Cardinal Burke Speaks on Attendance Drops, Liturgy, Ad Orientem and Islam

When Cardinal Raymond Burke held a teleconference at the end of August connected with Hope For the World: To Unite All Things in Christ (Ignatius Press), a new book-length interview, he spoke about some of today’s critical issues. Yet even with the turmoil in the world and Church, he noted the book’s title to emphasize his desire to encourage everyone so they “will find cause for new hope and new energy in their daily lives.”

Here mostly in his own words, are some critical areas he addressed.

He emphasized, “[W]e know that the only answer to the very serious challenges we face today is Jesus Christ and his gospel, his teaching, his life given to us in the Church.  And so those of us who are Church leaders have a very serious responsibility to address the truth as taught to us by Christ in the Church to the situations of today, that is done not in a proud way but with a great sense of love, the same love that inspired our Lord and Savior, that marked his public ministry, but a love which knows that what will best serve society is the truth, the truth respected which respects the plan of God for us in the moment of creation and that plan has been restored by our Lord Jesus Christ.”

He said “that’s what is needed so much in the Church today,” and as he visits places he finds “this is what people want to hear from priests, and bishops, and cardinals — they want to hear the truth of the faith.  They aren’t interested in my personal opinions about things, which won’t save their souls…they look to me to have reflected very deeply on the truth of the faith and on their application in society today and to speak to that truth with love and care for the society.”



His response to the falling numbers attending Mass and seeking Confession, and many children’s religious illiteracy?

“[T]he way to turn things around is to have confidence in what the Sacred Liturgy has always taught and practiced,” he began. “One of the things that I found in the time since actually I was in the seminary, but especially as a young priest, there was always this idea that we had to find some new program, some new foolproof formula which would set people on fire with the faith, which would respond to the question of the tremendous secularization of society.  And what I’ve found the answer to be is to teach people the truth of the faith and their integrity and with some depth.  For instance, in the programs of the catechesis, which I knew in my early years as a priest, the children at the end of it would have been left with nothing if the teachers, or priests included, hadn’t gone way beyond what was presented in the books.

“And I remember one time interviewing a young Catholic man for a position when I was Bishop of La Crosse, and he told me about his own catechesis, and he was a bright young man and ended up going to Yale University, and he said, ‘I arrived there in which many of the professors were constantly attacking the Catholic Church as backward and so forth,’ and he said, ‘And I was armed with crayons and construction paper.’  Well, that’s maybe an exaggeration, but a lot of it was just that — the young people weren’t taught anything of substance and so they believed that maybe all there was about their Catholic faith was just that well, we’re all good, we’re all wonderful, but nothing more than that, no deep understanding of why it is that we’re good.  Who is God?  He made us in his own image and likeness, and so forth.”

We finds many “young people are craving so much, they don’t want facile answers, some new flashy program or whatever; they simply want to learn the truth which Christ teaches us in the Church.”



Cardinal Burke also looked at the Sacred Liturgy, defining it as “the highest and most perfect expression of our Catholic faith, and the Sacred Liturgy, when it’s celebrated correctly and with great dignity, we see the order of creation and we approach God himself with worship, and we receive from him not only the truth, which he teaches us through the Scriptures and through the homily of the priest, but also we receive truth itself in the sacraments and in direct encounter with Christ.”

Referring to Vatican II, he said that “what happened, sadly, after the council, and it certainly was not part of the teaching of the council, was there was a tremendously man-centered approach to the Sacred Liturgy, to the extent that the idea that this was worship offered to God according to God’s commandment was completely lost, and the liturgy became something we created, and I remember people saying well, we have to make the Sacred Liturgy interesting, and it was all of this experimentation.  But all of it completely blurred the essential encounter between heaven and earth, which is the liturgy, the essential encounter between eternity and time.”

He observed that when the Sacred Liturgy, especially the Holy Mass, was reduced this way, many people, stopped attending.  “They didn’t find anything there that they couldn’t find in other human activities.  And those that were coming were not being nourished with the truth, or were not seeing in the Sacred Liturgy this wonderful, what we call the mystery of faith, God’s plan for our salvation.  And so it strikes me that there’s an exact correlation between the abuses in the Sacred Liturgy and the breakdown of the moral life, and especially in these very serious questions regarding the protection and nurture owed to every human life from the moment of its conception to the moment of natural death.”



