Feb 15, 2006

Cardinal Arinze Reflects on the Synod on the Eucharist

Online Edition:
February 2006
Vol. XI, No. 10

Cardinal Arinze Reflects on the Synod on the Eucharist


by Helen Hull Hitchcock

“The Synod Fathers recognize that many Catholics don’t have correct faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist”, observed Cardinal Francis Arinze, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), in an interview by Australian journalist Andrew Rabel following the October Synod on the Eucharist. The interview was published by Inside the Vatican November 12, 2005.

The cardinal continued:

“It was recognized so much that many of the Synod Fathers suggested that there be themes suggested for homilies on Sundays. Seeing that for many Catholics the Sunday homily is about the only religious instruction they get in a week … the Synod Fathers suggested that the four major areas of Catholic faith should be covered by the homily in a three year cycle. The four main parts are as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

“First part: what we believe. Second part: how we worship, i.e. sacraments. Third part: what we live, life in Christ; so the moral law, the ten commandments, the Christian life lived, and the fourth part: prayer.

“So that although the homily should be on the Scripture readings and the other liturgical texts, some way has to be found to cover the whole area of Catholic faith in a period of three years because many Catholics are really ignorant of fundamental matters. That is a fact; nobody could deny it”.

Post-Vatican II — Lights and Shadows

Cardinal Arinze observed that the liturgical reform following the Second Vatican Council brought “many good things”, such as more attention to Holy Scripture and more participation and understanding by the people. The Synod also recognized “shadows” — among them, the neglect of the Holy Eucharist outside of Mass, much ignorance, and “a lot of temptation to showmanship for the priest who celebrates facing the people”.

The cardinal explained, “If he is not very disciplined he will soon become a performer. He may not realize it, but he will be projecting himself rather than projecting Christ. Indeed it is very demanding, the altar facing the people”.

Other problems Cardinal Arinze mentioned — in addition to “clear cut abuses” such as “going against” the liturgical books — included excessive creativity on the part of people who plan the liturgy: “a scenario where a parish team every week decides how they will have Mass next Sunday, as if the liturgy were something that we put together and not something that we receive — that wrong idea that the important thing is something new every week, which is not true. The people want to adore God.… Our Father, Hail Mary, although we say them many times, they don’t get old”.

Although some people blame the Second Vatican Council for liturgical abuses, these problems were not the result of the Council, Cardinal Arinze stressed. “There are also problems caused by the world of today, and Vatican II is not to be blamed for that”, the cardinal commented. Liturgy, like the many social evils of our time, was strongly influenced by attitudes pervasive in the general culture, such as hedonism and the rapid communication of erroneous ideas.

How Will the Problems Be Resolved?

Restoring the integrity of the liturgy is essentially a matter of fidelity, Cardinal Arinze said.

“If only people would be more faithful to what has been laid down, not by people who just like to make laws for other people, but what follows from what we believe. Lex orandi, Lex credendi [the law of prayer is the law of belief]. It is our faith that directs our prayer life, and if we genuflect in front of the tabernacle, it is because we believe that Jesus is there, and is God.

“If at Mass, we are self-controlled, we are disciplined, we don’t talk in the church and don’t converse as if we were in a football stadium, it is because of what we believe. Therefore, the most important area is faith and fidelity to that faith, and a faithful reading of the original texts, and their faithful translations, so that people celebrate knowing that the liturgy is the public prayer of the Church.

“It is not the property of one individual, therefore one individual does not tinker with it, but makes effort to celebrate it as Holy Mother Church wants. When that happens, the people are happy, they feel nourished. Their faith grows; their faith is strengthened. They go home happy and willing to come back next Sunday.

“But when that does not happen, you make quite a problem for those who come to Mass. If the people can say: ‘Our parish priest who said Mass last Sunday did funny things that are not according to any liturgical book that we know’, that is rather serious”.

Music to Nourish Faith

Concerning sacred music and the place of Gregorian chant in Catholic worship, Cardinal Arinze affirmed Gregorian chant as “the Church’s precious heritage” and said, “It should stay. It should not be banished. If therefore in a particular diocese or country, no one hears Gregorian music anymore, then somebody has made a mistake somewhere”.

He also made it clear that in affirming this heritage of sacred music “the Church is not saying that everything should be Gregorian music.

