“I am neither a traditionalist nor a progressive. I teach what the missionaries taught me. I want to be faithful, that’s all. ” Cardinal Robert Sarah does not like labels. But he admits that of uncompromising “because God is demanding, because love is demanding”.Cardinal Sarah, ni traditionaliste, ni progressiste, intransigeant – Portail catholique suisse
The former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments was visiting the abbey of St-Maurice to preside over the celebration of the martyrs of Agaune. On September 21, 2021, he delivered exclusively to cath.ch his analysis of the current crisis in the world and in the Church.
Some people call you intransigent. Do you accept this qualifier?
God is demanding, because love is demanding. If uncompromising is understood in this sense, yes, I agree. To really love is to die for others. It is Christ who says it. The Christian religion is demanding. It is not easy. If we want to enter into the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection, we cannot live our faith lightly. A faith that refuses the cross is not Christian. When Peter says to Jesus: “No, the cross is not for you”, Jesus answers “behind Satan”. Another passage says, “If your right hand offends you, cut it off.” If your eye leads you to sin, pluck it out ”. It is uncompromising.
You left the Congregation for divine worship at the start of 2021. How do you live your mission today?
Today, many Christians seek support in this confusion, to grow in faith, to support their convictions. My task is to confirm them in the faith, as far as possible, so that what they have always believed does not change. The gospel is still valid as it has been for the apostles, the fathers of the Church and the saints throughout history. As we sing every Holy Saturday: “Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
“Man believes himself capable of shaping himself, of creating himself. He does not want to depend on God or on anyone except himself. ”
In a book published last week in Italy, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI sees an anthropological cause for the current crisis.
The crisis is multiple: of faith, of the priesthood, of the Church, but above all anthropological, aggravated by the ideology of gender. Man believes himself capable of shaping himself, of creating himself. He does not want to depend on God or on anyone except himself. I fully agree with Benedict XVI’s analysis. This crisis is more accentuated in the West than elsewhere, due to the aging of the population, the evolution of the birth rate, and technological progress. We want to improve, increase man, make him immortal. But these are illusions. Perfection belongs only to God.
These illusions come up against the enigma of death.
Sure. Many people are so afraid of death today. They no longer think about the soul, but only to protect themselves physically. All the health arrangements in the face of the pandemic go in this direction, but no one takes care of the death of the soul, while it is the essential of a human life.
How can tradition come to the aid of man in this sense?
Man is an heir. It receives life, a name, a family, a country, a language, a culture, a tradition. But he denies that, he wants to create everything. Which only increases the crisis and disorientation. A tree without roots dies. A river so vast, however majestic, it dries up and disappears, if it is cut off from its source. The West has forgotten it.
Tradition is, however, a dynamic process .
When you touch an inheritance, it is not to bury it, nor to squander it, but to make it bear fruit. Tradition is not something fixed. It evolves but without being uprooted. Like a man who is born with small limbs which will then grow and develop. If everyone acts as they think, regardless of their history and tradition, we are heading for anarchy.
“What matters is not the walk, but the search for the truth. Truth does not arise from consensus, it precedes us. ”
Pope Francis invites us not to be afraid of freedom, nor of novelty .
You have to open up, but by remaining yourself. If I open up to someone, I must not disappear. I must keep what I am. Christian, I remain a Christian. To open up is not only to seek a consensus, but to want to try to make the other grow, to walk together towards the search for the truth.
Walking together is the definition of the word synod.
No. What matters is not the walk, but the search for the truth. Truth does not arise from consensus, it precedes us. If we dialogue, if we meet, it is because we seek together the truth which makes one free. Each comes with his vision, his ideas. But if I’m being honest, I have to admit that my vision is incomplete and be prepared to embrace the other’s vision more fully and more truly.
If we look at what is happening on the German synodal path, I don’t know where it will lead us. Towards a total reinvention of the Church? We will take what everyone says to establish a consensus. But the truth of the Church is ahead of us. It cannot be made by us.
The Church is nevertheless on the move, it evolves, it changes over the ages…
No, the Church does not change. She was born on the pierced side of Christ on the cross. We are the ones who have to change. If the Church is holy, it can only change to become even more holy.
Isn’t that running the risk of stagnation? Vatican Council II invites us to discern the signs of the times.
Vatican II does not say that the Church must change. It grows in number and in holiness. But it does not change what it is, that is to say the extension of Jesus Christ, one and holy. It is Jesus who builds it and not men. We are its members.
Hence the importance, in your eyes, of the faithful proclamation of the faith of the Church through the liturgy.
The adage says lex orandi, lex credendi. As we pray this is how we believe. Whatever my culture, my place of birth, my continent, my faith in Jesus Christ does not change. Inculturation is not putting an African or Asian veneer on a rite. Inculturation is letting God penetrate my human nature and my culture. It is like the incarnation when Jesus takes our human form, he does not leave it intact, he deifies it. As Saint Irenaeus says: “God became man so that man might become God”. Otherwise, we are horizontalizing the Christian religion. We can talk about social issues, but first we have to bring man up to God.
“The liturgy is not for man, it is for God. If we lose the centrality, the primacy of God, then the Mass becomes a simple fraternal meal. ”
The celebration of Mass is a sacrifice, but at the same time also a fraternal meal.
What we eat and drink is the Body and Blood of Jesus who sacrificed himself for us. So Mass is a saving sacrifice and not a fraternal meal. It is the commemoration of the passion, death and resurrection of Christ. It is not primarily a convivial meal. We must insist on this.
This is perhaps where the divide between the traditionalists and the Mass resulting from the liturgical reform promulgated by Paul VI is located.
