Reading Benedict Through Francis: Exploring ‘Lumen fidei 13’

Pope Benedict/Francis’ new encyclical, Lumen fidei (download PDF HERE), has some rich paragraphs.

One in particular rang a deep bell for me.

I think Benedict wove in an argument in favor of a particular style of liturgical worship.  See what you think.  We need the previous paragraph to help with context.

(My emphases and comments):

12. The history of the people of Israel in the Book of Exodus follows in the wake of Abraham’s faith. Faith once again is born of a primordial gift: Israel trusts in God, who promises to set his people free from their misery. Faith becomes a summons to a lengthy journey leading to worship of the Lord on Sinai and the inheritance of a promised land. [NB: one of the goals of the journey is worship of the Lord. Openness to light, faith, as openness to a journey is a theme that runs through the whole encyclical.] God’s love is seen to be like that of a father who carries his child along the way (cf. Dt 1:31). Israel’s confession of faith takes shape as an account of God’s deeds in setting his people free and acting as their guide (cf. Dt 26:5-11), an account passed down from one generation to the next. God’s light shines for Israel through the remembrance of the Lord’s mighty deeds, recalled and celebrated in worship, and passed down from parents to children. [remembrance… worship… tradition… ] Here we see how the light of faith is linked to concrete life-stories, to the grateful remembrance of God’s mighty deeds and the progressive fulfilment of his promises. Gothic architecture gave clear expression to this: in the great cathedrals light comes down from heaven by passing through windows depicting the history of salvation. God’s light comes to us through the account of his self-revelation, and thus becomes capable of illuminating our passage through time by recalling his gifts and demonstrating how he fulfils his promises.

13. The history of Israel also shows us the temptation of unbelief to which the people yielded more than once. [Like our own times.] Here the opposite of faith is shown to be idolatry. While Moses is speaking to God on Sinai, [NB] the people cannot bear the mystery of God’s hiddenness, they cannot endure the time of waiting to see his face. [God does not make it too easy.  Moreover, we must learn to seek an encounter with God in that which is hidden from us as well.] Faith by its very nature demands renouncing the immediate possession which sight would appear to offer; [Not all “seeing is believing”! Sometimes “seeing is distraction” and “seeing is not believing”.] it is an invitation to turn to the source of the light, [“turn”] while respecting the mystery of a countenance [a “face”] which will unveil itself personally in its own good time. Martin Buber once cited a definition of idolatry proposed by the rabbi of Kock: idolatry is “when a face addresses a face which is not a face“. [Think of Joseph Ratzinger’s explanation of congregations and priests who form self-enclosed circles when they peer at each other across altars.  They look at faces which aren’t The Face.] In place of faith in God, it seems better to worship an idol, into whose face we can look directly and whose origin we know, because it is the work of our own hands. [“work of human hands”, in fact…] Before an idol, there is no risk that we will be called to abandon our security, for idols “have mouths, but they cannot speak” (Ps 115:5). Idols exist, we begin to see, as a pretext for setting ourselves at the centre of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands. [Self-enclosed circles, rather than the outward gaze which seeks mystery.] Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires; in refusing to await the time of promise, his life-story disintegrates into a myriad of unconnected instants. [In a sense, once our fundamental orientation was lost in liturgical worship, our worship also broke into myriad difficult to connect ceremonies of inward looking communities.] Idolatry, then, is always polytheism, an aimless passing from one lord to another. Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth. Those who choose not to put their trust in God must hear the din of countless idols crying out: “Put your trust in me!” Faith, tied as it is to conversion, is the opposite of idolatry; it breaks with idols to turn to the living God in a personal encounter. Believing means entrusting oneself to a merciful love which always accepts and pardons, which sustains and directs our lives, and which shows its power by its ability to make straight the crooked lines of our history. Faith consists in the willingness to let ourselves be constantly transformed and renewed by God’s call. Herein lies the paradox: by constantly turning towards the Lord, [This phrase is super-charged in the last few years, a fact well know to Benedict, who wrote undoubtedly this section.] we discover a sure path which liberates us from the dissolution imposed upon us by idols.

