resulting anti-Catholicism in the West?  In Germany?  Yes, it underscores that because we belong to Christ and, therefore, to each other in Christ, we have a relationship that mediates against individualism.]

Jesus says in the parable: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser” (Jn 15:1), and he goes on to explain that the vinedresser reaches for his knife, cuts off the withered branches and prunes the fruit-bearing ones, so that they bring forth more fruit. Expressed in terms of the image from the prophet Ezekiel that we heard in the first reading, God wants to take the dead heart of stone out of our breast in order to give us a living heart of flesh (cf. Ez 36:26). He wants to bestow new life upon us, full of vitality. Christ came to call sinners. It is they who need the doctor, not the healthy (cf. Lk 5:31f.). Hence, as the Second Vatican Council expresses it, the Church is the “universal sacrament of salvation” (Lumen Gentium, 48), existing for sinners in order to open up to them the path of conversion, healing and life. That is the Church’s true and great mission, entrusted to her by Christ.

Many people see only the outward form of the Church. [Especially the sins of her ministers.] This makes the Church appear as merely one of the many organizations within a democratic society, whose criteria and laws are then applied to the task of evaluating and dealing with such a complex entity as the “Church”. If to this is added the sad experience that the Church contains both good and bad fish, wheat and darnel, [Or “tares”, weeds.] and if only these negative aspects are taken into account, then the great and deep mystery of the Church is no longer seen.

It follows that belonging to this vine, the “Church”, is no longer a source of joy. Dissatisfaction and discontent begin to spread, when people’s superficial and mistaken notions of “Church”, their “dream Church”, fail to materialize! [This is something I have addressed several times on this blog.  We should reflect on the experience of the N. African Church in the 4-5th centuries, the time of the Donatist schism.  The Donatists had a notion of a pure Church which depended on the transmission of holiness from a pure minister to the faithful.  When the minister was no longer pure, grace was not transmitted.  We can fall into a trap of equating the the life of grace with the person of the minister, the priest or bishop.  One easily falls in to disillusionment when we cannot see Church because we have placed too much on the sinful ministers.  And all the ministers of the Church are sinners.] Then we no longer hear the glad song “Thanks be to God who in his grace has called me into his Church” that generations of Catholics have sung with conviction.

The Lord’s discourse continues: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me … for apart from me [i.e. separated from me, or outside me] you can do nothing” (Jn 15:4f.).

Every one of us is faced with this choice. The Lord reminds us how much is at stake as he continues his parable: “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned” (Jn 15:6). In this regard, Saint Augustine says: “The branch is suitable only for one of two things, either the vine or the fire: if it is not in the vine, its place will be in the fire; and that it may escape the latter, may it have its place in the vine” (In Ioan. Ev. Tract. 81:3 [PL 35, 1842]).

The decision that is required of us here makes us keenly aware of the existential significance of our life choices. At the same time, the image of the vine is a sign of hope and confidence. Christ himself came into this world through his incarnation, to be our root. Whatever hardship or drought befall us, he is the source that offers us the water of life, that feeds and strengthens us. He takes upon himself all our sins, anxieties and sufferings and he purifies and transforms us, in a way that is ultimately mysterious, into good wine. In such times of hardship we can sometimes feel as if we ourselves were in the wine-press, like grapes being utterly crushed. [There is surely a personal touch here.] But we know that if we are joined to Christ we become mature wine. God can transform into love even the burdensome and oppressive aspects of our lives. It is important that we “abide” in Christ, in the vine. The evangelist uses the word “abide” a dozen times in this brief passage. This “abiding in Christ” characterizes the whole of the parable.

In our era of restlessness and lack of commitment, when so many people lose their way and their grounding, when loving fidelity in marriage and friendship has become so fragile and short-lived, when in our need we cry out like the disciples on the road to Emmaus: “Lord, stay with us, for it is almost evening and darkness is all around us!” (cf. Lk 24:29), then the risen Lord gives us a place of refuge, a place of light, hope and confidence, a place of rest and security. When drought and death loom over the branches, then future, life and joy are to be found in Christ.

