Letter #21: Benedict: “Non praevalebunt”
“And in today’s Gospel there emerges powerfully the clear promise made by Jesus: “the gates of the underworld,” that is, the forces of evil, will not prevail, “non praevalebunt.” —Pope Benedict XVI, Homily, Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Peter’s Basilica, June 29, 2012 (today)
“From some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God” (“Da qualche fessura sia entrato il fumo di Satana nel tempio di Dio”) —Pope Paul VI, Homily, Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Peter’s Basilica, June 29, 1972 (40 years ago today)
Pope Benedict XVI spoke some dramatic words today during his homily for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul — his own feast day, in a sense, as he is the successor of St. Peter, and so is for this reason also named Peter.
The words give us a glimpse of his state of mind and spirit.
Benedict, during a ceremony in which he granted the pallium, a sign of episcopal authority and close connection between the bishops and the Pope, to 41 archbishops, said that the power of evil will not prevail over the Church.
He said, using the words of Christ himself, that the “gates of hell,” though they will assault the Church, will not prevail over the Church (“non praevalebunt,” “they will not prevail”).
It is a homily that Benedict reportedly wrote entirely on his own, without the help of his staff.
The last time a Pope spoke such dramatic words was precisely 40 years ago today, when Pope Paul VI used the occasion of the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul — on June 29, 1972 — to utter those famous and troubling words showing his profound concern for what had happened to the Church in the years following the Council. On that occasion, Paul said that it seemed to him as if, against all expectations, after the Second Vatican Council, “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered into the temple of God.”
Both Popes faced the terrible reality of evil, of sin. Both were profoundly disturbed by that reality, especially inside the Church herself.
We now know that what Pope Paul was referring to was the scandalous levity with which many priests after the Council treated the liturgy, the worship of God (see below for the interview with Cardinal Virgilio Noe where Noe gives us this interpretation of Pope Paul’s words).
We know that Benedict has faced the terrible reality of evil in his own pontificate — the pedophilia scandal; the scandal of Church officials who covered up the scandal; the scandal of apostasy, as many theologians and teachers deny key truths of the faith; the scandal of corruption, as Church funds and properties have been squandered, with churches built by the faithful of an earlier age turned into beer halls; the scandal of betrayal, as believers have abandoned the faith of their fathers, and as members of the Pope’s own household have broken faith with him, stealing his own personal documents and handing them over to public display.
But all of this evil will not overwhelm and sink the Church, Benedict said today.
The “gates of hell,” despite their destructive power, “will not prevail,” he said.
And this gives us a glimpse of Benedict’s mind and mood at this time. He clearly feels the weight of the sin and betrayal in the Church, but he also senses the grace of Christ, a grace sufficient for him, and for all; a grace which will not depart from the Church, and will preserve the Church, not from suffering, which will come as it has come, but from final destruction.
The Church will not be destroyed by all the evil around her, and inside her, Benedict told the archbishops to whom he granted the pallium.
And that was the essence of his message today.
Here is a link to a video of today’s ceremony:
And here is the complete text of today’s homily; I have highlighted some of the passages that seem key to me:
SOLEMNITY OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL
CONFERRAL OF THE PALLIUM
ST PETER’S BASILICA, THE VATICAN
29 JUNE 2012
Brother Bishops and Priests,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
We are gathered around the altar for our solemn celebration of Saints Peter and Paul, the principal Patrons of the Church of Rome.
Present with us today are the Metropolitan Archbishops appointed during the past year, who have just received the Pallium, and to them I extend a particular and affectionate greeting.
Also present is an eminent Delegation from the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, sent by His Holiness Bartholomaios I, and I welcome them with fraternal and heartfelt gratitude. In an ecumenical spirit, I am also pleased to greet and to thank the Choir of Westminster Abbey, who are providing the music for this liturgy alongside the Cappella Sistina. I also greet the Ambassadors and civil Authorities present. I am grateful to all of you for your presence and your prayers.
In front of Saint Peter’s Basilica, as is well known, there are two imposing statues of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, easily recognizable by their respective attributes: the keys in the hand of Peter and the sword held by Paul.
