Cardinal Sarah: Are Bishops Guardians of the Faith or Political Leaders?


The Guinean Cardinal published an article in Le Figaro on August 13.

Newsroom (August 18, 2021 12:30 PM Gaudium Press) Despite his retirement at the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship last February, and his already long 76 years, Guinean Cardinal Robert Sarah remains more current than ever, and there are many who follow attentively the expressions of his thought.

In a recent article for Le Figaro (13-08-2021), the Cardinal refers to the crisis in the West and reminds us that the Church is the guardian and guide of civilization, but fundamentally she is the channel to Jesus Christ. He warns that the Church “must stop thinking of itself as something supplementary to humanism or ecology,” which shows that the Church’s credibility lies in its respect for tradition – also liturgical – and that bishops must be guardians of the faith otherwise they will appear to be political leaders.

Here is a translation of the Cardinal’s text:

No one is too much in God’s Church

“Doubt has taken over Western thought. Intellectuals and politicians present the same impression of collapse. Faced with the breakdown of solidarities and the disintegration of identities, some turn to the Catholic Church. They ask her to give a reason for living together with individuals who have forgotten what unites them as one people. They beg her to provide a soul supplement to make the cold harshness of consumer society bearable. When a priest is murdered, everyone is touched and many feel struck to the heart.

But is the Church able to respond to these appeals? Certainly, it has already played this role as guardian and transmitter of civilization. In the twilight of the Roman Empire, she knew how to transmit the flame that the barbarians threatened to extinguish. But does she still have the means and the will to do it today?

In the essence of a civilization, there is a sacred core

At the foundation of a civilization, there can only be one reality that surpasses it: a sacred invariant. Malraux notes this with realism: “The essence of a civilization is what unites around a religion. Our civilization is incapable of building a temple or a tomb. It will be forced to discover its fundamental value or it will decompose.”

Without a sacred foundation, protective and insurmountable boundaries are abolished. An entirely profane world becomes a vast expanse of quicksand. Everything is left sadly open to the winds of arbitrariness. In the absence of the stability of a foundation that escapes man, peace and joy – signs of a durable civilization – are constantly swallowed up by a feeling of precariousness. The anguish of imminent danger is the hallmark of barbaric times. Without a sacred foundation, every bond becomes fragile and fickle.

What the Church offers is its faith in Jesus

Some ask the Catholic Church to play this role of a solid foundation. They would like to see it assume a social function, to be a coherent system of values, a cultural and aesthetic matrix. But the Church has no other sacred reality to offer than its faith in Jesus, God made man. Its sole purpose is to make possible the encounter of men with the person of Jesus. The moral and dogmatic teaching, as well as the mystical and liturgical patrimony, are the environment and the means of this fundamental and sacred encounter. Christian civilization is born from this encounter. Beauty and culture are its fruits.

To meet the expectations of the world, the Church must rediscover her own path and take up again the words of St. Paul: “For I did not think that I knew anything among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” It must stop seeing itself as a substitute for humanism or ecology. These realities, though good and just, are for her no more than consequences of her only treasure: faith in Jesus Christ.

What is sacred for the Church is a chain that links to Jesus

What is sacred for the Church is, therefore, the unbroken chain that unites her with Jesus with certainty. A chain of faith without break or contradiction, a chain of prayer and liturgy without break or denial. Without this radical continuity, what credibility could the Church still claim? In the Church, there is no going back, but an organic and continuous development that we call living tradition. The sacred cannot be decreed, it is received from God and transmitted.

This is undoubtedly the reason why Benedict XVI was able to state with authority:

“In the history of the Liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What previous generations regarded as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and cannot suddenly be entirely forbidden or even regarded as harmful. It is up to all of us to preserve the riches that have been developed in the faith and prayer of the Church, and to give them their rightful place.”

It is urgent to remember this at a time when some theologians are trying to reopen the liturgical wars by opposing the missal revised by the Council of Trent to the one that has been in use since 1970. If the Church is not able to preserve the peaceful continuity of its bond with Christ, it will not be able to offer the world “the sacred that unites souls”, in Goethe’s words.

The Church’s credibility is at stake

Beyond the dispute about the rites, it is the credibility of the Church that is at stake. If she affirms the continuity between what is commonly called the Mass of St. Pius V and the Mass of Paul VI, then the Church must be able to organize the peaceful cohabitation of the two and their mutual enrichment. If we should radically exclude one in favour of the other, if we should declare them irreconcilable, we would implicitly recognize a rupture and a change of orientation. But then the Church could no longer offer the world that sacred continuity which alone can give it peace. By nurturing a liturgical war within itself, the Church loses its credibility and becomes deaf to the appeals of men. Liturgical peace is the sign of the peace that the Church can bring to the world.

The problem is therefore much more serious than a simple question of discipline. If she claims a radical change of her faith or her liturgy, in whose name would the Church dare to address the world? Her only legitimacy is her coherence in her continuity.

The Father must not create distrust and division

Moreover, if the bishops, responsible for the cohabitation and mutual enrichment of the two liturgical forms, do not exercise their authority in this regard, they run the risk of no longer appearing as shepherds, guardians of the faith they have received and of the sheep entrusted to them, but as political leaders: commissars of the ideology of the moment rather than guardians of the perennial tradition. They risk losing the trust of men of goodwill.

A father cannot introduce distrust and division among his faithful children. He cannot humiliate some by setting them against others. He cannot discard some of his priests. The peace and unity that the Church seeks to offer the world must be lived, first of all, within the Church.

In liturgical matters, neither pastoral violence nor partisan ideology has ever produced fruits of unity. The suffering of the faithful and the expectations of the world are too great to enter on these roads that lead nowhere. Nobody is too much in God’s Church!

Compiled by Zephania Gangl


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