The Spirit of the Liturgy: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

For this book review I would like to simply point out its great value towards the discussion of Vatican II and liturgically related themes.

Ratzinger discusses the very essence of the liturgy in the first part. He details not only the True and Definite Sacrifice of the Mass so often emphasized by the Tridentine Mass, but also its cosmic significance and the fact the liturgy is a liturgy on the way to something when God is all in all.

He has a chapter devoted to the direction of liturgical prayer. He briefly discussion the historical circumstance how during St. Gregory the Great the altar at St. Peter’s Basilica was moved, such that to face east the presider had to face the people. This direction for the presider was copied in other places, and eventually taken back up during the liturgical renewals after Vatican II. Ratzinger discussed the pros and cons of facing the congregation and facing a main altar with the congregation.

The great book also dives into liturgical music and art. Liturgical music in particular is often an important part of the Vatican II liturgy debate. Ratzinger makes a distinction between religious and liturgical-sacred art. I think for those who think about post-Vatican II music a lot of what some would argue should not be sung at Mass falls under religious or spiritual music. These are songs which although dealing with religion do not have the same type of focus on the Word, the essentials of the Mass and the central tenants of the Catholic faith which is proper to liturgical music. The emphasis on emotions over biblical texts and other such themes while pious in the general sense are not truly (and I mean more so than songs which are focus on the central themes of faith) fitting for a liturgical setting.

And without missing out on a truly Vatican II topic, Ratzinger gives us some thoughts on active participation to round things out.

Overall, I rate this one a must read prior to coming to any conclusions pro or against Vatican II Liturgy. And one can rest assured that Ratzinger is not biased in this book. He has hard hitting messages for both sides.


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