Rorate Caeli

A Monk of Le Barroux Reflects on His Friendship with Ratzinger

Dom Louis-Marie Geyer d'Orth O.S.B., Abbot of the Benedictine Abbey of Sainte-Madeleine Le Barroux, published this reflection at L'homme nouveau on Jan. 4.

When I think of Benedict XVI, two verses from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians spontaneously come to mind, evoking the ability to "understand with all the saints what is the breadth, length, height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge." Benedict XVI was great in his charity, so I would like to tell you the story of the friendship between this great man and our community.

The first mention of Ratzinger's name in our chronicles was on the occasion of a conference given by Jean Madiran in the novitiate on September 22, 1984, on a document of the Cardinal on Liberation Theology and its Marxist roots. This intervention was considered so important by the friars that it was noted down. Since that date, the Cardinal's name has recurred in the history of the community.

Only three months later, Dom Gerard [the first abbot of Le Barroux] was summoned by Cardinal Ratzinger, who received him with great goodwill and expressed to him his firm desire to improve the canonical situation of the traditional communities. I cannot but note that it was he who took the initiative: We have only responded to his call. Which puts the Cardinal on the side of God, whose Providence always has the initiative.

And it is certain that he worked with all his strength to avoid the rupture between Rome and the traditionalist world. He received Msgr. Lefebvre on many occasions and drafted the May 1988 agreements. When Msgr. Lefebvre withdrew the signing of this agreement, it was again Cardinal Ratzinger who, during a private audience with Pope John Paul II, obtained that the Holy See grant, privately and publicly, the use of the liturgical books in force in 1962 to the communities that wished to remain united with Rome (including ours) for the members of the communities and those who visited their homes.

And it opened the possibility of approaching a bishop to confer ordinations, the right of the faithful to receive the sacraments according to the 1962 books, and the possibility of developing pastoral impulses through apostolic works to preserve the ministries currently assumed (Motu proprio Ecclesia Dei). With this decisive legal text, Cardinal Ratzinger became a founding member of our communities, whose reason for existence is, among other things, the celebration of the liturgy according to ancient books.

The act of friendship did not stop in 1988. Going beyond the canonical framework, Cardinal Ratzinger agreed to write a letter of introduction to the new edition of the traditional missal for the faithful, which caused some French episcopal teeth to gnash and triggered a media storm because of the translation of one of the Good Friday prayers. Pope Benedict XVI resolved this difficulty by giving a more irenic tone to this prayer for the Jewish people while maintaining the fraternal intent of his conversion.

It was also Cardinal Ratzinger who pushed for a meeting between John Paul II and the community, which took place in September 1990, and at which Dom Gerard was able to point out the difficulties in applying the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei. Cardinal Ratzinger then tried to find practical solutions through concrete statutes with the help of those concerned. Already in 1991, the cardinal was inclined to the solution of a possible recourse of all the faithful to their bishops to achieve the celebration of the traditional Mass.

Needless to say, in fact, that on July 7, 2007, as Pope Benedict XVI, he brought to light, as a matter of course, a peacemaking document (Summorum Pontificum) in view of a liturgical peace that respected the different aspirations of the faithful.

I note a fascinating moment that shows the Cardinal's tender honesty: he invited Dom Gerard to visit the bishops in order to exercise mutual fraternal correction. Submit our respectful comments and listen to theirs.

Despite the media storm due to the Barroux missal, the Cardinal happily agreed to once again provide a preface to the republication of a second book: Monsignor Klaus Gamber: Toward the Lord. It was again an occasion of very strong reactions in France, since this book shows with scientific accuracy the fundamentals of the celebration of the Mass towards the East (symbol of Christ, rising sun) and not towards the faithful.

The friendship between the Cardinal and the community culminated in his visit in September 1995. He took care of us in spite of all opposition. Some ecclesiastical authorities had asked him not to come on the scheduled dates because of the Monsignor Gaillot affair and the elections; he postponed his visit for a few months, but he came.

I remember his visit very well. As a young novice, I met him and his secretary, Monsignor Josef Clemens. They came by car from Rome (their flight had been canceled because of a strike) and rested a bit sitting on a trunk. I have preserved an unforgettable memory of his official reception at the abbey: procession, singing and prayer, and finally a papal blessing. His exhortations focused on the interior life, so important to the life of the Church.

At the end of Mass, he immersed himself in the crowd, and after lunch, crowned by Carolingian acclamations, he met with the diocesan priests, who attacked him with their questions. His slogan, as we do not doubt, was supernatural: patience and prayer. I think it is still relevant.

In 1998, on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, he presided over a conference in Rome without hesitating to say that the difficulties in its application were due to a misunderstanding of the texts of the Second Vatican Council, but that patience must not be lost and that it was necessary, above all, to maintain confidence by drawing from the liturgy the necessary strength for a witness of Catholic fidelity.

On the occasion of Dom Gerard's death, he sent a very touching letter revealing his friendship. He recalled that Dom Gerard "had spent most of his life turning to the Lord, praising God and leading his brothers in prayer." He expressed gratitude "for Dom Gerard's attention to the beauty of the Latin liturgy, which is called to be ever more a source of communion and unity in the Church."

To move on to more personal memories: here is a report of some of my own encounters.

After my election in 2004, I went to Rome to introduce myself to the Cardinal, who received me with great goodwill. Despite my youth, inexperience, and bizarre questions, he showed me nothing but respect and encouragement.

I saw him again when he was Pope, during a general audience: he was very kind when the officer who was to introduce me wasted time looking for my name on the list. Pope Benedict XVI beat him to it by calling me "the Father Abbot of Barroux" and rounding the "r" in Germanic style. Then he asked me about the nuns, the monastic community, and Dom Gerard, his "great friend." His joy was contagiously sincere, and in his presence we even forgot about the photographers present.

One last time I met him in Mater Ecclesiae. He was very clear and articulate. In conversation, not a word too many is spoken; a direct thought is expressed with clarity. What impressed me most in this last conversation was the purity of his soul. When I approached him, I felt like I was getting rid of all my worries and entering the light. I still remember his welcoming gesture.

For the Church, Benedict XVI will remain a firmly anchored cornerstone in the house of the Lord, the Domus Domini. For several years, I have relied on his general audiences to hold spiritual conferences on the first Friday of the month. There is always a doctrine that is certain, rooted, and very timely.

One Father reminded me that as a theologian before the Council, he was a great advocate of renewing theological studies by returning to the Fathers of the Church and the great scholastics. During the Council, Joseph Ratzinger advocated a renewal of fundamental theology, especially with regard to revelation and the relationship between Scripture and Tradition. After the Council, he took a more defensive stance against the currents associated with the May '68 Revolution. With the confidence of St. Paul VI and especially St. John Paul II, he contributed to a series of magisterial documents that provided a clarifying interpretation of the texts of the Second Vatican Council. The historic interview with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report, and Benedict XVI's address to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005 made history.

Finally, I think we will all agree in praising his luminous humility combined with a fine courage: after the publication of Dominus Jesus, the fierce reactions, far from frightening him, encouraged him to go forward in the importance of this kind of statement.

He was also one of the first to take up the fight against clerical abuse, a proof of his far-sightedness.

In conclusion, I would like to recall the depth of his teaching based on the relationship between faith and reason. He had the wisdom to propose to the Church to place everything on the solid foundation of theological virtues. His three encyclicals, "Deus caritas est," "Spe salvi" and "Lumen Fidei" (his last, which was released by his successor) attest to this.

May God deign to receive him in his peace and light! May he pray for us and bless us from heaven!