Pope Benedict XVI, one of the greatest theologians ever to serve as pope, is also one of the most profound liturgists.
In the vast work of Pope Benedict, throughout his lifetime, we can see that theology and liturgy are intrinsically related — inseparable, really. This is because the "Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life," as the Second Vatican Council succinctly stated (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 47), and "the other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch" (Lumen Gentium, 11).
This is revealed in his many works long before he became pope, especially during his long tenure as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (e.g., Called to Communion, 1991; The Spirit of the Liturgy, 1999; and A New Song for the Lord, 1995).
Most English-speaking Catholics today probably think that the new English translation of the Roman Missal is the most significant sign of Pope Benedict’s concern with the Church’s liturgy. Certainly, this far more accurate and sacred-sounding translation, in use now since Advent 2011 in the English-speaking world, signals the Holy Father’s effort to recover, restore and intensify the sacredness of Roman Catholic worship.
What far fewer people know is that his concern with accurate translation dates from his years at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and from his personal involvement in producing the Catechism of the Catholic Church and his responsibility for overseeing Scripture translation.
The CDF developed norms for Scripture translation that were later incorporated into the 2001 instruction on translation, Liturgiam Authenticam, which in turn governed the translation of the new edition of the Missal.
Though the new Missal translation is the most dramatic, it is only one example of Pope Benedict’s actions to assure that the truth and beauty of God are united in our liturgical worship — and that this union may take several forms.
This is reflected in what can be termed his ecumenical outreach — to Eastern Orthodox Christians as well as to others. Two striking examples are the apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum "on the use of the Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970" (July 7, 2007) and the unprecedented apostolic constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus (Providing for Personal Ordinariates for Anglicans Entering Into Full Communion With the Catholic Church) (Nov. 4, 2009).
It is probably no coincidence that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI in April 2005, during the Year of the Eucharist, convened by his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. A Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist ("The Eucharist: Source and Summit of the Life and Mission of the Church") took place in October of his first year as pope.
Pope Benedict’s first apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (Sacrament of Love) followed the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist on March 13, 2007.
The next Synod of Bishops was on the Word of God, held in October 2008. His apostolic exhortation on that synod, Verbum Domini (The Word of the Lord), devoted a section to the "The Liturgy, Privileged Setting for the Word of God" and closed with a call to a "new hearing" of the Word of God as essential to the New Evangelization.
In clear continuity with this is the most recent Synod on the New Evangelization, which concluded last October.
The fundamental importance of liturgy to the Catholic faith has been a consistent focus of the teaching of Pope Benedict.
"The liturgy is indeed the celebration of the central event of human history, the redemptive sacrifice of Christ," the Holy Father said in an ad limina address to French bishops last Nov. 17. "Thus it bears witness to the love with which God loves humanity, to the fact that human life has a meaning and that it is through their vocation that men and women are called to share in the glorious life of the Trinity."
"Humanity needs this witness," he continued. "People need to perceive, through the liturgical celebrations, that the Church is aware of the lordship of God and of the dignity of the human being. She has the right to be able to discern, over and above the limitations that will always mark her rites and ceremonies, that Christ is present in the sacrifice of Mass and in the person of the minister," he said.
It is crucial, therefore, to "cultivate the art of celebrating" and to "work ceaselessly for the liturgical formation of seminarians and of the faithful. Respect for the established norms expresses love and fidelity for the faith of the Church, for the treasure of grace that she preserves and transmits; the beauty of celebrations, far more than innovations and subjective adjustments, makes evangelization a lasting and effective work."
In his final address to the Roman clergy on Feb. 14, in which he briefly explained the Second Vatican Council (and misinterpretations of it), he said he regarded it as an "act of Providence that at the beginning of the Council was the liturgy; God; adoration."
In his Jan. 30 general audience, he assured us that "faith gives us this certainty, which becomes a secure rock in constructing our lives: We can face all the moments of difficulty and danger, the experience of the darkness of crisis and of times of pain, supported by our faith that God does not leave us alone and is always near."
Truly, Pope Benedict has been an example to us all of true fatherhood — giving us guidance and encouragement, knowledge and strength to live our Catholic faith with integrity and fidelity.
Our gratitude to the Holy Father is profound.
Helen Hull Hitchcock is the co-founder of Adoremus,
The Society for Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, which produces both the
The Adoremus Bulletin and The Adoremus Hymnal — Second Edition.
She is also the founding director of Women for Faith & Family.