[By itself, this is enough.  Let’s see if Benedict gives us more in this line of thought… which I think is a carefully crafted reference to a certain kind of liturgical worship…]

14. In the faith of Israel we also encounter the figure of Moses, the mediator. The people may not see the face of God; it is Moses who speaks to YHWH on the mountain and then tells the others of the Lord’s will. With this presence of a mediator in its midst, Israel learns to journey together in unity. The individual’s act of faith finds its place within a community, within the common “we” of the people who, in faith, are like a single person — “my first-born son”, as God would describe all of Israel (cf. Ex 4:22). Here mediation is not an obstacle, but an opening: [Instead of a closing.]


Read the rest on your own.

This is clearly a passage written by Benedict. It touches on themes Ratzinger explored in, for example, The Spirit of the Liturgy. He has drilled into the golden calf before.

In any event, that is what I think is going on in this section.  Benedict and oddly, through Benedict, Francis, has given us a beautiful argument for a certain orientation for Holy Mass.

This time we are:

Reading Benedict Through Francis!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Priam1184 says:

    Father I have a silly question: throughout the history of the Church, when great confusion and division reigned on a particular theological or practical question, the Church would call these things called Councils and they would be called upon to give a clear answer to a specific question concerning the life of the Church. They would clearly define what was in and what was out so to speak. Except one, the Council in whose aftermath we have been living for the past half century. Since that Council an atmosphere of vagueness and confusion have prevailed particularly on the question of the Liturgy. So here is my silly question: is the time not coming where a Council should be called to answer these specific questions once and for all? Many of the abuses of the Liturgy occur and are gotten away with solely because of the confusion on the subject that has reigned since the 1960s. The bishops of the world could be posed a direct question about say, whether the Mass should be said facing the people with nine ‘extraordinary’ ministers of Holy Communion at every Mass every day of the week and music that gets lousier by the year? If anything it would require them to stand before the world and express their true beliefs on this subject instead of just hiding behind the vagueness that has prevailed for the last half century. I obviously don’t have the authority to call such a Council, nor do you, nor does anyone else on this blog and none of us would of course presume to speak for the Holy Spirit. If I am in error for even bringing this up please let me know but it seems that these questions, and not those discussed from 1962-65, were what Church Councils were made for.

  2. Gratias says:

    It would be wonderful if Pope Franciscus favored mass ad Orientem, but all the evidence is that he has emancipated himself from this view.

    Nevertheless, it is wonderful Franciscus has signed this encyclical and got it out to us. Without this Benedictus’ Year of Faith would have been a flop.

  3. iPadre says:

    It is so clearly a reflection connected to the thought of “The Spirit of the Liturgy.” Conversi ad Dominum!

    How awesome that Benedict still speaks from his little cloister in the Vatican gardens! I surmise that he will continue speaking for generations and when the Reform of the Reform comes to fruition, it will be his hand that set it in motion, his writings that nourished it and his example that cemented it in the minds and hearts of the faithful.

  4. mamajen says:

    It has occurred to me that our current situation, with some priests doing versus populum and some ad orientem, really enables idolatry. Of coure there are priests who purposely make the mass all about them when they’re up on the “stage” of a versus populum novus ordo, [Or not so purposely but under the psychological pressure of seeing people watching.] but I think it happens unintentionally as well in places where ad orientem worship is still a novelty. [I am not sure how that would happen.] If we were all on the same page, saying mass the same way (ad orientem, of course!), our focus would more likely be where it ought to be.

  5. Indulgentiam says:

    “Faith by its very nature demands renouncing the immediate possession which sight would appear to offer; [Not all “seeing is believing”! Sometimes “seeing is distraction” and “seeing is not believing”.
    Reason number 777 googolplex why we need Priests. “Seeing is distraction” Amen! Thank you Fr. Z for the PDF. Some moms don’t have anywhere we can hide to listen to a podcast. But we can sit on the bathroom floor, with our backs firmly against the door and tune out “ma! Whata ya doin in there!!! Long enough to read a page or two :) I am REALLY looking forward to reading this. Thanks again.

