VATICAN CITY – The Second Vatican Council’s renewal of the liturgy wasn’t so much about changing texts or gestures as it was about changing Catholics’ attitude toward the Mass and helping the liturgy change their lives, Pope Benedict XVI said.
“Unfortunately, the liturgy was seen, perhaps even by us pastors and experts, more as an object to reform than as a subject capable of renewing Christian life,” the pope said May 6.
Addressing participants at a conference marking the 50th anniversary of Rome’s Pontifical Liturgical Institute, Pope Benedict said Blessed Pope John XXIII asked the Benedictines to establish the institute to help the church respond to the “urgency of a reform,” which many bishops from around the world were requesting before the Second Vatican Council.
A strong pastoral concern for Catholics around the world required the encouragement of “a more active participation of the faithful in the liturgical celebrations through the use of national languages” and an appropriate “adaptation of the rites in the various cultures, especially in mission lands,” he said.
But the church’s liturgy, the center of its existence, could not be changed simply for the sake of change, he said. “From the beginning it was clear that the theological foundation of the liturgy had to be studied in order to avoid falling into ritualism and so that the reform would be justifiable from the point of view of revelation and of continuity with the tradition of the church,” he said.
The pope said the aim of the Second Vatican Council’s reform “was not principally that of changing rites and texts, but of renewing mentalities and placing the celebration of the paschal mystery of Christ at the center of Christian life and pastoral activity.”
The eucharistic celebration, he said, is the way “to reveal and make present” Christ’s saving work each day, so it must be done “in a correct and constant relationship between healthy tradition and legitimate progress.”
Pope Benedict said too often Catholics try to set up an opposition between “tradition and progress” in the liturgy, when “in reality, the two concepts go together: In some way, tradition includes progress. It’s like saying the river of tradition carries its source with it as it flows toward its outlet.”