Of Joseph Ratzinger’s three great works – The Spirit of the Liturgy, Introduction to Christianity, and Jesus of Nazareth – the first is by far the most influential. Now in its twentieth year, we can take measure of The Spirit of the Liturgy’s impact on the life of the Church. There is much to measure.

In the book’s preface, Ratzinger announced his ambition for his work. He deliberately borrowed his title from Romano Guardini, whose book of the same name made a “decisive” contribution to Germany’s Liturgical Movement 82 years earlier. Ratzinger sought a “renewal of understanding” of the liturgy after Vatican II so as “to encourage, in a new way, something like a ‘liturgical movement,’ a movement toward the liturgy and toward the right way of celebrating the liturgy, inwardly and outwardly.”

At the time, there was no mystery why Ratzinger had this goal: for decades he had criticized the excesses of the post-conciliar liturgy, which, “by various restorations and reconstructions. . .threatened with destruction” of the Mass itself. Ratzinger principally focused on abuses in the Novus Ordo Missae’s celebration rather than its theological intricacies. He began by inviting us away from debating the particulars and back to the very heart of liturgical worship, from which the particulars derive. The liturgy calls for worship in “spirit and truth,” words that “must not be taken in the subjectivist sense. . . .No, they must be seen in light of him who could say of himself, ‘I am the truth.’”

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