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Benedict on homilies, liturgy and more

Continuing my riff of quotes from then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s book, Principles of Catholic Theology (which I swear I’m almost finished with, honest), here’s one that seems both enticingly timely and subtly prophetic (and somewhat long, but bear with me):

I venture to close these reflections with a personal comment that will shed another light on the whole. At the end of a lecture on the historical character of dogma, a student priest remarked to me that, however one may twist and turn it, dogma is still the principle obstacle to every kind of proclamation. This remark seems to me to be symptomatic of the misunderstanding of the priestly function that is so prevalent today. For, in reality, the opposite is true. Today, many Christians, myself included, experience a quiet uneasiness about attending divine services in a strange church; they are appalled at the thought of the half-understood theories, the amazing and tasteless personal opinions of this or that priest that they will have to endure during the homily – to say nothing of the personal liturgical inventions to which they will be subjected. No one goes to church to hear someone else’s personal opinions. I am simply not interested in what fantasies this or that individual priest may have spun for himself regarding questions of Christian faith. They may be appropriate for an evening’s conversation but not for that obligation that brings me to church Sunday after Sunday. Anyone who preaches himself in this way overrates himself and attributes to himself an importance he does not have. When I go to church, it is not to find there my own or anyone else’s innovatinos but what we have all received as the faith of the Church – the faith that spans the centuries and can support us all.

To express that faith gives the words of even the poorest preacher the weight of centuries; to celebrate it in the liturgy of the Church makes it worthwhile to attend even the externally most unlikely liturgical service. Hence the substitution of one’s own invention for the faith of the Church will always prove to be too superficial, however intellectually or technically (seldom aesthetically) impressive this substitution may be.

Certainly, if it is to remain vital, the objective content of the Church’s faith needs the flesh and blood of human beings, the gift of our thinking and willing. But it must be a gift, not just the sacrifice of the moment. The priest always fails in his duty when he wants to stop being a servant: an emissary who knows that it does not depend on him but on what he himself can only receive. Only by letting himself become unimportant can he become truly important, because, in that way, he becomes the gateway of the Lord into this world – of him who is the true Mediator into the immediacy of everlasting Love.

{ 2 comments… add one }
  • DimBulb August 15, 2006, 3:46 pm

    What an awesome quote: “only by letting himself become unimportant can he become truly important, because, in that way, he becomes the gateway of the Lord into this world…”

    I wish that more priests, and all women psuedo-priests understood that.

  • frival August 15, 2006, 7:52 pm

    Indeed, dimbulb. I was originally struck by his frankness about his discomfort at the seeming randomness of the modern Mass, but then I was positively floored by the quote you cite. The more I learn, the more I realize just how blessed we are to have this man as our Pope.

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