In an English-language interview on Gloria TV with Una Voce Austria, recently transcribed, His Eminence Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke spoke about a variety of issues facing the Church today. What I appreciate most is the Cardinal's beautiful reflections on Catholic life as it used to be and his sober assessment of the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council. It can be tiresome to hear people go on about "how bad things were before the Council" and "how much we needed the Council." Sure, there were problems, and no one can deny it; did we ever expect the Catholic Church on earth to be free from problems? Is the fallen human race ever free of problems? But what men like Cardinal Burke help us to see is that, in fact, things were a great deal better, in general, before the Council, and that we are still very much in a rebuilding and recovery mode right now, like emergency workers after a giant earthquake or tsunami strikes.
Q. Your Eminence, you grew up before the Second Vatican Council. How do you remember those times?
A. I grew up in a very beautiful time in the Church, in which we were carefully instructed in the faith, both at home and in the Catholic school, especially with the Baltimore Catechism. I remember the great beauty of the Sacred Liturgy, even in our little farming town, with beautiful Masses. And then, I'm of course most grateful for my parents who gave me a very sound up-bringing in how to live as a Catholic. So they were beautiful years.
Q. A friend of mine who was born after the Council used to say, "Not everything was good in the old days, but everything was better." What do you think about this?
A. Well, we have to live in whatever time the Lord gives us. Certainly, I have very good memories of growing up in the 1950's and early 1960's. I think what is most important is that we appreciate the organic nature of our Catholic Faith and appreciate the Tradition to which we belong and by which the Faith has come to us.
Q. Did you embrace the big changes after the Council with enthusiasm?
A. What happened soon after the Council - I was in the minor seminary at that time, and we followed what was happening at the Council - but the experience after the Council was so strong and even in some cases violent, that I have to say that, even as a young man, I began to question some things - whether this was really what was intended by the Council - because I saw many beautiful things that were in the Church suddenly no longer present and even considered no longer beautiful. I think, for instance, of the great tradition of Gregorian Chant or the use of Latin in the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy. Then also, of course, the so-called 'Spirit of Vatican II' influenced other areas - for instance, the moral life, the teaching of the Faith - and then we saw so many priest abandoning their priestly ministry, so many religious sisters abandoning religious life. So, there were definitely aspects about the post-conciliar period that raised questions.
Q. You were ordained a priest in 1975. Did you think that something in the Church had gone wrong?
A. Yes, I believe so. In some way, we lost a strong sense of the centrality of the Sacred Liturgy and, therefore, of the priestly office and ministry in the Church. I have to say, I was so strongly raised in the Faith, and had such a strong understanding of vocation, that I never could refuse to do what Our Lord was asking. But I saw that there was something that had definitely gone wrong. I witnessed, for instance, as a young priest the emptiness of the catachesis. The catechetical texts were so poor. Then I witnessed the liturgical experimentations - some of which I just don't even want to remember - the loss of the devotional life, the attendance at Sunday Mass began to steadily decrease: all of those were signs to me that something had gone wrong.
Q. Would you have imagined in 1975 that, one day, you would offer Mass in the rite that was abandoned for the sake of renewal?
A. No, I would not have imagined it. Although, I also have to say that I find it very normal, because it was such a beautiful rite, and that the Church recovered it seems to me to be a very healthy sign. But, at the time, I must say that the liturgical reform in particular was very radical and, as I said before, even violent, and so the the thought of a restoration didn't seem possible, really. But, thanks be to God, it happened.
Q. Juridically, the Novus Ordo and the Traditional Latin Mass are the same rite. Is this also your factual experience when you celebrate a Pontifical High Mass in the new or the old rite?
A. Yes, I understand that they are the same rite, and I believe that, when the so-called New Rite or the Ordinary Form is celebrated with great care and with a strong sense that the Holy Liturgy is the action of God, one can see more clearly the unity of the two forms of the same rite. On the other hand, I do hope that - with time - some of the elements which unwisely were removed from the rite of the Mass, which has now become the Ordinary Form, could be restored, because the difference between the two forms is very stark.
Q. In what sense?
A. The rich articulation of the Extraordinary Form, all of which is always pointing to the theocentric nature of the liturgy, is practically diminished to the lowest possible degree in the Ordinary Form.
Q. The Synod on the Family has been a shock and sometimes even a scandal, especially for young Catholic families who are the future of the Church. Do they have reasons to worry?
A. Yes, they do. I think that the report that was given at the mid-point of the session of the Synod, which just ended October 18th, is perhaps one of the most shocking public documents of the Church that I could imagine. And, so, it is a cause for very serious alarm and it's especially important that good Catholic families who are living the beauty of the Sacrament of Matrimony rededicate themselves to a sound married life and that also they use whatever occasions they have to give witness to the beauty of the truth about marriage which they are experiencing daily in their married life.
Q. Most practicing Catholics in an average parish in Western Europe and the U.S. are those who were baptized and catechized before the Council. Is the Church in these countries living from her past?
A. I think that my generation, for instance, was blessed to grow up at a time in which there was a strong practice of the Catholic Faith, a strong tradition of participation in Sunday Mass and the Sacred Liturgy, a strong devotional life, a strong teaching of the Faith. But in some way, I believe, we sadly took it for granted, and the same attention was not given to pass on the Faith as we had come to know it to the success of generations. Now what I see it that many young people are hungering and thirsting - and this already for some time - to know the Catholic Faith at its roots and to experience many aspects of the richness of the tradition of the Faith. So I believe that there is a recovery precisely of what had been for a period of time lost or not cared for in a proper manner. I think that now there is a rebirth at work among the young Catholics.