Benedict’s Last Official Speech – a summary of his vision

I am sure an official translation will come out soon, if not already, but I wanted to savor the last official words of Pope Benedict XVI.  I did my own, below.  The last off-the-cuff remarks at the window at Castel Gandolfo are not really to be counted as official remarks.

This morning the Roman Pontiff Benedict XVI addressed the Cardinals gathered for a final audience in the Sala Clementina in the Apostolic Palace.

There are references in this speech – classic Ratzinger (*sigh* … this is it, friends!) – to what has driven this good and prayerful  across the arc of his life.  My emphases and comments:

Venerable and dear brethren!

With great joy I accept and extend to each one of you my most cordial greeting.  I thank Angelo Cardinal Sodano who, as always, knew how to act as the interpreter of the feelings of the whole College: Cor ad cor loquitur.  [The motto of Bl. John Henry Newman, who he beatified when he went on the State Visit (not Pastoral) to England.  Newman was important to Ratzinger the seminarian and student.  His trip to England was a “Benedict goes to England” moment, in the sense of “only Nixon could go to China”. Thus, in the first few lines, Benedict underscores what he considers something important in his pontificate.] Heartfelt thanks, Your Eminence.  I would like to say – picking up on the reference to the experience of the disciples at Emmaus – that it was also a joy for me to walk with you in these years, in the light of the presence of the Risen Lord. [For Ratzinger, the Emmaus event also has liturgical implications.  There is the breaking open of the Word and the breaking of the bread wherein the disciples encounter the Lord in a new way, a nearly blinding and mysterious moment of recognition. For Ratzinger, the walk on the path, the liturgy, which is an Easter-like experience, is to set our hearts aflame within us.  We move from being down-hearted to being exalted in his presence and Communion.]

As I said yesterday, before the thousands of the faithful who filled St. Peter’s Square, your nearness and your counsel have been a great help in my ministry. [“Ministry” is an important word and concept for Ratzinger.  He even put together a book, for seminarians and clerics Ministers of Your Joy.  I have an autographed, actually inscribed, copy.] In these eight years, we lived with faith very beautiful moments of radiant light in the Church’s path, together with moments in which some clouds grew thick in the sky.  [He often has recourse to images of sky and water, paths and boats.  He spoke yesterday about feeling sometimes like Peter in the boat on the water when the Lord was asleep in the storm. Before he was elected in his Stations of the Cross on Good Friday he spoke of the water the boat was taking on.] We sought to serve Christ and His Church with deep and total love, which is the soul of our ministry.  We gave hope, the hope that comes from Christ, that alone can illuminate the path.  [Hope was the topic of an encyclical.] Together we can give thanks to the Lord that He made us grow in communion, and together to beg Him to help you still to grow in this deep unity, as if the College of Cardinals were like an orchestra, [he writes as a music lover…] where differences – expressions of the Universal Church – contribute (concorrano) [subtle.. in Italian this can also mean “to compete”] always to the higher and concordant harmony.  [What else can this be be a subtle plea for them to put aside differences and come together to find the right solution to the problem of the next Pope?]

I would like to leave with you a simple thought, which has been close to my heart: a thought about the Church, about her mystery, which constitutes for all of us – we can say – the reason of and the passion of life.  I am aided by an expression by Romano Guardini, [A great mentor.  Ratzinger dedicated to one of his most important pre-election books to him, even giving it the same name as Guardini’s book: The Spirit of the Liturgy, in the course of the Liturgical Movement.  Ratzinger wanted to spark a new Liturgical Movement.  I think he did.] written in the year in which the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council approved the Constitution Lumen gentium, in his final book, with a personal dedication personal for me, too; thus, the words of this book are particularly dear to me.  Guardini says: The Church “is not a thought-up institution, constructed on a table…, [This, too, is a reference to his view on liturgical worship.  This is how he described at one point the Novus Ordo.  This, therefore, has to be a quiet reference to another of this Pope’s most important contributions: Summorum Pontificum as well as what he laid down about discontinuity and continuity – against the school of Rahner! – in 2005, a pivotal moment in his pontificate.] She lives through the course of time, in becoming, as every living being, being transformed… even if in her nature she remains always the same, and her heart is Christ.”  [Continuity!  And think of Newman, at the top, and his thought on continuity.] That was our experience, yesterday, it seems to me, in the Square: to see that the Church is a living body, animated by the Holy Spirit and living truly from the force of God.  She is in the world, but she is not of the world: she is of God, of Christ, of the Spirit.  We saw this yesterday.  For this reason another famous expression of Guardini [Coming back to Guardini twice in his precious last official words is important!] is true and eloquent: “The Church awakens in souls.”  [He moves from worship to identity.] The Church is alive, she grows and she awakens in souls, which  – as the Virgin Mary – welcomes the Word of God and conceive it through the work of the Holy Spirit; they offer to God their own flesh, indeed in their own poverty and humbleness, becoming capable of giving birth to Christ in the world today.  Through the Church, the Mystery of the Incarnation remains forever present.  Christ continues to walk the path through the ages and all places.

