John Heard: B16’s mission of Truth for Oz

09 Jul 2008

By The Record

In less than two weeks, Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in Australia for World Youth Day.
His visit will be the largest major event in Australian history. It will directly change the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people.
These facts are not, however, the only key things to note in the lead up.
Rather, World Youth Day – beyond the on-ground miracle of so many young people gathered together for Christ – will likely be distinguished by Benedict’s attempts to use the celebration to advance the twin goals of his pontificate: (1) liturgical rigour, inspired by (2) a potent re-presentation of Christian truth.
Both goals can be seen as responses to the challenges of secular modernity. They unite the Pope’s Sydney visit with the ongoing considerations that are integral to understanding his wider pontificate.
To that end, it is important to note that the Pope has chosen to preside over solemn Christian rituals, and other unmistakeably religious events in Sydney. He will, therefore, visit a place that is so intensely secular it is often called “sin city”.
In this context, Benedict intends to bring Sydney to its knees – literally, before Christ.
No one has ever done that before, and on such a scale.
A mass event in the middle of the city is, however, just the kind of direct, immediately impressive engagement with the so-called post-Christian present that Benedict has shown he can – in the tradition of his Great predecessor – carry out with élan.
He did it, most recently, in New York City.
But Ratzinger is not Wojtyla, and Benedict will bring his own innovation to the Sydney events.
During his speeches, meetings, and homilies, the Pope will demonstrate, then, his professor’s skill at condensing complex Catholic thought. He will translate varied, often controversial teachings, into plain, albeit profound language.
He will speak, of course, with the authority of the Successor of St Peter, as he does whenever he travels. However, in Sydney, the Pope will also speak directly to young people. He will deliver his messages, for only the second time, to the living future of Catholicism.
This is another remarkable aspect of this visit.
It won’t just be the content of the Pope’s messages that will be remarkable, however, or the rare audience. With Benedict, one must observe widely, as much as listen closely.
The music chosen, the vestments he wears, even the ferula he carries, all of these provide clues as to his mission, and his intentions.
Because, while in Sydney, Benedict will demonstrate the importance he places on continuity within the liturgical tradition of the Church.
He will be especially keen to share this tradition with young people.
For that reason he will, during the Mass at Randwick, and at other times then, attempt to more closely model enduring ideals of sacredness in the liturgy, and he will be keen to accentuate verticality in Catholic worship.
Benedict will, for instance, likely offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a style that has been recently restored to his celebrations in Rome, and much discussed, and increasingly imitated elsewhere.
That is, expect to see the sanctuary ordered according to a traditional, so-called “Benedictine” set-up: seven tall candles arranged symmetrically on the altar, with a prominent crucifix in the centre.
The Pope prefers this arrangement, he has written, because it re-orients our worship to the “liturgical East”, so that we might look together (with the priest) to the rising sun: the Christ.
He will be keen to ensure that the Sydney gatherings will conform, then, to more exacting standards of theological, stylistic and aesthetic rigour – standards that he has written about extensively.
Certainly, where his words and actions show that solemnity, obedience, continuity, and beauty in ritual expression reveal something important about what Catholics believe, and in turn – influence how we live our faith – the Pope will present Sydney and the world with another public endorsement of the so-called “reform of the reform”.
Further, inasmuch as few of Benedict’s major liturgical developments have yet to exert much influence over Australian practice, a new victory in Sydney would, therefore, serve to advance his goals for the universal Church. Coupled with his profound, and moving exhortations to young Catholics, this endorsement, and that sort of victory, could be the lasting legacy of his time in Sydney.
It would mean that, even beyond altering lives and bringing secular Sydney to a very Catholic standstill, World Youth Day would transform Catholic worship in this country and advance the Pope’s commitment to meet, then overcome the challenges thrown up by the rise of secular modernity around the world.
John Heard is a Melbourne writer.