Interview with Card. Mayer

Author: Fr. John T. Zuhlsdorf

AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL AUGUSTIN CARDINAL MAYER, O. S. B. (On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, December 4,1993, His Eminence granted an interview to Father John T. Zuhlsdorf in Rome. These perspectives on the liturgy and sacred music are the fruits of their conversation.) Cardinal Mayer has great experience of the Church and the liturgy from rich vantage points. He is a Benedictine monk and abbot emeritus of the Abbey of Metten in Bavaria. (In 1846, Boniface Wimmer, a monk of Metten, founded the Abbey of St. Vincent at Latrobe, Pennsylvania, which in turn founded the Abbey of St. John at Collegeville, Minnesota.) Cardinal Mayer was a peritus (expert) at the Second Vatican Council. From 1949 to 1966, he was rector of the Pontifical Ateneo Sant' Anselmo in Rome, which in 1961 was erected as the pontifical liturgical institute. He served from 1971 in the Roman Curia, first as secretary for the Sacred Congregation for Religious, and then as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. After the events at Econe, Switzerland, in 1988, he was named the first president of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. Since his "retirement," His Eminence has been very active, visiting religious communities in different countries, ordaining priests, and enriching the Church in many other ways. Recently a Festschrift, In Unum Congregati, was published in his honor on the occasion of his 80th birthday.

FR. ZUHLSDORF: Your Eminence has a special perspective on Vatican II. If I am not mistaken, you were present at San Paolo fuori le mura on January 25,1959, the day Pope John XXIII announced his intention to convene a council. You were also involved with the preparatory stages before its opening and then participated as an expert. Was your Eminence involved in any of the discussions on the reform of the liturgy? CARDINAL MAYER: Actually, I was present at the solemn Mass celebrated by Pope John at San Paolo. The Holy Father's intention to convene an ecumenical council was not expressed in the homily of the Mass, however, but afterwards in the abbot's parlor to the cardinals who were present. We learned about it that evening on the radio. The rectors of the pontifical centers of academic studies were then involved in the preparation of the council from the year 1959. This involvement became for me very intense from July 1960 onward, when the Pope appointed me secretary of the preparatory commission entrusted with formation for the priesthood and with Catholic education. FR. ZUHLSDORF: So at that time you were already well known as an expert on priestly formation. CARDINAL MAYER: At that time I had already served as the visitator of the Swiss seminaries from 1957 to 1959. Then I was a consultant to the Congregation for Seminaries. FR. ZUHLSDORF: Would you explain the intention, aspirations, and "spirit," if you will, of the council fathers behind the liturgical reform? Does Your Eminence think that the council fathers' intentions are well reflected in Sacrosanctum Concilium? Where might they diverge? CARDINAL MAYER: The council started with the reform of the sacred liturgy, certainly out of interior reasons, since the liturgy belongs to the heart of the Christian faith. Moreover, the schema elaborated by the competent preparatory commission had attained to a certain maturity, which was without a doubt due in considerable measure to the liturgical movement that from the beginning of the century had tried to revive the great liturgical tradition of the Latin Church. It had, so to say, rediscovered the liturgical year and the spiritual treasures contained in the liturgical books, and had tried to involve more actively the faithful. There was considerable activity, you know, at the Benedictine monasteries of Maria Laach and Solesmes and Beuron. Pius Parsch had given us books on the liturgy and liturgical year. The Holy Father, Pius XII, had given us the encyclical Mediator Dei and had begun a reformation of the liturgical books for the Easter vigil and the triduum. It has been over ninety years since Pius X's Tra le sollicitudini of November 2, 1903. All of this work has to be considered when thinking of the "intentions" of the fathers. We must admit with great thankfulness that the council underscored the right understanding of the sacred liturgy distinguishing it from a mere "cultic" function. This was already prepared by the liturgical movement. But the council also recognized in the liturgy the exercise of the priestly mission of Jesus Christ and therefore the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed, and at the same time the font from which all her forces flow. The liturgical celebration as the action of Christ the Priest and of His Body the Church is therefore a sacred action surpassing all others. No other action of the Church can equal its efficacy to the same degree. On the other hand, the council stressed that the liturgy doesn't exhaust the entire activity of the Church. Before man can be called to activity in the liturgy, he must first be called to faith and conversion. Moreover, the council gave a great number of directives for the renovation of rites and texts. Among these were the principle of a noble simplicity, and that the celebrations should have a more varied reading of the sacred scriptures, and that care should be given to the specific character of cultures of different peoples, the aspect of inculturation. Particularly, the council wished that all the faithful participate with a true, conscious, and active participation in the liturgical celebrations; not as standers-by, or silent observers, but as conscious and active people. They should themselves offer the Sacrifice not only through the hands of the priest, but also in communion with the priests. FR. ZUHLSDORF: There is great confusion now about the meaning of "active participation," isn't there? CARDINAL MAYER: I think that arose afterwards from the misunderstandings of the council. Active participation was almost exclusively misunderstood to be singing, speaking, making gestures, and so forth, as well as the distribution of different offices. But it was nearly forgotten that the most necessary active participation is the interior answer to what Our Lord does, what He gives in His Word, and particularly what He gives in rendering present His life-giving paschal mystery and then in our participating interiorly in this mystery. This is the most needed and most active participation. FR. ZUHLSDORF: I have heard it put that the real "active participation" begins with our baptismal character.