Let us remain united, dear brethren, in this Mystery: [capitalized in the original] in prayer, especially in the daily Eucharist, and thus let us serve the Church and all of humanity.  This is our joy, which no one can take from us.  [Though some have tried and will continue to try to do]

Before greeting you each personally, I desire to tell you that I will continue to be near to you in prayer, especially in the upcoming days, so that you may be entirely docile to the action of the Holy Spirit in the election of a new Pope.  May the Lord show you what He wants you to do.  And among you, in the College of Cardinals, there is the future Pope, to whom I, already, promise my unconditioned reverence and obedience.  [The fact that he says this here and now means that he is not going to appear later to do it in public.  He really will just disappear and cast no shadow hear the new Pope.] For this, with affection and thanksgiving, I impart to you from my heart the Apostolic Blessing.


A summary of some points that are at the core of the now concluded pontificate and which are dear to the heart of this good old man.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Matt R says:

    Whoopsies, hit post too soon.
    (contd) but the association is there nonetheless for me.

  2. GordonB says:

    Hopefully, the next Pope will be a man concerned with the proper nature of the liturgy, with that, it seems all other concerns about the type of person the Pope is will fall into place. I’m just not sure WHO among those who are mentioned as likely candidates for elevation to the papacy are concerned with the liturgy the way Benedict XVI is.

  3. benedetta says:

    I am certain that the Holy Father’s words and vision exercised over the course of his pontificate will prove prophetic to the generation of Catholics seeking the renewal and rebuilding of the Church.

  4. Stumbler but trying says:

    Beautiful words to be savored, to be reflected upon, and for me, to find consolation in and hope. I will miss him very much as the thought of not seeing him again in public really does make me sad.
    Thank you Lord Jesus for these wonderful days. May they sustain us as we too, walk along the path towards heaven. Amen

  5. Joe in Canada says:

    When he said “And among you, in the College of Cardinals, there is the future Pope”, was he being prophetic? or just practical?

  6. Geoffrey says:

    “…in the College of Cardinals, there is the future Pope, to whom I, already, promise my unconditioned reverence and obedience.”

    As do I!

  7. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    Words that truly pierce the heart.

  8. Jason Keener says:

    We were blessed with a great Supreme Pontiff over these last 8 years or so. I am thankful for Benedict XVI’s many books and theological writings, which will be an important part of the life of the Church forever, thanks be to God. I’m also especially thankful for “Summorum Pontificum,” which will help steer the Church’s Sacred Liturgy and the reform of the Novus Ordo in the right direction in the decades ahead. Benedict’s pontificate was not especially long, but I think his “hermeneutic of continuity” is a beautiful theological paradigm absolutely needed at this point in Church history when the Church is being torn apart by rupturists of different stripes.

    It is perhaps also good that Benedict XVI has courageously shown that a modern Pope can renounce the Petrine ministry when he is no longer up to the task, which is important because modern medicine is keeping people alive longer and longer. It is good that people are living longer, but it is also important, I think, that the Supreme Pontiff be in good physical and mental health to manage the many and complicated aspects of the Petrine Ministry. I am thankful that the Church was not subjected to a long papacy where the Pope was in declining health for many, many years and unable to adequately deal with all of the Church’s problems.

    Thank you, Benedict XVI, Bishop Emeritus of Rome! You will be missed!

  9. anna 6 says:

    “He really will just disappear and cast no shadow near the new Pope”
    My exact thought when I heard those words. Sigh.

