Sacra Liturgia 2013 was a major international conference on the liturgy held in Rome at the end of June. During the conference, Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Vatican's Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, was interviewed by Zenit on the state of the liturgy. This is an edited version of the interview.
ZENIT: How important is a sound understanding of the liturgy in today's Church. How can it help evangelisation?
Cardinal Burke: To me, it's fundamental. It's the most important area of catechesis: to understand the worship accorded to God. The first three commandments of the Ten Commandments are to do with this right relationship to God, especially with regards to worship.
Some argue the liturgy is mostly about aesthetics, and not as important as, say, good works done in faith. What is your view of this argument that one often hears?
It's a common misconception. First of all, the liturgy is about Christ. It's Christ alive in His Church, the glorious Christ coming into our midst and acting on our behalf through sacramental signs to give us the gift of eternal life to save us. It is the source of any truly charitable works we do, any good works we do.
Some also say that to be concerned with liturgical law is being unduly legalistic, that it's a stifling of the spirit. How should one respond to that? Why should we be concerned about liturgical law?
Liturgical law disciplines us so that we have the freedom to worship God, otherwise we're captured - we're the victims or slaves either of our own individual ideas, relative ideas of this or that, or of the community or whatever else. But the liturgical law safeguards the objectivity of sacred worship and opens up that space within us, that freedom to offer worship to God as He desires, so we can be sure we're not worshipping ourselves or, at the same time, as Aquinas says, some kind of falsification of divine worship.
As a diocesan bishop in the United States, how did you find the state of the liturgy in the parishes you've been in charge of? What, in your view, are the priorities for liturgical renewal in diocesan life today?
I found, of course, many wonderful aspects - in both dioceses in which I've served - a strong sense of participation on the part of the faithful. What I also found were some of the shadows as Pope John Paul II called them, a loss of Eucharistic faith, a loss of Eucharistic devotion and certain liturgical abuses. And as a diocesan bishop I needed to address them and I tried as best I could.
But in addressing them you always try to help both the priest and the faithful to understand the deep reasons for the Church's discipline, the reasons why a certain abuse is not only unhelpful for sacred worship but is in fact blocking it or corrupting it.
Sacra Liturgia has been about liturgical celebration but also formation. What basis of liturgical formation do we need in our parishes, dioceses and particularly in our seminaries?
The first important lesson that has to be taught is that the sacred liturgy is an expression of God's right to receive from us the worship that is due to Him, and that flows from who we are. We are God's creatures and so divine worship, in a very particular way, expresses at the same time the infinite majesty of God and also our dignity as the only earthly creature that can offer him worship, in other words that we can lift up our hearts and minds to him in praise and worship. So that would be the first lesson.
Then [we need] to study carefully how the liturgical rites have developed down the centuries and not to see the history of the Church as somehow a corruption of those liturgical rites. In the true sense, the Church over time has come to an ever deeper understanding of the sacred liturgy and has expressed that in several ways, whether it be through sacred vestments, sacred vessels, through sacred architecture - even the care for sacred linens which are used in the Holy Mass.
You're known for celebrating the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Why did Pope Benedict make this freely available and what role does it have to play in the Church of the 21st century?
What Pope Benedict XVI saw and experienced, also through those who came to him, who were very attached what we now call the Extraordinary Form - the Traditional Mass - was that in the reforms as they were introduced after the Council, a fundamental misunderstanding took place. Namely, this was that the reforms were undertaken with the idea there had been a rupture, that the way in which the Mass had been celebrated up until the time of the Council was somehow radically defective and there had to be what was really violent change, a reduction of the liturgical rites and even the language used, in every respect.
So in order to restore the continuity, the Holy Father gave wide possibility for the celebration of the sacred rites as they were celebrated up until 1962, and then expressed the hope that through these two forms of the same rite there would be a mutual enrichment.
Pope Francis is a different person to Benedict XVI in many ways, but it's hard to believe there are substantial differences between them on the importance of the sacred liturgy. Are there any differences?
I don't see it at all. The Holy Father clearly hasn't had the opportunity to teach in a kind of authoritative way about the sacred liturgy, but in the things he has said about the sacred liturgy I see a perfect continuity with Pope Benedict XVI. I see in the Holy Father, too, a great concern for respecting the magisterium of Pope Benedict XVI and his discipline, and that is what Pope Francis is doing.