We had a big snowstorm in Ottawa last Wednesday, with heavy wet snow, wind and terrible traffic. I worked on Parliament Hill that day and it took me more than a half hour to drive from the parking lot to Notre Dame Cathedral, a distance that under more normal conditions would take five or ten minutes.
There was a good turn-out nevertheless for a Thanksgiving Mass for Benedict XVI on the eve of Feb. 28 when he would abdicate the See of Peter.
Also, fitting in the sense of our huge gratitude for Anglicanorum coetibus, Fr. Carl Reid joined other Catholic priests from Ottawa in the sanctuary—and not in choir dress.
Here is Archbishop Terrence Prendergast’s homily. It was so good to be there.
A Mass of Thanksgiving to God
for the Papal Ministry of Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger)
Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica—Ottawa, Ontario
Wednesday in the 2nd Week of Lent—February 27, 2013
“LET US RETURN TO PRAYER”
[1 Peter 5.1-4; Psalm 23 (22); Matthew 20.17-28]
In recounting memories of his ordination and first Mass in the pious Bavarian town where he grew up, Joseph Ratzinger tells how he kept thinking to himself, “It’s not about you, Joseph.” He may have had similar thoughts on Ash Wednesday when the congregation at St. Peter’s Basilica broke out in sustained applause—a standing ovation—during what was his last public Mass as pope.
In The Spirit of the Liturgy, a book he wrote as Cardinal, he expressed criticism of applause in the liturgy in these words: “Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment”.
The theme of this book is that of liturgy as God’s work and not man’s—so it proclaims a central theme of his thought and of the many celebrations he has presided as the Holy Father.
His serene and prayerful celebration of Mass and love of Eucharistic adoration were palpable at the World Youth Day vigils in Sydney and Madrid where he invited the throngs of young people to be silent before the Lord and they were.
The assembly in Cologne seemed electrified when he gave voice to his insight into the dynamic quality of the Eucharistic Lord as he remarked, “The substantial conversion of bread and wine into [Christ’s] body and blood introduces within creation the principle of a radical change, a sort of “nuclear fission,” which penetrates to the heart of all being, a change meant to set off a process which transforms reality, a process leading ultimately to the transfiguration of the entire world, to the point where God will be all in all (cf. 1 Cor 15:28).
This powerful vision of the attractive quality of a beautifully celebrated liturgy led him to permit any priest in the world to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass and to allow Anglicans to retain their rich liturgical traditions after reception into the Church under the terms of his decree (motu proprio), Anglicanorum coetibus. His response to the applause on Ash Wednesday was simply to say “thank you” and then to add “let us return to prayer”.
And while the implications of his resignation for the life and witness of the papacy in the Church and for the world remain hidden to us, we can perhaps agree that his gesture in resigning this office “for the good of the Church” was an act of humility and the fruit of discerning God’s will for him in prayer.
The breadth and depth of Pope Benedict’s intellectual acumen and scholarly incisiveness is something we grasp in his major addresses (in Germany, France and the United Kingdom), his weekly audiences and speeches on pastoral voyages and, above all in his three encyclicals, Deus caritas est, Spe salvi and Caritas in veritate.
His answer to the empty promises of secularism and the grasping for position and status in the Church—just as the mother of Zebedee’s sons sought for her beloved James and John in today’s gospel—lies profoundly in friendship with Jesus Christ and in attachment to his teaching. As we come to know the Lord in prayer, the one who came to give his life as a ransom for many—precisely what we celebrate in this mystery of the Eucharist—draws us profoundly into his mind, heart and soul so as to be willing, in our turn, to be baptized with his baptism and to share his cup of suffering. We come to accept through Our Lord’s gentle but powerful instruction that bearing his cross in our lives will lead to small deaths each day and ultimately bring us to the fullness of eternal life.
The first reading, specially chosen for today, details the testimony of the first pope, St. Peter, who challenged all who serve in the Church, and particularly those of us who have been ordained, to give of ourselves generously, not for personal gain, but with gentleness and meekness. The measure of the ministry of Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI is how closely we can see that these are precisely the sentiments that reflect his whole priestly and episcopal ministry and—most certainly—his papacy.
And so we give thanks to God for the graces given Joseph Ratzinger from the moment of his birth and baptism, which took place mere hours after he was born, and his fidelity to that new life in Christ bestowed on him on Holy Saturday in 1927. Joyfully then, do we offer up prayers of petition that the Lord may continue to grant him blessings without number so that his remaining days may be—even within the hiddenness of the monastery where he will live—a testimony to us all.