When the last piece of wrapping paper fell from my presents at my in-laws on Christmas morning, I couldn’t wait to crack the spine of one particular gift, Nicolas Diat’s conversation with Cardinal Sarah, entitled God or Nothing. I heartily recommend the book to anyone who hasn’t yet read it. Today I would like to share with you the good cardinal’s assessment of the crisis of Faith in the modern western world and how it relates to the topics of liturgy and music in particular.
Sarah rightly notes that this crisis of Faith, or silent apostasy, is primarily a “Crisis of God,” which has been going on since long before the middle of the 20th century. In 2000, then Cardinal Ratzinger referred to the 1933 words of a European priest that “[t]he crisis reached by European Christianity is no longer primarily or at least exclusively an ecclesial crisis… The crisis is more profound: it is not only rooted in the situation of the Church: the crisis has become a crisis of God.” It is absolutely essential to keep this reality before us (the “crisis of God”), especially in light of the Church’s focus on evangelization in the last few decades. Both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI were acutely aware of this problem and confronted it continually. They even began their pontificates with encyclicals focused on the person of God (Redemptor hominis and Deus caritas est respectively). Sarah, following the thought of Pope Benedict XVI, then makes the point that the Second Vatican Council was primarily aimed at battling this problem. Rather than summarize Sarah, I would like to share with you his very own words.
“Indeed, on the subject of Vatican Council II, we will never be able to thank Pope Benedict XVI enough for his hermeneutical work and his authentic interpretation of the will of the Council Fathers. The fact that I refer to his analysis goes to show that the intention of the Council has not been understood full.
“Joseph Ratzinger grasped quite accurately the fact that John XXIII wanted first of all to respond to a major challenge for the modern world: receiving God as he manifested himself in Jesus Christ…
“From the start of Vatican II, although concerned about aggiornamento, the renewal of the Church, and the reunion of Christians, the pope had strongly emphasized that the Council’s chief task was to reveal God the the world (my emphasis), to defend and promote doctrine.” (I find this last part interesting.)
Sarah notes that Pope Benedict “invited us to focus our attention on the way in which [the constitutions of the council] are ordered,” revealing the intrinsically theological nature (my emphasis) of the council. First of all comes Sacrosanctum concilium, focused on the Work of God, which should be preferred to all else. Speaking about the liturgy, Sarah says “Before all else, in the Church, there is adoration; and therefore God… [t]he foundation of the liturgy must remain the search for God.”
Following the upon the council’s cornerstone, Sacrosantum concilium, comes Lumen gentium (Christ is the light of the nations), which expounds a theological vision of the Church, since the Church is “not a self-enclosed reality” but must be seen “in terms of Christ. The Church is like the moon. She does not shine with her own light but reflects the light of Christ.” After Lumen gentium comes Dei Verbum and finally Gaudium et spes. The Word of God (Dei Verbum) “is the heart of the message that the Church must reveal and transmit to the world,” while Gaudium et spes gives a vision for what the Church, fully alive and active in the modern world, should look like, namely a light shining in the darkness, bringing all men to the light of Christ and eternal salvation, praising and glorifying God.
Sarah continues “unfortunately, right after the Council, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy was understood, not in terms of the fundamental primacy of adoration, of the Church humbly kneeling before the greatness of God, bur rather as a book of formulas…. We have seen all sorts of ‘creative’ liturgical planners who sought to find tricks to make the liturgy attractive, more communicative, by involving more and more people, but all the while forgetting that the liturgy is made for God. If you make God the Great Absent One, then all sorts of downward spirals are possible, from the most trivial to the most contemptible…. Benedict XVI often recalled that the liturgy is not supposed to be a work of personal creativity. If we make the liturgy for ourselves, it moves away from the divine; it becomes a ridiculous, vulgar, boring theatrical game” (my emphasis). Do I hear and Amen!
To return to my original thought on this crisis of Faith and its relationship to liturgy and music, I think we can slay the current and popular belief that by making the liturgy, and by extension liturgical music, “relevant” to people we will somehow bring them back to God. Neither can we do it by recreating marriage, theology, morality or anything else, even God Himself, in human likeness and form. This is nothing but the Devil distracting us from God Himself. Only when we learn once again to kneel in silent adoration before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and with the apostle Philip ask Him to “show us the Father,” will the work of salvation be brought to fulfillment in us and in the world. Only then will His love transform us and the world. Stop the gimmicks, the committees, the meetings, the reports and knock on the door of the Father’s Heart. Trust Him. Let this be our goal in the new year!