Likewise, at the main entrance to the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, there are depictions of scenes from the life and the martyrdom of these two pillars of the Church.
Christian tradition has always considered Saint Peter and Saint Paul to be inseparable: indeed, together, they represent the whole Gospel of Christ.
In Rome, their bond as brothers in the faith came to acquire a particular significance. Indeed, the Christian community of this City considered them a kind of counterbalance to the mythical Romulus and Remus, the two brothers held to be the founders of Rome.
A further parallel comes to mind, still on the theme of brothers: whereas the first biblical pair of brothers demonstrate the effects of sin, as Cain kills Abel, yet Peter and Paul, much as they differ from one another in human terms and notwithstanding the conflicts that arose in their relationship, illustrate a new way of being brothers, lived according to the Gospel, an authentic way made possible by the grace of Christ’s Gospel working within them.
Only by following Jesus does one arrive at this new brotherhood: this is the first and fundamental message that today’s solemnity presents to each one of us, the importance of which is mirrored in the pursuit of full communion, so earnestly desired by the ecumenical Patriarch and the Bishop of Rome, as indeed by all Christians.
In the passage from Saint Matthew’s Gospel that we have just heard, Peter makes his own confession of faith in Jesus, acknowledging him as Messiah and Son of God. He does so in the name of the other Apostles too.
In reply, the Lord reveals to him the mission that he intends to assign to him, that of being the “rock”, the visible foundation on which the entire spiritual edifice of the Church is built (cf. Mt 16:16-19).
But in what sense is Peter the rock? How is he to exercise this prerogative, which naturally he did not receive for his own sake?
The account given by the evangelist Matthew tells us first of all that the acknowledgment of Jesus’ identity made by Simon in the name of the Twelve did not come “through flesh and blood”, that is, through his human capacities, but through a particular revelation from God the Father.
By contrast, immediately afterwards, as Jesus foretells his passion, death and resurrection, Simon Peter reacts on the basis of “flesh and blood”: he “began to rebuke him, saying, this shall never happen to you” (16:22). And Jesus in turn replied: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me …” (16:23).
The disciple who, through God’s gift, was able to become a solid rock, here shows himself for what he is in his human weakness: a stone along the path, a stone on which men can stumble – in Greek, skandalon.
Here we see the tension that exists between the gift that comes from the Lord and human capacities; and in this scene between Jesus and Simon Peter we see anticipated in some sense the drama of the history of the papacy itself, characterized by the joint presence of these two elements: on the one hand, because of the light and the strength that come from on high, the papacy constitutes the foundation of the Church during its pilgrimage through history; on the other hand, across the centuries, human weakness is also evident, which can only be transformed through openness to God’s action.
And in today’s Gospel there emerges powerfully the clear promise made by Jesus: “the gates of the underworld”, that is, the forces of evil, will not prevail, “non praevalebunt”.
One is reminded of the account of the call of the prophet Jeremiah, to whom the Lord said, when entrusting him with his mission: “Behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its princes, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you!” (Jer 1:18-19).
In truth, the promise that Jesus makes to Peter is even greater than those made to the prophets of old: they, indeed, were threatened only by human enemies, whereas Peter will have to be defended from the “gates of the underworld”, from the destructive power of evil.
Jeremiah receives a promise that affects him as a person and his prophetic ministry; Peter receives assurances concerning the future of the Church, the new community founded by Jesus Christ, which extends to all of history, far beyond the personal existence of Peter himself.
Let us move on now to the symbol of the keys, which we heard about in the Gospel. It echoes the oracle of the prophet Isaiah concerning the steward Eliakim, of whom it was said: “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open” (Is 22:22).
The key represents authority over the house of David. And in the Gospel there is another saying of Jesus addressed to the scribes and the Pharisees, whom the Lord reproaches for shutting off the kingdom of heaven from people (cf. Mt 23:13).
