"Giving Thanks for Benedict XVI" by Archbishop Terrence Prendergast,SJ, Diocese of Ottawa

The Pope always remembered it was never about him.

Many people have asked me what legacy Pope Benedict XVI will leave to the Catholic Church and to the world. I have pondered this question since the Holy Father announced his imminent retirement earlier this month.

Joseph Ratzinger recalled thinking to himself at the first Mass he presided as a newly ordained priest in 1951, “It’s not about you, Joseph.” He may have had similar reactions on Ash Wednesday this month during his last public Mass as pope, when the assembly at St. Peter’s Basilica gave him a standing ovation. He simply responded, “Thank you.” He then added, “Let us return to prayer.”

In The Spirit of the Liturgy, a book he authored as Cardinal, he expressed criticism of applause during the Mass. He wrote, “Wherever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.” The future pontiff stressed that liturgy is God’s work and not man’s.

The Holy Father loves Eucharistic adoration. His celebration of Mass is serene and prayerful. This was palpable to me at the World Youth Day vigils in Sydney and Madrid. He invited the teeming young people to be silent before the Lord. They followed his call to quiet adoration.

He holds a powerful vision of the attractive quality of a beautifully celebrated liturgy. This led him to permit any priest in the world to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass. It also inspired him to allow Anglicans to retain their rich liturgical traditions after reception into the Catholic Church under the terms of his decree, Anglicanorum coetibus.

The scope of Pope Benedict’s sharp mind and scholarship is something we can only begin to grasp from his public teaching. He shared his wisdom in major addresses in Germany, France and the United Kingdom; in his weekly audiences and speeches on pastoral voyages; and in his three encyclicals, Deus caritas est, Spe salvi, and Caritas in veritate.

Benedict’s first encyclical, Deus caritas est (God is Love), touched on the theological virtue of love. It focused on the relationship between eros (possessive, usually sexual love) and agape (unconditional, self-sacrificing love). He disproved Nietzsche’s charges that Christianity opposes eros and merely calls it a vice.

His second, Spe salvi (Saved in Hope), focused on the theological virtue of hope. He showed that the only reality in which modern man may rightfully hope is Jesus Christ. Modern ideologies are only inadequate mutations of Christian hope. The hope of redemption that Jesus offers is more radical than the hope in any political rebel. Benedict helped us understand eternal life.

Pope Benedict’s third encyclical, Caritas in veritate (Charity in Truth), masterfully synthesized the Church’s social teaching. He explained that “humanism without Christ is an inhuman humanism.” Social justice without reference to Christ leads inevitably to mere secularism. Both love and the truth of the Gospel are essential in our responses to the needy in our neighbourhood and around the world.

The seven-year papacy of Benedict XVI has been marked by generosity, gentleness and meekness. In our several meetings, he always gave centrality to Christ and His saving mission. His very resignation is a mark of humble obedience to God’s will.

I give thanks to God for the gift He has given the Church in Joseph Ratzinger. Even in solitude in a monastery, he will continue to be a light to the world.

Most Reverend Terrence Prendergast, SJ, is Archbishop of Ottawa.

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