Ratzinger and Liturgy: The Cosmos and Facing East

On this day, Pope Benedict XVI returns to his status as Joseph Ratzinger, only with the title of "Bishop Emeritus of Rome". As Ratzinger makes the transition from Pontiff to contemplative, the Catholic Church thereby loses a pope of outstanding theological subtlety. 

If there is one area in the life of the Church where Ratzinger would have made a significant impact, it would be in its liturgical life, particularly in his attempts to try and minimise the differences between the two expressions of the Roman Rite. Whilst some would decry a seeming obsession with unimportant ritualistic details, such critiques tend to ignore or gloss over the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu's (made in his Logic of Practice) observation that every move, however minor, implicates within its exterior structure deep cosmological undercurrents. 

This sense should be even more acute in the quintessentially sacramental structure of the Eucharistic Liturgy, where every liturgical step is but a bringing into sharp focus things of massive temporal and spatial weight. Indeed, in his Spirit of the Liturgy, Ratzinger noted that the smallest actions in the liturgy constitutes a channelling of the entire cosmos towards the worship of God, whilst at the same time enacting the breaking of eternity into history.

The issue of facing East in the Liturgy (sometimes uncharitably called "the priest turning his back to the people") is a case in point. In a chapter entitled Sacred Time Ratzinger wrote the following:

Facing east means that when one prays, one is turned towards the rising sun...It points to the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, to his death and new rising. It points to the future of the world and the consummation of all history in the final coming of the Redeemer. Thus time and space are interconnected in Christian prayer. Space itself has become time, and time has...entered into space. And just as time and space intertwine, so too, do history and cosmos. Cosmic time, which is determined by the sun, becomes a representation of human time and of historical time, which moves toward the union of God and world...in a word, toward the New City whose light is God himself. Thus time becomes eternity, and eternity is imparted to time.

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