To abide in Christ means, as we saw earlier, to abide in the Church as well. [Many German Catholics have apostatized.] The whole communion of the faithful has been firmly incorporated into the vine, into Christ. In Christ we belong together. Within this communion he supports us, and at the same time all the members support one another. They stand firm together against the storm and they offer one another protection. Those who believe are not alone. We do not believe alone, but we believe with the whole Church.

The Church, as the herald of God’s word and dispenser of the sacraments, joins us to Christ, the true vine. The Church as “fullness and completion of the Redeemer” (Pius XII, Mystici Corporis, AAS 35 [1943] p. 230: “plenitudo et complementum Redemptoris“) is to us a pledge of divine life and mediator of those fruits of which the parable of the vine speaks. The Church is God’s most beautiful gift. Therefore Saint Augustine also says: “as much as any man loves the Church of Christ, so much has he the Holy Spirit” (In Ioan. Ev. Tract. 32:8 [PL 35:1646]). With and in the Church we may proclaim to all people that Christ is the source of life, that he exists, that he is the one for whom we long so much. He gives himself. Whoever believes in Christ has a future. For God has no desire for what is withered, dead, ersatz, and finally discarded: he wants what is fruitful and alive, he wants life in its fullness.  [And those who don’t believe….?]

Dear Brothers and Sisters! My wish for all of you is that you may discover ever more deeply the joy of being joined to Christ in the Church, that you may find comfort and redemption in your time of need and that you may increasingly become the precious wine of Christ’s joy and love for this world. Amen.

Germany is a place where Pope Benedict must be concerned earnestly to advance the New Evangelization, aimed especially at regions once Christian and Catholic and new falling away.

Germany cannot be Germany without a Christian identity.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Brick by Brick, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, The Drill, The future and our choices and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. pelerin says:

    What were they singing before the final blessing? Dreadful – It sounded like something from a bad musical. At least they ended after that with a good hymn which we know in England as’ Holy God We Praise Thy Name.’ The music throughout seemed like a series of concert pieces – hardly a feeling of watching a Mass at all and although the stadium is spectacular why so plain and sparse?

  2. DHippolito says:

    Fr. Z., the Olympic Stadium was in the former West Berlin, not the former East Berlin. [And where is all of Berlin?] Had been been in the Soviet Sector, it would have been just as run down and ruined as the vast majority of pre-WWII buildings there.

  3. DHippolito says:

    Fr. Z, not *all* of Berlin was in the so-called German Democratic Republic; otherwise, West Berlin would have ceased to exist in 1948 (the Soviet blockade that led to the Berlin Airlift) or 1961 (when the Berlin Wall was built). Did you live through the Cold War? How much history do you know? [Okay… you’re gone. I don’t need that attitude today. And Berlin East and West was surrounded by East Germany. Go be snarky on some other blog.]

  4. danphunter1 says:

    Doesn’t the Holy Father have any control over the “music” that is played at Papal Masses?

  5. DisturbedMary says:

    ” …It is Jesus, then, who is on the receiving end of the persecutions of his Church…”

    Just what I thought when I saw the Der Spiegel cover. Benedict is taking the blows for Our Lord.

  6. DisturbedMary says:

    This reads like a guidebook for the persecuted Church. Benedict writes all of this himself. What an inspired gift is his voice. Who could speak for us like this? Day after day….no matter how grave the situation…dear Benedict.

  7. SegoLily says:

    Thank You, Father Zuhlsdorf for the analysis of Pope Benedict’s call to Evangelization among his countrymen. I thought of you, as a German-American and former Lutheran, and how close you must feel to Papa and how proud you must be of him. I love him with all my heart and know that he suffers greatly at the hands of the hounds of Hell here on earth. I noticed after the Regensberg address how worn and beaten down he looked in photos and my heart broke for him. I thought of him losing sleep over the retaliative murder of the nun in Africa and of his fear and anxiety. I whisper a prayer for him whenever I think of his suffering. I’m a Polish-American girl and went to Warsaw to hear him speak in 2006. He reached out to Lutherans there–imagine that–Polish Lutherans! A supernatural series of events unfolded that allowed me to get up very close to him during Mass, instead of viewing him on a jumbotron. I then went to Aushwitz and knelt where he did just a few days before. When I found out a rainbow came out while he prayed there, I knew it was a cosmic event that the popular press virtually ignored. I hope to get to heaven one day and hold his hand.

