The Big "If" – and other matters

You gotta love Cardinal Arinze. Secretly (no secret now, because I am telling you), I had hoped that he would be elected pope in the last conclave. Not that I am at all disappointed with the bloke they did choose, mind you!

I love the way Arinze is a straight talker. No beating around the bush for him (not just ecclesiastics, but politicians – eg. our Kevin – could learn a thing or two from him on this). This quality is amply demonstrated in this interview on Catholic World Report by Matthew Rarey, in which he principally discusses the new Mass translations (he was prefect for the Congregation for Divine Worship from 2000-2008), but also goes on to say something about Evangelisation and Inter-religious Dialogue (before the CDW post, he was president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue).

On the new missal translations:

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!

Indeed it would – but it has to be said that those are BIG “ifs”. As the Cardinal goes on to say, the Catholic Church is a big place, and who is to say how the new translations will be received universally. I had to laugh when he said that “the Church has no army. We do not send the Swiss Guard from Rome to police every priest.” Reminds me of Monty Python’s “Church Police” skit…

But this gets to the core of the matter:

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.

It is love for the Church – which is ultimately love for Christ – that will make all the difference.

On the matter of evangelisation, he is equally candid:

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.

And his parting words about his hope for the world:

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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25 Responses to The Big "If" – and other matters

  1. Peregrinus says:

    Gotta disagree, David. He speaks well, but it is pretty much the opposite of straight talking. Consider:

    ” If priests, religious, and lay faithful give this translation an open-hearted welcome; if they will read it carefully . . . if this all happened, that would be good!”

    Of course it would. But exactly the could be said, with as much truth, about the present mass texts, or about any hypothetical mass texts. He has avoided answering the question, which specifically related to the new texts, with some general truths equally applicable to all texts.

    And again:

    “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.”

    This, too, could be said of the current texts, which are the currently-madated prayers of the church. This could, in that context, have been offered as a rebuke to all who criticised the current texts, and called for a new translation.

    It seems to me that, in answer to a question specifically referring to the new texts, he doesn’t really say anything which specifically refers to the new texts. Straight talking?

    • Schütz says:

      Don’t be surprised if I disagree with you, Perry!

      As you say, the issue under discussion is the new texts, not the old ones.

      The current texts need to be replaced because they are bad translations, not because priests are not using them faithfully.

      I do not disagree that there are priests out there who fail to use even the current texts faithfully, but in my experience these are not the priests who criticize the current texts. All the clerical critics of the current texts that I know are scrupulous in faithfulness to the celebration of the liturgy according to the current books, no matter how eager they are to see the new translations come into force.

      On the other hand, in my experience, it is precisely those priests who are critical of the new translations who are also most likely to play fast and loose with the liturgy as it currently stands.

      There is nothing “disobedient” or disrespectful about pointing out that the current texts fail to come up to scratch as a faithful translation of the latin. Nor would it be “disobedient” or disrespectful for priests to criticize the new texts, if such was their wont – AS LONG AS THEY OBEDIENTLY AND DILIGENTLY IMPLEMENT THEM AS INSTRUCTED!

      Get it?

      • Peregrinus says:

        Mmm. I’m still not convinced.

        He says nothing about why the new texts ]should be received and applied any more faithfully than the old. All he says is that they should be accepted because the have been proposed by the church. But (a) that is of course equally true for the current texts, and (b) it’s a pretty weak endorsement, suggesting by omission, that the new texts have no intrinsic qualities to commend them (such as clarity, dignity, beauty, fitness . . .)

        You say that “The current texts need to be replaced because they are bad translations”, but Cardinal Arinze doesn’t say that, even though it would be the a direct answer to the question put to him. That reticence may be wise of him but it’s hardly “straight talking”.

        • Schütz says:

          You don’t get it, Perry. He ISN’T saying that the new texts should be applied any more faithfully than the old. He is saying that whatever the text is that is officially proposed and mandated for use, that text should be used faithfully. So, for instance, it would be an act of disobedience to begin using the new texts now before their promulgation for use, just as it would be an act of disobedience to continue to use the old texts once the new ones are promulgated.

