Early Saturday morning, May 15, 2004, His Eminence Francis Cardinal Arinze graciously agreed to an interview with Thomas Aquinas College Director of College Relations Anne Forsyth. Cardinal Arinze served as that year’s Commencement Speaker  and the principal celebrant and homilist  at the Baccalaureate Mass.
Q: Your Eminence, as the head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, would you explain the Church's thought in establishing a Congregation that is devoted primarily to the Liturgy?
Arinze: The liturgy, and in particular, the Mass, is the public worship of the Church in which Christ is the Chief Person acting. Now, the law of prayer, is guided by the law of belief. What we believe guides how we pray. Therefore, the liturgy is an important area of faith - very important. Indeed, for a theologian, how the Church prays is a guide to what the Church believes. Therefore, the Church is very careful in the matter of public prayer.
That is also why no individual is allowed to tinker with the liturgy, that is, to add or to subtract. The first Vatican Council II document on the liturgy, called Sacrosanctum Concilium, say that the authority for the Church's liturgy is vested in the Holy See (what people popularly call the Vatican, but Holy See is more exact), and in some cases in the diocesan bishops or the conference of bishops in the country. No one else dare add or subtract. Nobody has the right to put words into the mouth of Holy Mother Church because what we pray and how we pray influences and manifests what we believe. The two are closely related. That's how I would put it.
Q: To whom are the documents and the instructions of the Congregation for Divine Worship directed?
Arinze: With each document, the nature of it will tell. But most of them are directed to the bishops and the priests, because it is they who lead the people of God in the celebration of the Church's liturgy. But they are directed not only to them, because we have also the Liturgy of the Hours which is said by all who are so charged in the name of the Church - religious, brothers, sisters, monks, nuns, and then, of course, priests. So they must pray those prayers in the name of the church every day. All the other Catholics are requested to pray them, but they are not commanded; it's not an obligation. Therefore, the nature of each document will tell. But they are, in general, directed to anyone who has a hand in the promotion of divine worship.
A more general area of our work is the promotion of liturgical knowledge. Therefore, it is a concern of our Congregation to see that the seminaries in the world that train future priests take the sacred worship of the Church as an important area for information and formation. Although, there is another congregation in the Vatican called the Congregation for Catholic Education that looks after the Catholic universities and seminaries, obviously, the two congregations are linked. So, every other congregation will speak to that one from its own point of view. Our congregation will ask, 'Please, these seminaries must do more in the area of sacred liturgy so that the priests, who are given to the Church, will be such that they will celebrate the liturgy having first understood it.'
Q: The Congregation for Divine Worship has recently issued the document Redemptionis Sacramentum, which has been described as a companion piece to the encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia issued by the Holy Father last year. Would you elaborate on how these two documents work together?
Arinze: The origin of Redemptionis Sacramentum is the Holy Father's document on the Holy Eucharist which he published at Holy Thursday evening Mass in St. Peter's Basilica on April 17, 2003. This was the first time the Pope signed an encyclical inside the Mass in the Basilica of St. Peter, to show the special importance of the Holy Eucharist on the day of the Holy Eucharist. This is all very eloquent.
In paragraph 52 of that document the Pope says: 'I have asked the competent offices of the Holy See to prepare a document to go into detail about norms surrounding this great mystery,' because everything has not been beautiful in the last 40 years. Some things have gone very well, but some things have not gone very well.
The Holy Father charged two offices to do that. Our Congregation and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith worked on this document. Many people were consulted, it was discussed many times, modified many times, and finally it was published in April. Of course, every production by human beings could be better, but it is the best that we could offer under the circumstances to help people in everything surrounding the Holy Eucharist: how we celebrate Mass, who receives Holy Communion, how we adore the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel, and how the tabernacle is to be in church, Eucharistic processions, Eucharistic congresses, and so on.
Q: As you know, at Thomas Aquinas College, we strive to understand, to the extent possible, the truths of our faith, especially as they have been elucidated by St. Thomas Aquinas. Could you tell us your views about the importance of having an understanding of one's faith, as distinct from simply being aware of its basic teachings?
Arinze: It is not enough that a Catholic is baptized, or has known the initial catechism in order to get baptized (most Catholics are baptized as babies) and confirmed, and then first confession, first communion, and marriage. It is important especially for Catholics who have opportunities for higher education to get a more advanced knowledge of their faith. St. Peter himself said, "You must be able to give a reasoned answer to those who have taught you the reason for the faith that is in you."
It is not enough to be enthusiastic as a Catholic. It is also important to be well informed. But many Catholics, unfortunately, remain at the stage they were at age fourteen in their religious knowledge, while on history, geography, mathematics, they are top. They can pop out information like a computer or a history book. They can analyze the skies and the moon, and they can arrange to take a machine right up to the moon. But in religious matters, they are grievously ignorant. They don't know. But they don't know that they don't know, until you ask them a question and they fall head over heels … they can't defend their faith. When anything is discussed they say "The bishop said."
We're not expected to understand the Incarnation or the Blessed Trinity. But we are expected to defend our faith in a way that shows that it is reasonable to believe. That is what we call apologetics, not meaning 'apologizing' for our faith. No. What it means is making a reasonable presentation of our faith.
So, the study of our Faith, and the living of it are most important. For example, many Catholics who speak of abortion, say 'Oh, it is our Catholic faith. The Pope said it.' Well, you are not serious? So, if the Pope didn't say it, then it would be correct for a baby in the womb to be cut to pieces and thrown away? Do you need the Pope to tell you it is wrong? Isn't it clear? It is the fifth commandment: Thou shall not kill. It's not a Catholic law. The Catholic law would be not to eat meat on Friday. That would be Catholic law. And the Pope can dispense you from that. But the Pope can not dispense you so that you can kill another person.
When the Pope went to Egypt, when he went to Mount Sinai, he said, 'Before God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses, he wrote them already in the human heart.' The Ten Commandments are not Church laws at all. The Pope cannot dispense you and say 'Okay, this time you can steal in your office,' right? Or 'You can tell a lie just once.' This is Divine Law. A Catholic who has this clear understands. I do not say it is easy, but at least it is clear! Unfortunately, many Catholics are gloriously ignorant in religious matters. So we need universities, we need higher education, we need faculties not only to educate their minds but also their hearts. So that it is not only information but formation.
Q: What would you like most for the members of the Thomas Aquinas College community to learn from your visit with us for our 30th Commencement?
Arinze: I would say this: The light of Christ is our guide. Christ is the way, the truth and the life. Following Him, we have true freedom; we have nothing to regret. And we have fulfillment of the human person. Far away from Christ and His light, we have only misery and problems.
That light of Christ has to be shared. The faith is not a private property. So, we should share it with our friends, with our colleagues. The duty to evangelize is for everyone, and no one is a spectator in the Church. Priest, brother, sister, laity. All of us. One person in one way, and another in another. That is my message to this institution that puts great time in on Catholic information and formation.