by Felix Neumann
Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, is otherwise well-known for pithy words, and for raising his voice loudly – and now his new book is titled nothing other than “The Strength of Silence.” Of course he does not fail to provide powerful imagery, the devil has his prominent place, and his view of the world is pessimistic. For the cardinal from Guinea, the world is hectic, dominated by technology, alienated from God. Resistance against this is the call of the hour. And for Sarah it is clear: what the church needs is “not an administrative reform, the next pastoral program, or a change in structures.”
But it is worth it to read accurately what drives him, and not let oneself be scared away by ecclesio-political geography that divides everything into “right” and “left.” Sarah critiques a liturgy that is too wordy, too explanatory, too rational, and yet is too sensitive. “We risk reducing the holy mystery to good feelings,” he says in an interview with the French traditionalist monthly magazine La Nef.
One need not share Sarah’s enthusiasm for eastward liturgical orientation [ad orientem] to find this critique plausible: Worship services in which every step is explained because one does not trust the worshiping community to celebrate actively and responsibly. Worship services that trust the liturgy so little that symbolic rituals are invented. Worship services that trust Scripture so little that touchy-feely children’s books, from “The Little Prince” to “Rainbow Fish,” are lifted up to be readings.
With the noblest intentions, all this is allowed into the liturgy, for liturgies should be comprehensible, approachable, connected to daily life. But the danger in this is that what is intended to be comprehensible, approachable, and “nice” is in fact just banal and superficial. The danger is real that the worshiping congregation focusses on itself and a pleasing aesthetic of bourgeois mediocrity – and thereby loses a certain missionary strength and spiritual depth. The successful – in the sense of “with infectious missionary spirit” – liturgical movements of recent times, from Taizé to Nightfever, concentrate on silence, and a liturgy that works by its own power.
Cardinal Sarah is right: a renewal of the Church – even if one values pastoral plans and structural reforms more than he – will not happen without mysterium and the sublimity of encountering God in liturgy and prayer.
Felix Neumann is social media editor at katholisch.de. He has studied philosophy and political science and has been active in the Archdiocese of Freiburg in youth ministry. He is a member of the Gesellschaft katholischer Publizisten (society of Catholic publicists).
Reprinted with kind permission of katholisch.de. Translation: AWR.