The Church in Africa has a sharp understanding of the transcendent and sacred

Some good news from the Vatican! We have an African in charge of a major dicastery once more. He is Robert, Cardinal Sarah, who comes from Guinea, and who takes over the Congregation for Divine Worship. This newspaper reports it here and La Stampa has a longer article in English here.

The Congregation for Divine Worship, which deals with the administration of the sacraments and regulates the liturgy has been headed up by an African before now. Cardinal Arinze, a Nigerian, often spoken of as papabile, ran the Congregation from 2002-2008. I once met Cardinal Arinze, who was a down to earth and friendly man, and who, when occasion demanded it could speak clearly and directly to the Church’s critics as well as to those inside the Church who wished to abuse its liturgy.

All the indications are that Cardinal Sarah will be in the same mould as Cardinal Arinze; like his African predecessor, he has long experience of the Roman Curia. He will also bring his own African insights to the matter of the sacred liturgy.

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The Church in Africa has a clear and sharp understanding of the division between immanent and transcendent, sacred and profane. Having been to many liturgies in Africa, I have never had the experience I have had in some European countries of attending a Mass that seemed more like a school assembly. This sense of the transcendent and sacred, which permeates the whole of life in Africa, is also seen in an attention to ceremonial that never seems out of place. Recently the Cardinal received the “Summorum Pontificum” pilgrims to Rome, which is most encouraging.

Here is an extract of a sermon made by the Cardinal at an ordination in Candes, France, back in 2011, in the original French:

“Il n’y a plus de références morales communes. On ne sait plus ce qui est mal et ce qui est bien. […] Ce qui est grave, ce n’est pas de se tromper ; c’est de transformer l’erreur en règle de vie. […] Si nous avons peur de proclamer la vérité de l’évangile, si nous avons honte de dénoncer les déviations graves dans le domaine de la morale, si nous nous accommodons à ce monde de relâchement des mœurs et de relativisme religieux et éthique, si nous avons peur de dénoncer énergiquement les lois abominables sur la nouvelle éthique mondiale, sur le mariage, la famille sous toutes ses formes, l’avortement, lois en totale opposition aux lois de la nature et de Dieu, et que les Nations et les cultures occidentales promeuvent et imposent grâce aux mass-média et à leurs puissances économiques, alors les paroles prophétiques d’Ézéchiel tomberont sur nous comme un grave reproche divin.”

My schoolboy translation is as follows:

“There are no more common moral reference points. We do not know what is wrong and what is right . […] This is serious , it is not to be mistaken ; we have change error into a rule of life . […] If we are afraid to proclaim the truth of the gospel, if we are ashamed to denounce serious deviations in moral matters, if we accommodate ourselves to this world of moral laxity and religious and ethical relativism, if we are afraid vigorously to denounce the abominable laws of this new global ethic, concerning marriage, the family in all its forms, and abortion, laws in total opposition to the laws of nature and of God, and that nations and western culture promote and impose through the mass media and their economic power, then the prophetic words of Ezekiel will fall on us as a serious divine reproach.”

These words indicate that we can expect clarity and leadership from Cardinal Sarah. As he enters into his new office, His Eminence will have the best wishes, and more importantly the prayers, of Catholics around the world. And he will give particular joy, one feels, to all who know the African Church.