          The requirement to use the new texts has nothing to do with anyone’s personal judgmen about their intrinsic “clarity, dignity, beauty, fitness” or otherwise. The Cardinal is asking that all priests introduce and use the new texts faithfully when they are promulgated out of the virtue of obedience.

          And he does actually pass judgement on the accuracy of the current translations when he says:

          “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.”

          It is his hope, because it isn’t what we currently have. As the writer to the Hebrews says, “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

      • William Tighe says:

        I don’t know what I think about this. Eamon Duffy, previously bidding fair to become the “fair-haired Catholic academic boy” of the English Catholic bishops and their apparat in the early mid 90s forfeited his “unction” by publishing an article in *New Blackfriars* in which he inveighed at length about how bad and abysmal the ICEL translations of the Roman Rite were — and as regards many of the propers (Collect, Secret and Postcommunion prayers) he asserted that, read literally, without reference to the Latin originals, some of them were at least Semi-Pelagian, and many seemed to verge on various heretical overtones, and often to contain senseless absurdities. But what gave the greatest offense was his conclusion that some of these prayers were so bad, so absurd, so unfaithful to the originals of which they purported to be translations, that (in his view) any priest with a competent knowledge of Latin should consider himself morally free (and perhaps obliged) to correct their English according to their true Latin sense when he was obliged to use them.

        • Kiran says:

          Another person (though he is much less easy to handle than Eamon Duffy) who inveigled against it is Michael Dummett, the English analytic philosopher.

          One thing which hasn’t been discussed in all of this talk of reforming the Mass… I wrote this and thought of two. So here they are: the lectionary. In Australia in particular, the lectionary is appalling. I think this is the worst state the Scriptures heard by the majority of Catholics has been in, since the writing of the Vulgate.

          The other, while including the previous point, is the Divine Office. The Office was, as Michael Dummett pointed out, meant to be said by both clergy and laity. Yet, it is appallingly meagre, and some of the readings are in embarassingly poor English. Take this morning’s scripture reading.

          Benedictus Deus et Pater Domini nostri Jesu Christi, Pater misericordiarum, et Deus totius consolationis, qui consolatur nos in omni tribulatione nostra: ut possimus et ipsi consolari eos qui in omni pressura sunt, per exhortationem, qua exhortamur et ipsi a Deo. Quoniam sicut abundant passiones Christi in nobis: ita et per Christum abundat consolatio nostra.

          Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all consolations, who consoles us in all our tribulations, that we are able to console those who are oppressed in all things, through our exhortation, with which we are ourselves exhorted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so too by Christ does our consolation abound.

          This is the version at, which I think is a very good one, barring the ‘gentle’:

          Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, a gentle Father and the God of all consolation, who comforts us in all our sorrows, so that we can offer others, in their sorrows, the consolation that we have received from God ourselves. Indeed, as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so, through Christ, does our consolation overflow.

          The version we all read is:

          Let us give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merciful Father, the God from whom all help comes! He helps us in all our troubles, so that we are able to help those in all kinds of troubles, using the same help that we ourselves have received from God. Just as we have a share in Christ’s many sufferings, so also through Christ we share in his great help

          Why has it been thought that we couldn’t understand “Blessed” or “tribulation” or “abound” or “console” or “oppressed” or “overflow”? This of course, is before we get to some of the appalling translations in the Office of Readings. I know it is a Bishops’ conference thing, but I wish people would do something about it.

  2. Hey, you changed the post title!
    David, I’ve found something we may wholeheartedly agree on, constitutional monarchy – see my latest post on “Glosses…” if you have the time.
    Sorry for the unashamed plug, I’d better say something apropos your post – I agree, Cardinal Arinze would have made a great Pope!

  3. Kiran says:

    I thought so too, partly because I didn’t believe Ratzinger stood a chance… I was overjoyed about Ratzinger…

    I would have been very happy otherwise. Partly for pragmatic reasons. It would have been much more difficult to criticize an African Pope when he said certain things, than it is to criticize a German. :-)

  4. William Tighe says:

    I had the same hope as Kiran and David in April 2005, but that because I thought that Cardinal Ratzinger never stood a chance.

