On the Tridentine Mass, Liturgical Dance and Vocations

Cardinal Danneels in a Wide-Ranging Interview

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By Delia Gallagher

ROME, NOV. 27, 2003 (Zenit.org).- Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Brussels recently appeared as a speaker at a conference on St. Thérèse of Lisieux. But he didn’t limit himself to expounding on the Little Flower.

I had an opportunity to sit down with the cardinal for an interview during the conference at the Gregorian University.

Cardinal Danneels is a former professor of liturgy at the University of Louvain in Belgium, and I began by asking his views on discussions about a rumored Vatican directive encouraging the return of the Tridentine Mass.

Cardinal Danneels said: “I think every type of Mass throughout the history of the Church is a valuable type of Mass. The problem is: Is it adaptable to modern times? For example, to read the readings in Latin for the people — for me, no. When you have a parish Mass, you shouldn’t do it in Latin.

“You can do it perhaps for more intellectual people who have a certain culture, but I think it is very exceptional. I think we have to inculturate the Mass into the modern times, but saving also the essential things, especially avoiding abuses that transform the real structure of the Mass. That isn’t acceptable. But that’s not what we are doing.

“I would regret that we are going back to the Tridentine Mass because it’s not the primitive Mass. The primitive Mass is not the Tridentine Mass because there have been changes to the Mass throughout the centuries. So I don’t understand people who say the real Mass is the Tridentine Mass. No, the Mass is the Mass of the Church of today. Just as it was in the Mass of the eighth century, the 12th and the 16th.

“There is one problem: the idea that the sacrifice of the Mass is very clearly expressed in the Tridentine liturgy and so people are attached to that. But it’s also expressed in the modern, actual liturgy of the Mass. They say after the consecration that we offer this Bread and this Wine in memory of the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ. It is said, ‘My body which is given for you,’ ‘My blood which is shed for you’ — these are sacrificial expressions.

“For me this discussion between the Tridentine Mass and Latin Mass are not the essential things. It’s not the form of the Mass, but the content. We shouldn’t discuss those matters of how do you say the Mass, but what IS the Mass. What is eucharistic celebration? Because you can say we look at the external form in the way the Mass is celebrated but you forget what is happening there.

“The real profound content of Mass, you can never express in a rite.”

Cardinal Danneels then addressed the difficulties of translating the texts of the Mass.

“In every country they’re trying to integrate the translations,” he said. “For all countries that are speaking English, that are speaking French, it’s the same question. The problem is liturgical translations are very difficult to do, in every language — because the liturgy of the Mass has been expressed in Latin and in Greek and it’s always a difficult thing to retain the same meaning of a word translating it into another language. Where I am against, is modifying, without knowing it and unconsciously, the real content.

“For example, the word ‘resurrection.’ You can say: ‘Resurrect.’ We don’t use it anymore in speaking, but you can’t translate it with another word. ‘Returning to life’ is not resurrection; it’s just waking of the dead as with Lazarus, but that’s not Christ. And from time to time there can be a danger that by translating classical terms into a new language you create another language of the liturgy.

“For example, the Jewish people never speak about Saturday; they speak about Sabbath. And they are right to do that. They never speak about Easter but rather Pesach. And I think you have to learn your mother language, your mother tongue, when you are Catholic, Christian.

“It’s a real concern to have a certain sacrality of the language and to translate it. In the liturgy you need a certain sacrality.

“It can be familiar if you speak in catechesis or if making a translation of the Bible for ordinary people. But liturgical texts should have certain cultural standards and theological depth and a kind of being-the-same-text in the whole area. Liturgical language is not the spoken language of every day, every hour and in my kitchen.”

What of liturgical dance? I asked the cardinal.

“It’s happening in St. Peter’s Square. There’s a difference between dance of Asia and Africa and modern dances in Europe and America. There is no eroticism in African dances. It’s very solemn, it’s very sacred. But our dances or other dances — we shouldn’t transform liturgical dances into a ballet. The Nutcracker or something like that. That’s unacceptable. But you will never find such dances in Africa.

“It’s very complex and has to be taken on a case-by-case basis. When Mother Teresa was beatified several weeks ago, there were dances from Indian girls. Nobody will find that it wasn’t very beautiful. But you feel it immediately. The problem is if you have a liturgical dance, it should make you think about God. If you have a normal ballet, you think about the dancing. That’s completely different.”

Cardinal Danneels then spoke to the decline in vocations in the Western world.

“I think there will come a time when the negative image of the Catholic Church in the Western world will disappear. At a certain point, people will get annoyed with all those negative images. You can’t criticize for centuries the same thing. You have to take in hand the things and do something.

“I think also we have lived in the last 30, 40 years in extreme wealth, without making any effort, with immediate hedonism also, and that has certainly had a huge influence on vocations.

“And then there’s another thing that the perception of the invisible world — which is essential for a priest, because he is working in an invisible world — has diminished very clearly in the Western world. People are mobilized by the immediately sensitive things and not by the things over the horizon.”

Does the Church have to change to meet this? I asked.

“No, the Church has simply to wait that people have a new sense of mystery and invisible things. And it will come. It is coming. The difficulty is that it comes at the right address.”

I asked the cardinal, who lives in the capital of the European Union, his views on Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to the Vatican, and on the Russian Orthodox.

“We shouldn’t forget that for Russians, Christianity is also Russian. It’s the same thing. So when you are really Russian, you embrace the icon [of Kazan]. You embrace the Pope because he is an outstanding personality not because he believes in the Trinity.

“I think they [Orthodox] have the impression that the Western Church and especially the Roman Catholic Church is proselytizing. I think it’s not true. They say Catholics shouldn’t go to Russia. But they go in America, in Paris, in London and they found churches, so why should the Catholic Church not be able to do that in Siberia?

“I think it has to do with a deeper fear of the West and that the Roman Catholic Church has an immense capacity of evangelization and the Orthodox have only the liturgy and the liturgy is everything — it’s catechesis, it’s evangelization. I think we have to be careful, too, that our power, because there is a power in the Catholic Church, that we shouldn’t profit from their poverty. They feel it like that: Here they come with a huge structure of finances and personnel and missionaries and we are poor people. The Pope has said we shouldn’t profit and abuse of their poverty.”

Finally, I asked the cardinal about genetically modified foods, referring to a Vatican conference that was taking place during the same days as the Thérèse of Lisieux meeting. Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Council for Justice and Peace, famously said t
hat he had been eating GMOs for 16 years in the United States and felt fine.

Did Cardinal Danneels want to weigh in on the subject? I ventured.

“Let us remain with a good Belgian beefsteak and frites,” concluded the cardinal.

* * *

Readers may contact Delia Gallagher at delia@zenit.org.

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