How is the Church Renewed?


What exactly is real renewal, the right kind of renewal?

15. How Is the Church Renewed?

Holy Father, no one will dispute that the Church is in need of purification and renewal, especially after the most recent abuse scandals. The only question is: What exactly is real renewal, the right kind of renewal? You have used dramatic words to show clearly that the destiny of the faith and the Church is decided solely "in the context of the liturgy". An outsider might think that it is more a secondary question which words are spoken at Mass or which bodily postures are used or which actions are performed.

The Church becomes visible for people in many ways, in charitable activity or in missionary projects, but the place where the Church is actually experienced most of all as Church is the liturgy. And that is also as it should be. At the end of the day, the point of the Church is to turn us toward God and to enable God to enter into the world. The liturgy is the act in which we believe that he enters our lives and that we touch him. It is the act in which what is really essential takes place: We come into contact with God. He comes to us – and we are illumined by him.

The liturgy gives us strength and guidance in two forms. On the one hand, we hear His Word, which means that we really hear him speaking and receive his instruction about the path we should follow. On the other hand, he gives himself to us in the transformed bread. Of course, the words can always differ, the bodily attitudes can differ. The Eastern Church, for instance, uses certain gestures that differ from the ones familiar to us. In India, the same gestures that they share with us have a partly different significance. The essential point is that the Word of God and the reality of the Sacrament really occupy center stage; that we don't bury God underneath our words and our ideas and that the liturgy doesn't turn into an occasion to display ourselves.

So liturgy is something that is given in advance?

Yes. It is not about our doing something, about our demonstrating our creativity, in other words, about dis- playing everything we can do. Liturgy is precisely not a show, a piece of theater, a spectacle. Rather, it gets its life from the Other. This has to become evident, too. This is why the fact that the ecclesial form has been given in advance is so important. It can be reformed in matters of detail, but it cannot be reinvented every time by the community. It is not a question, as I said, of self-production. The point is to go out of and beyond ourselves, to give ourselves to him, and to let ourselves be touched by him.

In this sense, it's not just the expression of this form that's important, but also its communality. This form can exist in different rites, but it must always contain that element which precedes us, that comes from the whole of the Church's faith, from the whole of her tradition, from the whole of her life, and does not just spring from the fashion of the moment.

Are you saying that we have to remain in a state of passivity?

Light of the World
by Peter Seewald

No. Because it's precisely this approach, you see, that really challenges us to let ourselves be snatched out of the mere momentary situation; to enter into the totality of the faith, to understand it, to take part in it interiorly, and, on that basis, to give the liturgy the worthy form that makes it beautiful and a source of joy. Now that is exactly what happened in a very special way in Bavaria – for example, through the great flowering of Church music or else the efflorescence of joy in the Bavarian Rococo. Of course it is important that we give the whole a beautiful form, but always in the service of what precedes us, and not as something that we ourselves are first supposed to produce.

You have stated that, when it comes to the holiness of the Eucharist, there is no room for alternatives.The Eucharist, you say, is the hinge on which all renewal turns. The very possibility of spiritual revolutions depends on the spirit of the Eucharist.

If it is true – as we believe it is – that Christ is really present in the Eucharist, then this is the event that is at the center of absolutely everything. It is the event, not just of a single day, but of the history of the world as a whole, as the decisive force that then becomes the source from which changes can come. The important point is that the Lord's Word and his real presence in the signs are inseparable in the Eucharist. It is important that we also receive instruction in the Word. That we answer through our prayer and that God's guidance, our following, and our allowing ourselves be changed thus form an interlocking whole – so that men themselves can be changed, which is the most important precondition for any really positive change in the world.

If we want the world to move forward a little, the only criterion in terms of which this can happen is God, who enters into our lives as a real presence. The Eucharist is the place where men can receive the kind of formation from which new things come into being. This is why the great figures who throughout history have really brought about revolutions for the good have been the saints who, touched by Christ, have brought new impulses into the world.

In the eleventh chapter, the conciliar document Lumen Gentium describes Sunday participation in the Eucharistic sacrifice as the "source and summit of the entire Christian life". Christ says: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life." As Pope, you have begun to administer communion on the tongue, while the communicants receive the sacrament on their knees. Do you regard this as the appropriate posture?

The first point that needs to be made is that time has a structure that is common for all believers. The Old Testament prescribes this structure already in light of the creation account, presenting the Sabbath as the day when God rests and men rest with him. For Christians, time gets this structure from Sunday, the day of the Resurrection, when he encounters us and we encounter him. Once again, the most important act here is, as it were, the moment when he unites himself to us through his self-gift.

I am not opposed in principle to communion in the hand; I have both administered and received communion in this way myself. The idea behind my current practice of having people kneel to receive communion on the tongue was to send a signal and to underscore the real presence with an exclamation point. One very important reason is that there is a great danger of superficiality precisely in the kinds of mass events we hold at Saint Peter's, both in the Basilica and in the Square. I have heard of people who, after receiving communion, stick the Host in their wallet to take home as a kind of souvenir. In this context, where people think that everyone is just automatically supposed to receive communion – everyone else is going up, so I will, too – I wanted to send a clear signal. I wanted it to be clear: Something quite special is going on here! He is here, the One before whom we fall on our knees! Pay attention! This is not just some social ritual in which we can take part if we want to.




Pope Benedict XVI and Peter Seewald. (2010). excerpt from "How Is the Church Renewed?" chapter 15 in Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and The Signs Of The Times. San Francisco: Ignatius Press. 155-159.

Reprinted with permission from Ignatius Press.


Pope Benedict XVI is the author of Caritas in Veritate: Charity in Truth, Saved in Hope: Spe Salvi, God Is Love: Deus Caritas Est, Jesus of Nazareth, The End of Time?: The Provocation of Talking about God, Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions, Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, Salt of the Earth: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church at the End of the Millennium, God and the World: Believing and Living in Our Time, In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, The Spirit of the Liturgy, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, Introduction to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Introduction to Christianity, Called to Communion: Understanding the Church Today, Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977, Behold the Pierced One, and God Is Near Us: The Eucharist, the Heart of Life.

Peter Seewald is a veteran German journalist who, in addition to Light of the World, has done two other internationally best-selling book length interviews with Joseph Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI): Salt of the Earth and God and the World. He is also the author of Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait, and the photo-biography Pope Benedict XVI: Servant of the Truth.

Copyright © 2010 Ignatius Press

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