CARDINAL MAYER: That is correct, in a way. Moreover, there is a "reception" that can be immensely active. By responding in his heart to what Our Lord is giving, this is "active" participation. FR. ZUHLSDORF: Would you say that it was this sense of "active participation" that was intended by the council fathers? CARDINAL MAYER: I would say that surely many desired a change in attitude of the congregation which was sitting or kneeling in the pews without a visible, audible, perceptible participation. But afterwards, some liturgists interpreted that active participation was to be expressed by physical things, talking, singing, processions and so forth. And that is right. But the most active and necessary participation is an interior participation in what the Lord does. That is a great difficulty now. Some liturgists are always looking for more things people can do. You can do this or that now. You might even find dance! Stressing nearly exclusively exterior activity, they miss the point. The point of the liturgy is to respond with love and faith to what Our Lord is doing. FR. ZUHLSDORF: Looking at the documents themselves about this notion of "active participation," does Your Eminence find an ambiguity that may have been imprudent in that time of revolution when the council was going on?

CARDINAL MAYER: When a solid theological formation is not present, ambiguity is a problem. Especially if the Sacrifice of the Mass is reduced only to the cena, the banquet, then one thinks about what one "does." You do not care sufficiently anymore about the fruit of the participation in faith and love in the Sacrifice of the Lord and of the priest. This is the most important aspect. Concerning this very point, corrections were made in the editions of the missal that came out after the council. In the Institutio Generalis of the first edition of the missal of 1969 in the second chapter, number 7, (March 26,1970) specific references were added to the person of the priest in the Sacrifice of the Mass as personamque Christi gerente, that the priest "presides" bearing the person of Christ. This had been left out before. I am sorry about the "presider" staying there. But the phrase personamque Christi gerente had to be added. Before, it only referred to the priest celebrating at the supper. They also had to add that in the Mass sacrificium Crucis perpetuatur... the sacrifice of Christ is perpetuated. That was not in the first edition. They also put in references to the Real Presence of Christ being present in both of the Eucharistic species. Even today, they forget this, don't they? They also added the word consecratio, when before they spoke only of narratio. This narratio, by the way, could be something dangerous if it is understood as just telling the story of the "institution." Do you see what one had to do to clarify these things? Some wanted to make the liturgy, in a way, acceptable even to the Protestants, to bring the celebration of Holy Mass close to their notion of Abendmahl. FR. ZUHLSDORF: How would you compare the intentions expressed in the document Sacrosanctum Concilium and the actual reform that was carried out in the years following the council? CARDINAL MAYER: I think we have to distinguish between three phases of the reform. The first phase was the work of the council, the constitution on the sacred liturgy. I said already that one has to acknowledge that there were profound insights and good general guidelines given there. The second phase was the work of the Consilium headed by Cardinal Lercaro and Bugnini as secretary, established for the implementation of this constitution. Also in this second phase there is the on-going work of the Congregation for Divine Worship which continued after the Consilium. At the same time, there was the work of the conferences of bishops, and the influence of national liturgical commissions, to which on September 26,1964, there was addressed a first "instruction" on the liturgy from the Consilium. This entrusted the task of regulating the liturgy and the pastoral liturgical action in an entire nation to the bishops. Finally one has to consider and evaluate the third phase: the concrete implementation