Turning to worshipping ad orientem, Cardinal Burke said he agrees “completely” with Cardinal Robert Sarah recommending and encouraging the return of ad orientem in the liturgy.

And I believe that many of the comments which were made afterwards are not well informed and are not fair,” Cardinal Burke added. “His fundamental point, and the question of the position of the priest in the assembly…is key because the priest is at the head of the congregation, he’s acting in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, offering this worship to God, and so all of us are facing the Lord.  He’s not turning his back on anybody, this is oftentimes what people say, well, now, the priest turned his back on us, not at all, the priest, as our spiritual father, is leading us in this worship to lift our minds and hearts to God.”

He pointed out there’s nothing in the Second Vatican Council’s documents “which would demand or even suggest that Mass should now suddenly be celebrated with the priest facing the people. This is a discipline which was introduced afterwards, and I think was part of the false liturgical reform.”

Cardinal Burke explained that when the priest is facing the people, “it doesn’t mean that the priest can’t offer the Mass very reverently and with the true spirit of the liturgy in the sense of offering worship to God facing them, but there’s the great temptation when the priest is facing the people to see him as some kind of a performer that suddenly now instead of the priest together with the people relating to God, somehow now it becomes an interaction between the priest and the people, and that the priest is the protagonist, and it’s no longer our Lord Jesus Christ.  And this is a very fundamental gross error that has to be addressed.”

When Cardinal Burke celebrates Mass “ad orientem, as we say, or facing the Lord, I absolutely object to someone saying that I’ve turned my back on the people.  No, it’s the greatest act of love for the people to be at their head and to offer for them the Holy Mass, because the Eucharist can only be offered by Christ himself and it’s the priest who sacramentally is Christ offering the Holy Mass, so let’s all just face the Lord as we should.”



Turning to the question on Islam, Cardinal Burke said he thinks “the response to Islam, at least as I see it on the part of some, is very much influenced by a relativism of a religious order.  I hear people saying to me, well, we’re all worshipping the same God.  We all believe in love.  But I say stop a minute, and let’s examine carefully what Islam is, and what our Christian faith teaches us both.  And when we come to the question of Christian faith, immediately there is involved a metaphysics because in the Christian faith God is the creator both of reason and he’s the giver of revelation, by which that what he teaches us, what the law is written on our hearts is illuminated, and we’re given a divine grace to live according to that law.

“This is not true in Islam,” he said. “I’ve been accused of taking an extreme view about Islam or of being influenced by people who don’t understand Islam, everything that I’ve said about Islam, including especially what’s in the book, is based on my own study of the text of Islam and also of their commentators, and when I’ve written on Islam I’ve been at pains to cite their own authors.  And the point I wanted to come to is this, I don’t believe it’s true that we’re all worshipping the same God, because the God of Islam is a governor.  In other words, fundamentally Islam is, Sharia is their law, and that law, which comes from Allah, must dominate every man eventually.

“And it’s not a law that’s founded on love.  To say that we all believe in love is simply not correct.  And while our experience may be with individual Muslims may be one of people who are gentle and kind and so forth, we have to understand that in the end what they believe most deeply, that to which they ascribe in their hearts, demands that they govern the world.  Whereas, in the Christian faith we’re taught that by the development of right reason, by sound metaphysics, and then that which leads to faith and to the light and strength that’s given by faith, we make our contribution to society also in terms of its governance, but the Church makes no pretense that it’s to govern the world, but rather that it’s to inspire and assist those who govern the world to act justly and rightly toward the citizens.”

He believes relativism comes in the sense, “[W]e don’t respect the truth about what Islam teaches and what, for instance, the Catholic Church teaches, and we just make these general statements, we’re all believing in the same God and so forth, and this is not helpful and ultimately it will be the end of Christianity, meaning nothing has changed in the Islamic agenda from prior times in which our ancestors in the faith have had to fight to save Christianity.  And why?  Because they saw that Islam was attacking sacred truths, including the sacred places of our redemption.

“We have to have a profound respect for right reason, for the natural law which God has written in every human heart.  I think most people don’t realize that there is no natural law doctrine in Islam and neither is there an ocean of conscience, everything is dictates of the laws that are given by either in their sacred text or by those who are entrusted with interpreting the law.”

The cardinal said he believes “what’s most important for us today is to understand Islam from its own documents and not to presume that we know already what we’re talking about.”

Finally, never lose hope.