The Kwasniewski lecture: “The Old Mass and the New Evangelization: Beyond the Long Winter of Rationalism”
The full unedited text, which is a rich feast replete with an amplitude of footnotes, can be found over at the Rorate Caeli website (HERE). For the moment, here is an excerpt (emphasis added):
Traditional liturgies, Eastern and Western, have a certain inherent density of content and meaning that demands a response from us, yet our response is never fully adequate, satisfactory, or exhaustive: we can always have prayed better, we are always being outstripped by the reality. We never get to the bottom of it, shrug our shoulders, and say: “Well, that was nice, what’s next?” In contrast, a liturgy that attempts to be totally “intelligible,” in the sense of having no opacity, impenetrability, or beyondness, is ill-suited and off-putting to man as an intellectual being. It gives him nothing to sink his teeth into; it leaves his highest faculties in the lurch; it gives precious little exercise even to his lower faculties.
The truth of the matter is quite different from what the liturgical reformers thought. To them, the liturgy had to be transparent so that we could see through it. But total transparency equals total invisibility. A window that is perfectly clean and clear is one that birds kill themselves flying into, because it has ceased to appear as a window, as a paradoxical barrier that lets the light through. In this life, we do not have full possession of the divine light, but this purifying, illuminating, and unifying light flows to us through the liturgy’s prayers, ceremonies, and symbols. If we wish to compare the liturgy to a window, it would be a stained glass window, where the colors and shapes of the glass, the stories it tells or the mysteries it evokes, are both what is seen and that through which the light is seen.
Christ appears in our midst through the liturgy, and it is vitally important that we come up against the liturgy to experience, in a palpable way, His physicality, His resistance to our pressure, His otherness, precisely as the condition of our union with Him. You cannot marry an idea or a concept, you can only marry a person of flesh and blood who is different from you: the precondition for oneness is otherness. This is why it is extremely dangerous for human beings to think of themselves as the creators or modifiers of the liturgy and to act accordingly—whether before or after the coming of Christ.
Speaking of the golden calf, which is the nation of Israel’s collective fall, parallel to the fall of Adam, Joseph Ratzinger writes:
The people cannot cope with the invisible, remote, and mysterious God. They want to bring him down into their own world, into what they can see and understand. Worship is no longer going up to God, but drawing God down into one’s own world. He must be there when he is needed, and he must be the kind of God that is needed. Man is using God, and in reality, even if it is not outwardly discernible, he is placing himself above God. This gives us a clue to the second point. The worship of the golden calf is a self-generated cult. When Moses stays away for too long, and God himself becomes inaccessible, the people just fetch him back. Worship becomes a feast that the community gives itself, a festival of self-affirmation. Instead of being worship of God, it becomes a circle closed in on itself: eating, drinking, and making merry. . . . Then liturgy really does become pointless, just fooling around. Or still worse it becomes an apostasy from the living God, an apostasy in sacral disguise.
To the extent that we think and act that way, we are in serious danger of hugging ourselves rather than encountering Christ, of gazing into a pool like Narcissus and falling in love with our own reflection. One cannot truly be obedient to something he himself has instituted, since it emanated from his will and remains ultimately within his power. The teacher is not docile to himself, the king is not submissive to his own will. As Ratzinger often says in his writings, the true liturgy is one that comes down to us along the stream of tradition, dictates to us our (relative) place, impresses us with its own form and shapes us according to its mind—the mind of the Church collectively, not of any particular committee or even any particular pope.