Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI

In a happy co-incidence, the very article I wanted to cite to you here is one of the few given for "free" this week on The Spectator's website: Damian Thompson's "The Counsel of Trent". [Yes, it really says "Counsel". The Spectator doesn't indulge in typos, so you and I are no doubt missing out on an excellent pun, which The Speccie does do, and very well, too.]

In any event, this is a bracing and realistic article on our new pope. Not always what I wanted to read. But with many good things, too.

Such as:

Here is a list of the changes Benedict would like to see introduced in dioceses around the world: the lifting of all restrictions on the celebration of the Tridentine rite; the replacement of toe-curling folk hymns by plainchant and polyphony; a return to the congregational rituals of bowing and breast-beating; the occasional Tridentine-style recitation of the canon of the modern Mass sotto voce; and — where architecturally feasible — a revival of the practice of the priest facing eastwards, away from the people, as he celebrates the Eucharist.

This literal reorientation is crucial because it captures the essence of Benedict’s theology. Orthodoxy, he argues in his masterpiece The Spirit of the Liturgy, should recover its older meaning of ‘the right way to glorify God, the right form of adoration’. And this means priest and people facing the risen Lord together, rather than facing each other and talking complacently about ‘the people of God’ (a phrase whose overuse irritates Benedict).

And a dose of realism:

One of the keys to understanding Benedict is his brutal assessment of the immediate future of the Church. John Paul, with the cheers of crowds of bused-in ‘young people’ ringing in his ears, predicted a ‘springtime of Christianity’. His successor believes that the Church will grow smaller, and that this is by no means a bad thing. (One of the joys of reading Ratzinger is spotting how often he subtly tiptoes away from John Paul’s obsessions: it would be surprising if we were to hear any more about Fatima during this pontificate, and there will be no more talk of Mary as ‘Co-Redemptrix’ of humanity.)

Benedict’s apparent pessimism should be welcomed by Catholics, since it can only be to their advantage to have a pontiff whose view of the Church corresponds to sociological reality. The number of practising Catholics in the developed world is shrinking and will continue to shrink. The conventional view of Benedict has him planning to do battle with the diabolical materialism that has caused this decline. In fact, he grasps the complexity and irreversibility of the social forces involved. ‘The historical hour isn’t turning around,’ he said in an interview in 1996. ‘It would undoubtedly be false to expect that a sort of historical shift could take place, that the faith will again become a large-scale mass phenomenon that dominates history.’

"No more" about Fatima and Our Lady as co-redemptrix seems excessive, if only because the concept of co-redemptrix is expressed pretty clearly in the section on the Blessed Virgin Mary in Lumen Gentium. But otherwise, he seems spot on. And one is especially delighted to read that Pope Benedict is not entranced with the capitalist superstition.

In any event, you can read it for yourself here.