Spirit Daily


  In New Book Major Cardinal Comments On Mysticism, Fallen Priests, And Mass

By Michael H. Brown

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- the second most powerful man in Rome -- has written a new, potent book -- in some ways, a miniature, "second Catechism." At times, it is also startling. Not since the release of Sister Lucia dos Santos' memoirs last spring has there been a work with such potential for future ecclesiastical influence.

In this work called God and the World, Ratzinger, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith  -- and often described by biographers as the most important senior figure in the Holy See (meeting privately with the Pope more than any other prefect) -- comes out in a surprisingly free-wheeling style to make a number of assertions -- some sure to ignite controversy.

Among the Cardinal's comments:

On bad priests: "It certainly can happen that people slip through, as it were, without really having received a call. But there are also 'failed callings,' that is, callings that are not truly lived out. The strange thing is, as we have already discussed, that God entrusts himself to such fragile vessels, that he has taken such a horrible risk with the Church. He has put Himself into hands that betray Him time and again. And He has left us the opportunity of falling and of being corrupted, so that He still has to support the Church Himself again and again through these very tools that have proved unsuitable."

In a conversation with German journalist Peter Seewald, Ratzinger also comments on controversies about the Mass itself -- and states his conviction that kneeling should always be a part of the Roman Catholic liturgy; that there should be increased availability of Latin Mass (though not a return to it); but that, to him, whether one receives Communion on the lips or on the hands is not a crucial issue.

 Should Masses be said again in Latin?

"That is no longer going to be possible as a general practice, and perhaps it is not desirable as such," says the high-ranking Cardinal. "At least it is clear, I would say, that the Liturgy of the Word should be in people's mother tongue. But otherwise I would be in favor of a new openness toward the use of Latin."

Communion in the hand, or directly in the mouth?

"I wouldn't want to be fussy about it," responded Cardinal Ratzinger. "It was done in the early Church. A reverent manner of receiving Communion in the hand is in itself a perfectly reasonable way to receive Communion."

On the issue of kneeling, however, Ratzinger takes a hard line.

Kneeling devoutly should remain, says the Prefect, and this is crucial due to the current trend in many parts of the West, especially the U.S., of not only limiting kneeling but of ridding churches of kneelers.

"Communion used to be received kneeling, which made perfectly good sense," says the Prefect. "Nowadays it is done standing. But this standing, too, should be standing in reverence before the Lord. The attitude of kneeling ought never to be allowed to disappear from the Church. It is the most impressive physical expression of Christian piety, by which, on one hand, we remain upright, looking out, gazing upon Him, but, on the other, we nonetheless bow down."

"'Man is never so great,' said John XXIII, 'as when he is kneeling'" (points out Seewald) -- to which the Cardinal adds: "And that is why I believe that this attitude, which was already one of the primitive forms of Old Testament prayer, is something essential for Christians."

On the Blessed Mother: the Cardinal advocates recitation of the Rosary and intimates that he has grown increasingly close to the Blessed Mother as he ages.

"People have realized that the complete removal of the feminine element from the Christian message is a shortcoming from an anthropological viewpoint," he writes. "It is theologically and anthropologically important for woman to be at the center of Christianity."

And as for mysticism:

"God speaks quietly. But He gives us all kinds of signs. In retrospect, especially, we can see that He has given us a little nudge through a friend, through a book, or through what we see as a failure -- even through 'accidents.' Life is actually full of these silent indications. If I remain alert, then slowly they piece together a consistent whole, and I begin to feel how God is guiding me."

Does such an intellectual, such a high-ranking authority -- such a sober man -- believe in the miraculous, that the Spirit still works in the world?

We'll look at that next, when Cardinal Ratzinger answers questions about the third secret of Fatima, the sun miracle, and whether Adolph Hitler was "possessed."

Ratzinger's  book,  God and the World, will be available soon in the Spiritdaily bookstore

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