ROME – This week marks the 70th anniversary of retired Pope Benedict XVI’s ordination as a priest – an anniversary his personal secretary says will be celebrated with things of personal significance: The liturgy, and former members of his late brother’s choir.
Speaking to Rome Reports, German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, head of the Prefecture for the Papal Household and Benedict XVI’s personal secretary, said the choir was a surprise for Benedict.
For Benedict XVI, “surprises are always related to the liturgy,” Gänswein said, noting that for the June 29 anniversary, “We’ve invited a group of former members of the choir from Regensburg who learned to sing alongside his brother.”
By now, the chorists, who were children at the time of their participation in the Regensburg choir, are between 40 and 60 years old, and “some of them will sing in the chapel during Mass,” Gänswein said.
Gänswein was among the speakers for a June 23 webinar organized by Rome Reports to mark the anniversary of Benedict’s ordination.
Ordained a priest June 29, 1951, Benedict XVI is 94 years old, and has been living a secluded life of retirement since his resignation from the papacy in February 2013.
Since that time, Benedict has made few public appearances. One of the last times he spoke in public was at a ceremony organized by the Ratzinger Foundation in 2016 for the 65th anniversary of his priestly ordination.
On that occasion, Benedict in brief off-the-cuff remarks recalled the Greek word eucharistomen, which he said, “harks back to the reality of thanksgiving, to the new dimension that Christ imparts to it.”
“The cross, suffering, all that is wrong with the world: he transformed all this into ‘thanks’ and therefore into a ‘blessing.’ Hence, he fundamentally transubstantiated life and the world, and he has given us and gives us each day the bread of true life, which transcends this world thanks to the strength of His love,” he said.
Benedict closed the address praying that he and the Church would be able to live this ‘thanks,’ and “truly receive the newness of life and contribute to the ‘transubstantiation’ of the world so that it might not be a place of death, but of life: a world in which love has conquered death.”
The last time Benedict made a public appearance was his visit to Regensburg in June 2020 to visit his ailing brother, Georg Ratzinger, who died June 30, 2020, at the age of 96.
Ordained a priest on the same day as his brother in 1951, Georg Ratzinger was Benedict’s last living relative, and was famous for his role as musical director of St. Peters Cathedral in Regensburg, which dates back to the 10th century, leading concert tours all around the world and overseeing the recording of numerous scores considered to be masterpieces.
In 2010 Georg apologized for using corporal punishment to discipline boys following the release of a broader investigation into the sexual and physical abuse of minors in the Church in Germany.
According to Gänswein, Benedict XVI is physically weak and is unable to stand for the half-hour Mass that will be celebrated in honor of his priestly ordination, “so he concelebrates Mass.”
“He sits in a wheelchair next to the altar while I act as the main celebrant,” Gänswein said, adding, “We do this every day. There hasn’t been a day since his ordination that he hasn’t celebrated or concelebrated Mass.”
Benedict, he said, “remembers that the ceremony that day was long. He also recalls the dignified manner of the prestigious and older Cardinal (Michael von) Faulhaber, who ordained him.”
“The cardinal made a lasting impression on him. His life as a priest was marked by that day in 1951,” Gänswein said.
Speaking of Benedict’s physical condition, Gänswein described him as “very fragile” physically, and is unable to speak much because his voice is also weak, but “thank God, his mind continues to work very well.”
Overall, Benedict “is in good spirits and says, ‘Every day I begin with the Lord and end with the Lord. We’ll see how long it lasts,’” he said.
To mark the 70th anniversary of Benedict XVI’s priestly ordination, the Storia program of Italian broadcaster Rai will feature a documentary on Benedict’s life and ministry titled, “Benedict XVI, a misunderstood revolutionary,” which will air at 6:30p.m. local time.
Beginning with Benedict’s resignation from the papacy in 2013, the documentary provides an overview of Benedict’s entire life, from his childhood to his retirement, and includes interviews with people who knew him and worked alongside him for years.
Among those included are Gerhard Ludwig Müller, former prefect of the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith; Italian Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, head of the Vatican’s Council for Culture; and journalists Sandro Magister and Andrea Tornielli, who now serves as editorial director of the Vatican’s formal information service, Vatican News.
Also featured are interviews with Italian theologian Elio Guerriero; Andrea Riccardi, head of the Italian Sant’Egidio Community; Italian historian and professor Father Roberto Regoli; Antonio Paolucci, former director of the Vatican Museums; and Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, who served as Vatican spokesman from 2006-2016, and who is currently president of the Ratzinger Foundation.
In the preface he wrote for a recently published book titled, Benedetto XVI. La vita e le sfide, or “Benedict XVI: Life and Challenges,” by Italian author Luca Caruso, Gänswein praised Benedict XVI’s intellectual and theological contribution to the Church.
Having been a young priest during the Second Vatican Council, the leader of a large archdiocese in Germany, and eventually pastor of the Universal Church after spending several decades working in important positions inside the Roman curia during a turbulent time for the Catholic Church, “It is undeniable that the depth of his theological thought, always lived at the service of the Church up to the highest responsibilities, is a gift he has left to the Bride of Christ.”
“The courage and clarity with which he faced difficult situations is also known, indicating with truth and determination the direction (with which) to respond to them,” Gänswein said.
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