Why Liturgy Comes First

Throughout his long and storied career as a theologian, Pope Benedict XVI has displayed an overarching concern with liturgical matters.

In the preface to the just-released first volume of “The Complete Works of Joseph Ratzinger,” a 16-volume series being produced by the German publisher Herder, the theologian-pope explains why he believes liturgy warrants pride of place in the intellectual life of the Church.

Benedict notes in the preface that some see it as merely an accident of fate that the Second Vatican Council’s first document was Sacrosanctum Concilium, the Church’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.

A meaningless coincidence? Hardly, says the Pope.

“What seems to be a coincidence at first glance turns out to be, after looking at the hierarchy of themes and tasks of the Church, intrinsically the most just thing as well,” the Holy Father writes in the preface, as translated by Sandro Magister’s Chiesa website. “By beginning with the theme of ‘liturgy,’ the primacy of God, the priority of the ‘God’ theme, was unequivocally brought to light. The first word of the first chapter in the constitution is ‘God.’ When the focus is not on God, everything else loses its orientation.”

According to Benedict, liturgy addresses “the fundamental question of the man who begins to understand himself in the correct way: how should I encounter God? So learning the right way of adoration — of orthodoxy — is what is given to us above all by the faith.”

And consideration of this fundamental question — how to encounter God — has been the framework for all of Benedict’s theological investigations.

“When I decided, after some hesitation, to accept the project of an edition of all of my works, it was immediately clear to me that the order of priorities at the Council also needed to be applied to it, and that therefore the first volume to be published had to be the one containing my writings on the liturgy,” he says. “Ever since my childhood, the Church’s liturgy has been the central activity of my life, and it also became, under the theological instruction of masters like Schmaus, Söhngen, Pascher, and Guardini, the center of my theological work. I chose fundamental theology as my specific topic, because I wanted above all to go to the heart of the question: why do we believe? But right from the beginning, this question included the other one about the proper response to God, and therefore also the question about the divine service.”

Continues the Pope, “It is on this basis that my work on the liturgy must be understood. I was not interested in the specific problems of liturgical study, but in the anchoring of the liturgy in the fundamental act of our faith, and therefore also its place in our entire human existence.”

— Tom McFeely

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