Cardinal Ratzinger on Communion and Episcopal Collegiality
VATICAN CITY, 22 FEB. 2004 (ZENIT).
Ecclesial communion cannot be reduced to a sociological concept, says
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
The prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in an
interview with the Italian weekly Famiglia Cristiana, says that the
theological meaning of this communion must be understood, in order to
understand the relation between local Churches and the Holy See, and to
appreciate the collegiality of the Church and the role of bishops'
In the interview, the cardinal addresses some of the fundamental issues in
his new book "Communion in the Church" ("La Communione nella Chiesa"),
published by St. Paul's in Italy.
Q: What is communion in the Church?
Cardinal Ratzinger: In the First Letter of John we find a definition that
offers a very complete view of communion.
St. John says that what has been given to us with the faith, with being
Christian, is above all communion with God, with the God Trinity, which in
itself is communion. This is the beauty that revelation offers us: God is
communion and because of this, he can give communion.
By being in communion with God, man enters into communion with all other
men who live in the same communion. Here the vertical and horizontal lines
meet and become one reality.
The Triune God, who is communion, makes human communion greater and more
profound. Communion with Christ creates this bond between God and man.
This communion is incarnated, so to speak, in the sacrament of the
Eucharist, with which we are united to the Lord's body.
In this way the Church is born: It is a communion of communions, that is,
it exists as a Eucharistic reality.
Every Eucharistic community in its totality is in the presence of Christ.
This requires that a community not be set against the others in the name
of its "own" Christ because there is only one Christ. So one can see the
importance that all Churches be only one Church, because Christ is one.
I think that, from the beginning, the very constitution of the Church is
made up of this unity and multiplicity. As can be seen, the communion of
the Church is a theological
fact. Any one who transforms the concept of communion into a merely
sociological concept commits an error.
Q: But, does this communion have social consequences?
Cardinal Ratzinger: I would amplify the question: It is not only about
cultivating correct relations between the Roman Curia and the local
Churches, but also and above all of fostering the unity and multiplicity
that is the Church.
The local Churches must live their cultural and historical specificities
by integrating them in the unity of the whole, opening themselves to the
fruitful contribution of the other Churches, so that no one will undertake
a path that the others do not recognize.
The Roman Curia, which helps the Holy Father in his service to unity, has
the function of promoting this mutual understanding between the local
Churches so that the diversities become a polyphonic reality, in which
unity and multiplicity is lived.
Q: Of what importance is the principle of subsidiarity in the relation
between the "center" and the "periphery," between the Holy See and the
diverse local Churches?
Cardinal Ratzinger: It is a technical concept that would require a more
detailed discussion to describe its meaning.
It can be accepted in the sense that attention to unity must not
extinguish the charisms of the local Churches; beyond that, it must
encourage them and place them at the service of the one Church.
On one hand, the central service of the Roman Curia should not be involved
with that which can be done better in a concrete part of the Church; on
the other, however, the local Churches should not live in an autonomous
manner, but orient themselves to enriching the unity, because Christ is
Q: Let's give an example that is germane. If there were doubts about the
orthodoxy of a theologian, should not the local Church to which the
theologian belongs, attend to this, before the intervention of the
congregation of which you are prefect?
Cardinal Ratzinger: Here, in the congregation, we are happy when a bishop
or episcopal conference involved addresses problems of this type. However,
they often tell us that they are questions that go beyond the limits of
the local Church
they enter the debate of the universal Church, and want to be helped.
Q: Do they divest themselves of their responsibility?
Cardinal Ratzinger: No, I wouldn't dare say something like that. We always
encourage bishops to take into their own hands the solutions of problems
as the one you just mentioned. But in an ever more globalized world, this
is extremely difficult.
Q: What developments have there been in episcopal collegiality since
Cardinal Ratzinger: There has been great progress. I am thinking of the
development of the "ad limina" visits. I remember the first one I had in
1977. I had been archbishop of Munich for only a short time. It all
consisted of a meeting with the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, a
visit to the basilicas, and an audience with Paul VI.
Now, the bishops meet with all the congregations and councils. There is a
lively and fruitful discussion. And the bishops are grateful for this: On
one hand, it is possible to understand better what is happening in the
different geographic and cultural areas; and, on the other, the bishops
can address together the solutions they wish to give to the problems and
also understand better what the magisterium says.
I will give you another example: the regular contacts we have with the
presidencies of the episcopal conferences as well as the reciprocal
visits. In this way, mutual understanding grows.
Moreover, the synods of bishops must not be forgotten. In a word, there is
a continuous exchange between the center and the periphery that gives
vigor to the common commitment for the one Church.
Q: Shouldn't the episcopal conferences be valued more as a means of
Cardinal Ratzinger: I would distinguish between small conferences, with 10
or 15 members, and large conferences, with, perhaps, more than 200
In the first case, the episcopal conference can really be an instrument of
coordination, of common vision, of reciprocal help and also of fraternal
correction, when it is necessary.
In the case of the large conferences, when the assemblies are faced with
reams of papers that must be read, orders of the day with dozens of points
to discuss, I think that a profound dialogue is really impossible. There
is also the risk that the discussions and the solutions are taken ahead of
time by the offices, by the bureaucracy.
In the case of the large conferences, the debate should perhaps be limited
to a few relevant arguments, and decentralize the rest to each of the
local Churches. It is important that the conferences be a flexible
Q: You mentioned the synod as one example of progress in collegiality. Do
you like the present method of synodal assemblies?
Cardinal Ratzinger: I would say, although it is a totally personal
opinion, that it is a somewhat ritualized method. It guarantees an agile
rhythm in the working sessions, but it has the disadvantage that a genuine
discussion between the bishops participating is not possible.
