By FR. JEROME ROMANOWSKI
(Fr. Romanowski is a priest of the Diocese of Camden, N.J.)
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In studying the important summary of a meeting Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger attended in July 22-24, 2001, Fontgombault, France, I thought again of why the Holy Father had to retire. The proceedings were held in the Benedictine Monastery of Notre Dame, Fontgombault. My first thought in beginning this article is that a documentary of this historic event should be made immediately. It would explain the entire pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.
Before he announced his retirement, the Holy Father spoke to the Roman seminarians — extemporaneously. L’Osservatore Romano headlined, “The Church is Being Reborn” — not rebuilt — reborn.
Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI sowed the seed, Pope Francis nurtures the growth.
In his brilliant explanation of being born again, Pope Benedict XVI uses the individual rebirth to explain the Church’s rebirth: “I am remade by the Lord in the depths of my being. And I enter into this process of rebirth. I let myself be transformed, renewed, reborn.” This is the third stage of the spiritual life and leads us back to 2001 AD in the peaceful monastery of Notre Dame Fontgombault. If the liberals had really read the message the then Cardinal Ratzinger left, they would have been better prepared for the blockbuster pontificate of this saint.
Digest the following, if you will, to see how right he is in speaking of the need for the Church to be reborn:
“Both in the first reading of today (Gen. 18: 1-10) on the apparition of the Trinity to Abraham and in the Gospel, I find therefore a very profound view of the Liturgy with its two dimensions. In Genesis, it is Abraham who generously offers his hospitality to the Lord, to the Trinity. He offers the calf, the bread, the cheese, he washes the feet of his guests, he gives unreservedly of himself.
“But in the end it is the Lord who gives the one thing necessary, the essential thing. He gives him a son, and with the son He gives a future, He gives life and hope.
“The same applies in the Gospel: Martha offers good things to the Lord, she offers the gift of her home, and Mary offers her listening ear, her profound availability. But in the end it is the Lord who not only gives His word, but also gives His Very Self. And this is the essence of the Liturgy; we offer up our poor gifts, and we receive from the hands of the Lord Himself the gift, the one thing necessary, His Body and Blood, and in His Body and Blood we receive eternal life, the reign of God, Redemption.
“Let us pray to the Lord to help us — to help the Church to celebrate the Liturgy well, to be truly at the feet of the Lord, to receive the gift of true life, the essential and necessary reality, for the salvation of all, the salvation of the world. Amen” (homily July 22, 2001, Notre Dame Monastery, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger).
That homily set the stage for a brilliant description of the state of the Church in our times. Others contributed mightily to this profound group from various areas of the world. The problem with a gathering such as this one and the solutions to so many disputes in the Church is that it remains hidden to most Church members. This gathering set forth the entire apostolate for the Church, beginning and ending with the key to everything that happens in the world today — true worship of Almighty God.
Cardinal Ratzinger’s fitting request for this holy gathering: “Those who use the two Roman Missals of 1962 and 1970 [are] to be equally represented” (p. 11). The cardinal had published his profound work on the liturgy just two years before.
In case one forgets, the book is The Spirit of the Liturgy.
The Rev. Dom Hervé Courau, OSB, gives a clear description of the meeting in the Foreword to the Proceedings. It began properly with Holy Mass celebrated by Cardinal Ratzinger.
“Thoughts needed to be channeled in four directions which meant four series of discussions, a lecture followed by more direct applications, i.e., Theology of the Liturgy, anthropological aspects of the Liturgy, Roman Rite or Rites (or what scope is there for diversity in the Roman Liturgy?). And finally, what are the problems posed by liturgical reform and what lessons can be learned for a new Liturgical Movement?” (Ibid., p. 11).
From that time forward, Pope Benedict XVI led the new Liturgical Movement primarily by his motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, six years after this historic meeting. When he gave the paper on the possibilities of a liturgical reform, he was able to stimulate the quest among the participants to see the necessity to restore the sacredness back into the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In every real reform, there must be a plan and a certain way of carrying out the plan.
When Patton fought the greatest battle of the Second World War and needed spiritual help to obtain the needed clear weather, he knew where to find that spiritual help: in the prayer of the chaplain of his famous Third Army.
Cardinal Ratzinger explained the true meaning of the Mass and the cross by calling on a Giant of the Church, St. Augustine:
“That is why Augustine could synthesize all that by saying: ‘Such is the sacrifice of Christians: the multitude is one single body in Christ. The Church celebrates this mystery by the sacrifice of the Altar, well known to believers, because in it, it is shown to her that in the things which she offers, it is she herself who is offered’ [The City of God, X. 5]. Anyone who has understood this, will no longer be of the opinion that to speak of the Sacrifice of the Mass is at least highly ambiguous, an even appalling horror. On the contrary: If we do not remember this, we lose sight of the grandeur of that which God gives us in the Eucharist” (Notre Dame Liturgical Conference, p. 27).
The grandeur of the Mass is that it brings God to us in the perfect manner and this perfection should be taught to children as soon as they can understand because God is given His honor and glory in order to save souls for eternity.
This passing world can blind us to the Truth if we are not thoroughly immersed in the life that our Lord gives us and that nurtures us. We cannot escape the cross and this aspect of the Mass is essential in catechetics and evangelization. The proclamation of the Truth is the third luminous mystery of the rosary and the truth is that we must always beg forgiveness for our sins. Only by belief in the perfection of God can we make true progress in the rebirth of the Church that Pope Benedict XVI and Blessed John Paul II have mapped out for us.
Cardinal Ratzinger brought together this holy group together in 2001 in order to continue the pursuit of that unity that he would strive for as prefect of the Congregation for the Faith and then as the Successor of St. Peter. The battle continued and reached a high point in July 2007 when he issued the historic Summorum Pontificum and the letter to every bishop explaining the need to restore the Mass to the center of our lives. He has continued to direct that crusade throughout his time on this earth, even now and more so, in his life of prayer and penance.