Key pointers on the Mass from Cardinal Arinze

Catholic Answers has posted the audio of an interview with Cardinal Francis Arinze, former head of the Congregation of Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments.

If you have time, I encourage you to listen to it. If you don’t have the time, here are some key points. Most of the text below is paraphrasing on my part. Direct citations are in quotes and in burgundy.

WARNING: some of Cardinal Arinze’s statements are quite blunt, sarcastic and even offensive. The good Cardinal sets himself in opposition to what people actually do in some Masses. As such, his statements may be divisive and considered uncharitable by some Catholic TV stations. Viewer discretion is advised!


The Mass has to be celebrated properly to give maximal fruits.

“Do you want the Mass to be a holy free for all? Do you want the priest to come to the altar and just do it as he likes? Pull out prayers from his fertile imagination? Oh, you are not serious! You want soccer without rules? People can score with the hand and foot and any side at all? You are not serious! If football demands rules, and it is only a game… surely the supreme act of worship of God must have rules. And these rules are not arbitrary. Theycome out of theology, the Tradition of the Church, they come out of wisdom of 2000 years, and they come out of respect and adoration. Set up by people who were there before you and I were born.”

We are called to “active participation” in the Mass. This means, first and foremost, interior union with Christ. It also means listening to the readings, accepting them, adoring God, thanking God, repenting for our sins and asking for forgiveness. These acts are internal. Of course, some external form of participation is also needed (kneeling, standing, singing, etc.). But our active participation is primarily about interior union with Christ.

“It isn’t agitation. It isn’t activism. It isn’t ‘push me around and shout loud’ as if God needed more decibels.

With the priest and through the priest, the faithful offer Christ and themselves to God.

The Church has made provisions for “inculturation” in the Mass, but many people abuse this principle. Inculturation means that the Church respects the customs and traditions of different peoples around the word as long as they are not opposed to the Gospel and have been properly examined before being introduced into the liturgy. That means that you cannot make changes on the fly based on the whims of the local liturgical committee.

“For many people, inculturation means the concoction of their over-fertile imagination, which was arranged on Saturday night and forced down the throat of the innocent congregation on Sunday morning.”

Advice for laity when they are victims of liturgical abuses:

  • “Try to speak to the priest, not in a challenging way, not in an insulting way. Find a quiet time. If he is willing to listen, that’s the best approach.”
  • However, if the priest says ‘I’m sorry, this is my Mass and this is how I’m going to continue to celebrate it. If you don’t like, you can go to another parish.’ Well, that’s not a good answer. I hope no priest says that. I’m just imagining but suppose a priest said that, then the parishioner would be correct say ‘I’m sorry, Father, this is not actually your Mass, it is the Mass of the Catholic Church, it is the Mass of Jesus Christ, which he gave to his Church. I thought you learned that in the seminary? So, didn’t you learn that you are just the minister? Didn’t you learn that you are not free to add or subtract?’ I’m not saying that you challenge your priest immediately that way, but if you said that, you would be theologically correct.”
  • If the matter is very serious, for example if the priest is using Coca Cola instead of wine, then it isn’t Mass anymore. You have to go to the bishop and explain what’s happening.

Even before Vatican II, there were abuses in the Latin Mass, but most people didn’t realize it because they didn’t understand Latin. But there is no doubt that abuses are skyrocketing in more recent years.

“Whenever the priest draws attention to himself, something has gone wrong.”

When you pray in private, you can do whatever you want. But when it comes to the Mass, the public prayer of the Church, you must follow what the Church has carefully crafted.

“[The priest] facing the people is not without problems. Actually, the Second Vatican Council documents didn’t anywhere say that the Mass is to be said facing the people. But documents from Rome said the altar is to be arranged in such a way that Mass can be said facing the people. Nowhere does it command that Mass must be said facing the people.”

“One of the problems is the priest must discipline himself. If he is looking at the people, is even smiling at a few people that he shows he recognizes, he is not doing well. If he is distracting the people, he is not doing well.”

The Pope wants to give people freedom to celebrate the Mass in the form they prefer, whether it be the Novus Ordo or the Extraordinary Mass.

Regardless of the policies of the local bishop or the national conference of bishops, the faithful always have the option to receive communion on the tongue and kneeling, if they so choose. Communion in the hand is only permitted in those countries where the episcopal conference has obtained explicit permission from the Congregation for Divine Worship. (Side note: a few years ago, while in Edmonton, a priest reproached me for wanting to receive communion while kneeling. He said that the local bishop had decreed that communion had to be received while standing. Cardinal Arinze is saying that the bishop of Edmonton at the time had no authority to deny such freedom to the faithful).

Communion in the hand has advantages, but also several disadvantages: people lose reverence for the Eucharist, they lose faith in the Real Presence, sometimes particles fall on the ground, some people put the host in their pocket, it is easier to steal for devil worship.

If communion in the hand is allowed in a country, the priest must watch to make sure that the communicant puts the host immediately in the mouth. A person cannot walk away with it. It must be consumed on the spot.

On pro-abortion politicians receiving communion: “If you are for the killing of unborn children, the most innocent of the innocent people, then you have disqualified yourself. Why do you cause problems for the Christian community by coming to altar rails? You should be going to the Confessional.”

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