It is certainly necessary to safeguard the speed of work. But time must
also be found for a real and fruitful discussion. ZE04022220
Cardinal Ratzinger on
Relativism, and Communion for the Remarried
VATICAN CITY, 23 FEB. 2004 (ZENIT).
The greatest challenge facing the Church is the difficulty to believe
in a social environment riddled with relativism, says Cardinal Joseph
In Part 2 of this interview ... the prefect of the Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith addresses topics such as the concept of the "People
of God," "creative" liturgical celebrations, and the possibility of
Communion for the divorced-and-remarried.
The interview first appeared in the Italian weekly Famiglia Cristiana
and touches on some of the issues of Cardinal Ratzinger's new book
"Communion in the Church" ("La Comunione nella Chiesa"), published
in Italy by St. Paul's.
Q: Your book leads me to think that you do not have a particular
preference to apply the concept of People of God to the Church.
Cardinal Ratzinger: It's not true. The concept of People of God is a
biblical one. Rather, I do not like the arbitrary use of this concept,
which, on the contrary, has quite a clear definition in sacred Scripture.
In the Old Testament, Israel is the People of God, above all because it
accepts the call and election of God, because it enters in the will of
God. It is not a static but a dynamic concept: It is the People of God as
the Jewish people, but its being the People of God must always be renewed
in the dynamism of its relation with him. This is fundamental in the Old
Q: And, in the New Testament?
Cardinal Ratzinger: In almost all the passages of the New Testament, this
concept indicates Israel and, only in two or three texts, the Church. In
this way, it is understood that the Church enters in the election of
Israel; it participates in this being People of God.
But here also, it is not about an acquired property: The Church becomes
the People of God in following the line of this election. However, to the
concept of the Old Testament is added a new way of integrating in the will
of God: communion with Christ.
There is a theological principle and then a Christological concretization,
but above all there is a vital dynamism that disallows becoming proud: "We
are the People of God." We must always be converted into the People and
only in that movement is the concept valid. If, on the contrary, we
consider it as a profane model, non-biblical, the vision of the Church
would be seriously compromised.
Q: You are severe in the book with any one who uses the liturgy only in a
communicative way, as a means of education of the faithful. Why?
Cardinal Ratzinger: I want to specify that the liturgy is communicative
I am opposed to those who think that it is only communicative when it is
transformed into a spectacle, into a sort of "show," reducing to very
little that great work of art that the liturgy is, when it is well
celebrated, with interior participation.
In the last 20 years, Sunday Mass attendance in Germany has decreased by
70%. The faithful do not feel involved in "creative" celebrations that say
nothing to them. Too often the liturgy is treated as something that one
can dispose of according to one's whim, as if it were our exclusive
property. But in this way we end up by corrupting it.
Q: Is not the proposal of a Eucharist fast [not to go to Communion], to
which you seem to allude, contrary to the exhortations of many Pontiffs,
beginning with Pius X?
Cardinal Ratzinger: No. I already made this proposal 15 or 20 years ago,
the first time, in the context of the celebration of Good Friday, a day of
We find the roots of this fasting in the Gospel of Mark: "The days will
come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will
fast." And as early as the first century the Good Friday fast arose,
expression of our "compassion" with Christ, who died on the cross for us.
The second time I spoke about this was when addressing the argument of
divorced persons who have remarried, as today they are practically the
only ones who cannot have access to Communion.
Each one of us should meditate on whether or not he should be associated,
at least on some occasions, to this situation of exclusion. In this way,
we offer them a sign of solidarity, and we will have one more opportunity
to go deeper in our spiritual life.
I see that many times in funerals, weddings and many other circumstances,
people go to Communion as if it were simply a part of the rite: It is a
supper and one must eat. But in this way, one ceases to live the spiritual
profundity of this event, which is always a great challenge for each one
I am certainly in agreement with the great popes when they say that we
have need of Eucharistic communion because only the Lord can give us what
we cannot attain on our own. Precisely because we are insufficient, we
have need of his presence. However, we must avoid a superficial ritualism,
which degrades this act, and try to go deeply into its magnitude.
Q: In regard to divorced persons who have remarried, do you think that the
situation of exclusion from receiving Communion will continue to be in
Cardinal Ratzinger: If the first marriage was valid and they [the new
couple] live in a union that is opposed to the sacramental bond, the
exclusion remains in force.
It seems to me to be necessary, however, to enlarge the discussion so as
not to reduce all the painful reality of this condition strictly to access
to Communion. It is necessary to help these persons to live in the parish
community, to share their suffering, to show them that they are loved and
that they belong to the Church and that the Church suffers with them.
I think this common responsibility must be extended, to help one another
reciprocally, to carry one another's burdens, in a very fraternal way.
Q: What are the problems of the Church that concern you most at present?
Cardinal Ratzinger: I would say simply the present difficulty to believe.
[There's] relativism, which is already spontaneous for the human being of
Today it is regarded an act of pride, incompatible with tolerance, to
think that we have really received the truth of the Lord. However, it
seems that, to be tolerant, all religions and cultures must be considered
equal. In this context, to believe is an act that becomes increasingly
In this way we witness the silent loss of faith, without great protests,
in a large part of Christianity. This is the greatest concern.
So it is important to ask ourselves how we can reopen the doors to the
presence of the Lord, to the revelation that the Church makes of him, in
this wave of relativism. Then we will really open a door to tolerance,
which is not indifference, but love and respect for the other, reciprocal
help on the path of life. ZE04022323
[Translation by ZENIT]