  6. mamajen says:

    Maybe idolatry isn’t the word I’m looking for, but I’ve seen where people grow attached to/dependent on specific priests. Maybe a different issue altogether, but I think it would happen less if masses were very similar everywhere.

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Priam1184 —

    Alas, you’re not correct about ecumenical councils. Time and again, councils have been called to settle a question or questions, and the losers have always managed to find loopholes and string them out for forty or fifty or two hundred years. For example, the Council of Nicaea didn’t stop the ideas of Arius; Arianism and semi-Arianism got BIGGER and more influential after the Council of Nicaea and after Arius’ death! And then the same thing happened with Monophysitism and several other notable heresies. Trent didn’t polish off the heresies of Protestantism, either.

    So yes, Vatican II was vague in its language, but apparently its immediate effects and loopholes have been no worse than those of more intellectually rigorous and less loopholed Councils with more saints and confessors in attendance.

    Which is a sad, sad reflection on human nature and the determination to dissent. But hey, that’s why we study history — so the effects of concupiscence on human nature won’t surprise us too much.

  8. Mike says:

    I’ll admit I was a little skeptical of this “reading Francis through Benedict” line. However, the reverse is clearly happening here…and so the whole hermenuetic either way makes a lot of sense!

  9. Priam1184 says:

    Thank you Suburbanbanshee. I guess we often forget that Arianism actually was very widespread and growing for centuries after Nicaea (wasn’t Constantine himself baptized by an Arian cleric?), so it didn’t solve the problem. I think Chalcedon was different matter though, as was Trent. There are still Monophysite communities that endure almost sixteen centuries after Chalcedon but a clear statement was made as to what the Church believed on the subject of Christology and what it did not. So one was free to stay or go according to one’s free will. A similar situation with Trent. It did not destroy Protestantism, far from it, but it did clarify what was Catholic teaching and what was not. So again, an individual was free to make a clear choice as to which camp they would join. I have no doubt that if the questions of the Liturgy that trouble the Church at present were clarified that many would leave and go off on their own, but then we would know who was within the bounds of the Church and who, by their own choice, was outside. That is all I am praying for: a once and for all clear statement on what is and what is not proper Catholic Liturgy.

  10. Priam1184 says:

    NB I know that the great Christological controversies continued long after Chalcedon and didn’t really end until the Islamic conquest of the Middle East and North Africa finally permanently separated the opposing viewpoints. But those were a matter of Imperial politics as much as anything else.

  11. I think we need something as decisive as Summorum Pontificum for ad orientem worship. It doesn’t even have to say very much; it would simply reiterate that ad orientem worship is allowed, and that no cleric is to be punished in any way for offering Mass ad orientem in the ordinary form. Any cleric who suspected that retaliation was taken against him for offering Mass ad orientem would have direct recourse to the Holy See. But like others, I grow weary of the inconsistency of documentation that suggests that what is actually being done is the opposite of what ought to be done. If we are not doing what we ought, why do we stop at documentation? Why do we not take action?

  12. Indulgentiam says:

    Andrew Saucci says:I think we need something as decisive as Summorum Pontificum.
    Maybe it might work. I mean anything is possible. But down here, in heresy haven, below the mason dixon in the land of protestants. Catholic bishops COMPLETELY ignore Summorum Pontificum. They routinely transfer Priests who dare to say anything in Latin. When pressed they will allow a small parish in gang land to say a Mass but you still have to fight for every EF element of the Mass, from processions to music. Sigh , but it’s soooooo worth it. We have fought them off the Altar and are currently holding them off at the choir loft. Their almost out of ammo and we not yet begun to fight! :)

  13. Indulgentiam says:

    Sorry, that should be —we have not yet begun to fight! Darn typo ruined my battle cry :|

  14. Pingback: Pope Francis Lumen fidei | robertbyron22

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