Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Don’t bore the faithful, says Cardinal Arinze

[From the Catholic Herald]

Of all the cardinals in the Roman Curia, few are as disarming, good-humoured and at ease with themselves as Cardinal Francis Arinze. A natural leader with a common touch, the Nigerian cardinal, now 74, has long been expected to reach great heights. He has even been described as a potential Successor to Peter. “Yes, according to journalists,” he chuckles when I meet him.

But his ready laugh and broad grin belie a serious approach to many Church matters, particularly in his area of responsibility: the liturgy. When I raise ongoing concerns such as continued lack of reverence at Mass, and cite as examples Holy Communion in the hand and standing up, and ubiquitous banal hymns, his own reservations about these practices are obvious.

Certain bishops, he says, “pushed and pushed and pushed” for Communion in the hand to be accepted practice for past 40 years, in effect forcing Rome to ratify it. Now, he says, “we have problems”, and he speaks with visible anger about the dropping of particles of the Sacred Host on the ground, tourists putting the Host in a photo album as a souvenir of their trip to Rome, and desecration of the Host through black magic. On Church music, he blames the “banalising” and “secularising” of hymns on both priests and laity. “There’s a type of music suitable for the parish hall, for a picnic, for dancing, for enjoyment,” he says, “but there’s another music suitable for prayer and adoration.”

On whether priests should celebrate Mass facing the congregation or facing East as they did before the Second Vatican Council, he sees arguments for both positions, although his preferences are clear. “The Mass is not a mutual entertainment gathering between the priest and the people – you admire me and I admire you,” he explains. “The priest is not a reverend showman.” Still, Cardinal Arinze is not prepared to make changes, believing it unwise “to order the people of God around again and tell them to shift around the altar again”. “If you were in my shoes would you go so far?” he asks.

[NLM Comment: While we indeed shouldn't underestimate the importance of legitimate pastoral considerations, there must be a middle ground in which we pursue liturgical action, while avoiding the errors of the past. Of course, in this particular question, since one needs no permission to say Mass ad orientem the point is rather moot. The only thing that could be done would be to enforce the ad orientem posture. While I can understand the hesitance of the Holy See to go to that extent at this time, what would be helpful would be to encourage, in the strongest and clearest possible terms, the legality and liturgical and theological reasons that make our traditional liturgical posture desireable -- and by consequence also teach how the liturgy should be approached and understand even when said versus populum. This would go a long way to help empower priests and the faithful who desire to help do their part to resolve the present liturgical crisis. The Cardinal may well not be saying anything contrary to what I have just said of course. I think it just bears being stated, and also that at least some kind of action, even the action of clear pronouncements, would be very timely and helpful.]

Indeed, he quickly dismisses the mere suggestion that wielding a little more authority would help. “You do not create reverence by decree from the Vatican,” he says with an enormous smile. “It’s not a work that one person alone can do. Reverence is based on faith.” [NLM Comment: Again, while it is true that decrees alone aren't sufficient, we do need clear decrees and direction from the Holy See to empower those who seek to restore the liturgy in a hermeneutic of continuity, and very clearly draw the lines of what is liturgically discontinuous and a distortion. We also need resolutions to any sort of vagueness in liturgical law. So while decrees and authority are not the sole answer, they are certainly a part of it I would propose. We need our pastors to be very clear on these points. This will also help that very large segment of the faithful who aren't certain what the mind of the Church is on these matters, or have been taught something contrary.] As an example, he recounts a time when a Protestant asked a Catholic about the purpose of the Tabernacle. When the Catholic replied that it was where Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament was kept, the Protestant said (and the cardinal tells this part with added verve): “If you believe that it is Jesus Christ, why don’t you genuflect? Why don’t you crawl on the ground?” The Protestant, says Cardinal Arinze, was correct. “Many people’s faith in Christ in the Holy Eucharist is weak,” he says, “and they show it by lack of reverence.”

We move on to the long-awaited motu proprio in which the Pope is expected to liberalise usage of the Tridentine Rite (the pre-1962 Mass). The cardinal has little to say on this as it is not his responsibility, but he maintains it is still under consideration and that the Pope is keen that it won’t create division, hence the delays. But he uses the subject to censure those who still refuse to accept the Second Vatican Council and who blame it for the Church’s current ills. Just because a priest may depart from the rulebook doesn’t mean it was the Council’s fault, he argues. And secular society also plays a role. “Some blame the Vatican Council for everything – they say if it rained last week it was the Second Vatican Council that caused it,” he laughs.

He believes that to tackle all these challenges all Catholics need to get to grips with their faith by reading the Catechism or the Compendium. Then it’s up to the priest. “The way he celebrates and the people around him – does that manifest the faith of the whole Church?” he asks. “Does that wake up those who are half asleep [or] when, next Sunday comes, do they feel, ‘Oh Lord help us, we have to go back to that Church and be again with that priest for one and a half hours?’ ”

In common with most Africans, Cardinal Arinze has a refreshing fervour and frankness about the faith that Europe largely lacks. Perhaps, then, he may still be an ideal candidate to lead the Church’s new evangelisation. But that, as the cardinal would say, is just a journalist’s presumption.

You can read the rest of our news coverage in this week’s Catholic Herald

© 2006 The Catholic Herald Ltd

[Final NLM Comment: I would urge people here who might be tempted to "bash" Cardinal Arinze to not do so. Overall, the Cardinal has an evident love of the tradition and our traditional liturgical piety and principles. There is much we agree on, and where there are disagreements, it seems to me they tend to be on the practical level of what we are to do now in the face of our present situation.]

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