Versus Deum per Iesum Christum
“The latest direction of liturgical action, never expressed to such an extent in the outer forms, is the same for the priest and for the people: towards the Lord”. The introduction of the dean of the Sacred College to the book of Uwe Michael Lang
by cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
The Incipit of the Canon taken from the Ambrosian Missal (end XI-beginning XII century), Ambrosian Library, Milan
This is an important clarification. It sheds light on what is relative in the external symbolic forms of the liturgy and resists the fanaticisms that, unfortunately, have not been uncommon in the controversies of the last forty years. At the same time it highlights the internal direction of liturgical action, which can never be expressed in its totality by external forms. This internal direction is the same for priest and people, towards the Lord – towards the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. The Congregation’s response should thus make for a new, more relaxed discussion, in which we can search for the best ways of putting into practice the mystery of salvation. The quest is to be achieved not by condemning one another, but by carefully listening to each other and, even more importantly, listening to the internal guidance of the liturgy itself. The labelling of positions as ‘preconciliar’, ‘reactionary’ and ‘conservative’ or as ‘progressive’ and ‘alien to the faith’ achieves nothing; what is needed is a new mutual openness in the search for the best realisation of the memorial of Christ.
Gradual of the Chapter of Santa Maria Maggiore, XVI century, Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome
More recently the atmosphere has become more relaxed so that it is possible to raise the kind of questions asked by Jungmann, Bouyer and Gamber without at once being suspected of anti-conciliar sentiments. Historical research has made the controversy less partisan, and among the faithful there is an increasing sense of the problems inherent in an arrangement that hardly shows the liturgy to be open to the things that are above and to the world to come. In this situation, Uwe Michael Lang’s delightfully objective and wholly unpolemical book is a valuable guide. Without claiming to offer major new insights, he carefully presents the results of recent research and provides the material necessary for making an informed judgment. The book is especially valuable in showing the contribution made by the Church of England to this question and in giving, also, due consideration to the part played by the Oxford Movement in the nineteenth century (in which the conversion of John Henry Newman matured). It is from such historical evidence that the author elicits the theological answers that he proposes, and I hope that the book, the work of a young scholar, will help the struggle – necessary in every generation – for the right understanding and worthy celebration of the sacred liturgy. I wish the book a wide and attentive readership.
The text of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger printed in these pages, unpublished in Italy, is the preface which the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote for Uwe Michael Lang’s book Conversi ad Dominum. Zu Gechichte und Theologie der christlichen Gebetsrichtung, published last year in Switzerland by Johannes Verlag in Einsiedeln. The English version of the book (Turning towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer) is coming out with the Ignatius Press publishing house of San Francisco (USA), which holds the copyright of the book.
Uwe Michael Lang is a member of the Oratory of Saint Filippo Neri in London, studied theology in Vienna and Oxford, and has published numerous texts on patristic subjects.