Watch how we celebrate mass today. We are often just chatting among ourselves. The priest speaks, speaks, without leaving silence. In Africa we have a lot of dances, applause, but can we dance in front of a dead person? Jesus tells us: “do this in remembrance of me”. We are reunited together, we are happy, but that’s it. The liturgy is not for man, it is for God. If we lose the centrality, the primacy of God, then the Mass becomes a simple fraternal meal.
If we do not enter into the mystery, then we are fighting among ourselves and each one wants to impose his vision. It is God whom we celebrate, whom we adore. It is he who brings us together to save us.
The way of believing is changing.
I don’t know what you mean. When Jesus says “believe in me” he is saying it to the Jews, to the Gentiles, to the Greeks. To believe is to trust Jesus, it is to rely on him.
Respect for the liturgical form is therefore central for faith.
I am in awe of other religions. Muslims, Buddhists, all pray the same way. I don’t understand why we Christians are fighting over these issues. Faith is a gift from God. We waste too much energy in unnecessary liturgical conflicts.
“No one can find a single word, a single sentence that I would have said or written against Pope Francis.”
Traditionalist circles have made you their standard bearer .
No, I am not a spokesperson. I affirm what the Catholic Church has always believed and affirmed. I affirm the doctrine and moral teaching of the Church. I am neither a traditionalist nor a progressive. I teach what the missionaries taught me and some died very young to give me Christ. I am not inventing anything, I am not creating anything. I want to be faithful, that’s all. God speaks to us as he spoke to Adam and the apostles.
Others see you as an adversary of Pope Francis.
It is a label that they stick to me. But no one can find a single word, a single sentence that I would have said or written against him.
In your fight for the liturgy, the celibacy of priests is an essential question. You see an ontological link between priesthood and celibacy.
Christ is the bridegroom of the Church and the priest as alter Christus or ipse Christu s (other Christ or Christ himself) must be fully conformed to Christ. So celibacy and the priesthood are ontologically related.
The Eastern Catholic Churches, however, have a married clergy.
The reasons are political and historical. That’s all. These Churches also recognize the importance of celibacy since a married priest will never be a bishop. All the last popes, Paul VI, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and even Francis have all insisted on celibacy. Pope Francis said, using Paul VI’s words: “I would rather die than change the law of celibacy”. I have been accused of everything, of having manipulated Benedict XVI, but Pope Francis thanked me personally for my book. I don’t care about any of that. Maybe we don’t have the same way of expressing ourselves. But each one will give an account of it before God.
You devoted one of your books to the necessary silence .
Silence is essential to us humanly speaking. When you want to rest, you need silence. When you want to read or write silence is essential. In our relationship with God, it is the same. God lives in silence. In our noisy societies, God has disappeared. He has a total disinterest in God, because we are eaten up by noise, the telephone, the internet, the news. Our ceremonies are also so loud.
In which way?
We add words, we invent new things, we comment all the time. Take the start of Mass: “Let us prepare for the celebration of the Eucharist by recognizing that we are sinners”. We do not need explanations or comments, but silence to allow us to come inside ourselves.
I come from a country that has 73% Muslims. When a Muslim prepares to pray he does his ablution then stands alone in a corner in silence and when he is finished he goes into the room to pray. What do priests do? They prepare for the sacristy by chatting and then continuing their chatting during the entrance procession. We want to humanize our liturgy so much that we lose its meaning.
The maintenance of Latin could be useful in this sense?
Vatican Council II explicitly recommends it. The language of the Church, of the liturgy, is Latin. When we meet together among Africans or with people from other continents, Latin unites us and allows us to celebrate together.
“It’s a bad thing to have suppressed Latin. All Muslims pray in Arabic, even if it is not their language. ”
This does not necessarily apply to a celebration in a local community.
It is wrong to have suppressed Latin. All Muslims pray in Arabic, even if it is not their language. We divide what Christ united. If there is no more Latin, why speak of the Latin Church? It is also the same for music with the maintenance of Gregorian chant.
The Council also says that translation into the language of the country can be useful.
This means that one has to translate the word of God into the vernacular so that people can understand it. But again, he didn’t say to remove Latin.
French-speaking countries will introduce the new translation of the missal for the start of Advent 2021.
It is good that the missal in French may appear. The translation has improved a lot, although there are still things that could have been better.
Is it fair that the responsibility for the translations has been entrusted to the episcopal conferences according to the will of Pope Francis?
Does a student taking an exam correct himself? He still needs a correction and an outside opinion. Otherwise everyone risks translating as they wish. People will say to me “an episcopal conference knows its language and its culture”, of course, but not all episcopal conferences have the means, in particular a fairly in-depth knowledge of Latin. But I do not want to express myself further on this subject.
You don’t want a lukewarm Church.
The Church must speak a precise clear language that speaks doctrine and morals. Many bishops are silent or say vague things for fear of the media and negative reactions. We must ask the grace of God to increase our faith and to grow in his love. We don’t pray enough. (cath.ch/mp)
Praying, Reading and Writing
Since February 2021, Cardinal Sarah no longer has any responsibility within the Congregation for Divine Worship, he is still a member of the Congregations for the Causes of Saints, for the Evangelization of Peoples, for the Eastern Churches. as well as the committee for international Eucharistic congresses. “It still does a lot of tasks. But I would say I’m using my time for God, praying more first, reading second, and writing third. ”
“The Father Abbot had already invited me last year and I was unable to come because of the pandemic. This year, I am very happy to preside over the feast of Saint Maurice and his companions. As an African saint Maurice is a model to follow. He preferred to die rather than obey the emperor. ” MP