of the liturgical reform in the dioceses, parishes, and religious institutes. In that second phase, mentioned before, you have to distinguish three particular things: first, the reform of the existant texts and the creation of new texts and rites with rubrics, the different books, such as the missal and lectionary, and the office books for the Liturgia Horarum; secondly, the translations into the various languages; and thirdly, adaptation and accommodation to particular circumstances. The bishops didn't participate in creation of new texts. That was the Consilium. The bishops prepared the translations which Rome could approve. To the bishops' conferences was committed the task of the opportune aptationes, adaptations to particular cultural conditions. These adaptations had to be approved by the Holy See. The so-called accomodationes are committed to the celebrating priest, who often can choose betweeen various forms, for instance in the penitential rite, or when it is stated, his vel similibus verbis. The aspect of adaptation was mostly entrusted to the priests. FR. ZUHLSDORF: Would this include the notion of the "options" we have now? CARDINAL MAYER: Yes, options. Adaptation, however, is a deeper concession to the genius of single peoples and cultures. This is inculturation. Now, many say that the more one integrates symbols and gestures of an indigenous culture, the better the inculturation is obtained. This is true, in a certain way. But the more urgent need is the interiorization of what is happening in the liturgy. This is the real inculturation. We continually switch the meanings around. Some liturgists often go just by the exterior things. Priests too, no? Who talks today about the Cross? So often they talk only of the Alleluia. But this is not all there is in the paschal mystery. We are almost in a situation now in which Easter Sunday has been separated in people's minds from Good Friday. That doesn't mean that we have to be sad and mourning, but the Church must stay under the Cross, too. Otherwise it won't be the Catholic Church. We recognize in the Resurrection, and also the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Father's response to Jesus' Sacrifice. St. Paul, in Philippians, said we have to know the whole mystery, the Resurrection and the suffering also. The Church has to go the same way Our Lord has gone, of course, in the power of the Spirit. This is not sad or depressing. But I am afraid that some liturgists are missing the point. Our priests are committed not only to the celebration of the Eucharist, but also to the sacrament of reconciliation. FR. ZUHLSDORF: Doesn't the new typical edition for the rites of ordination for the priesthood address this same point in the interrogations made of the ordinands? The new edition puts back a specific reference to the priest's office of forgiving sins. CARDINAL MAYER: That is right. I insisted on that when I was at the Congregation of Divine Worship. Going back to the idea of ambiguity mentioned before, we have to preserve the right understanding of the mystery of the Church. So much attention has been drawn to the second chapter of the constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium), the "People of God." And rightly so. But the first chapter is on the mystery of the Church. This seems to be nearly forgotten. If you forget the mystery of the Church, you are in danger of interpreting the People of God aspect not enough in its connection with the People of God as in the Old Testament, but rather in the populist sense, or a democratic way. This subverts its meaning. The democratic understanding of our times pushes aside the vision of the "temple" and of the Church as Christ's bride, and so all the interest focuses on the "presider" who could be understood as being "elected" by the people, instead of as the priest acting in persona Christi. Regarding that second phase and its three great tasks, we can see that the translation of texts and the adaptation to local needs was not without its risks. That adaptation must be done with the focus on interiorization of what Our Lord is doing, not on what we do. This is the right idea of inculturization.

