Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the former Vicar for the Diocese of Rome, has published a review of Pope Benedict XVI’s new book “Homilies: The Liturgical Year Narrated by Joseph Ratzinger, Pope.” Saying the homilies “contain a treasure, a form of sustenance, and even a medicine, which can do a great deal of good for those who wish to read them,” the cardinal endeavored to explain the distinctive theology of the Pope’s thought.
Saying the Pope has a “profound sense” of liturgical mystery and liturgical action, the cardinal describes his theology as being “in every respect extraordinarily equipped and ‘oriented’" toward the ministry of the homily.
Cardinal Ruini quoted the Pope’s October 14 remarks to the Synod of Bishops in which the pontiff critiqued some modern biblical studies for denying “the possibility of the entry and real presence of the divine within history.”
This failing has created confusion over homily preparation and displaces Scripture from its place as “the soul of theology,” Cardinal Ruini said.
The brilliance of the Pope’s theological work is that it utilizes the “intimate union between exegesis and theology.” Cardinal Ruini said Pope Benedict’s preaching is both simple and substantive, “break(ing) the bread of the Word of God and of the mystery of our salvation in a way that is understandable to all.”
The Pope’s historical approach to theology and exegesis does not leave Scripture “closed off in the past in which they were written” but rather understands Scripture’s present meaning through its past. In the words of each biblical author “something greater resounds, God who shows us his face for the sake of our salvation,” Cardinal Ruini wrote.
Pope Benedict elaborates and brings to life biblical faith “in a fertile interchange with the great problems of the time in which we are living.” His homilies show how the biblical texts can be fully and authentically understood “as an integral part of liturgical action,” through which they are made present and speak to us.
“For this reason,” the cardinal continued, “reading and meditating on the homilies of Benedict XVI has become for many priests a valuable aid, and almost a paradigm for their personal preaching: in this regard, I myself have experienced how much listening to many of these homilies in person has helped my preaching, improving its connection to the Bible and the liturgy, and stimulating the attention and participation of those present.”
Calling the new book of homilies a “practical aid” and an inspirational model for every priest, the cardinal selected some of his favorite examples from the book.
He described the Pope’s homily for the chrism Mass on the morning of Holy Thursday, at which priests renew their vocational vows.
“This homily takes us inside the nature and meaning of the priestly ministry,” the cardinal said.
Beginning with the words of Deuteronomy on the Old Testament priesthood, “to stand in your presence and serve you,” Pope Benedict says these words “indicate standing before the Lord present in the Eucharist and the center of the priest's life”
The homily continues by recalling a Lenten hymn from the liturgy of the hours, based upon the words “Let us be more vigilant.”
In the cardinal’s words, the Pope explains: “the priest must therefore be one who watches, who stands guard before the insistent demands of evil.”
The Pope then explores the meaning of serving the Lord, writing “in the celebration of the Eucharist, the priest carries out a service to God and a service to men, inserting himself within the donation Christ made of himself.”
The dimensions of this service include the “art of celebrating,” prayer learned “in the school of Christ and of the saints” and familiarity with the Word of God and with God Himself. This familiarity “must not become routine, obscuring the astonishing and always novel reality that God is present, speaks to us, gives himself to us.”
“The service of the priest therefore means obedience, the obedience of faith that makes us free in the communion of the Church and service to our brethren,” the Pope’s homily explains.
The cardinal writes that he cannot briefly communicate the “beauty and richness” of the homilies contained in Pope Benedict’s book, but invites readers to find in it “that restoration of the Spirit and of life that only Jesus Christ can give us.”
At present, “Homilies: The Liturgical Year Narrated by Joseph Ratzinger, Pope” is available only in Italian.