    But I have to say, that if he had been elected instead, we never would have seen anything like “Summorum Pontificium,” as Cardinal Arinze has never been interested in the EF Mass. Not that he hasn’t been splendid in other ways; no doubt his key role in the background of “Anglicanorum Coetibus” in opening up blocked channels between the TAC and the Vatican in 2001 will one day be chronicled (a matter that the learned “cherub” might well care to address if he ever visits here) — and as a graduate of Georgetown University I was pleased by the address he gave there in 2003 which, with its references to divorce and homosexual practice, upset so many of his faculty audience (the opposition orchestrated by a former Jesuit priest who now offers the “blessing” of “same-sex partnerships” in the “Reformed Catholic Church”). So while I would have been pleased by his election, I have been thrilled by the result, and I pray that God may grant Benedict XVI length of days and the scattering of his detractors and enemies.

    • Schütz says:

      Yes, Kiran and William. I too was gunning for Arinze as “second best” given that I thought the first choice had no chance. Still, to be rated “second best” next to Ratzinger cannot be taken to be an insult!

  5. Christine says:

    Arinze not a fan of the EF? Ain’t that the truth.

    The Cardinal notwithstanding, “inculturation” proceeds in Africa.

    I was horrified to hear a few years ago that some South Africans had requested permission to offer animal blood prior to the mass as a way to “honor the ancestors.”

    That’s the kind of syncretism that was originally brought into Haiti from Africa:


    • Schütz says:

      Reading Dairmaid MacCulloch’s “History” at the moment shows that there were many times in the history of the Church – especially in Ethiopia (Africa again) and the Far East – where cultural left overs from pre-Christian times were welcomed into the Church’s pratice and tradition. Even in Northern Europe! (cf. Christmas trees and the like – Didn’t Luther do that?)

      We can criticise this from a purist point of view, but you have to admit that it was a generally successful evangelistic strategy.

    • Kiran says:

      I don’t think that old canard beloved of trads is true.

      • Kiran says:

        About Arinze. In trad circles very often, the position taken is that “If a person is not vociferously and publicly for something, he must be against it.” I don’t think that is true, or justifiable.

        On the other hand, Christine, if such things were proposed, that is to be much lamented, and I would lament it with you. South Africa is generally not in a good state, and frequently can be found in opposition to Rome. I don’t think that is just a “purist” objection. It also raises the question as to whether one’s own pagan ancestors, while they might be commended to the mercy of God, are indeed worthy of honour. Keep in mind that the transplanting (rather than the adoption) of pagan practices went side-by-side with quite a strong anti-pagan action amongst the Fathers. Cf. for instance, St. Martin’s destruction of the pagan temple. I think though such things should be separated, say, from the adoption of merely cultural elements in places where paganism no longer holds sway, such as Christmas trees, or the adoption by some islanders or their native dances.

        All of this said, I don’t think such extreme cases (if they are true) ought to be taken as representative of anything.

        • Louise says:

          they requested it, but was permission granted?

          • Peregrinus says:

            I believe not.

            It’s interesting, though, that Arinze’s doctoral thesis (at the Pontifical Urban University, no less) was on “Ibo Sacrifice as an Introduction to the Catechesis of the Holy Mass”. He would certainly have understood what lay behind a request to adopt indigenous sacrifical practice to the Christian context.

            Kyle, pagan elements were not adopted as “merely cultural artifacts in places where paganism no longer holds sway”; in many instances they were adopted at a time when paganism was very much alive.

  6. Kyle says:

    Actually, Cardinal Arinze is very positive towards the use of Latin in liturgy. In his speech ‘Latin and Vernacular: Language in the Roman Liturgy’, he praises the precision and stability of Latin, its importance as a scholarly language, its usefulness in gatherings such as WYD and its beauty in the Gregorian chant. He concludes:

    “We should do our best to appreciate the language which the Church uses in her liturgy and to join our hearts and voices to them, according as each liturgical rite may indicate. All of us cannot be Latin speakers, but the lay faithful can at least learn the simpler responses in Latin. Priests should give more attention to Latin so that they celebrate Mass in Latin occasionally.

