Thursday, January 7, 2010

Because of the Liturgy

Posted by Webster 
I do not think we Catholics can meditate too much on the words of our Pope, Benedict XVI. He is our greatest spokesman. If we could only learn to talk—meaning live—like him, the world would be flooded with converts, I bet.

I thought of this last night on my way to sleep, as I read the early chapters of his Milestones: Memoirs 1927–1977 (Ignatius 1998). I came across the following passage about the liturgy, and I was the one flooded. It is typical of much of Benedict’s personal writing, beginning in the concrete and almost childlike, and ending in the universal and wondrous:

Toward the end of the nineteenth century the Benedictine monk Anselm Schott [left], of Beuron Abbey, translated the missal of the Church into German. Certain editions were in German only; others had a portion of the texts printed in Latin and German; and there were still others in which the complete Latin text appeared with the German text in parallel. A progressive pastor had given my parents their Schott as a gift on their wedding day in 1920, and so this was my family’s prayerbook from the beginning. Our parents helped us from early on to understand the liturgy. 

This section puts me in mind of the new translation of the missal that is causing such a hubbub. Father Barnes calmed my fears over it, and reading about the Schott had the same effect. There have been so many translations of the liturgy in two thousand years, and neither the best nor the very worst wordsmiths on the planet have been able to kill it.

There was a children’s prayerbook adapted from the missal in which the unfolding of the sacred action was portrayed in pictures, so we could follow closely what was happening. Next to each picture there was a simple prayer that summarized the essentials of each part of the liturgy and adapted it to a child’s mode of prayer. I was then given a Schott for children, in which the liturgy’s basic texts themselves were printed. Then I got a Schott for Sundays, which contained the complete liturgy for Sundays and feast days. Finally, I received the complete missal for every day of the year. 

Imagine Catholic parents who so love the liturgy that their children are treated to these many editions as they grow up! But here is where my Pope’s memoir touched me most deeply, because it began to reflect my own experience as a convert—

Every new step into the liturgy was a great event for me. Each new book I was given was something precious to me, and I could not dream of anything more beautiful. 

As a 57-year-old man, I was far too excited to receive my four-volume Liturgy of the Hours from Amazon a year ago! But my Pope means the liturgy of the Mass

It was a riveting adventure to move by degrees into the mysterious world of the liturgy, which was being enacted before us and for us there on the altar. It was becoming more and more clear to me that here I was encountering a reality that no one had simply thought up, a reality that no official authority or great individual had created. 

Have you ever wondered how the liturgy was created?

This mysterious fabric of texts and actions had grown from the faith of the Church over the centuries. It bore the whole weight of history within itself, and yet, at the same time, it was much more than the product of human history. Every century had left its mark upon it. The introductory notes informed us about what came from the early Church, what from the Middle Ages, and what from modern times. Not everything was logical. Things sometimes got complicated, and it was not always easy to find one’s way. But precisely this is what made the whole edifice wonderful, like one’s own home. 

From the universal back to the specific and childlike: the liturgy was like the home Joseph Ratzinger grew up in!

Naturally, the child I then was did not grasp every aspect of this, but I started down the road of the liturgy, and this became a continuous process of growth into a grand reality transcending all particular individuals and generations, a reality that became an occasion for me of ever-new amazement and discovery. The inexhaustible reality of the Catholic liturgy has accompanied me through all phases of life, and so I shall have to speak of it time and again.