During a recent interview, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, Cardinal Francis Arinze, offered an assessment of the recent Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist and of developments in liturgical practice 40 years after the Second Vatican Council.
Regarding music in the liturgy, he said, "we should start by saying that Gregorian music is the Church's precious heritage. It should stay. It should not be banished. If therefore in a particular diocese or country, no one hears Gregorian music anymore, then somebody has made a mistake somewhere."
However, he continued, "the Church is not saying that everything should be Gregorian music. There is room for music which respects that language, that culture, that people. There is room for that too, and the present books say that is a matter for the bishops' conference, because it generally goes beyond the boundaries of one diocese."
What should not be the case is "individuals just composing anything and singing it in church. This is not right at all - no matter how talented the individual is. That brings us to the question of the instruments to be used.
"The local church should be conscious that church worship is not really the same as what we sing in a bar, or what we sing in a convention for youth. Therefore it should influence the type of instrument used, the type of music used. I will not now pronounce and say never guitars; that would be rather severe. But much of guitar music may not be suitable at all for the Mass.
"The judgment would be left to the bishops of the area. It is wiser that way."
He continued: "People don't come to Mass in order to be entertained. They come to Mass to adore God, to thank him, to ask pardon for sins, and to ask for other things that they need.
"When they want entertainment, they know where to go, e.g., the parish hall or a theatre - presuming that their entertainment is acceptable from a moral theological point of view."
In the course of the interview, Cardinal Arinze also offered some thoughts on the Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist.
He noted the many positive points of the synod: "[It aimed at] strengthening our faith in the holy Eucharist. [There was] no new doctrine, but freshness of expression of our Eucharistic faith, [and] encouragement in the celebration, in the sense of good attention - a celebration which shows faith.
"The synod underlined the importance of Eucharistic adoration outside Mass which has its fruits in the Mass itself because the Mass is the supreme act of adoration," he noted.
"The synod also stressed the importance of good preparation for the holy Eucharist ... Therefore, confession of sins, for those who are in mortal sin and in any case encouraging the Sacrament of Penance as a way of growing in fidelity to Christ. And also that not everybody is fit to receive holy Communion, so those who are not fit should not receive."
Referring to a negative tendency in the Western world, the Cardinal observed that an increasing number of Catholics have "a more Protestant concept of the Eucharist, seeing it mainly as a symbol ...
"It was recognised so much that many of the synod fathers recommended there be themes suggested for homilies on Sundays. Seeing that for many Catholics the Sunday homily is about the only religious instruction they get in a week, the synod fathers suggested that the four major areas of Catholic faith should be covered by the homily in a three-year cycle."
The four areas correspond to the parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "First part, what we believe. Second part, how we worship, i.e., sacraments. Third part, what we live, life in Christ, so the moral law, the Ten Commandments, the Christian life lived; and the fourth part, prayer.
"Although the homily should be on the Scripture readings and the other liturgical texts, some way has to be found to cover the whole area of Catholic faith in a period of three years because many Catholics are really ignorant of fundamental matters. That is a fact nobody can deny."
Vatican II, he said, had "brought many good things but everything has not been positive, and the synod recognised that there have been shadows."
These included "a bit of neglect of the holy Eucharist outside Mass, a lot of ignorance and of temptations to showmanship for the priest who celebrates facing the people."
Regarding the priest, said Cardinal Arinze: "If he is not very disciplined he will soon become a performer. He may not realise it, but he will be projecting himself rather than projecting Christ. Indeed it is very demanding, the altar facing the people. Then even those who read the First and Second Reading can engage in little tactics that make them draw attention to themselves and distract the people.
"So there are problems. However, some of the problems were not caused by Vatican II, but they were caused by children of the Church after Vatican II. Some of them talking of Vatican II push their own agenda ... justifying it as the 'spirit of Vatican II'."
Cardinal Arinze concluded: "Therefore, the most important area is faith and fidelity to that faith, a faithful reading of the original texts, and their faithful translations, so that people celebrate knowing that the Liturgy is the public prayer of the Church."
The Liturgy, he stressed, "is not the property of one individual, therefore an individual does not tinker with it, but makes the effort to celebrate it as Holy Mother Church wants. When that happens, the people are happy, they feel nourished. Their faith grows, their faith is strengthened. They go home happy and willing to come back next Sunday."
This report is adapted from an interview with Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Sacraments, conducted by 'Inside the Vatican' in November 2005.