Cardinal Francis Arinze says that greater faith is the key to resolving the continuing debate over how to celebrate Mass properly.
Since 2002, the Nigerian cardinal has been prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and is overseeing a new translation of the Mass. This is the second part of Cardinal Arinze’s Feb. 14 interview with Register correspondent Edward Pentin in his office at the Vatican.
How much of this is a great concern of yours, the changes that have occurred since Vatican II?
In human nature, in matters religious, change is difficult, and most human beings resist change, especially in matters touching relations with God — on how they pray — most resist change. Introduction of change demands a lot of care, a lot of explanation, a lot of bringing people along with you.
A particular change may be good in itself, but if it is not well explained and understood, it will not be accepted. That is practical. So, in some places, there was introduction of change without due preparation of the people.
So you see your task primarily as one of education, to teach the true meaning of the Second Vatican Council?
Yes, not that we think the bishops don’t understand, but that our Vatican congregation must encourage liturgical formation as we call it. That means information, formation, explanation, seeing why it was done or why it should be done and how it should be done, who should do it, so that every celebration in church manifests our faith, nourishes our faith, sends the people home in joy and with fire and desire to come back next week.
When it doesn’t happen like that, we have to look into ourselves.
But a lot has to do with society, doesn’t it?
In part because the Church is not living in a vacuum, so those people who come to Mass are also influenced by those they see outside the church, what is shown on television, what they read in the newspapers, what they hear over the radio, what the politicians are saying. The Church does not control everything, and those influences — not to mention the Internet and all its derivatives — you see, the forces are many.
Some blame the Vatican Council for everything: They say if it rained last week, it was the Second Vatican Council that caused it!
Do you see a need for a more African-oriented Church, helped by having a future African pope, rather than the more Eurocentric papacy that some complain of today? Is it time for Africa’s voice to become louder in the Church?
I do not think the problem for most Africans is where the pope comes from. I don’t think that’s the problem because, if anything, Africans like to approach the Catholic faith with faith in Jesus Christ.
But if the Church has a European image, that’s quite another matter. The fact is, the center of Church administration is Rome, and the development from the times of St. Paul, the apostles, they crossed into Europe, and the Greco-Roman culture was very much a fact. The ocean here is called the Mediterranean Sea — the sea that is in the center of the world — because that was the known world, the Roman Empire and so on. That’s pure history and we cannot ignore that history.
Missionaries who have gone to bring the faith have been mostly from Europe. That’s just a fact. After all, many parts of Africa and Asia are only recently evangelized. So the practical thing is to present the Gospel in parts of Africa, Asia, Latin America, in such a way that it will be Catholic but also local. Easy to say, difficult to do, but it has to be done. It is that whole work called inculturation.
That is where the Africans put the emphasis, not on where the pope comes from: That’s not their worry. But the Gospel must be at home in Africa and not be there like a visitor with a visa, but be there as a tree growing in its native soil. And it has to be so in Japan, too, and in India, and in Taiwan, and in China and also in Argentina, and in Ecuador, in Nigeria, in Ireland and in Italy. That is a challenge for all the evangelizers.
What are your hopes for the future and what challenges do you see must be faced, both in your department and in the Church?
Hopes we must always have because we are followers of Christ, who rose from the dead. There are, however, problems. So there are challenges, and it is our duty to work hard. We must pray.
My hope is greater faith. For matters liturgical, they must begin with faith, because we do in this or that way what we believe. If a person does not believe, we don’t know where to start. So if a person says: “The way I like to celebrate Mass is this; no one’s going to tell me what to do.” “We celebrate Mass this way because of our faith, and if you don’t believe what we believe, then we can’t go far with you.” So the first area must be faith.
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and some people are frightened by 700 pages, so we have the Compendium, which is 150 pages. That’s first, so we know what we believe. Our faith isn’t a question of yes, no, but, maybe, opinion polls, votes — no. We know in whom we believe.
After faith, in matters liturgical we must go on to doing it, so that the people see it, so that every Sunday when they come to Mass, it isn’t just theory. We call it the art of celebrating.
Is the priest celebrating the Mass in such a way that when people look at him for one hour or one and a half, they say, “He believes in what he is doing?” The way he celebrates and the people around him, does that manifest the faith of the whole Church? Does that encourage Catholics who are fervent? Does that wake up those who are half asleep, those who don’t exactly believe, those who are indifferent? Does it shake them up? Does it send the people home joyful, resolved to live the Christian life, which is never easy? Does it send them home desirous to come again? 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 1½ hours? Please, is there another alternative where I can go?”
If so, then the priest has not succeeded. He has to examine his conscience.
Do you think it would be better if the priest faced East again? Some, including the Pope, have reservations about him facing the congregation.
Yes, and rightly so. There are arguments for both. When the priest faces the people, it may be easier for them to see they are a community with the priest. However, when the priest looks with the people — I do not say with his back to the people — and faces the crucifix, faces Christ (Christ is everywhere, but the crucifix is the powerful symbol) or faces East, the vertical dimension of the Mass is better shown. The Mass is directed primarily toward God, our Creator.
The Mass is not primarily about me and you, “horizontal”; it is also that but not primarily that. However, it is quite another matter to say it is wise 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? You see the difficulty. If it’s a small chapel and so on, there’s no difficulty. But to order it for the whole Church is quite another matter.
But it seems that all the issues we’ve talked about have been very much of a horizontal nature, or owing to this emphasis on horizontal rather than vertical worship. So what’s needed in many ways is, some would say, that perspective again — to face the cross, to face God.
Yes, you are right, you are right. If we were to be more vertical in our whole Christian life, if we would turn toward God in both senses of the word, if we would give more priority to God and not what I want or you want.
The Mass is not a mutual entertainment gathering between the priest and the people — I admire you and you admire me. He is not a reverend showman, he is ordained to be their leader in offering sacrifice to God. So you are right. To put it in one word, be more God-centered.
But that’s not going to happen, is it?
Why must we not hope that it can change? But it is a big challenge — indeed it is the summary of holiness.
The more God-centered each of us is, the holier that person is. That’s what it is.
Edward Pentin writes