FR. ZUHLSDORF: Sometimes you hear talk that there was an agreement made by the translators of the texts after the council (I don't necessarily want to say conspiracy) not to render accurately or faithfully the new Roman texts. CARDINAL MAYER: I would say that perhaps there could have been an agreement on a personal level, maybe. Of course, in the English-speaking world, the work of ICEL has suffered from some preferential nuances. I remember very well Archbishop Ryan Dermot of Dublin, who was for a short time the pro-prefect of Propaganda here in Rome. He died too soon. He was a scripture scholar. And he told me that he had many reservations about the work of ICEL. He said he would give me his materials on this, but he died then... too soon. There were others, too, who were deeply pre-occupied. ICEL denies all this, denies any ideological preference whatsoever. But this denial is hard to substantiate when you see what happened in the translations. Now, of course, many are watching hopefully this new group CREDO in the U.S. Let us, however, return to that third stage, mentioned earlier. That stage involved the concrete implementation of the reforms in the parishes and is committed, not to some agency, but to the priests. This phase shows a few great currents. A rare one would be an obstinate refusal of any implementation. That would be represented in some way by the movement around Lefebvre. Others are determined to be faithful to the documents and directives, and honestly try to implement them. This means that they also had to read them. Moreover, there was a kind of wild creativity which individual priests were indulging. FR. ZUHLSDORF: But in a way it's hard to say that these are isolated priests, since workshops and seminaries and, basically, the dominant liturgists, have virtually imposed a kind of style on the liturgical formation of our priests and liturgists today. Is that fair to say? CARDINAL MAYER: Well, yes, there is something to that. But to the people they appear as individuals, for they are not so much aware of the trends being taught in the workshops, and so forth. They don't know that these experiments may have an ideological background. We see that today devotions like Eucharistic adoration have been nearly wiped out, because a national liturgical commission chose to quote only part of a document of the competent congregation refering to it. They underscore the cena and are nearly silent about the Real Presence. Some liturgists also want to take us back to early centuries of the primitive Church, in which a notion of the Eucharist didn't yet consider "adoration." They don't understand the growth in the sensus fidei, and that the gift of the Eucharist, in the Blessed Sacrament, has been grasped always more deeply. It is true that the Eucharist was conserved for the sick at first. But more and more it was understood that Our Lord, really and substantially present, should be adored. We do not adore the "sign," we adore the reality!

I want to add something about that second phase and the Consilium. Now, for example, we have a richness and variety of scripture readings that before we didn't know, both in the Mass and in the office of readings as well as the rites for other sacraments. Also, from the treasures of prayer of the Church we have new prayers and prefaces that we didn't have before in the Mass. The use of the mother tongue has also contributed to the understanding of the rites. This opened up the liturgy of the hours to more people as part of their prayer life. But afterwards we will have to say something more about this, won't we, and also about Latin.

You know, there is a characteristic of the way the reform of the liturgy is misunderstood, a kind of extremism. Before there was only Latin, and now some pretend that it needs a special permission to use it, even for the new order of Mass. It's incredible, really. Before, the gestures at Mass were so precisely defined, and now there are so many options available that nothing seems fixed down. But also positive achievements must not be forgotten, for instance the new Masses for Our Lady. I am glad to have signed that book as prefect of the congregation. The council had ruled out this extremism. In the constitution, Sacrosanctum Concilium, with number 23, the council says "There must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing." FR. ZUHLSDORF: So if change is not required, it's wrong to change something, according to the council, and any change must be organic? CARDINAL MAYER: One cannot say that this number 23 of Sacrosanctum Concilium was considered adequately in that second phase. One cannot really say that the Consilium followed that principle. Some have said that now, instead of having a gewordene Liturgie, we have gemachte Liturgie, instead of a liturgy that developed, we have a liturgy that was made. It was one done on the table. FR. ZUHLSDORF: Do you think that is true? CARDINAL MAYER: I would say to a certain extent. Generally liturgy grows through the life of the Church which is especially her prayer life. Now they sit down and write it. First, I said it was very positive that we have this new richness of scripture readings. On the other hand, I think nevertheless, one should also say that we have done a bit too much. It somewhat surpasses the priest and the faithful, especially some of the readings of the Old Testament. Yes, in the old order of Mass the readings were restricted, but this also guaranteed that certain readings would be heard, understood, and remembered. FR. ZUHLSDORF: And these readings were tied to the sacred music for the Mass. The antiphons and chants were tied to the readings. CARDINAL MAYER: Yes. Yet, it seems to me that in the selection of the pericopes, there was an exegetical approach rather than a liturgical approach in the choices made. Liturgy is always a serving of and adoration of God. We must adore God. The exegetical point of view can be different. The Novus Ordo has a strongly didactic element. We have to admit that the liturgy has also this purpose, but to put it first is wrong. First, is the cultic, understood correctly of course. We have to concede that the didactic intention often dominates now, no? But the first important aspect remains adoration, latria.

