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Liturgical Theology Part II

Written by Dr. Tim Brophy



According to Pope Benedict XVI, “theories, in the area of Liturgy, are transformed very rapidly into practice, and practice, in turn, creates…ways of behaving and thinking.”  The last portion of this paper will give several examples of the practices that logically flow from the various elements of Benedict’s liturgical theology.  First, and perhaps most obviously, kneeling during certain parts of the liturgy fits well with its being an act of corporate prayer and worship.[1]  Benedict points out that this is not only fitting for the liturgy but is also biblical.  He points to Stephen (Acts 7:60), Peter (Acts 9:40), Paul (Acts 20:36), and Jesus (Luke 22:41) as those who knelt to pray.  Even more than that, however, “bending the knee” during worship is actually a cosmic gesture.  In fact, by doing so, the Church joins the cosmic liturgy of Philippians 2:6-11.[2]  Second, liturgy should be accompanied by a whole host of bodily gestures including sitting, standing, kneeling, bowing, beating one’s breast, and making the sign of the cross.[3]  All these, Benedict says, “have an irreplaceable anthropological significance as the way the Spirit is expressed in the body…such gestures bring together the ‘outside’ and the ‘inside’ in a reciprocal relationship which is equally important for both.”[4]  Speaking further on this topic, Benedict says that the liturgy, because of its focus on the Paschal Mystery, is oriented toward the risen, corporeal Christ.[5]  The body, therefore, has a place within divine worship, expressed liturgically “in a certain discipline of the body…in gestures that have developed out of the liturgy’s inner demands and that make the essence of the liturgy, as it were, bodily visible.”[6]  Third,  liturgical celebrations should be accompanied by beautiful architecture, art, and music.  According to Benedict, the “profound connection between beauty and the liturgy should make us attentive to every work of art placed at the service of the celebration.”[7]  The beauty of liturgical celebrations should be reflective of the fact that the Church, through its liturgy, is drawn into the heavenly worship of God Almighty.  Finally, because of the historical, cosmological, and eschatological dimensions of the liturgy, all of the Church’s members, including its priests, should face East when worshipping the Triune God.  This practice, termed ad orientem, has fallen into disfavor and has been replaced by the priest celebrating the liturgy ad populum or “towards the people.”  According to Benedict, “Praying toward the east is a tradition that goes back to the beginning.  Moreover, it is a fundamental expression of the Christian synthesis of cosmos and history, of being rooted in the once-for-all events of salvation history while going out to meet the Lord who is to come again.”[8]  The Scriptures clearly teach that the glory of God comes from the east (Ezekiel 43:20) and that Christ will come again with the rising of the sun in the east (Zechariah 14:3-4).  It is only appropriate, according to Benedict, that the universal worship of the Church once again takes up this cosmic symbol.[9]  As convinced as Benedict is on this point, he does make a concession when facing east is not possible for both priest and people.  Instead, he suggests that the cross, standing in the middle of the altar, “can serve as the interior ‘east’ of faith…and be the common point of focus for both priest and praying community.”[10]  Besides all the connections to the liturgy mentioned above, this particular practice also flows from the liturgy’s focus on the Paschal Mystery of Christ.


Each of the motifs mentioned above clearly demonstrates the God-focused and Christocentric nature of Pope Benedict XVI’s liturgical theology.  It is important for Protestants to be aware of the theological basis of his recent “reform  of the reform,”[11] both for their own edification and to build unity with their brothers and sisters in the Catholic tradition.  Similarly, as suggested above, one of the best ways to understand what a group of people believe is to study their worship practices.  Protestants could learn more about the beliefs of their Roman Catholic neighbors and acquaintances by studying Benedict’s liturgical theology.  Such a familiarity could be beneficial in their evangelistic efforts towards unsaved Catholics.  In addition, the ecclesiological crisis in the evangelical church is an accepted fact by many observers within the movement.[12]  In response to this crisis, the “Chicago Call,” issued by several prominent evangelical theologians, encouraged evangelicals to return to their historic roots and continuity, creedal identity, sacramental integrity, broad-based spirituality, as well as Church authority and unity.[13]  An examination of Pope Benedict’s XVI’s liturgical theology could be helpful in this regard, in so much as many evangelicals have not yet answered this call.  Finally, an examination of Benedict’s liturgical theology could be fruitful because, whether they realize it or not, Protestants “are what [they] love, and [their] love is shaped, primed, and aimed by liturgical practices that take hold of [their] gut and aim [their] heart to certain ends.”[14]  Perhaps they could benefit from some of the God-focused and Christocentric insights of Pope Benedict XVI’s liturgical theology, and have their hearts aimed at God’s true and ultimate version of the “good life.”[15]


The Rev’d Dr. Timothy R. Brophy is the Senior Pastor/Vicar at Church of the Good Shepherd. He is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and holds a Ph.D. from George Mason University. Pastor Tim also holds a Master’s degree from the Rawlins Divinity School at Liberty University and has taken additional courses at the Anglican School of Ministry as well as Gordon-Conwell & Reformed Theological Seminaries. He has spiritual gifts of pastoring and teaching, and is committed to the authority of Scripture and its applicability to everyday life.

[1] Ratzinger, Feast of Faith, 74.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., 73.

[4] Ibid., 74.

[5] Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy, 175-176.

[6] Ibid., 176-177.

[7] Pope Benedict XVI, Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (February 22, 2007), 41. sacramentum-caritatis_en.html (accessed July 4, 2014).

[8] Ratzinger, Spirit of the Liturgy, 75.

[9] Ibid., 76.

[10] Ibid., 83.

[11] Reid, Looking Again, 151, 153.

[12] Chan, 9-11.

[13] Ibid, 11.

[14] Smith, 40.

[15] Ibid., 51.

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