  8. Those who are so critical of this Berlin Mass have very short memories. think of the liturgics and the really silly vestments in Austria, and frankly the Mass in Washington DC was no musical triumph either. It could have been much worse.

  9. danphunter1 says:

    “It could have been much worse.:
    So its come down to that?
    A Catholic has to settle with differing degrees of banality.

    I am absolutely not critical of the Mass, but the utter disrespect that the “music” planners had, not only for the Holy Fathers taste, but the Catholic Mass itself.

  10. Brad says:

    SegoLily, wow! I’m glad you told us about that. I think I found an image:

  11. Mike says:

    The Rainbow at Auschwitz was reported by Time Magazine.

  12. SegoLily says:

    I stand corrected, then. Thank you, I didn’t know TIME reported the rainbow.

  13. Back to the grapevine — there’s a very rich winegrowing tradition in Germany, and pretty much all the places where it grows are Roman places. Some of the best old vineyards were Roman plantation farms full of slaves, once. But Christianity came to those places anyway, and there are no slaves now. Other winegrowing areas of Germany and Austria were pagan and wilderness areas, until the early Middle Ages when English and Irish and German monks came there. And where the monks went, they did their best to plant vines. (Except where they made beer instead, thanks to climate and soil differences. Or both, as in Bavaria.)

  14. thereseb says:

    I haven’t found the music yet, but did find a video with the vestments. They are not particularly delicate or detailed, and that is not my favourite green, but I think the green with gold crook motif is fairly restrained and dignified. Mgr Marini was behind His Holiness, so I expect his good taste was exercised.

    I pray that his presence evokes the same sense of wonder and belonging as his presence in the UK did last year.

  15. Mike says:

    Yes, a few years ago, I attended a workshop for teachers funded by the Archdiocese of DC, and the ADL…a priest spoke to us, and compare B16 very unfavorably to JPII on relations with Jews, even suggesting Benedict was an anti-Semite. I found the rainbow pic on Time’s website, and emailed the ADL director.

  16. John Fannon says:

    I am just grateful that I am living in the time of Benedict XVI

  17. sea the stars says:

    I had the honour of being able to attend Holy Mass celebrated by the Holy Father this eveningalong with approx 70,000 others , complete with 1,500 alar servers and 84 bishops.

    Please let us all pray for Papa Benedict, he was quite hoarse.

  18. benedetta says:

    Wasn’t it such a profound and prayerful silence after Pope Benedict delivered his sermon. There was a beautiful shot on ewtn of the open sky, with the sun setting, during that time.

  19. anna 6 says:

    The Kenny G lounge music notwithstanding, it was beautiful to see the pope so happy and warmly welcomed after all the misplaced doom and gloom. His talks thus far have been outstanding, but this one should be read in every parish in (as he likes to say) the “cosmos”!

  20. Charles E Flynn says:

    Benedict and Mozart on True Happiness, by Monsignor Daniel B. Gallagher.

  21. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    The Holy Father’s homily reminds me that the Church is a spiritual hospital. It is only through the Church, and her priestly ministry, that all the faithful are given the sacramental means to be healed of all their sins and passions. While the world has always needed the Church, it seems in these days of secularism and demonic activity that the Church is more readily witnessing the cosmic battle that takes place both inside and outside of time and space. I believe Papa Benedict knows this, and he is doing all he can to be the German Shepherd who ever vigilantly watches over the flock entrusted to his pastoral care. May he continue to be the all inspiring good shepherd.

  22. Cephas218 says:

    With all due respect, Fr. Z ,I find it confusing that you should state that the stadium is in what was East Germany. To me that signifies political control by East Germany. I admit to remembering very little of the matter, but I am informed by wiki that British military occupied the stadium from 1945 to 1994. Something like saying you’re in Italy when you’re in the Vatican. Am I being pedantic?

