Tracey Rowlands on The Ratzinger Revolution

The other day, I mused that 100 years from now, 200 years from now, the writings of Pope Benedict XVI will be consulted, mined, prayed over.  They will stand the test of time.  As one Canadian bishop told me once, Pope Benedict XVI’s writings will be found in breviaries.

This morning I came across this piece at the Catholic Herald by Australian theologian Tracey Rowlands. She writes:

The cultural capital that should follow as a natural endowment upon their baptism has been frittered away, buried and in some cases even suppressed by previous generations. They are like archaeologists. They discover fragments of the faith which they find attractive and then they try to work out where the fragment once fitted into a Catholic mental universe.

When a new generation arises in full rebellion from the social experiments of the contemporary era, craving a human ecology that respects both God and nature, and wanting to be something more than rootless cosmopolitans, Ratzinger’s publications will serve as Harry Potter-style Portkeys, giving creative young rebels access to the missing cultural capital – indeed, access to what Ratzinger calls the memoria Ecclesiae.

High on the list of the missing cultural capital is the realisation that from the earliest times Christianity has understood itself as the religion of the Logos, the religion according to reason. As Ratzinger expresses the principle: “Faith has the right to be missionary only if it transcends all traditions and constitutes an appeal to reason and an orientation towards the truth itself.” The lack of truth, he argues, is the major disease of our age.

As Papa Benedict approaches his 90th birthday on Easter Sunday, I thank God for him and for the generosity of Anglicanorum coetibus that made it possible for me to come into the Catholic Church with a community of believers, carrying the treasures of our cultural capital with us.

I have often used the image of searching among the ruins of western civilization, picking up priceless heirlooms hidden among the rubble.  For Convivium magazine a few years ago, I wrote of my experience of the liturgy when I first came to  Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

When I first visited the Annunciation parish, I was told about the desire for unity. But that is not what made me stay. The parishioners were few and most seemed older than my baby-boom self. But it was experiencing then Bishop Robert Mercer pray the Mass that lifted that humble little house of worship to Heaven. Time stood still; eternity dropped down.

A tall, trim, white-haired monk of Irish extraction who was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Mercer prayed the Mass with such reverence and recollection that I, prone to a wandering mind and short attention span, found it effortless to pay attention. Through the beauty of liturgy prayed with reverence. I encountered holy mysteries.

When Mercer read from one of Paul’s Epistles, it was as if Saint Paul himself were standing there proclaiming the Good News. His homilies were the same. Simple but profound; alive with insight. A conversation with him, with his wry humour and surprising insights, would remain with me for years afterwards. Mercer left the Anglican Church over the ordination of women, and with utter humility, he came to Canada to minister to our tiny and farflung parishes, travelling by bus because he did not drive. He never got used to the cold.

I kept coming back to this eccentric little parish, hungry to have someone articulate for me what I was intuiting in the spirit. On Sundays, the sung Eucharist, with clouds of incense and a congregation that sang robustly in four-part harmony, was like nothing I had ever experienced before. I joked I might fall into a charismatic swoon and slide off the pew, “slain in the spirit.” Though unlikely to happen in our staid group, the clergy were not closed to teachings on the super-natural gifts of the Spirit.

On Saturday mornings, we would have a spoken Eucharist, spoken by the congregation in unison, like a choir, and then eat breakfast in the parish hall in the basement. I could sit with Bishop Mercer or Father Carl Reid or Father David Walsh or Father Kipling Cooper and ask all the questions I could think of. I learned a sacrament is an outward sign of an invisible grace. I learned about their hopes for Christian unity, something our clergy saw as an imperative, not an option.

The Ordinariate communities may seem fragile, but they are a concrete example of the spiritual legacy of Pope Benedict XVI and someday they will be beacons of preserved cultural capital in the west.

Interestingly, many of the elderly people who welcomed me into Annunciation 17 years ago have passed on.  Now we have a small but vital nucleus of young people and babies replacing them.  Our worship remains beautiful and now it is fully Catholic, our dream of unity fulfilled.

5 thoughts on “Tracey Rowlands on The Ratzinger Revolution

    • The opinion piece linked in the previous comment is typical of much commentary from those at both extremes of the traditionalist-“progressive” spectrum, which inevitably seeks to construe various developments in the worst possible light with little regard for whether such actions might have been driven by other factors. In this case, the writer spins the recent resignation and replacement of Bishop Fred Henry as Bishop of Calgary as a replacement of a solidly orthodox bishop by a liberal pope. The linked piece, however, contains a link to an article about the good bishop’s resignation which contains the following paragraphs.

      In his resignation letter to Pope Francis that was posted online, Henry said the “principal reason” for his decision was his ongoing struggle with an inflammatory disease that causes vertebrae to fuse together, creating spinal stiffness.

      “I can no longer turn my head sideways but must turn the whole upper body to look left or right,” the letter said.

      “In addition, I can’t really look up but have a permanent stoop and my feet are much more familiar to me than the sky.”

      The actual letter reveals that the bishop’s disease, “a type of arthritis known ankylosing spondylitis for which there is no cure” first diagnosed nearly four decades ago, had progressed to the point that it is quite debilitating, compelling Bishop Henry to resign at the age of 73 — less than two years before normal retirement at the age of 75 — under Canon 401, Section 2 of the Codex Juris Canonici (Code of Canon Law): “A diocesan bishop who has become less able to fulfill his office because of ill health or some other grave cause is earnestly requested to present his resignation from office.” And as Bishop Emeritus, Bishop Henry can continue to assist with confirmations, ordinations, and other episcopal functions to the extent that his health allows.

      What’s more compelling here is that Pope Francis has not made any substantial changes at all in the composition of the Congregation for Bishops, one of the principal functions of which is to assist the pope in the selection of new bishops. Pope Benedict XVI appointed Cardinal Marc Ouellet, P.S.S., the notoriously conservative former Archbishop of Montreal, as Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, and he retains that post today. If the present pope were looking for significantly more “progressive” bishops, he undoubtedly would have moved Cardinal Ouellet out of this position and handed it over to a “progressive” prefect very early in his pontificate.

      The bottom line here is that the linked opinion piece is best taken with a grain of salt.



      • Michael Coren said nothing whatever about Bishop Henry’s resignation. There was a link to an article about it provided by the publisher, presumably as something a reader might find of further Catholic interest. There was no reference in the article itself. And Coren’s point was not that Pope Francis was looking for more “progressive” bishops, but that he has brought in “harsh Argentinian ways” of dealing with dissenters, regardless of whether they were dissenting from an over-abundance of conservatism or liberalism.


      • I concur that the unfortunate juxtaposition of the link to the article about Bishop Henry’s resignation with the preceding paragraph of the article might have been the work of an editor rather than the author. Nevertheless, the juxtaposition does suggest a connection that appears not to be real.



  1. Yes, the writings of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI are a theological treasure trove that will endure for the centuries!

    The significance of the ordinariates, however, is even more profound. A century or two from now, historians will look upon the present ordinariates as a pilot project pointing the way to unity, not only for Anglican Christians but for many Protestant Christians as well. It will take time, of course, but the present ordinariates undoubtedly will grow into full-fledged dioceses similar to the eparchies for the faithful of the sui juris ritual churches in due course. The acorns have sprouted, and we now see frail saplings that are growing into mighty oak trees.


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