    “In big churches where there are many Masses celebrated on a Sunday or Feast day, why can one of those Masses not be in Latin? In rural parishes a Latin Mass should be possible, say once a month. In international assemblies, Latin becomes even more urgent. It follows that seminaries should discharge carefully their role of preparing and forming priests also in the use of Latin (cf. October 2005 Synod of Bishops, Prop. 36).”

    I think Cardinal Arinze would have introduced Summorum Pontificum if he had been elected Pope. It is clear in this speech that he at least imagined that the EF should be expanded, if not for weekly celebration, at least for more regular use. His full speech can be read here:

  7. Lance Eccles says:

    I had also hoped that Arinze might be elected. But when I heard it was Ratzinger, I knew that that was exactly the right choice.

    Actually, some African bishop (I forget who) commented that it had to be a European, because it is in Europe that the Church is facing its biggest crisis, and Europeans are more likely (though not very likely) to listen to a European rather than an outsider.

  8. William Tighe says:


    For someone to espouse and promote “the use of Latin in liturgy” does not necessarily mean to espouse and promote a freer use of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite (as it is now called): it is entirely possible for one to do the first and to be indifferent (or opposed) to the second; and that is what for many years I have heard to be the case with Cardinal Arinze.

    • Peregrinus says:

      Yup. From what I understand, in the African church as a whole there is basically negligible interest in the Extraordinary Form. Arinze does not represent an execption to this pattern. He’s on record as expressing the view that there were just as many liturgical errors and abuses when mass was habitually celebrated in the EF; it’s just that the congregation couldn’t perceive them, because of their detachment from the celebration and their generally weak catechesis about it.

      • Schütz says:

        Probably the reason for this is the vast growth of the African Church in the last 40 years. Ony a very tiny minority of Catholics in Africa would even remember the mass before the 1970 changes.

        • Kiran says:

          Actually, I have heard of some African Bishops (in Nigeria, for instance) who are very pro-EF.

          • Peregrinus says:

            Well, the FSSP has one establishement in Nigeria, staffed by a single priest. But this is effectively a mission outreach of the North American province of the FSSP; the priest in fact spends much of his time in the US, raising funds and in recent years, reportedly, he has spent more and more time doing that. When in Nigeria, he does celebrate mass daily in the EF. He has the support, so far as I know, of the local bishop.

            A number of locations get an EF mass celebrated once a quarter by a priest from the French branch of the Lefebvrists who is based in Gabon, but visits Nigeria for the purpose. The Nigerian bishops do not, of course, favour this enterprise.

            Apart from that, I’m not aware of any significant EF activity in Nigeria. And, when we consider that Nigeria is forecast to be for the English-speaking Catholic Church in the 21st century what Ireland was in the 20th, this does not bode all that well for proponents of the EF in the worldwide church.

            David is correct. The Nigerian church has no particular historic attachment to the EF, and certainly no liturgical tradition of the kind that most European churches have. Mass in an African church formed by Irish missionaries was a serious but businesslike affair. The few Nigerian Catholics who have any memory of the EF as celebrated by Irish priests have no particular attachment to it.

            The truth is that pentecostal-type exuberance is probably more in tune with the cultural sensibilities of the African church. If Nigeria ever did embrace the EF, I rather suspect they would celebrate it in a way of which purists would not approve!

  9. Kyle says:

    In the end, we can only speculate. It seems to me however, whatever his personal preference for the EF, he believed that it should be celebrated on a regular basis. For large parishes, it should be weekly and he seems to imply that for events like WYD it should be normative. I can’t say whether he would have implemented Summorum Pontificum but I think we can safely say something along those lines.

    • Peregrinus says:

      No, no. He suggests that these masses should be in Latin. He doesn’t suggest that they should be in the Extraordinary Form.

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