  23. Chumly says:

    That offetory tune was just horrible. It made me long for the sacredness and transcendent beauty of Marty Haugen or Dan Schutte.

  24. Lot says:

    Please let’s not get carried away by details that are not germane to what the Holy Father or Fr. Z. was saying. All of Berlin, east or west, was in what was known as East Germany and Berlin is still in the eastern part of a unified Germany. Pope Benedict refered to the “east”; Berlin is in eastern Germany. That’s all that was said. Nothing was said about control or who formerly was in control.

    In the spirit of Fr. Z; “no rabbit holes, please.”


  25. The sax-und-drums elevator music piped in for the beginning of the Mass:

  26. APX says:

    @Henry Edwards
    The sax-und-drums elevator music piped in for the beginning of the Mass:

    For a moment there I forgot I was watching a Papal Mass and thought I was on hold with the cable company. I’m pretty sure it’s the same music.

    I had to watch the re-air of it, but the TV listing channel was wrong, so it was the Offertory when I turned it on, except I didn’t know for sure. I thought maybe it was just a re-cap of the Mass with really terrible background music added until I realized that I was watching the actual Mass and that was the actual music. Thankfully my memory was quickly stripped of remembering what it sounded like with the “Dominus vobiscum […] Sursum corda” sung, as it flooded my heart with happiness and nostalgic moments of my childhood.

  27. benedetta says:

    I tend not to notice the music when the preaching and the gathering of believers so profound in the first place. I think the music however planned itself acknowledged that it just cannot even try to compete so it just sort of aimed to do something sort of pleasant (who knows really). What was even more resonant though was that here is our Papa a man of such learning, someone who intimately knows and appreciates beautiful sacred music, himself an accomplished musician, a man of patience and listening, and I take my cue from him. He was serene and quite joyful, prayerfully together with believers in thanksgiving, and, the prayers of the Mass and the silence really “drowned out”, quite overwhelmed whatever that was or about didn’t it. In these times when people have inserted many “preferences” of their own for the Mass and justifying it under the legalisms of Vatican II, it is still quite refreshing and real renewal to focus on what remains, hidden as it were, but still speaks more powerfully even with various preferences and trappings. We are quite powerless over preferences, and our Holy Father remains in solidarity not just with Catholics who have the Mass celebrated as they desire (and this is predominantly comes to those dissenting at the moment, with the power) but with the littlest, who have, no say, no control, no means to effectuate their hopes, even if the Church would support those as overall excellent hopes consistent with all the councils, let alone little touches and preferences here and there that some believe merely embellish what is at bottom strictly valid. I greatly admire and pray for our Holy Father.

  28. I’m inclined to suggest that sacred music is not determined by personal “preferences”. The Church has rather clearly defined historical standards of sacrality. It’s when individual preferences are exercised that we get music that is not sacred.

  29. Cephas218 says:

    I like Lot. a lot. Poor guy: his wife came salted.

    But out of the rabbit hole. I admit to becoming sidetracked by some of the early comments. Now I wonder what the Holy Father is referring to by vines that spread luxuriantly [great word, btw] in the East. I’m going to guess Eden, the Garden of Pleasures that it was. The far east also comes to mind when I think of vines. But eastern Germany? Hmm. Can someone elucidate?

  30. APX says:

    @Henry Edwards

    I’m inclined to suggest that sacred music is not determined by personal “preferences”. The Church has rather clearly defined historical standards of sacrality. It’s when individual preferences are exercised that we get music that is not sacred.

    I am in 100% total agreement with you. Furthermore, the music in question seemed like it wasn’t even “sacred” in the same sense as Gather Us In is “sacred music”. It sounded very secular, and a lot like that terrible generic “On hold” music.

    I’m willing to bet dollars to donuts that if the sound from that video was ripped off and a “what do you think this music is from” video was made, that very few, if anyone, would even think a Mass, let alone a Papal Mass.