“There is room for music which respects that language, that culture, that people. There is room for that too, and the present books say that is a matter for the bishops conference, because it generally goes beyond the boundaries of one diocese.

“The ideal thing is that the bishops would have a liturgical music commission which looks at the wording and the music of the hymns. And when the commission is satisfied, judgment is brought to the bishops for approval, in the name of the rest of the conference”. (The US bishops recently re-established a subcommittee on music within the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy. According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, bishops are responsible for determining the orthodoxy and suitability of music and musical texts for Mass. This subcommittee is now in the process of developing guidelines for approving liturgical music.)

Cardinal Arinze observed that sacred music is “not individuals just composing anything and singing it in church. This is not right at all. No matter how talented the individual is. That brings us to the question of the instrument to be used. The local Church should be conscious that Church worship is not really the same as what we sing in a bar, or what we sing in a convention for youth. Therefore it should influence the type of instrument used, the type of music used.

“I will not say never guitar. That would be rather severe. But much of guitar music may not be suitable at all for the Mass. Yet, it is possible to think of some guitar music that would be suitable, not as the ordinary one we get every time, the visit of a special group, etc.

“The judgment”, he said, “would be left to the bishops of the area. It is wiser that way. Also, because there are other instruments in many countries which are not used in Italy or in Ireland, for instance.

“But music should nourish faith, burst from our faith and should lead back to the faith. It should be a prayer”, Cardinal Arinze emphasized. “Entertainment is quite another matter”, he said. “We have the parish hall for that, and the theater. People don’t come to Mass in order to be entertained. They come to Mass to adore God, to thank Him, to ask pardon for sins, and to ask for other things that they need”.

Tridentine Masses?

Asked his thoughts on giving universal permission for celebrating the so-called Tridentine Mass, Cardinal Arinze pointed out that exploring such questions is the purview of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, which was established by Pope John Paul II in 1988 by his apostolic letter, Ecclesia Dei adflicta, to address concerns arising from activities of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and his followers. That Commission, headed by Cardinal Castrillón-Hoyos, would be responsible for bringing suggestions to the Holy Father, Cardinal Arinze said, and observed:

“Priests and bishops have to ask themselves when some of our Catholics are asking for the Tridentine Mass, could it be that we should examine how we celebrate Mass? Could it be that they have seen many abuses? And they are sick and tired, and therefore they say, ‘Look, we have had enough of this. Let’s go back to how it was fifty years ago’. Could it be?”

He further commented, “Unfortunately, what some don’t know is that even when there was the Tridentine Mass there were abuses. Many Catholics did not know, because they did not know Latin! So when the priest garbled the words, they were not aware of this”.

Politics and Communion

Asked about the moral obligations of Catholics during elections; voting for pro-abortion candidates; giving Holy Communion to “pro-choice” politicians, Cardinal Arinze replied unequivocally, as he has in the past:

“Do you really need a cardinal from the Vatican to answer that question? Can a child having made his First Communion not answer that question? Is it really so complicated? The child will give the correct answer immediately, unless he is conditioned by political correctness. It is a pity, cardinals have to be asked such questions.

“If a person has a way of life which is against the major Commandments, and makes a boast of it, then the person is in a state which is publicly sinful. It is he who has disqualified himself, not the priest or the bishop. He should not go to Communion, until his life should be in line with the Gospel”.

The complete interview by Andrew Rabel, “What will be the Consequences of the Synod?” is accessible on the Inside the Vatican web site: www.insidethevatican.com/newsflash-nov-12-05.htm


1. Call our office to donate directly: (608) 521-0385, have your name, address and credit card number ready. If you would like automatic

donations to Adoremus
let us know what date(s) you would like to be billed on.


Helen Hull Hitchcock

Helen Hull Hitchcock (1939-2014) was editor of the <em>Adoremus Bulletin</em>, which she co-founded. She was also the founding director of Women for Faith & Family and editor of its quarterly journal, Voices. She published many articles and essays in a wide range of Catholic journals, and authored and edited <em>The Politics of Prayer: Feminist Language and the Worship of God</em> (Ignatius Press 1992), a collection of essays on issues involved in translation. She contributed essays to several books, including <em>Spiritual Journeys</em>, a book of “conversion stories” (Daughters of St. Paul). Helen lectured in the US and abroad, and appeared frequently on radio and television, representing Catholic teaching on issues affecting Catholic women, families, and Catholic faith and worship.