This saying also helps us to understand the promise made to Peter: to him, inasmuch as he is the faithful steward of Christ’s message, it belongs to open the gate of the Kingdom of Heaven, and to judge whether to admit or to refuse (cf. Rev 3:7). Hence the two images – that of the keys and that of binding and loosing – express similar meanings which reinforce one another. The expression “binding and loosing” forms part of rabbinical language and refers on the one hand to doctrinal decisions, and on the other hand to disciplinary power, that is, the faculty to impose and to lift excommunication. The parallelism “on earth … in the heavens” guarantees that Peter’s decisions in the exercise of this ecclesial function are valid in the eyes of God.
In Chapter 18 of Matthew’s Gospel, dedicated to the life of the ecclesial community, we find another saying of Jesus addressed to the disciples: “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 18:18). Saint John, in his account of the appearance of the risen Christ in the midst of the Apostles on Easter evening, recounts these words of the Lord: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven: if you retain the sins of any, they are retained” (Jn 20:22-23). In the light of these parallels, it appears clearly that the authority of loosing and binding consists in the power to remit sins. And this grace, which defuses the powers of chaos and evil, is at the heart of the Church’s ministry.
The Church is not a community of the perfect, but a community of sinners, obliged to recognize their need for God’s love, their need to be purified through the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ sayings concerning the authority of Peter and the Apostles make it clear that God’s power is love, the love that shines forth from Calvary. Hence we can also understand why, in the Gospel account, Peter’s confession of faith is immediately followed by the first prediction of the Passion: through his death, Jesus conquered the powers of the underworld, with his blood he poured out over the world an immense flood of mercy, which cleanses the whole of humanity in its healing waters.
Dear brothers and sisters, as I mentioned at the beginning, the iconographic tradition represents Saint Paul with a sword, and we know that this was the instrument with which he was killed. Yet as we read the writings of the Apostle of the Gentiles, we discover that the image of the sword refers to his entire mission of evangelization. For example, when he felt death approaching, he wrote to Timothy: “I have fought the good fight” (2 Tim 4:7). This was certainly not the battle of a military commander but that of a herald of the Word of God, faithful to Christ and to his Church, to which he gave himself completely. And that is why the Lord gave him the crown of glory and placed him, together with Peter, as a pillar in the spiritual edifice of the Church.
Dear Metropolitan Archbishops, the Pallium that I have conferred on you will always remind you that you have been constituted in and for the great mystery of communion that is the Church, the spiritual edifice built upon Christ as the cornerstone, while in its earthly and historical dimension, it is built on the rock of Peter. Inspired by this conviction, we know that together we are all cooperators of the truth, which as we know is one and “symphonic”, and requires from each of us and from our communities a constant commitment to conversion to the one Lord in the grace of the one Spirit. May the Holy Mother of God guide and accompany us always along the path of faith and charity. Queen of Apostles, pray for us! Amen.
The Testimony of Cardinal Noe
In 2008, Father John Zuhlsdorf, drawing on the Petrus website, published on his website the following interview with Cardinal Virgilio Noe, who died in 2001. (There is no date given for the interview itself, but it was evidently sometime during the spring of 2008.)
In this interview, Noe tells his interviewer, the Italian journalist Bruno Volpe, that he knew what Pope Paul VI meant by his reference to the “smoke of Satan” entering the Church, and that the reference was to priests who celebrated the mystery of the Eucharist in an unworthy way.
The entire interview is worth reading, but I have highlighted the key paragraph.
PETRUS: Amazing interview with Card. Noè: Paul VI’s “smoke of Satan” remark concerned liturgy
Posted on 15 May 2008 by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf
On the site Petrus there is an interview by Bruno Volpe with His Eminence Virgilio Card. Noè, [pronounced "No-eh"] “former papal MC, the predecessor of Archbp. Piero Marini.
These are very interesting comments. He speaks of the phrase of Paul VI that the “smoke of Satan” had entered the Church and what Paul VI meant by that phrase…
Exclusive: the revelation of Card. Noè:” When Paul VI denounced the smoke of Satan in the Church, he was referring to liturgical abuses following Vatican II.”
by Bruno Volpe
CITTA’ DEL VATICANO – He speaks with a thread of a voice and at times laboring for breath he it is so difficult he has to stop. But his mind is lucid and his heart is sound.. The interview with Virgilio Card. Noè, 86, Master of Liturgical Ceremonies during the Pontificates of Paul VI, John Paul I, and John Paul II, once the Archpriest of the Basilica of St. Peter and Vicar of the Pope for Vatican City, showed himself to be at the same time both touching and engaging. The Cardinal, who has very much abandoned public life because of the infirmities of old age, helps us, taking us my the hand, better to know a Pontiff – wrongly forgotten in history’s haste: Giovan Battista Montini. He reveals for the first time what Paul VI was referring to precisely when in 1972 he denounced the presence of the smoke of Satan in the Church.
