12 October 2018, The Tablet

Cardinal Sarah and Pope Emeritus contribute to new commemorative edition of “The Spirit of the Liturgy” from Ignatius Press


'We must penetrate the inner meaning of the sacred liturgy and not simply perform its external rituals'


Cardinal Sarah and Pope Emeritus contribute to new commemorative edition of “The Spirit of the Liturgy” from Ignatius Press

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, speaks in March in in Toronto
CNS photo/Michael Swan, The Catholic Register

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of Ignatius Press, the publisher’s founder, Fr Joseph Fessio SJ, has arranged for the publication of a new edition of the Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in combination with the book of the same title by Fr Romano Guardini, that had a profound impact on Ratzinger.

The commemorative edition contains a foreword by the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Cardinal Robert Sarah, dated 13 January this year, and a Preface by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, dated 2 February this year.

Cardinal Sarah emphasises the importance of catechesis with regard to the liturgy. “We can say that our liturgical life is impoverished and very soon turns into hollow ritualism if it is not based on serious knowledge of the meaning of the liturgy, and that catechesis becomes intellectualised if it fails to come alive in liturgical practice,” he writes.

“We must penetrate the inner meaning of the sacred liturgy and not simply perform its external rituals without what is essential: the engagement of our hearts, minds, and souls,” he insists. “Certainly, this presupposes an understanding of the meaning of the rites and prayers appropriate to our age, ability, and state in life – that is why thorough liturgical catechesis and formation at every level is a crucial need of the Church in our times.”

Sarah proceeds to quote Pope Francis, with a reference to the legacy of the Second Vatican Council. “As our Holy Father Pope Francis has reminded us, ‘it is necessary to unite a renewed willingness to go for- ward along the path indicated by the Council Fathers, as there remains much to be done for a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy’.”

Sarah reminds us that in 1997, two years before publishing the German edition of The Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “The Church stands and falls with the liturgy. When the adoration of the divine Trinity declines, when the faith no longer appears in its fullness in the liturgy of the Church, when man’s words, his thoughts, his intentions are suffocating him, then faith will have lost the place where it is expressed and where it dwells. For that reason, the true celebration of the sacred liturgy is the centre of any renewal of the Church.” “Our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has captured in these breathtaking words the essence of our present dilemma,” writes Cardinal Sarah.

In his new Preface the Pope Emeritus himself writes: “ The question of what it means to be Catholic, of what fundamental spiritual decisions today’s Catholic must make, has been asked since the Second Vatican Council with a new radicalness … It soon became obvious that a Church that could no longer mediate the encounter with the living God, but instead only enabled little groups to celebrate themselves, would be a meaningless Church. And it became evident as well that this issue concerned far more than just the community of believers. Rather, it was seen that the collapse of the Church, considered a possibility by sociologists, would represent a catastrophe of unforeseeable proportions for the whole of mankind.”

The right understanding and celebration of the liturgy, the Pope Emeritus writes, is key to the prevention of this catastrophe, and he praises the “courage and humility” of Fr Fessio, who was prepared to endure “many blows” in making credible through what Ignatius published, “the tidings for which he stands”.


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