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Review by Dr Pravin Thevathasan



The Dynamics of Liturgy
Joseph Ratzinger's Theology of Liturgy:
An Interpretation
by D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D
Ignatius Press

One of my heroes, Joseph Ratzinger, has died. He was followed so soon after by the great Catholic martyr Cardinal Pell. I shall never forget the joy I experienced as I read the Ratzinger Report back in the eighties.
 
Father Twomey, a student of Ratzinger, has written a truly inspiring work regarding Ratzinger's vision of  the liturgy. This vision was implemented to some extent under his leadership as Pope Benedict XVI. We should surely all pray that this vision will once again be implemented.

What I have learned from both this book and from reading Ratzinger is that the liturgy is about worshipping God. I was reminded of this by a Buddhist taxi driver who told me that in Christian churches, he sees people behaving in an informal way whereas in Hindu and Buddhist temples, they go to worship. "You Christians don't even remove your shoes" he complained.

Actually, the behaviour of people in Catholic churches over there is generally better than in the West although I have witnessed a recent decline there as well. I include starting Holy Mass with "Good morning", the endless use of Eucharistic Prayer II, and mind-numbing English hymns from the sixties and seventies. I also witnessed priests adding their own words to the liturgy. The Anglican church up the road was actually less Protestant. At least, they sang hymns by the likes of Charles Wesley. Why have we got such a man-centred liturgy? Is the purpose of the liturgy to make "me" feel good? Are there not better ways of doing so on a Sunday?

All my concerns are dealt with admirably in this book. Soon after the Second Vatican Council, Ratzinger realised that the new liturgy was being manufactured by people who had scant respect for the liturgical tradition.

By 2004, he admitted that he was standing before the ruins of what the Council had called for.
 
Perhaps I should be more charitable towards priests who add words to the liturgy. One of them said just before consecration: "we are now entering into the most solemn moment of the Mass." That is beautiful catechesis.

But liturgy is not where catechesis should be taking place. In the Traditional Latin Mass, you don't have to be told that consecration is the central part of the liturgy. It is implied by word, sight and gesture. In the High Mass, it is implied even by smell. The liturgy is a reminder to us that we are both body and spirit. We learn by sight, touch, smell, sound and silence.
 
For Ratzinger, the liturgy is both internal and external. We lift up our hearts internally by what we see. The liturgy takes us back to the Book of Genesis which tells us not how the world was made but why. It is all about worship.

The Christian liturgy is profoundly Jewish. When we say the Sanctus, we unite ourselves with the angels. The liturgy is intended to take us to heaven.
Sadly, what we now too often see is a kind of iconoclasm. Archbishop Bugnini, the grand architect of the new liturgy, wanted utility. Active participation meant making lots of noise. For Ratzinger, active participation is above all something internal. For Pope Paul VI, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. For Ratzinger, student of St Bonaventure, beauty is objective because God is beauty. Beautiful liturgy, beautiful music and beautiful art take us to God.
 
The Traditional Latin Mass was criticised by some liturgical "experts" for being too focussed on the rubrics. For Cardinal Godfried Danneels, a member of the Saint Gallen group of Cardinals, obedience to the rubrics is "puerile." For Ratzinger, being faithful to the rubrics enables us to lift up our hearts. And that is what active participation is all about.
 
If the focus of the liturgy is God and not me, should we not, priest and people,  be facing East, towards God? For Ratzinger, the answer is yes.

When the great Cardinal Robert Sarah suggested this, one English bishop quickly condemned it. Apparently that was his first teaching moment in years!

I think this book is a reminder that with the death of Joseph Ratzinger, we have lost one of the greatest teachers of our time.


        
Copyright ; Dr Pravin Thevathasan 2023

Version: 28th February 2023



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