Spirit of the Liturgy – Chapter 1

This is a continuing report on the book The Spirit of the Liturgy by Cardinal Ratzinger.


Chapter 1: Liturgy & Life: The Place of the Liturgy in Reality

In the 20’s it was common to describe liturgy with the analogy of a game (having its own rules, stepping outside the pressures of daily life, often being “a rehearsal for later life,” [14] and thus allowing us to see daily life as a prelude to eternal life – offering us hope). This analogy, however, lacks a concrete orientation towards eternal life and towards God Himself, so Ratzinger wishes to offer us a new approach [which is really an old approach looked at anew]: liturgy as revealed in the Bible, particularly the Exodus.

The Exodus

The whole purpose of the Exodus is not just to give God’s people the Promised Land, but to give them the freedom to worship Him (in whatever way He requests): “Let my people go that they may serve me in the wilderness.” (Ex 7:16) [Not: “Let my people go that I may give them land.”] “The only goal of the Exodus is shown to be worship, which can only take place according to God’s measure.” [16] They don’t know the means by which God wishes them to worship Him–only out in the wilderness will they be given that knowledge. [They had to take every person and everything they owned, so that they would be prepared to worship God in whatever way He wanted.] “The land is given to the people to be a place for the true worship of the true God.” [17] God makes a covenant with His people and “concretiz[es it] in a minutely regulated form of worship . . . [this form of worship shows them] how to worship God in the way He Himself desires.” [17] [God tells them how He wants to be worshipped. They don’t make it up on their own.] This worship is an entire way of life. It includes both “cult, [which is] liturgy in the proper sense,” [17] and morality, the proper way to live. “Ultimately is it the very life of man, man himself as living righteously, that is the true worship of God, but life only becomes real life when it receives its form from looking toward God. Cult exists in order to communicate this vision and to give life in such a way that glory is given to God.”[18] [Don’t get confused with the popular definition of “cult”–something like a strange or evil group of fanatics. Cult means ritual. We worship in a ritualistic liturgy because that is what we have received from God. Those rituals draw us out of our daily lives, point us toward God, and allow us to receive His life. Only by looking toward God can we get the proper perspective of how to live the rest of our lives (and live them to the fullest). Without that orientation towards God, life is like being in a maze, but not knowing where the end is–there is no goal to direct our actions to the proper end. We have received the rituals for worship from God and from His Church. It is not something that we invent out of our creativity. Our worship is affective because it was given to us by God as a foretaste of how we will worship Him in Heaven.]
Worship, Law & Ethics
“Worship, law, and ethics are inseparably interwoven.” [18] Law must be founded in morality and both must be oriented toward God, otherwise they trap man in a world-centered vision, forcing him to bow to the whims of the ruling majority, rather than the all-good, unchanging truths of God. People need law so that they may be free to live and worship. “God has a right to a response from man.” [19] Law must preserve this right, otherwise man cannot live the life for which he was made. “When human affairs are so ordered that there is no recognition of God, there is a belittling of man.” [19] The Israelites were given regulations for both cult and morality at Sinai. “This and this alone is what makes the land a real gift.” [19] If Israel sticks to these regulations, she is free; if not, she loses her freedom. “When the loss of law becomes total, it ends in the loss even of land . . . steadfast adherence to the law of God . . . must be the necessary condition [foundation of existence] for life in community and freedom.” [20]  [Proper worship directs us to God, who allows us to see how to live properly. That orientation toward God forms our morality/ethics. Law exists to encourage people toward right conduct (virtue) and discourage people from vice. Without proper worship, we are trapped in a mindset that thinks only of this world and its concerns. It fails to see things from the God’s perspective and what is eternally best for our souls. Without the true goal in mind, our efforts can easily become misguided. Many of our civil law makers have lost the proper perspective, or have been trained in an environment which rejects God, and therefore, rejects the proper goal of all of life. Law should protect and promote worship, but that is far too often not the case in our society.]

