Italian publication of a text by Cardinal Ratzinger on the Mass “facing Our Lord”

Source: FSSPX News


In the preface of the book Rivolti al Signore - L’orientamento nella preghiera liturgica – (Turned towards Our Lord – The orientation of Liturgical prayer) by the German priest Uwe Michael Lang, Cardinal Ratzinger expressed his desire to reopen the debate on these questions, regretting “the fanaticism” of the postconciliar debate on the liturgy.

 The book, which came out in German in 2003, then in English in 2004, has now been published in Italian by Cantagalli. In it, Fr. Uwe Michael Lang analyses the question of the orientation of the liturgical prayer from an historical, theological and pastoral point of view. A member of the Saint Philip Neri Oratory in London, he has studied theology in Vienna and Oxford and has published several texts on patristics.

 In the preface, Cardinal Ratzinger notes that “for the normal practising Catholic, the liturgical reform of Vatican II has resulted essentially, in two things: the disappearance of the Latin language and the altar turned to face the people”, but adds that “if one reads the conciliar texts, one is astonished to discover that neither of these changes can be found there in this form.”

 On the language used for liturgies, Cardinal Ratzinger stresses that according to Vatican II (1962-1965), “the usage of the vernacular is allowed, especially for the liturgy of the word,” but that “the rule” is that “the usage of the Latin language, except where a special permission is granted, must be retained in the Latin rites.”

 Cardinal Ratzinger also notes that “in the Conciliar texts, there is no question of the altar turned towards the people,” but that this appeared later “in postconciliar instructions.” He goes on to explain that the invitation to set up altars facing the people “did not express an obligation, but a recommendation,” calling for “avoidance in this field of unilateral positions presented as absolutes.” He also regretted the “fanaticism which, unfortunately had been far from rare during the last forty years of the debate on the liturgy.”

 According to the cardinal, at that time Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “this little book by Uwe Michael Lang (…) rekindles at an opportune moment – it seems to me – a debate which despite appearances, has never really come to an end, even after the Council.” He expressed a hope that this work would permit “a correct understanding and a worthy celebration of the liturgy.”

 In The Spirit of the Liturgy, published in 2001, Cardinal Ratzinger had already expressed a wish, according to his own words, “to help find once more, a worthy way to celebrate the liturgy,” and “to put an end to the harmful influences” of the liturgical movement of the beginning of the twentieth century and Vatican II. Among other things, he mentioned “the significance of the Church building,” “the altar and the orientation of the liturgical prayer,” and “the eucharistic vessel” which contains consecrated hosts.

 “The position of the priest facing the people has made the praying congregation a community turned in on itself,” wrote the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith at that time, lamenting the fact that God was “ever more absent from the scene” and that the Mass had become the celebrant’s “one man show.” He did not wish to “reject outright the reforms accomplished in the twentieth century,” but he asked us to “not look at the priest” who is celebrating and to “turn our eyes towards Our Lord.”

 During the presentation in Rome, on April 27, of the Italian edition of Fr. Uwe Michael Lang’s book, the new Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Mgr. Albert Malcom Ranjith Patabendige said, recalling the words of Cardinal Ratzinger in the preface: “The almost total disappearance of the use of Latin in liturgical celebrations and the orientation of altars towards the faithful are the two most characteristic phenomena of the liturgical reform which followed Vatican II.” Immediately afterwards, he stated that they could not be considered as irreversible changes. He declared furthermore that “in a culture which deifies man, the temptation to be protagonists of the liturgy is strong.”