Cardinal Francis Arinze has enjoyed a meteoric career, from becoming the youngest bishop in the world in 1965 at the age of 32, to serving in several of the most vital posts in the Vatican. The native Nigerian currently is prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, having served as prefect from 2002 to 2008. In that position, he helped oversee the process of preparing translations of the liturgy that are truer to the original Latin.
In November, Cardinal Arinze made a visit to Chicago, principally to give the keynote address at the annual fundraiser for the Chastity Education Initiative of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Respect Life Office. He spoke with CWR during the visit.
Upon sending to Rome the proposed new English translation of the Roman Missal, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “There is a tremendous moment of religious renewal that is possible now.” What do you hope would be some of the fruits of the new translation, however it is finalized?
Cardinal Francis Arinze: My hope is that those who want the Mass in English will have a text which would be as near to the original Latin as possible. A faithful translation of the Latin, respecting also the character of English, helping the people to pray with the spirit of piety characteristic of the Latin rite. The best text that can be offered today to the English speaking world—that is my hope. Because the text of the public prayer of the Church guides our prayer—communal prayer, liturgical prayer—it should also inspire our personal prayer.
CWR: How do you hope the new translation will help priests and the faithful better understand the meaning of the Roman rite and participate more fully in the liturgy?
Cardinal Arinze: If priests, religious, and lay faithful give this translation an open-hearted welcome; if they will read it carefully; if the person leading the celebration would do it in the best spirit of what the synod of bishops in 2005 called ars celebrandi, the “art of celebrating” (that means that way of celebrating which manifests our Catholic faith—shows it, encourages it in the people, wakens those whose faith is getting a bit cold, sends the people home on fire to live this faith and to share it, joyful in the faith); if this all happened, that would be good!
CWR: Is the legacy of liturgical abuse following the Second Vatican Council becoming a thing of the past as the “reform of the reform” presses onward under the present Pope? I’m thinking of more faithful liturgical translations, unprecedented support for those who prefer to worship under the Tridentine rite, and a renewed emphasis upon the restoration of such pious acts as taking Communion on the tongue rather than in the hand.
Cardinal Arinze: That is our hope. But the world is big. Who can tell what happens in every corner of the world today among the 440,000 or so priests? The Church has no army. We do not send the Swiss Guard from Rome to police every priest. But of course the Church achieves more by appeal to the human heart, to our spirit of faith: love for Christ, love for the Church, which means, also, obedience to the Church. And it is the Church that tells us how to pray when it is the public prayer of the Church, that is, the liturgy. If it were my private prayer, then nobody is going to tell me how to pray.… But when it is the public prayer of the Church, then the Church is going to tell me what to do…because this is in the name of the Church.
CWR: So the temptation for a celebrant to privatize the liturgy, if you will, is one which ought to be conscientiously resisted?
Cardinal Arinze: The liturgy is not private prayer.… So we follow the guidance which Holy Mother Church has indicated for that celebration—not what I think. Otherwise you might come to Mass and one priest says, “I think there should be 12 lessons in the Mass because I like Holy Scripture very much”.… Another says, “I don’t want to read any lesson at all because the people want to go home.” So we can’t have that! Then another one goes to the altar and begins to behave like a showman, Reverend Showman. He becomes now the center of the celebration. He is no longer drawing attention to Christ, when we are in fact called to celebrate the mysteries of Christ: not myself, not the congregation, not to provoke their applause.
A mirror works very well when the mirror is not seen. But if the mirror is seen, then it is dirty. The priest should mirror Christ. Christ should be at the center. Christ must increase, we must decrease. The more the priest is convinced of being a minister of Christ and the Church, the better the liturgical celebration will be.
CWR: Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa has begun celebrating the Novus Ordo in his cathedral ad orientem, facing the altar rather than the congregation. This move would be a show-stopper for a Reverend Showman. What is your position on restoring this ancient position of the priest at Mass?
Cardinal Arinze: As the Holy Father has said and written often, the most important thing at the Mass isn’t whether the priest faces the people or not, but whether the priest and the people are celebrating while facing God—that we realize we don’t come to Mass to celebrate one another, but to celebrate the mysteries of Christ. You will notice the Holy Father insists now to have the crucifix at the central place, on the altar or very near it at the center. In some places, the arrangement of the altar allows for that. In others, it doesn’t.
Take St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The way the main papal altar is arranged, the pope will face the people. But not all altars are like that. And in any case, what you call ad orientem has never been forbidden. The Second Vatican Council did not make any law saying that the priest has to say Mass facing the people. And what people call the priest having his back to the people is not correct. We should say that he is facing the Lord.
CWR: Are there any differences between Pope Benedict’s approach and Pope John Paul’s approach to evangelization?
Cardinal Arinze: John Paul II often spoke of “new evangelization,” which will never change in content but should be fresh in the method, the ardor, the commitment of the evangelizer. Pope Benedict speaks of fidelity to Christ, to the whole truth—not relativism, picking and choosing within the faith handed down to us from the apostles. So to hold on to that faith and be faithful to it is the same message, though the approach may be different.
CWR: Speaking of a new evangelization, are Muslims off-limits or does evangelizing among them merely impose special challenges?
Cardinal Arinze: When you say evangelization, what we mean is the message of the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ: that Christ is the Savior for all. The Church has no other business.… Now evangelizing means bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to every human being. If that human being embraces faith in Christ, we do catechesis. We baptize. We set up a Christian community.
If that human being does not believe in Christ, at least we can approach the person: listen to that person, try to understand. And we can try to help that other person understand us. If you are doing that, you are doing what is called interreligious dialogue.… This is part of evangelization, but not the whole. If at some stage that human being gets more interested and wants to listen to Christ and the Gospel, then openly we discuss that. But we never use force. We never use tactics. We never impose, but we propose. Because Christ sent us to bring the Gospel to everyone. And the Good News of Jesus Christ is not a contraband good which we smuggle across customs. In religious matters, we deal straight. We have no hidden agenda in our pocket.
If, of course, a Muslim wants to become a Christian, we are very happy. Why not? And if everybody in the world wants to become a Christian, excellent! Then the Holy Father will close that office for interreligious dialogue in the Vatican. But we have not come to that day yet. So, if others don’t believe in Christ, we still remain friends and collaborate. If they believe in Christ, excellent, we have a catechism. It’s only 700 pages.
CWR: Given your own roots, we must have a question about Africa. Vis-À-vis Africa, the Pope said that the Church cannot be a healing and reconciling force in society unless it’s a “community of persons reconciled with God and with themselves.” How does this caveat situate the Church not only in Africa, but in the entire world?
Cardinal Arinze: Exactly what the Pope said. The Church must continue to preach conversion of heart and reconciliation. Matthew, chapter 5: “If you bring your gifts to the altar, and there you remember your brother has something against you, leave your gifts there and go and be reconciled with your brother. Then you come and offer your gift.” Very clear. Indeed, that was the topic for the Synod of Bishops on Africa held in October: “Reconciliation, Justice, and Peace,” in Africa and the role of the Church.
CWR: What would you most like to see happen before you exit this earthly life?
Cardinal Arinze: I would like everybody to believe in Jesus Christ the Savior; not just to believe, but to live their faith. No À la carte Christianity will do: choosing what elements of faith you like, leaving the others. I would like to see those who already are Christians to be more fervent, and for those who aren’t, to begin to believe in Jesus Christ. The more that happens, the happier I shall be.
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