The importance of worship.
Cult, then, “goes beyond the action of the liturgy . . . embrac[ing] the ordering of the world of human life.” [20] Worship is “man glorifying God” and man does this “when he lives by looking toward God.” [20] Law and ethics must be “anchored in the liturgical center and inspired by it.” [20] Man’s relationship with God (liturgy) must first be right before his other relationships (with other men, with creation – law, ethics) can be rightly ordered. [God gives man his relational orientation. Man must first encounter the Truth, Goodness, Justice, Love that God is in order to know how to be truly true, good, just and loving.] “The right kind of cult, or relationship with God, is essential for the right kind of human existence in the world. It is so precisely because it reaches beyond everyday life.” Worship takes us out of the world and gives us a taste of Heaven. Life without that foretaste is empty, so those without true cult end up creating ‘their own forms of cult, though, of course, they can be only an allusion and strive in vain by bombastic trumpeting, to conceal their nothingness.” [21]
[I’m reminded of this at the end of every Super Bowl (or other sports finales). The whole profession is “bombastically trumpeted” with fancy graphics, lively commentators, jarring music, and memorabilia galore, which all conceal their real nothingness. I used to be a devout follower of the worship of football. Ever since I was introduced to it, I have loved to play the game, so it only naturally followed that I would love to watch the professionals play the game. Growing up, my family had our Sunday tradition of watching the games together. I was enthralled by the games, looking up statistics, buying the video games, collecting the cards, and eventually playing fantasy football. None of these are bad in themselves, but they can become dominant foci in someone’s life–as it did in mine. Every year, though, as the confetti paper fluttered in the air to mark the end of that year’s Super Bowl, something about it seemed anti-climactic. All this build up throughout the year (and intensifying as the game day drew nearer) seemed to leave me with an empty feeling when the game was accomplished. As the years went by, that emptiness pointed to something: all the hype around this contest is really hiding that it’s just a game. It’s entertaining to watch them compete, but the flashy decorations are all ways that they try to make the game seem as though it has some great importance.]

We must receive worship, not create it.
True Worship is the worship that God reveals. Man cannot “creatively” plan worship how he wishes. It must be received, otherwise “man is clutching empty space.” [21] “Real liturgy implies that God reveals how we can worship him . . . [in bad liturgy] worship is no longer going up to God, but drawing God down into one’s own world.” [22] He gives, as an example, the Golden Calf narrative–the people created their own version of God and worshipped him how they felt like worshipping him. They weren’t patient enough to receive the proper form of worship from God. Ratzinger says that this narrative “is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship.” [23] When man tries to create his own worship, “man is using God . . . a festival of self-affirmation. Instead of being worship of God, it becomes a circle closed in on itself . . . no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternate world, manufactured from one’s own resources . . . an apostasy in sacral disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness. There is no experience of that liberation which always takes place when man encounters the living God.” [23] [Here, Ratzinger turns the spotlight from the banal pursuits of secular society’s worship of empty things to those who try to impose such empty things into the received worship of God (particularly the Mass). This is one of the greatest travesties of our time. As we saw above, man needs proper worship, so that he can be directed outside of himself and rightly oriented to God (and thereby rightly oriented to all of creation), yet so often today, people who style themselves as “liturgists” try to turn this received worship into a display of their own “creativity.” In doing so, they turn the focus of the liturgy away from God and onto the people (either the ones performing the “creative” innovation or the community gathered in the pews). Later, Ratzinger will describe this as “replacing the true essence of the liturgy with a  kind of religious entertainment.” How true his words are! All too often, I have attended Masses where it seems like the priest is trying to entertain the people instead of point them toward almighty God. The few I have questioned about this have made comments about “not wanting to be too ‘high Church’ for the people” or “wanting to make people feel welcome,” etc. This makes me sick. I can’t believe that someone would forego thousands of years of cultivated Church practice (based on revelation and handed on to us faithfully by the Magisterium and which has drawn countless people toward sainthood) for the sake of what amounts to creature comforts. It becomes a form of settling for the lowest common denominator instead of a pursuit of what is highest.]

Good liturgy: solemn, dignified, beautiful, inspiring, directing us beyond ourselves/daily life and toward God
It orients us to a proper relationship with God.

Bad liturgy: campy, showy, people-centered, uninspiring, banal, base, empty . . .
“It becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation. Instead of being worship of God, it becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating drinking and making merry . . . no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources . . . an apostasy in sacral disguise. All that is left in the end is frustration, a feeling of emptiness.” [23]

2 thoughts on “Spirit of the Liturgy – Chapter 1

  1. Yes, the rooster is a Christian symbol–both of the call to contrition (a la Peter's recognition of his sinfulness at the rooster's crow) and of readiness (the rooster crows at dawn, signaling its vigilance for the coming of the sun, just like we must be vigilant for the coming of the Son). Many old Catholic churches have rooster statues on top.

    Some people, however, have taken the rooster merely as a pretty image and have forgotten why it is a Christian symbol. I've been a part of a retreat where they sung about “the rooster” the whole time but never mentioned what that really had to do with God. I cannot say what the case was for the above picture, but the tie-dyed chasuble and the basement meeting room (complete with what looks like a drop down projection screen) certainly doesn't look as if they're taking much into consideration about the dignity of the life to which that rooster points.


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