HOLY DAYS: Meditations on the Feasts, Fasts, and Other Solemnities of the Church. By Pope Benedict XVI. Edited and Annotated by Jean-Michel Coulet. Introduction and Annotations Translated by D.C. Schindler. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012. viii + 86 pages.
For many Protestants the Liturgical Year is a rather new invention, but for Roman Catholics it has set the cycle for spiritual life for centuries. The number of feasts, fasts, and solemnities is vaster among Roman Catholics as well. When the Liturgical Renewal Movement hit Protestantism in the 1950s and 1960s it began to loosen up long held views that whatever was Roman was bad. As a result we began to learn from Rome and as a result deepen our own spirituality.
Pope Benedict XVI is a more traditional Catholic, and many of us outside and inside that church have despaired at what many see as retrenchment and movement away from the reforms of Vatican II. That being said, our disappointment with the direction of the church under the leadership of the current Pope needn't keep us from listening and learning from his own spirituality.
In Holy Days, the Pope provides brief meditations drawn from homilies and other writings that illuminate the liturgical journey. In the course of this brief book we are offered the Pope's thoughts on feasts and fasts celebrated by the Catholic Church, starting with "the first vespers of Advent" and concluding with "Christ the King Sunday." Many of the feasts are celebrated in common by Protestants, but others, especially the Marian feasts are not. Still, even if we don't share the Catholic understanding of Mary, we can be reminded of her role in the biblical story. Too often we neglect her role, due in part to a resistance to traditional Catholic veneration of her. The meditations, as I read them, are basic, foundational, and traditional. Benedict is conservative and so we won't find any boundary-pushing thoughts present.
So why might we engage these meditations? I think an answer could be found in the words of the Introduction written by Jean-Michel Coulet. He notes that in this increasingly secularized age it's important to rediscover spiritual practices that can form and deepen our spiritual paths. One of the practices that can be renewed is a focus on liturgical time as a way of setting patterns for life that are in sync with the divine. Coulet writes:
We have to learn to know and live liturgical time by recalling, again and again, that this time is nourished by a constant relationship between tradition and progress. These two concepts complement each other harmoniously, because tradition is a living reality, and includes within itself the see of development, of progress. Liturgy is an ensemble of acts, symbols, and words, by means of which the Church, made up of women and men, offers worship to God and hands down the knowledge of God to others. The definitive goal always remains the glory of God and the sanctification of his people. (p. vii).
The meditations are traditional and may not excite the reader, and yet the simple act of walking through the liturgical year in the company of the best known Christian leader alive today is a worthwhile venture. This is especially true if, like me, you have concluded that the way forward includes keeping connected to the traditions that link us to the biblical story. Perhaps this can be a vehicle for deepening one's connection to that tradition, even as we look forward into the future of God's reign.