VATICAN CITY — Our Italian colleague, Andrea Tornielli, today published two texts written by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the liturgy. The pieces — one a letter translated from German into Italian and another from a speech — are contained in a new book, “Davanti al Protagonista: Alla Radici della Liturgia” (“Before the Protagonist: At the Roots of the Liturgy”).
The letter by the future pope was written in 2003 to Heinz-Lothar Barth, a classics professor at the University of Bonn, Germany. The text — in German, in English and even in Italian — has been available on Web sites for years.
The letter expresses support for Catholics attached to the older form of the Latin Mass. One of the most interesting paragraphs (our translation from the Italian) states:
Nevertheless I believe that in the long term the Roman church once again must have only one Roman rite. In practice, the existence of two official rights would be difficult for bishops and priests to ‘manage.’ The Roman rite of the future should be one, celebrated in Latin or in the vernacular, but completely in the tradition of the rite that was handed down to us. This could include some new elements that have been experienced as valid such as the new feasts, some new prefaces for Mass, an extended lectionary — with more choices than before, but not too many — a ‘oratio fidelium,’ that is, a fixed litany of intercessions that follow the ‘Oremus’ before the offertory, which is where it had been placed.
Of course, all this has been superseded by history. Pope Benedict in 2007 relaxed restrictions on use of the Tridentine rite as an alternative to the post-Vatican II liturgy. Rather than speak of this as two coexisting rites, the pope has described it as “two usages of the one Roman rite.”