THE Vatican’s top liturgy official says he expects Pope Benedict XVI to move against liturgical abuse with firm teaching and a gentle manner, recognising that such mistakes often reflect ignorance, not ill will.
At the same time, the Pope wants to offer reconciliation to followers of the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre – but not at the cost of “disowning” the Second Vatican Council, said Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Nigerian who heads the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.
Cardinal Arinze spoke about the direction of the new papacy in an interview with Catholic News Service earlier this month.
He said he expected important moves – but not a purge – to improve liturgy under Pope Benedict.
“I do not expect an aggressive correction of abuses. I don’t think the Pope is going to use the ecclesiastical hammer,” Cardinal Arinze said.
“Pope Benedict has very clear doctrine and convictions. What many people may not know is that he is not rough. He is gentlemanly, in the sense of what the prophet Isaiah said: ‘A bruised reed he will not break’,” the cardinal said.
Many liturgical abuses, Cardinal Arinze said, are “based on weakness of faith or ignorance” or on a wrong idea of creativity. Where improper practices occur, it is important to begin identifying them and talking about them, but without harming the people involved, the cardinal said.
That could be one reason the Pope is focusing on the bigger faith issues, understanding that the quality of worship reflects knowledge of the faith, he said. A good example, he said, is the Pope’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est (“God is Love”).
Many people are scrutinising papal Masses for clues to liturgical direction under the new Pope.
“Obviously, people are watching the details, and I cannot blame them,” Cardinal Arinze said with a laugh. “I think the papal liturgies are beautiful and that people like them.”
He said the election of Pope Benedict, who wrote extensively about liturgy as a cardinal, kindled hope for reconciliation with the Society of St Pius X, which was founded by Archbishop Lefebvre and which rejected the new Mass and several Vatican II teachings or directives.
Cardinal Arinze shares that hope, but said people should realise that the Pope “cannot change the faith of the Church”.
“He cannot disown Vatican II in order to make the Lefebvrites happy. The Pope cannot reinvent everything, or act as if Vatican II did not take place,” he said.
While some have proposed a wider indult to allow use of the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Mass with fewer restrictions, Cardinal Arinze said he is happy with Pope John Paul II’s rules, which require the involvement of the local bishop.
“When you speak of wider use for everybody, it raises some questions, which have to be examined more carefully,” he said.
The cardinal said he thought that for most people the question is not the Tridentine rite versus the new Mass, but the much more basic issues of faith, love of Christ and the appreciation of the importance of Sunday Mass.
“If a person has these, many of these other problems would fall into line,” he said.
Cardinal Arinze said one priority that has carried over to the new pontificate is the translation of liturgical texts.
“The Pope has said, let the various translations of the missal proceed quickly, because the people are waiting. These pieces of paper used on Sunday and little leaflets are not ideal. You really need the whole book translated,” he said.
He said the new Roman Missal, released in Latin in 2002, is 1300 pages long and has excellent texts, including some new ones, but the people do not have them in their local languages.
The cardinal said he hoped work on the English translation would be completed in two years.
He said that would not depend principally on the Vatican, but rather on the priority given the project by bishops’ conferences.
The Roman Missal is being translated by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy for bishops’ conferences, which can adopt, amend or reject the translation.
The worship congregation, meanwhile, has established a committee of 12 bishops, called Vox Clara, to help it evaluate the texts as they are being prepared.
The congregation’s closer watch on translations in recent years does not mean the Vatican wants to supplant local bishops and bishops’ conferences as the “key people” in translating liturgical texts, Cardinal Arinze said. But sometimes, he said, the congregation gives its views on a particular translation as it is being done, so that translated texts will receive ratification in Rome with the least delay.
Cardinal Arinze, 73, has headed the worship and sacraments congregation since 2002.
Liturgy has always been one of his primary interests, and he wrote his doctoral dissertation on sacrifice in a Nigerian traditional religion as an introduction to the catechesis of the Catholic Mass.
The cardinal has been a popular speaker and his reflections on liturgy and other topics have been featured in a number of recent video podcasts.
He heads a staff of 36 experts responsible for responding to questions from around the world, reviewing texts and ministerial books in many languages, hosting groups of bishops, attending a multitude of meetings and conferences, promoting liturgical knowledge and practice, and discouraging abuses.
“We always have more work than we can do on any particular day. People don’t understand that,” Cardinal Arinze said.
The limited personnel and resources mean that on some issues, like sacred music, the congregation’s actions may appear largely symbolic.
“We do not pretend that a few of us sitting here in the Vatican are going to conduct excellent music all around the world,” he said.
But last year the congregation sponsored a study day at the Vatican to encourage dioceses to take liturgical music more seriously.
Cardinal Arinze said the main challenge facing his congregation is to encourage a spirit of prayer, which must grow out of faith. He said bringing people to Mass regularly is essential, and it hinges largely on two factors – catechesis and high quality, faith-filled liturgies.
Celebrating Mass well involves lay ministers, but primarily the priest, who sets a tone through every word and gesture, the cardinal said.
“Suppose a priest comes at the beginning of Mass and says: ‘Good morning, everybody, did your team win last night?’ That’s not a liturgical greeting. If you can find it in any liturgical book, I’ll give you a turkey,” Cardinal Arinze said.
Likewise, a priest has to preach well, making sure that his homily offers theological and scriptural enlightenment, and not merely verbal “acrobatics” to show off how many books he’s read, he said.
The cardinal said that if done well Sunday Mass will not be experienced as a heavy obligation, but as a spiritual banquet, a celebration appreciated by the faithful who are hungry for spiritual nourishment and want to adore God.
“You should not need a commandment to enter such a banquet hall,” he said.