Cardinal Ratzinger on Relativism, and Communion for the Remarried

Part 2 of Interview With the Prefect of Doctrinal Congregation

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 23, 2004 ( The greatest challenge facing the Church is the difficulty to believe in a social environment riddled with relativism, says Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

In Part 2 of this interview (Part 1 appeared Sunday) the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith addresses topics such as the concept of the “People of God,” “creative” liturgical celebrations, and the possibility of Communion for the divorced-and-remarried.

The interview first appeared in the Italian weekly Famiglia Cristiana and touches on some of the issues of Cardinal Ratzinger’s new book “Communion in the Church” (“La Comunione nella Chiesa”), published in Italy by St. Paul’s.

Q: Your book leads me to think that you do not have a particular preference to apply the concept of People of God to the Church.<br>
Cardinal Ratzinger: It’s not true. The concept of People of God is a biblical one. Rather, I do not like the arbitrary use of this concept, which, on the contrary, has quite a clear definition in sacred Scripture.

In the Old Testament, Israel is the People of God, above all because it accepts the call and election of God, because it enters in the will of God. It is not a static but a dynamic concept: It is the People of God as the Jewish people, but its being the People of God must always be renewed in the dynamism of its relation with him. This is fundamental in the Old Testament.

Q: And, in the New Testament?

Cardinal Ratzinger: In almost all the passages of the New Testament, this concept indicates Israel and, only in two or three texts, the Church. In this way, it is understood that the Church enters in the election of Israel; it participates in this being People of God.

But here also, it is not about an acquired property: The Church becomes the People of God in following the line of this election. However, to the concept of the Old Testament is added a new way of integrating in the will of God: communion with Christ.

There is a theological principle and then a Christological concretization, but above all there is a vital dynamism that disallows becoming proud: “We are the People of God.” We must always be converted into the People and only in that movement is the concept valid. If, on the contrary, we consider it as a profane model, non-biblical, the vision of the Church would be seriously compromised.

Q: You are severe in the book with any one who uses the liturgy only in a communicative way, as a means of education of the faithful. Why?

Cardinal Ratzinger: I want to specify that the liturgy is communicative and pastoral.

I am opposed to those who think that it is only communicative when it is transformed into a spectacle, into a sort of “show,” reducing to very little that great work of art that the liturgy is, when it is well celebrated, with interior participation.

In the last 20 years, Sunday Mass attendance in Germany has decreased by 70%. The faithful do not feel involved in “creative” celebrations that say nothing to them. Too often the liturgy is treated as something that one can dispose of according to one’s whim, as if it were our exclusive property. But in this way we end up by corrupting it.

Q: Is not the proposal of a Eucharist fast [not to go to Communion], to which you seem to allude, contrary to the exhortations of many Pontiffs, beginning with Pius X?

Cardinal Ratzinger: No. I already made this proposal 15 or 20 years ago, the first time, in the context of the celebration of Good Friday, a day of fasting.

We find the roots of this fasting in the Gospel of Mark: “The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” And as early as the first century the Good Friday fast arose, expression of our “compassion” with Christ, who died on the cross for us.

The second time I spoke about this was when addressing the argument of divorced persons who have remarried, as today they are practically the only ones who cannot have access to Communion.

Each one of us should meditate on whether or not he should be associated, at least on some occasions, to this situation of exclusion. In this way, we offer them a sign of solidarity, and we will have one more opportunity to go deeper in our spiritual life.

I see that many times in funerals, weddings and many other circumstances, people go to Communion as if it were simply a part of the rite: It is a supper and one must eat. But in this way, one ceases to live the spiritual profundity of this event, which is always a great challenge for each one of us.

I am certainly in agreement with the great popes when they say that we have need of Eucharistic communion because only the Lord can give us what we cannot attain on our own. Precisely because we are insufficient, we have need of his presence. However, we must avoid a superficial ritualism, which degrades this act, and try to go deeply into its magnitude.

Q: In regard to divorced persons who have remarried, do you think that the situation of exclusion from receiving Communion will continue to be in force?

Cardinal Ratzinger: If the first marriage was valid and they [the new couple] live in a union that is opposed to the sacramental bond, the exclusion remains in force.

It seems to me to be necessary, however, to enlarge the discussion so as not to reduce all the painful reality of this condition strictly to access to Communion. It is necessary to help these persons to live in the parish community, to share their suffering, to show them that they are loved and that they belong to the Church and that the Church suffers with them.

I think this common responsibility must be extended, to help one another reciprocally, to carry one another’s burdens, in a very fraternal way.

Q: What are the problems of the Church that concern you most at present?

Cardinal Ratzinger: I would say simply the present difficulty to believe. [There’s] relativism, which is already spontaneous for the human being of our times.

Today it is regarded an act of pride, incompatible with tolerance, to think that we have really received the truth of the Lord. However, it seems that, to be tolerant, all religions and cultures must be considered equal. In this context, to believe is an act that becomes increasingly difficult.

In this way we witness the silent loss of faith, without great protests, in a large part of Christianity. This is the greatest concern.

So it is important to ask ourselves how we can reopen the doors to the presence of the Lord, to the revelation that the Church makes of him, in this wave of relativism. Then we will really open a door to tolerance, which is not indifference, but love and respect for the other, reciprocal help on the path of life.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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