Scripture and Liturgy in Church and Cosmos 3 November, 2008

I want to thank all those made our 1 November conference in Oxford on “Scripture and Liturgy in the Theology of Benedict XVI”, cosponsored by the St Paul Center for Biblical Theology, such a great success. The Zenit news report can be read here.  We estimate around 300 people attended, many of them coming from a considerable distance. Follow-up will be announced on this site in the weeks and months to come. Conference participants may be interested in our web pages devoted to Mystagogy and Liturgy.

As I said in the programme for the event, back in 1996 our Centre for Faith & Culture organised an international conference on Liturgy at Westminster College under the title “Beyond the Prosaic”. (The conference proceedings were published by T&T Clark.) Thanks to the timing of the event, and the extraordinary range of brilliant speakers who came together for it, the conference marked the coming of age of the new liturgical movement or “reform of the reform”. The conference issued the Oxford Declaration on Liturgy which received a great deal of publicity, and we subsequently heard that Cardinal Ratzinger himself had referred to this as a “sign of hope”. Some time later, in 2001, I was also privileged to be able to stand in for Aidan Nichols OP at a conference at the Abbey of Fontgombault with Cardinal Ratzinger as the chief speaker. This may have been the occasion where the policy of reviving the Tridentine Mass alongside the Novus Ordo was first formulated and justified – a policy which later resulted in the recent Motu Proprio. At that conference Cardinal Ratzinger told us, “it would be fatal if the old liturgy found itself in a refrigerator, rather like a national park, protected for a certain species of persons, to whom one would leave these relics of the past. The classical liturgy should also be a liturgy of the Church, and under the authority of the Church. And only in this ecclesiology, in this fundamental link with the authority of the Church, can it offer all it has to offer.” The future Pope Benedict also spoke at that time of enriching the missal of 1962 by introducing new saints – such as Maximilian Kolbe, Edith Stein, the Spanish Martyrs, and the Ukrainian Martyrs – and by adding some of the ancient prefaces for Advent from the Church Fathers. Dr Alcuin Reid edited the book of the conference proceedings (Looking Again at the Question of the Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger), which apart from its specific recommendations explores the nature of Catholic liturgy and the principles that guide its organic development from a range of orthodox viewpoints.

Ratzinger enunciated one principle we particularly need to remember: the liturgy, including the classical liturgy, is “not something of the past to be protected, but a living reality of the Church, much respected in its identity and in its historical greatness. All the liturgy of the Church is always a living thing, a reality which is above us, not subject to our wills or arbitrary wishes.” It is a failure to understand and remember this principle that lies behind the tragic mistakes that have been made in the course of liturgical reform in the last forty years.

Now, in 2008, with successive Synods on the Eucharist and on the Word of God, and with the motu proprio, the reform of the liturgical reform is entering a new phase, and our gathering today in Oxford was intended to mark the coming of age and flowing together of the Liturgical movement with the Biblical movement in the Catholic Church; a reintegration of exegesis and theology, of spirituality, catechesis and evangelization. These things are united in the living example of Pope Benedict himself, in the examples he offers of liturgical practice, and in his book Jesus of Nazareth which reunites the Jesus of faith with the Jesus of history.

The organic development of the liturgy requires a deeper understanding of the event of the Incarnation and the love of God revealed in Christ. It is this deeper understanding to which we are called by the voice of the Church in our time.

It is no secret that Catholics are still deeply and painfully divided over liturgical questions, and these tensions will emerge whenever a public forum is created in which to discuss them. The message of our conference was that before any real healing of these wounds can take place, the nature and meaning of the Church’s liturgy needs to be more widely understood and lived.

– Stratford Caldecott

The privileged place for reading and listening to the word of God is in the liturgy. By celebrating the word and rendering the Body of Christ present in the sacrament, we bring the word into our life and make it alive and present among us.

– Pope Benedict XVI