So, in some ways in that second phase the Consilium went beyond what it was intended to do. And perhaps they gave too much freedom, too many options. These freedoms were given also at the same time as the mother tongue had become, first, an option, and then used nearly exclusively. When only Latin was used in the liturgy, the danger of abuses was not so great. But with the mother tongue, quite a few priests began to think that they could change words and gestures according to their own whims.

FR. ZUHLSDORF: In contrast to some priests and lay faithful who seem to take little account of Sacrosanctum Concilium and related documents, there are many hopeful (and sometimes long suffering) Catholics in the world who think that a true renaissance of liturgy and sacred music would come if only our bishops would assure that we, as a Church, would just "do as the council asked." Do you think that this is too optimistic? CARDINAL MAYER: I would say that this is at least a realistic possibility... if we really try to do what the council wanted, especially that we deepen the understanding of the mystery, the values of the sacrum, the values of the Cross and the Resurrection that must be really present in the hearts and the minds of the priest and then also the people. It is a possibility, if we avoid the wild creativity and stay with what the universal Church has recommended. It is possible if, as I have said before, instead of running after some new little findings, we first take to heart the interiorization of the meaning of the liturgy and especially of the Mass, and return to its integrity. We must help the people understand, appreciate, and love it. This would be something great. If we could avoid this wild creativity, we could avoid also creating new wounds in many good people. We must also avoid giving ammunition to those who will sometimes with great bitterness attack the new liturgy. FR. ZUHLSDORF: This idea of attack on the new liturgy relates back to what you were saying about those wide trends of how the reforms were implemented in that third stage. From your perspective of having been the first president of the commission, Ecclesia Dei, do you think that the use of the 1962 missal is a challenge in a negative sense or a positive challenge? CARDINAL MAYER: I must say that, according to the mind of the motu proprio, Ecclesia Dei, use of that missal should really be more freely given to those who reverently desire it. But we cannot think that the 1962 missal will become again the missal of the whole Church. We must try to keep the Novus Ordo in its real, given form and not go beyond. Those who follow the 1962 missal, on the other hand, shouldn't think that the Church can be "saved" only with the 1962 missal. They should avoid being polemic and try positively to develop and share with others the transcendent value of the liturgy, the adoration value of the liturgy, the mystery value of the liturgy. They should reveal these values to others without attacking those who participate in the Mass according to the Novus Ordo, sincerely acknowledging, as they are asked to do, the doctrinal and juridical value of the new missal. FR. ZUHLSDORF: One hears talk today of a "reform of the reform." Some people hope that the Church will return to the 1962 missal and abandon the new liturgy. Some people completely belittle the older form of liturgy. Some want a kind of tertium quid, combining the best of both. After all your experience, where would Your Eminence stand on this? What role could the 1962 missal play in the "reform?" CARDINAL MAYER: I would say that if we used the 1962 missal, or maybe better the values that are more easily expressed in it, without extolling every detail, and if we avoid the polemics, then, given also especially the witness of the people who follow that missal, the reverence and deep gratitude they should express, then they can have an influence. Again however, at this moment we must allow a certain calm to come about. But this calmness would require also that the bishops would be more open to petitions, granting solidly founded permissions to use the 1962 missal. On the other hand, those who follow the new liturgy, should stay with the new liturgy as it should be celebrated. If possible they should bring to it those values that have been endangered: reverence, for example, and a deep theological and spiritual understanding of the content of the Mass. One bishop was recently published saying that the Mass is "boring." Maybe he doesn't really understand what is going on. FR. ZUHLSDORF: The council asked that Latin be maintained (Sacrosanctum Concilium 54), that Gregorian chant be given pride of place in the liturgy and that the musical heritage of the Church be used and fostered (114-116). We know too that sacred music is pars integrans in the liturgy. What do you see as the key element that safeguards these things from becoming merely expressions of nostalgia? What must priests be sure to teach the people when they use these traditional Catholic expressions in the parish? CARDINAL MAYER: This pars integrans that the council expresses, means that music is not merely a decoration, something which is just added to the liturgy. Sacred music is liturgy. Of course, it is not its essential aspect, but it does belong to its integrity. So, the council says that music helps to give glory to God, using the beauty also created by man, using the gifts that God has given to men. Sacred music, then, in a special way gives something beautiful back to God. It is said that no art is so closely linked to the liturgy as sacred music, for it expresses and deepens the minds of those who participate in it, no? It is in a very special way a "giving back" to the Father of the Incarnate Word, a word of praise that we incarnate. Cardinal Ratzinger has written about this aspect, bringing together sacred music and the mystery of the Incarnation. Sacred music brings out certain values of the Word, which cannot be expressed with the spoken word alone. The mystery of the Incarnation and the paschal mystery come out more completely with music. Of course, Gregorian chant is bound together with Latin, though there are some that dispute this. It is suggested that one can adapt chant to other languages, but this is not really successful, is it? I would say too, that Latin should not have been completely abolished as it has been de facto. The council did not say it should be abolished. It said Latin should be used. You remember that while at Ecclesia Dei, I received a letter once from a chancery office in the United States, asking me if I didn't know that the council had abolished Latin! FR. ZUHLSDORF: It is remarkable that anyone would put a signature to that! But, Your Eminence, Latin is a special language for the liturgy, is it not, at least for the Latin rite? CARDINAL MAYER: It is a sacred language, in a way, as there are sacred times, places, people. And it is universal. Yes, of course. Especially now, when we have so many languages in a world that is becoming increasingly smaller, when people travel so much for different reasons, it is hard to find any possibility of feeling at home. With the Latin, this was a given. No, there is no doubt about the importance of Latin, even practically. Concerning music, not all music for the liturgy must be Gregorian chant. We also have the great treasures of polyphony too, from Palestrina all the way to Haydn, Mozart, Bruckner, and many other great Catholic composers.