Your Eminence, who was Pope Paul VI?
Cardinal Virgilio Noe: A real gentleman, a saint. I remember still how he lived the Eucharistic Mystery, with passion and participation. When I think of him I tear up, but not in the way of a hypocrite. I am truly moved. I owe him a great deal, he taught me a lot, he lived and paid a great price for the Church.
You had the privilege to be Master of Liturgical Ceremonies precisely because of the assignment from Papa Montini in the time of the post-Conciliar reform. How do you remember those times?
Noe: Splendidly. Once the Holy Father said to me, personally, and in a very tender way, how the MC (Master of Ceremonies) ought to carry out his role in that particular historical period. He came into the sacristy. I drew near and he said: “The MC must foresee everything and take everything on himself, he has the task of making the Pope’s road smoother.”
Did he add anything else?
Noe: He affirmed that the spirit of the MC must not be shaken by any things, large or small, that may be his own personal problems. An MC, he stressed, must remain also the master of himself and be the Pope’s shield, so that Holy Mass can be celebrated in a dignified way, for the glory of God and His people.
How did the Holy Father take the liturgical reform desired by Vatican II?
Noe: With pleasure.
It is said that Paul VI was quite a sad man, true or legend?
Noe: A lie. He was a good and gentle father, a gentleman and a saint. At the same time, he was saddened by the fact of having been left alone by the Roman Curia. But I would prefer not to talk about that.
As a whole, against the historians, You, as one of his closest and trust collaborators, describe Papa Montini as a serene person.
Noe: He was. Do you know why? Because he also affirmed that whoever serves the Lord cannot ever be sad. He he served Him especially in the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Paul VI’s denunciation of the presence of the smoke of Satan in the Church is unforgettable. Still today, that discourse seems to be incredibly relevant…
Noe: You from Petrus, have gotten a real scoop here, because I am in a position to reveal, for the first time, what Paul VI desired to denounce with that statement. Here it is. Papa Montini, for Satan, meant to include all those priests or bishops and cardinals who didn’t render worship to the Lord by celebrating badly (mal celebrando) Holy Mass because of an errant interpretation of the implementation of the Second Vatican Council. He spoke of the smoke of Satan because he maintained that those priests who turned Holy Mass into dry straw in the name of creativity, in reality were possessed of the vainglory and the pride of the Evil One. so, the smoke of Satan was nothing other than the mentality which wanted to distort the traditional and liturgical canons of the Eucharistic ceremony.”
It is thought that Paul VI was the real culprit as the cause of all the ills of post-Conciliar liturgy. But based on what you have revealed, Eminence, Montini compared the liturgical chaos, even if in a veiled way, actually to something hellish…
Noe: He condemned craving to be in the limelight and the delirium of almighty power that they were following the Council at the liturgical level. Mass is a sacred ceremony, he often repeated, everything must be prepared and studied adequately, respecting the canons, no one is “dominus” [lord] of the Mass. Sadly, in many after Vatican II not many understood him and Paul VI suffered this, considering the phenomenon to be an attack of the Devil.
Your Eminence, in conclusion, what is true liturgy?
Noe: It renders glory to God. Liturgy must be carried out always and no matter what with decorum: even a sign of the Cross poorly made is synonymous with scorn and sloppiness. Alas, I repeat, after Vatican II it was believed that everything, or nearly, was permitted. Now it is necessary to recover, and in a hurry, the sense of the sacred in the ars celebrandi, before the smoke of Satan completely pervades the whole Church. Thanks be to God, we have Pope Benedict XVI: his Mass and his liturgical style are an example of correctness and dignity.