Some Highlights of the Talk Given by Francis Cardinal Arinze

To the National Meeting of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions in Texas

October 7-11, 2003





The Roman Missal wisely notes the importance of common gestures by the worshipping congregation (Cf GIRM, nos. 42-44). Examples are times for the congregation to stand, kneel or sit. Bishop's Conferences can and do, make some specifications. Care should be taken not to appear like regimenting the congregation, as if it were an army, Some flexibility should be allowed, more so as it is easy to hurt people's eucharistic sensitivity with reference, for example, to kneeling or standing.


Church architecture also influences active participation. If a church is built and the seats are

arranged as in an amphitheatre or as in a banquet, the undeclared emphasis may be horizontal attention to one another, rather than vertical attention to God. In this sense the celebration of Mass facing the people demands from the priest and altar servers a high level of discipline, so

that as from the offertory of the Mass it be seen clearly that both priest and people are turned

towards God, not towards one another. We come to Mass primarily to adore God, not to affirm one another, although this is not excluded.


Some people think that liturgical renewal means the removal of kneelers from Church pews., the knocking down of altar rails or the positioning of the altar in the middle of the sitting area of the people. The Church has never said any such thing. Nor does liturgical restoration mean

iconoclasm or the removal of all statues and sacred images. These should be displayed, albeit

with good judgment. And the altar of the Blessed Sacrament (tabernacle) should be outstanding for its beauty and honored prominence, otherwise in some so-called restored churches one could rightly

lament: "They have taken my Lord away, and I don't know where they have put him " Un



There should be no attempt to clericalizing the laity. This could happen when, for example, lay people chosen as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion no longer see this role as being called on to help when the ordinary ministers (bishop, priest and deacon) are not available in sufficient numbers to cope with the high number of communicants. When the extraordinary ministers see their role as a power display to show that what the priest can do, the lay faithful can do too, then we have a problem. How else can we explain the sad error of the lay faithful struggling around the altar to open the tabernacle or to grab the sacred vessels - all against sane liturgical norms and pure good sense?


We have also the opposite mistake of trying to laicize the clergy. When the priest no longer wishes to bless the people with the formula "May Almighty God bless you ", but prefers the seemingly democratic wording, "May Almighty God bless us", then we have a confusion of roles. The same thing happens when some priests think that they should not concelebrate a Mass but should just participate as lay people in order to show more solidarity with the lay faithful. "In liturgical celebrations", says SC, "whether as a minister or as one of the faithful, each person should perform his role by doing solely and totally what the nature of things and liturgical norms require of him" (SC, no. 28).


It is normal for Bishops to form Diocesan or National Liturgical Commissions for the carrying out of the liturgical apostolate. Members of such bodies should strive to absorb the genuine Catholic faith and spirit and to avoid pushing private or personal agendas through the Commissions. It is obvious that appropriate relations with the diocesan office, the Bishop's Conference or the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments should be fostered. Liturgical Commissions should guard against making too many regulations for the people or ignoring directives from higher authorities. When adaptations and acculturated changes by the Church in a country get so many that the Roman rite is somewhat obscured, the fault may lie not just on the Bishops, but also on their Liturgical Commissions and other liturgical experts who advise the Bishops.


Church architecture, earlier mentioned in this paper, is so important that I would like to return to it here. The shape of the church building has its importance. As someone has said, a gym that looks like a church is still a gym. Some questions can be of help. Does this church building help to raise people's minds to God, to the transcendent? Where are the towers, the bell, the Cross-? Within the church, is the sanctuary clearly distinguished from the rest of the church? Why were the beautiful altar rails that have been there for one or two centuries removed against the wishes of many of the parishioners?


Why is it so difficult to make out where the tabernacle is located? Where is Our Blessed Mother's statue or image? Is iconoclasm back? I am aware that the renovation of church buildings can be a contentious issue. Bishops and members of Liturgical Commissions have the delicate task of weighing all sides of the question. But before the hammer or compressor machine is applied to objects that have touched the devotional sensitivity of the people for decades or even centuries, those who have to take the decision cannot avoid asking themselves whether there are reasons weighty enough to upset so many people and ask the parish or diocese to pay for the exercise.