FR. ZUHLSDORF: I have heard it said that the Church has given two things as its heredity to the whole world: art and saints. CARDINAL MAYER: Yes, I have heard this too. And the Church should do more to promote these. There is a great apologetic value, too, of the arts and saints. Saints and art express our real values. FR. ZUHLSDORF: Could you say a few words about formation? If bishops and rectors of seminaries were to come and ask you for advice concerning the liturgical and musical formation of aspirants to the priesthood today, what would you tell them? And what would you like to tell seminarians or young priests, about Latin, liturgy and music? CARDINAL MAYER: They should know, of course, from the council, and from the documents and directives given since, what the Church says about music and Latin and the liturgy. I would say also that we should regain something of what has been lost. We should follow the orientations given. There is nothing really new here, if we would only put into practice what is set down. We must also get over this prejudice against Latin, no? In the secular world a new kind of flowering of Latin is sometimes to be observed. On the other hand, in the Church we see a kind of pitiful and deplorable attitude of resistance, a desire to throw it all away. We may also consider that those wonderful Latin chants, the Marian antiphons, those to the Holy Spirit, to the Blessed Sacrament used in the different liturgical seasons, have been prayed and sung with great devotion by so many saints, and by generations and generations of faithful. I think that from this fact there must be something special in these chants. We don't have to sing them exclusively, of course, that is clear. We can use the mother tongue too, that is very positive, and new good liturgical music can be and must be developed with the mother tongue. But the freedom we now have with languages and music should be used without this complete burning of the Latin.