Towards silence

“At the beginning of our Eucharistic celebrations, how is it possible to eliminate Christ carrying his cross and walking painfully beneath the weight of our sins toward the place of sacrifice? There are many priests who enter triumphantly and go up to the altar, waving left and right in order to appear friendly. Observe the sad spectacle of certain Eucharistic celebrations. …

“Why so much frivolity and worldliness at the moment of the Holy Sacrifice? Why so much profanation and superficiality before the extraordinary priestly grace that makes us capable of bringing forth the body and blood of Christ in substance by the invocation of the Spirit? Why do some believe themselves obliged to improvise or invent Eucharistic prayers that disperse the divine phrases in a bath of petty human fervour? Are the words of Christ so insufficient that a profusion of purely human words is needed? In a sacrifice so unique and essential, is there a need for this subjective imagination and creativity? ‘And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words,’ Jesus has cautioned us.”

This excerpt is translated from a book published this morning (in French), by beloved Cardinal Robert Sarah. It is entitled, La force du silence (“The Power of Silence”). From what I can see (here; and also here), it is a development of what he said in, God or Nothing, in the same dialogue form with the intelligent journalist, Nicolas Diat. The earlier book was more autobiographical and personal; this one looks outward from Sarah’s curial station, at Rome. His “style,” as that of Wojtyla and Ratzinger, is to proceed from, then return to, the heart of the Christian religion, in Christ.

As with another beloved cardinal, Raymond Leo Burke, there is great strength in Sarah’s manner. He is gently direct, without mincing. I’m aware there are people who hate all these men, but I cannot see how. None has shown the fear or self-consciousness that usually excites the dogs. Good Christian instruction omits that mouth-organ whine I am so tired of hearing from our pulpits; and the blathering of those “airport bishops” — “the turbulent floods of easy, hollow words.” The faith is not to be argued, but affirmed. The religion is so, and it is so; you may reject it, but there can be no doubt what it is. Those who are listening will hear; those not listening will not hear. Shouting is unnecessary; it only adds to the environmental noise.

Both Burke and Sarah are, in the best sense, plain speakers. They are capable of replying to the simplest questions with a “yes,” or a “no.” They give answers which themselves hold still. Each is papabile.

Our Mass has been confused, vitiated, emasculated, through the last half century of “reforms,” which turn away from Christ, towards worldly concerns. This reversal is most apparent in the turning of the priest, who now puts his back to God, and thus makes himself the focus of the sacrifice. We have turned from silence towards noise — even within the Mass. As Cardinal Sarah says plainly, this is wrong, and must be corrected.

However, I do not think, and do not think he thinks, that everything can be restored by “a fix.” Correcting this mistake is a precondition for correcting all the others, but in that only a start. We, in the Church and in her proximity, face unprecedented circumstances, in a world of constantly increasing noise — and with it, ever bolder atheism. We cannot out-shout this world. Paradoxically, we must go by a way that is silent, even to hear our own hearts; before apprehending God in the silent centre of things. The Mass begins and ends in this silence; and does what is necessary to expound it.

“Be still and know that I am God.”