On Cardinal Arinze's First Two Months at the Congregation for Divine Worship

John Allen

From the National Catholic Reporter, December 6, 2002

In the liturgical world, people have been trying to discern the impact of the Oct. 2 appointment of Nigerian Cardinal Francis Arinze, former head of the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue, as prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. The last man to hold that job, Chilean Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, strongly asserted the “uniformity of the Roman Rite” over flexibility for local adaptations and flavorings. Would Arinze, observers have been wanting to know, bring change?

The short answer, reflected in a late October letter from Arinze regarding the statutes for the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), appears to be “no.”

Medina had demanded as far back as October 1999 that the 11 English-speaking bishops’ conferences that govern ICEL revise those statutes to give his office sweeping powers over its operation. In general, liturgical conservatives fault ICEL for producing translations that smuggle in various ideological and theological biases (feminism, an anti-supernatural outlook, hostility to sacred language). The May 2001 document Liturgiam Authenticam, setting out new principles for translation, reiterated Medina’s demands regarding the ICEL statutes.

The bishops who govern ICEL have revised the statutes and sent them out for comment. Arinze’s late October letter indicates that he finds them unacceptable. Specifically, Arinze says the statutes must:

Most observers feel the statutes will eventually be revised to reflect these points. This week’s print edition of NCR has the full story.

In doing the reporting, I spoke to several people on both sides of the ICEL debate. Both concur that the fight is largely over. New personnel are now running the agency, and it’s working under the new principles of Liturgiam Authenticam. The statutes will be the final piece of the puzzle to fall into place.

Among liturgical progressives, the analysis seems to be that continuing to fight the battle at the level of structures is pointless. Instead, the goals in coming months will be to protect existing practice as best they can, so that individual dioceses or parishes can preserve models of a renewed liturgy, and to keep doing the scholarly reflection that will build the record for a time when the debate can be reopened.