Benedict's Previous Writing May Portend Change In Mass And Bishops Conferences (2 stories)
If he adheres to positions he took as a cardinal, Pope Benedict XVI could prove to be a pontiff who clamps down on liturgical abuse (especially the freelancing of priests during Holy Mass) and strips bishops' committees of at least some of their power.
Speaking of bishops, Benedict XVI, in a book called The Ratzinger Report, said he never tired of warning that the Church "needs saints more than functionaries" -- an apparent allusion to the worldliness in the lifestyle of many clerics -- and pointed out that the role of bishops, who were to be given a more decisive role in the wake of Vatican II, was being "restrained" or even "smothered" by what he described as "the insertion of bishops into episcopal conferences that are ever more organized, often with burdensome bureaucratic structures.
"We must not forget that the episcopal conferences have no theological basis, they do not belong to the structure of the Church, as willed by Christ, that cannot be eliminated; they have only a practical, concrete function," he said in the book, which was first published in 1985 and may be the most telling volume by the current Pope, with opinions that, it appears, stand to this day.
What such views may portend -- if they indeed still stand -- for conferences such as the powerful United States Conference of Catholic Bishops is not yet clear. As prefect for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Pope Benedict warned that such conferences produced a herd-like mentality, reducing the individuality of bishops and piling on yet another layer of bureaucracy.
The Pope's own Congregation functioned with 30 people -- far less than the number employed by most diocesan offices.
Some of the new Pope's strongest statements were reserved for the Mass itself.
In a book called Das Fest des Glaubens, or "The Feast of Faith," which is discussed in The Ratzinger Report, Pope Benedict worried about which liturgical reforms would be "real improvements" and which would be "trivializations" in the wake of the Vatican Council.
"It follows that we must be far more resolute than heretofore in opposing rationalistic relativism, confusing claptrap and pastoral infantilism," he said pointedly, and presciently. "These things degrade the liturgy to the level of a parish tea party and the intelligibility of the popular newspaper. With this in mind we shall also have to examine the reforms already carried out, particularly in the area of the Rituale."
They were biting words and indicate that beneath the pontifical veneer may remain the ironclad warrior of orthodoxy.
Pope Benedict said that many liturgical treasures, as he had warned in Das Fest des Glaubens, indeed had been "squandered away." "One shudders at the lackluster face of the post-conciliar liturgy as it has become, or one is simply bored with its hankering after banality and its lack of artistic standards," he said in the follow-up book.
It would be easy to show, he said, how "the surrender of the beautiful" has resulted in a "pastoral defeat."
Although Pope Benedict saw great merit in bringing vernacular to the liturgy and instituting the Novus Ordo Mass, he lamented about the way Latin had been stripped from religion when the Council, he said, clearly pointed out that "the use of the Latin language, with due respect to particular law, is to be preserved in the Latin rites" and that "care must be taken to ensure that the faithful may also be able to say or sing in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them."
"The liturgy is not a show, a spectacle, requiring brilliant producers and talented actors," said Benedict. "The life of the liturgy does not consist in 'pleasant' surprises and attractive 'ideas' but in solemn repetitions."
As regards clapping, singing, and shaking hands, Cardinal Ratzinger, while not disapproving them as part of the congregation's involvement, said that "it was forgotten that the Council also included silence under actuoso participatio, for silence facilitates a really deep, personal participating, allowing us to listen inwardly to the Lord's Word. Many liturgies now lack all traces of silence."
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Pope Once Railed Against Disbelief In The Devil And Saw A Return Of 'Dark Powers'
At a time when the devil is barely mentioned from the pulpit and the concept of evil considered to be abstract, Pope Benedict XVI's beliefs, as expressed when he was a cardinal, are clear: the devil is not only real but something that we ignore at our own peril. Moreover, the man who would become Pope once expressed the pressing need for all Christians to act as "exorcists" as he cited a return of "dark powers."
That was not to say that laymen should cast out demons in the formal Catholic rite but rather that all must recognize the operations of evil and overcome it with the proper fear not of evil, said the future Pope, but of God.
"Whatever the less discerning theologians may say, the devil, as far as Christian belief is concerned, is a puzzling but real, personal and not merely symbolical presence," Benedict XVI said in The Ratzinger Report [co-authored with Vittorio Messori, above left]. "He is a powerful reality (the 'prince of this world,' as he is called by the New Testament, which continually reminds us of his existence), a baneful superhuman freedom directed against God's freedom. This is evident if we look realistically at history, with its abyss of ever-new atrocities which cannot be explained by reference to man alone. On his own, man has not the power to oppose Satan, but the devil is not second to God, and united with Jesus we can be certain of vanquishing him. Christ is 'God Who is near to us,' willing and able to liberate us: that is why the Gospel really is 'Good News.' And that is why we must go on proclaiming Christ in those realms of fear and unfreedom."
Such may come as a jolt to those who view Joseph Ratzinger more as a hard-nosed intellectual and to certain theologians, priests, and bishops who have all but discounted existence of an actual nefarious preternatural spirit -- either arguing that the very mention of the devil is counterproductive ("negative") or dismissing the idea to begin with.
But the devil does not simply stand for "sin"; he is not a mere symbol or image; an approach of denial is one authored by Satan himself, said Benedict XVI. He described sociologists and philosophers who have dismissed notions of the devil as possessing a philosophy that "consists merely in banal, uncritical assent to the convictions of the present time."
One of then-Cardinal Ratzinger's most celebrated books, Dogma und Verkundigund, treats the topic of the devil as one of the "major themes of preaching."
Raised in Nazi Germany, the Pope, like John Paul II before him, had only too close a look at how evil can manifest and fretted in the 1985 book that "there are already signs of the return of these dark powers, and Satanic cults are spreading more and more in the secularized world."
Yet in the current day homilies mentioning Satan are rare and numerous dioceses do not so much as boast an exorcist.
Will that change under Benedict -- the very name associated with spiritual warfare?
"Anyone who has a clear picture of the dark sides of the age in which we live sees forces at work which aim to disintegrate the relationships among men," said the Pope. "In this situation the Christian can see that his task as exorcist must regain the importance it had when the faith was at the beginning. Of course the word 'exorcism' must not be understood here in its technical sense; it simply refers to the attitude of faith as a whole, which 'overcomes the world' and 'casts out' the prince of this world. Once the Christian has begun to be aware of this dark abyss, he knows that he owes the world this service."
Ratzinger and Messori pointed out that in addition to the affirmations of the New Testament -- which treats the devil not as a symbol, but as an actual presence -- Vatican II documents speak 17 times of "satan," "the devil," the "evil one," "the ancient serpent," the "power of darkness," and the "prince of this world." "At least five of these references occur in Daudium et spes -- the most 'optimistic' document of the entire Council," noted Messori in an interlocution between answers he posed to the cardinal.
The Pope equated belief in the devil with spiritual maturity. Genuine courage, he said, does not close its eyes to the dimensions of danger but considers danger realistically.
In unity with Jesus, and with fear of God, the devil is easily defeated. But, in a balanced way, he said, there has to be that recognition.
"The more one understands the holiness of God, the more one understands the opposite of what is holy, namely, the deceptive masks of the devil," said the future Pope. "Jesus Christ Himself is the greatest example of this: before Him, the Holy One, Satan could not keep hidden and was constantly compelled to show himself. So one might say that the disappearance of the awareness of the demonic indicates a related decline in holiness. The devil can take refuge in his favorite element, anonymity, if he is not exposed by the radiance of the person united to Christ."
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