“Terroir” is the French term that wine-mavens use to speak about the distinctive sense of place (soil, sun, climate) that enters into the cultivation of grapes and the production of notable wines.
Benedictine monasticism, with its vow of “stability,” also cultivates a sense of the distinctiveness of each monastery, its insertion into a particular place that is both earthly and sacred.
Reflecting upon the superb homilies of Pope Benedict (that will rank among the classics of the homiletic tradition), one aspect that strikes me is Benedict’s sensitivity to the “location” of his homily. A much commented example was his homily in St. Patrick’s Cathedral during his time in the United States. Many will recall his use of the art and architecture of the Cathedral to illustrate his reflections. Here is an example:
I would like to draw your attention to a few aspects of this beautiful structure which I think can serve as a starting point for a reflection on our particular vocations within the unity of the Mystical Body.
The first has to do with the stained glass windows, which flood the interior with mystic light. From the outside, those windows are dark, heavy, even dreary. But once one enters the church, they suddenly come alive; reflecting the light passing through them, they reveal all their splendor. Many writers – here in America we can think of Nathaniel Hawthorne – have used the image of stained glass to illustrate the mystery of the Church herself. It is only from the inside, from the experience of faith and ecclesial life, that we see the Church as she truly is: flooded with grace, resplendent in beauty, adorned by the manifold gifts of the Spirit. It follows that we, who live the life of grace within the Church’s communion, are called to draw all people into this mystery of light.
The pope’s homily for the Feast of Corpus Christi, which he celebrated on Thursday at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, is another fine example of his sense of “terroir.” He spoke of three dimensions of the Mystery of the Eucharist and related them to the three places in which the celebration would unfold.
The first was the assembly of the faithful in the Basilica to celebrate the Presence of Christ in their midst. The second was the procession with the Blessed Sacrament along Via Merulana, signifying our physical and spiritual walking with Christ. The third was the Adoration of Christ the Lord at solemn Benediction celebrated at St. Mary Major.
There has not yet been issued an official English translation of the homily, but those who savor Italian, like fine wine, can find it here.