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The Procession of the Nations

The re-shaping . . . of the Jewish synagogue for the purpose of Christian worship, clearly shows . . . how, even in architecture, there is both continuity and newness in the relationship of the Old Testament to the New. Expression in space had to be given to the properly Christian act of worship, the celebration of the Eucharist, together with the ministry of the Word, which is ordered toward that celebration.

Plainly, further developments became not only possible but necessary. A place set aside for Baptism had to be found. The Sacrament of Penance went through a long process of development, which resulted in changes to the form of the church building. Popular piety in its many different forms inevitably found expression in the place dedicated to divine worship. The question of sacred images had to be resolved. Church music had to be fitted into the spatial structure. We saw that the architectural canon for the liturgy of Word and Sacrament is not a rigid one, though with every new development and re-ordering the question has to be posed: what is in harmony with the essence of the liturgy, and what detracts from it? In the very form of its places of divine worship, which we have just been considering, Christianity, speaking and thinking in a Semitic way, has laid down principles by which this question can be answered. Despite all the variations in practice that have taken place far into the second millennium, one thing has remained clear for the whole of Christendom: praying toward the East is a tradition that goes back to the beginning. Moreover, it is a fundamental expression of the Christian synthesis of cosmos and history, of being rooted in the once-for-all events of salvation history while going out to meet the Lord who is to come again. Here both the fidelity to the gift already bestowed and the dynamism of going forward are given equal expression.

Modern man has little understanding of this “orientation.” Judaism and Islam, now as in the past, take it for granted that we should pray toward the central place of revelation, to the God who has revealed Himself to us, in the manner and in the place in which He revealed Himself. By contrast, in the western world, an abstract way of thinking, which in a certain way is the fruit of Christian influence, has become dominant. God is spiritual, and God is everywhere: does that not mean that prayer is not tied to a particular place or direction? Now we can indeed pray everywhere, and God is accessible to us everywhere. This idea of the universality of God is a consequence of Christian universality, of the Christian’s looking up to God above all gods, the God who embraces the cosmos and is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. But our knowledge of this universality is the fruit of revelation: God has shown Himself to us. Only for this reason do we know Him, only for this reason can we confidently pray to Him everywhere. And precisely for this reason is it appropriate, now as in the past, that we should express in Christian prayer our turning to the God who has revealed Himself to us. Just as God assumed a body and entered the time and space of this world, so it is appropriate to prayer — at least to communal liturgical prayer — that our speaking to God should be “incarnational”, that it should be Christological, turned through the incarnate Word to the Triune God. The cosmic symbol of the rising sun expresses the universality of God above all particular places and yet maintains the concreteness of Divine Revelation. Our praying is thus inserted into the procession of the nations to God.

Joseph Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger

Joseph Ratzinger was elected as Pope Benedict XVI on April 19, 2005. He resigned on February 28, 2013, the first pope to do so in nearly 600 years. Pope Emeritus Benedict lives in the Mater Ecclesiae monastery in the Vatican.