Catholic World Report yesterday published an English translation of the interview by Michael J. Miller, who also translated His Eminence’s book God or Nothing. Here are a few excerpts; as always, the Cardinal’s words are full of great wisdom, and well worth your time to read.
La Nef: This book that you are offering to your readers is a veritable spiritual meditation on silence: why have you launched into such a profound reflection, which is not usually expected of a Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, who is in charge of dossiers that deal very concretely with the life of the Church?
Cardinal Sarah: … It is time to rediscover the true order of priorities. It is time to put God back at the center of our concerns, at the center of our actions and of our life: the only place that He should occupy. Thus, our Christian journey will be able to gravitate around this Rock, take shape in the light of the faith and be nourished in prayer, which is a moment of silent, intimate encounter in which a human being stands face to face with God to adore Him and to express his filial love for Him.
Let us not fool ourselves. This is the truly urgent thing: to rediscover the sense of God. Now the Father allows Himself to be approached only in silence. What the Church needs most today is not an administrative reform, another pastoral program, a structural change. The program already exists: it is the one we have always had, drawn from the Gospel and from living Tradition. It is centered on Christ Himself, whom we must know, love and imitate in order to live in Him and through Him, to transform our world which is being degraded because human beings live as though God did not exist. As a priest, as a pastor, as a Prefect, as a Cardinal, my priority is to say that God alone can satisfy the human heart. …
La Nef: Is it still possible to understand the importance of silence in a world where noise, in all its forms, never ceases? Is this a new situation of “modernity”, with its media, TV, and internet, or has this noise always been a characteristic of the “world”?
Cdl. Sarah: … The Christian owes it to himself not to be of the world. It is up to him to turn away from the noises of the world, from its rumors that run headlong in order to turn better toward what is essential: God.
Our busy, ultra-technological age has made us even sicker. Noise has become like a drug on which our contemporaries are dependent. With its festive appearance, noise is a whirlwind that avoids looking oneself in the face and confronting the interior emptiness. It is a diabolical lie. The awakening can only be brutal.
I am not afraid to call on all people of good will to enlist in a form of resistance. What will become of our world if it cannot find oases of silence? …
La Nef: What role to you assign to silence in our Latin liturgy? Where do you see it, and how do you reconcile silence and participation?
Cdl. Sarah: Before God’s majesty, we lose our words. Who would dare to speak up before the Almighty? Saint John Paul II saw in silence the essence of any attitude of prayer, because this silence, laden with the adored presence, manifests “the humble acceptance of the creature’s limits vis-à-vis the infinite transcendence of a God who unceasingly reveals Himself as a God of love.” To refuse this silence filled with confident awe and adoration is to refuse God the freedom to capture us by His love and His presence. Sacred silence is therefore the place where we can encounter God, because we come to Him with the proper attitude of a human being who trembles and stands at a distance while hoping confidently. We priests must relearn the filial fear of God and the sacral character of our relations with Him. We must relearn to tremble with astonishment before the Holiness of God and the unprecedented grace of our priesthood. …
Indeed, it allows us to enter into participation in the mystery being celebrated. Vatican Council II stresses that silence is a privileged means of promoting the participation of the people of God in the liturgy. The Council Fathers intended to show what true liturgical participation is: entrance into the divine mystery. Under the pretext of making access to God easy, some wanted everything in the liturgy to be immediately intelligible, rational, horizontal and human. But in acting that way, we run the risk of reducing the sacred mystery to good feelings. Under the pretext of pedagogy, some priests indulge in endless commentaries that are flat-footed and mundane. Are these pastors afraid that silence in the presence of the Most High might disconcert the faithful? Do they think that the Holy Spirit is incapable of opening hearts to the divine Mysteries by pouring out on them the light of spiritual grace?
La Nef: After your conference in London last July, you are returning to the topic of the orientation of the liturgy and wish to see it applied in our churches. Why is this so important to you, and how would you see this change implemented?
Cdl. Sarah: Silence poses the problem of the essence of the liturgy. Now the liturgy is mystical. As long as we approach the liturgy with a noisy heart, it will have a superficial, human appearance. Liturgical silence is a radical and essential disposition; it is a conversion of heart. Now, to be converted, etymologically, is to turn back, to turn toward God. There is no true silence in the liturgy if we are not—with all our heart—turned toward the Lord. We must be converted, turn back to the Lord, in order to look at Him, contemplate His face, and fall at His feet to adore Him. We have an example: Mary Magdalene was able to recognize Jesus on Easter morning because she turned back toward Him: “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” “Haec cum dixisset, conversa est retrorsum et videt Jesus stantem. – Saying this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there” (Jn 20:13-14).
How can we enter into this interior disposition except by turning physically, all together, priest and faithful, toward the Lord who comes, toward the East symbolized by the apse where the cross is enthroned?
The outward orientation leads us to the interior orientation that it symbolizes. Since apostolic times, Christians have been familiar with this way of praying. It is not a matter of celebrating with one’s back to the people or facing them, but toward the East, ad Dominum, toward the Lord.
This way of doing things promotes silence. Indeed, there is less of a temptation for the celebrant to monopolize the conversation. Facing the Lord, he is less tempted to become a professor who gives a lecture during the whole Mass, reducing the altar to a podium centered no longer on the cross but on the microphone! The priest must remember that he is only an instrument in Christ’s hands, that he must be quiet in order to make room for the Word, and that our human words are ridiculous compared to the one Eternal Word.