Cardinal Ratzinger, newly elected as Pope Benedict XVI, is perhaps one of the greatest intellectuals in the Roman Catholic Church's hierarchy since the second world war. Examples of his ability in the historical and theological disciplines abound, but perhaps a more practical expression of this intelligence is contained in this book, `The Spirit of the Liturgy'. The subject of this book is the central rite of the church, the Eucharistic feast, and the liturgy - the word `liturgy' actually translates into `work of the people', and this includes clergy and laity alike.
The first section of the book works to connect liturgy in the church with the wider world, and indeed the entire cosmos. Ratzinger draws on ideas East and West, from philosophical traditions in the church as well as the biblical witness (both Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament). He sees Jesus as both a role model as well as the central figure in the Eucharist, drawing on all of these sources to make the point of the way worship is done, and what meaning can be derived from it.
Following this introductory section, Ratzinger continues to look at the practical aspects, everything from the language used and the movements done to the architectural implications and the musical elements. Ratzinger was a leading figure in the Second Vatican Council, but navigates an interesting line between some of the traditional elements and the more recent innovations in liturgical worship. He is suspicious of the idea of changing music in service to being popular forms simply for the sake of relating to the culture, seeing that as somewhat of a sell-out to changing forms; he generally disapproves of rock-concert-type music in the liturgy, for example, because it is less a part of the worship as it is a part of the general culture outside.
There is a metaphor that Ratzinger uses near the beginning of the book about the liturgy being akin to a fresco which has been uncovered from the accumulations over time. While the picture is now more visible and able to be participated in by viewers, it is also now more susceptible to damages and ravages of the elements. Ratzinger emphasises both pieces, ultimately straddling the fence between traditional and modern.
During Vatican II, Ratzinger was considered one of the liberal theologians of the church. Now, he is considered as the newly-elected pope the champion of conservative views. This book gives an insight into the way he thinks, and how we might be in for an interesting time; those who think Ratzinger a knee-jerk conservative might be in for a surprise, as may be those who are hopeful for changes in various areas of his thought.
Regardless, this book demonstrates the quality of mind and clarity of expression Ratzinger has. This is must read for those who want insight into directions of the new pope.