Return to the spirit of the liturgy
Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.
Wlodzimierz Redzioch: – Did you think in 1970 after your priestly ordination that you would become a known theologian, bishop, archbishop, the Primate of Spain, prefect of a congregation and the closest collaborator of the Holy Father?
Cardinal Antonio Canizares Llovera: – Of course, I did not! But today, looking from the perspective of these forty years, it seems to me that the Divine Providence wanted me to fulfil these functions so that I could be prepared to assume the present task working with the Pope.
– In November 2010, Benedict XVI proposed you to deliver a lecture on the liturgy to the cardinals gathered at the consistory. Why did the Pope recognise that it was such an important theme that it should be dealt with at the session of the College of Cardinals?
– I think that liturgy is one of the main concerns of Benedict XVI. In the introduction to the first volume of his works dedicated to the liturgy the Pope stresses the fact that the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was issued at the very beginning of the activities of the Second Vatican Council, which was not coincidental, it rather shows the key role of the liturgy. Commencing with the liturgy the priority of adoring God is shown and all other matters should be submitted to that. Thus the Pope shows the central place of God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ. So I think that Benedict XVI wanted to tell the cardinals gathered at the consistory that the renewal of the Church and the world can be done through a renewal of the liturgy.
– Why do many Catholics, especially the young ones, regard the liturgy as something ‘superficial,’ something less important than faith and charity as if the liturgy was not needed for salvation?
– Benedict XVI has always stressed that liturgy is God’s action, God’s presence among us. Liturgy is not man’s work – in liturgy it is God that is active. If man forgets it he is alone. Man needs liturgy since he himself cannot be saved and cannot really change history. Catholics should not forget it.
– People have talked about the liturgical abuses in some Churches after the Second Vatican Council…
– The liturgical renewal, which the Council wanted, brought many beneficial changes in the life of the Church, e.g., more conscious, active and fruitful participation of the faithful and richer application of the Holy Scriptures. Unfortunately, there have been shadows, which was connected with the process of secularisation in the Church, especially in the 1970s. Then it was thought that it was people that should ‘create’ the Church and consequently, there was no God and his adoration in the centre of liturgical celebrations. Instead there were people with their own, enlarged aspirations. Man attributed the main role in the congregation to himself and actually the subject of the liturgy is God. These things reflected the cultural mood in which man was seen as ‘creator’ and that’s why it should be changed. In such conditions the problem of liturgical renewal understood as a breakthrough and not an organic development of the tradition was born. And liturgy is also the tradition.
– Do these ‘enlarged aspirations’ of priests concern preaching as well?
– Unfortunately, too many priests ascribe bigger importance to their words than to the Word of God. It cannot be accepted that a homily lasts 45 minutes and the remaining parts of Mass last 15-20 minutes. In the post-synodal exhortation ‘Verbum Domini’ Benedict XVI writes, ‘Generic and abstract homilies which obscure the directness of God’s word should be avoided, as well as useless digressions which risk drawing greater attention to the preacher than to the heart of the Gospel message. The faithful should be able to perceive clearly that the preacher has a compelling desire to present Christ, who must stand at the centre of every homily.’ To help priests fulfil their task of proclaiming the Word of God some document is being prepared – according to the wishes of the Holy Father expressed in the above-mentioned exhortation.
– What should be done realising that the problems in the field of the liturgy are closely connected with a deep crisis of faith in the western world?
– The present religious and cultural situation requires us to take up urgent activities aiming at reviving the authentic sense and spirit of the liturgy in the awareness and life of the people of God. Our mission and priority should be making the liturgy the centre and heart of community life, all people – priests and faithful laymen – should see the liturgy as a fundamental element that cannot be omitted in our lives as ‘source and summit’ of Christian life’ as the Synod says.
– Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was convinced about the necessity to create ‘new liturgical movement.’ What movement should it be?
– There is a need for a liturgical renewal because we have experienced a real crisis of the liturgical life in the Latin Church, which is the consequence of the controversial actions when the norms of the council were introduced. First of all, the norm of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy that says that ‘there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing’ (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 23) was ignored. To get out of the crisis one should discover the liturgy anew and it requires a great formational action of the clergy, seminarians and laymen aiming at helping to understand the real sense of liturgical celebrations in the Church. One cannot treat superficially such matters as directing liturgical prayer, visible presence of the cross in the centre of the altar, kneeling to receive Holy Communion and to receive it onto the tongue, use of Gregorian singing, moments of silence, beauty of architecture and sacred art.
– For many ages churches were ‘spaces of beauty’. Decorated with magnificent paintings and sculptures, where music and singing could be heard. Today it happens that our churches are simply ugly, badly decorated and the music that is performed there is not worthy of being called ‘sacred.’ How can one counteract this fall?
– The ‘new liturgical movement’ should deal with it. For my part I would like to explain that we are opening a special section ‘Sacred art and music’ at our Congregation.
– I can see that most of those that participate in Mass appreciate the communal aspect of celebrations. They notice some elements of liturgical celebrations that have been introduced again as a nostalgic return to the past and not as an attempt to ‘regain’ the spiritual dimension of Mass.
– After the Council many people think that they are creators of the liturgy and consequently, we – community – are the subject of the liturgy; placing the altar in the centre of the congregation of the faithful was a symbol of this attitude. But it is a wrong attitude because we forget about the real presence of Christ among us. Christ and his sacrifice are the centre of the liturgy. God is the acting subject of the liturgy and he acts through the liturgy. Besides, people are losing the sense of sacrum, which is a serious problem. That’s why restoring the sense of sacrum and strengthening the real spirit of the liturgy is not caused by some nostalgia for the past but a guarantee of the future.