[This was originally published April 26, 2014. It is never more relevant than today to the issue of communion for divorced and remarried, however, so the Bear is going to bring it back for a mostly new audience.]
Pope Benedict was a German theologian. But one must forgive the old bear when he wrote things like these, from The Feast of Faith.
The Council did not create new articles of faith, nor did it replace existing ones with new ones. Its only concern was to make it possible to hold the same faith under different circumstances, to revitalize it.
Yet do we not feel a slight uneasiness at times in the face of an entire congregation coming to communion? Paul urgently insisted that the Corinthians should “discern” the Lord’s body (1 Cor 11:29): Is this still happening? Occasionally one has the feeling that “communion” is regarded as part of the ritual—that it goes on automatically and is simply an expression of the community’s identity. We need to regain a much stronger awareness that the Eucharist does not lose all its meaning where people do not communicate. By going to Communion without “discernment”, we fail to reach the heights of what is taking place in Communion; we reduce the Lord’s gift to the level of everyday ordinariness and manipulation. The Eucharist is not a ritual meal; it is the shared prayer of the Church, in which the Lord prays together with us and gives us himself. Therefore it remains something great and precious, it remains a true gift, even when we cannot communicate. If we understood this better and hence had a more correct view of the Eucharist itself, many pastoral problems—the position of the divorced and remarried in the Church, for instance—would cease to be such a burden.
Just the private, non-magisteral musings of an erudite, pastorally-sensitive pope, laid out carefully in writing.
Of course some cannot forgive his participation as a peritus at Vatican II, nor the fact that he was a product of his time and place. Yet he understood the damage Vatican II had done to the central act of the Church, the Mass, and was part of the reform of the reform. He ultimately managed to be docile to the Holy Spirit and, as Pope Benedict XVI, transcend Joseph Ratzinger.
He was not perfect. We have never had a perfect pope. But he was what we needed at the time, more than we could have expected and probably better than we deserved.
This Bear sometimes wonders if his retirement had something to do with guilt over Vatican II. Just before he retired he made some rather pathetic statements about Vatican II being hijacked by the media, suggesting that it had all turned out horribly wrong from what he had hoped for as a young peritus.
An old man's 20/20 hindsight? Probably. Those who seek to zealously serve the Church are the very ones capable of damaging her, something we should all take to heart in our own, small ways. But the world hated Pope Benedict. The Bear knows few better grounds for hope that he has been forgiven.