  31. Re: German wine areas

    Like I said above, a lot of German wine country is where the Romans settled, which is mostly in western areas (the Rhine, the Moselle, Alsace in a way, Baden, etc.). But Saxony and Saale-Unstrut are in the later-wine-ized areas (and they were in the former East Germany). Saale-Unstrut is part of Thuringia, and the Pope was scheduled to visit Thuringia’s capital, Erfurt. Saxony’s even farther east.

    Now, I grant you that due east of Berlin is like, Poland. (And maybe a little Czech Republic and Austria, where they do have vines.) But the Pope is from Bavaria (where they do have wine areas) and they probably think of themselves as pretty far east (although not ever in East Germany), so it might have been just the way he’s used to thinking.

  32. irishgirl says:

    Wow-another ‘home run’ from our German Shepherd! Thank you for your analysis of it, Father Z!
    The Holy Father is taking the bull by the horns, for sure! And he’s certainly not afraid to do so!
    Continued prayers for his safe journey…..

  33. Imrahil says:

    With “East” probably the Holy Land and neighboring countries are meant. A Western-German does not think of Berlin (West) as in “East Germany” or “the East”, although he might think of it as in the “East of Germany”. Besides, though there may be wine country in East Germany, it is not notable for it.

  34. TNCath says:

    It was a wonderful sermon, but the music was embarrassingly and definitively awful.

  35. Gail F says:

    What a fantastic sermon. I think his homilies will be collected and read, like the homilies of St. Augstine and other great Church fathers that we still read centuries later. I’m sure that Pope Benedict is saddened by events in Germany, and the strange attacks on him, but on the other hand he knows his country and I think he can take it. He is a brave and holy man.

  36. benedetta says:

    Some are saying the music was like “elevator music.” Regarding elevators, the famous Doctor of the Church wrote of her need:

    The good God would not inspire unattainable desires; I can, then, in spite of my littleness, aspire to sanctity. For me to become greater is impossible; I must put up with myself just as I am with all my imperfections. But I wish to find the way to go to Heaven by a very straight, short, completely new little way. We are in a century of inventions; now one does not even have to take the trouble to climb the steps of a stairway; in the homes of the rich an elevator replaces them nicely. I, too, would like to find an elevator to lift me up to Jesus, for I am too little to climb the rough stairway of perfection.

    No one disputes that even a Papal Mass with elevator music is still Mass and I think once again the question goes back to, just because it could be dreamed up, is it best, for all. Nonetheless, the Holy Father shows us the dignified, reverent and prayerful way to go, the way that faithful people also go and have gone when faced with such situations. It just seemed to me that the overarching beauty of the readings, sermon, prayerful participation and the Holy Father’s celebration of the sacrament all the more profound, all the more resonant, his humility and the humility of believers, that much more apparent, and while the electric guitar solo eventually finds an end, the prayer of the Church is without beginning nor end, and not in fact tied down to changing preferences in music or art, transcendent.

  37. benedetta says:

    What is also fascinating about the good example of our Holy Father is the fact that, he probably could, consistent with the media’s imaginings, state, something like, “No, electric guitars at Papal Mass…” etc etc as in the way, I don’t know, various modern power brokers and celebrities specify in “speaking engagements” or concerts, “Evian water in the dressing room” or whatever it may be, “will take questions from the audience submitted in writing in advance for five minutes at the conclusion of the lecture”. And yet, although he is supposed to be and portrayed as so many various and false things, he doesn’t impose or insist even on what arguably he would be well within his authority to do.

    But this Papal Mass did in fact have sacred music with full and active participation, if you noticed.

    Whereas, for the sax or guitar riff, solo, the only one actively participating, as pleasant as it may be, as technically admirable, the only active participant is the guitarist or saxophonist. Still, no one applauded these at the conclusion, there was only prayerful silence, in that huge venue. While we should hope for active participation in the liturgy in prayers and music of reverence and beauty, it is also true that any number of things can and may happen and when they do we can always take heart in the one who has overcome all for all time for the good through His Church.

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