    I am so grateful that I was paying attention during this magnificent pontificate. I don’t know what possessed me to wake up early on that morning of April 24, to hear the extraordinary homily at Benedict’s Inaugural Mass. It changed my life.

    Thank you Father for helping to elucidate a great pope’s teaching.
    Thank you Benedict, for pointing me to Christ.
    Thank you Jesus.

  10. mysticalrose says:

    I am just so sad. I absolutely loved this Pope. This is definitely going to be a real grieving process even though he is still alive. But his words to the Cardinals are a beautiful close to a beautiful papacy.

  11. Miriam says:

    What a beautiful man and holy Pope. We have been so very blessed.

    I feel such grief. Never to see or hear him again just breaks my heart.

  12. Legisperitus says:

    GordonB: Occasionally, but only occasionally, mentioned as an outside shot has been Cardinal Ranjith, who obviously shares Pope-Emeritus (how weird!) Benedict’s concern for the sacred liturgy.

    Also mentioned has been Cardinal Erdo of Hungary, who wouldn’t particularly seem to tie in except for the strange fact that the Hungarian translation of Summorum Pontificum appeared so early…

    We know Cardinal Burke has solicitude for the liturgy, but he’s never been mentioned by the (know-nothing) media and besides, he’s, y’know, an American.

  13. Ambrose Jnr says:

    Gordon B: I would add 2 more names to Legisperitus’s list.

    Cardinals Piacenza and Bagnasco, who happen to be both Siri boys…The magnificent priest of the hermeneutic of continuity is hoping that the next pope will be in the vein of Cardinal Piacenza.

    Cardinal Piacenza has the grandfatherly looks, should be well-known among cardinals who are clergy since he organised the programme for the year of the priest etc.

    Obviously, Cardinal Ranjith would be as good, if the cardinals want someone from the 3rd world…

  14. Savor is right…just like a fine vintage wine. Let the aroma of excellence swirl about you as you contemplate the absolute delightful flavor. Let it linger on the tongue, exploring the complex interplay of influences and the art of its construction. Let it become part of who you are.

    We’ve been blessed these last 8 years. Truly. As Benedict had big shoes to fill…so too with his successor. And that is the beauty of our Faith…it raises up giants from among itself who, under the protection of Our Lord, fulfill the mission entrusted to Her.

  15. Random Friar says:

    I can imagine the new pope visiting our pope emeritus in Castel Gandolfo or the monastery, and the new Holy Father receiving this promise with tears. I don’t imagine Benedict XVIth would want to detract from the new pope.

  16. Laura R. says:

    Random Friar, I’ve had the same thought, that the new Pope might visit and perhaps sometimes consult with Benedict XVI, and what a blessing that could be to the new Holy Father to have the old one still available to him, for awhile. But I think it will definitely have to be the new Pope’s initiative, because I don’t see Benedict ever imposing himself on the other, or in any way calling attention to himself.

  17. Jack Regan says:

    Some beautiful thoughts… And thanks for the commentary too, Father.

    I will genuinely miss hearing/ reading Pope Benedict’s thoughts.

  18. VexillaRegis says:

    When pope Benedict was elected, I ran into an aquaintance, who is a Lutheran pastor of German origin, in the street. He’s rather leftish, so I was surprized when he merrily congratulated me on the new Pope. I thought he was joking or something. Well, I thanked him, and said that I didn’t know much about B16. “But *I* do!”, he replied, he was one of my theology professors at the University. Apart from being the best professor of them all, he was the only one of our teachers who went with us “in die Kneipe (to the pub) after the lectures. He was very sweet and really cared about us. Oh, you are so lucky to have him as your Pope!”

  19. PA mom says:

    Thank you for Pope Benedicts words, all of these times. I think that our diocesan newspaper would have been better served printing many of the Holy Fathers reflections, they are so beautiful as well as meaningful. An excerpt does not do them justice.
    Re Guardini, I read a book of his, a collection of pre-Mass lectures on the Mass. It was very good, very understandable, but not over simple. Does the repetition suggest that Pope Benedict is asking people to put on his (Guardini’s) sense of liturgy to help retranslate the Council’s documents in order to accomplish their proper original mission? Like the liturgy does not need to be set in stone for the next 500 years in its current form and practice, but can develop in some of the ways he himself has demonstrated create greater continuity and in ways yet to be seen.

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