One of the most prominent Cardinals in today’s Church is Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke. He was bishop of Lacrosse and Saint Louis, in the United States. It was Pope Benedict who called him to Rome to serve in the curia. Today he still resides in the Eternal City, serving the Church in different ways.
He has published a book called Hope for the World. To Unite All Things in Christ, a long interview (published originally in French) with Guillaume D’Alançon (2016 Ignatius Press). It is a very interesting read, where the Cardinal tells the story of his life, but also address some very important and cogent issues for the life of the Church: “We must return to our roots, to the foundations of our being, and therefore to metaphysics. It is good to go back and reﬂect again on the meaning of existence, of family life, of life in society and in the world. The human mind needs a realist philosophy to serve as a basis for its understanding of the mysteries of the faith. God alone is the goal of our quest, and everything must lead to Him. Contemporary man will recover from the current situation only with this theocentric perspective. And to arrive at this perspective, we must get rid of all the forms of narcissistic individualism that come from the secularized world. A life that is fruitful, renewed, and converted can be sustained only by the Sacred Liturgy, celebrated with dignity, for it offers us the riches of centuries of Church life.”
For many, the crisis in the life of the Church is principally a crisis of the liturgy. What do you think about the situation?
I am convinced of it, because as we know the liturgy is the highest and most perfect expression of our life in Christ and in the Church. Because of the liturgical crisis we have suffered after the Council, there has also been a doctrinal crisis and a disciplinary crisis, but I believe that the restoration of liturgical life will also involve a reform, a full adherence to the doctrine of the Church, and at the same time, a moral life that is more deeply Christian.
What aspect of the liturgy, according to you, is in greatest crisis?
For me the aspect most in crisis is sacrality itself, the transcendence of the liturgical act, the encounter of heaven and earth and the action of Christ himself, through the priest who offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice. That has been cast into doubt after the Council by anthropocentrism, a concept of the liturgy not as a gift of God to us, which we must respect and honor, but as a creation (or invention) of our own. And so all these harmful experiments that we suffer have entered into the liturgy, along with a very worldly vision of the liturgical action, a secular vision that is antithetical to the liturgy and extremely harmful.
I’d like to ask: what is your opinion about liturgical music, which is also going through a terrible crisis?
In a certain sense, perhaps, the crisis has manifested itself more strongly—at least with regard to the English-speaking world—in the domain of sacred music, because very quickly after the Council Gregorian Chant was abandoned, the music proper to the Church, and also the organ, which as the same Council says is the instrument most adapted to divine worship. Secular songs were introduced with texts that were not doctrinally sound, and in some cases containing error: a worldly form of secular music that—as St Pius X taught (Motu Proprio Tra le Sollecitudini)—excites the emotions but does not elevate the soul to offer true worship to God. I see that in the English-speaking world there are strong movements developing to restore sacred music: this is so necessary, because the situation in the last decades has become steadily worse.
You are often labeled as a “traditionalist cardinal.” What do you think about this label?
I am very content to be recognized as a traditionalist because our faith reaches us through Tradition, in the sense that the faith is transmitted to us by means of the Apostolic Ministry in an uninterrupted line that reaches back to the Apostles. For that reason I am delighted to be called a traditionalist, because I hope I am able to serve Tradition in my thought and in my priestly ministry. Tradition is Christ Himself. He comes to us through Tradition, as Pope Saint John Paul II said so beautifully in the letter written after the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000, Novo Millennio Ineunte.
More and more, I notice in the Church the tendency to identify people with labels, supposing that She is composed of various factions in conflict with one another. But this is not the Catholic Church: we have one faith, one sacramental life, and one governance. I don’t like these labels and don’t want to be part of such an opposition, which has nothing at all to do with the Church, in which we are now experiencing a great confusion. The fruit of this confusion is precisely such divisions.
Many writers—even those considered progressive—say they are inspired by the “true tradition.” If you had to define Tradition, what would you say?
Tradition is the doctrine defined in the chief magisterial texts of the Church, the Sacred Liturgy just as it has been transmitted to us from the time of Our Lord and the Apostles. They constitute the uninterrupted discipline of the Church. It is possible to serve Tradition only through obedience, obedience to that which has been transmitted to us. Many people say that they are serving Tradition in the “spirit of the tradition”: this is a false reading of the magisterial texts, a false interpretation of the Sacred Liturgy, meant to pander to contemporary ideas that are in contrast with the Sacred Liturgy and the practice of the faith.
In your experience and opinion, who are the Catholic intellectuals that every Catholic ought to read?
There are many authors today who are exemplary. For example, I find that two newspapers in Italy are very strong: the first is a blog, La Nuova Bussola Quotidiana, with its director Riccardo Cascioli, a faithful representative of the Church, and Il Timone, which I highly esteem, along with its founder Gianpaolo Barra.
In America, there is a weekly called The Catholic Register, with an Englishman named Edward Pentin, a very faithful and profound writer. Then there are the authors of the past: Chesterton, Newman, Columba Marmion, Guéranger…. in the domain of Gregorian Chant there is all the work done by the Abbey of Solesmes. Regarding the Sacred Liturgy, there is The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.