There are many liturgists who have lost the sense of the sacred and the sense of the dignity of the liturgy. This is why we are living the present liturgical crisis. One of those who has resisted the decay is Don Nicola Bux, a liturgy professor from Bari (south Italy). His books are certainly a landmark for all those who still care for the beauty, for the importance, for the necessity of reverent liturgies. One of his most recent books is Con i sacramenti non si scherza (“Let us not make fun of the Sacraments,” 2016 Cantagalli).
You wrote a book called Con i sacramenti non si scherza. But who is making fun of the sacraments?
We are in a moment that we are making fun, because we hear some “voices” who proclaim that people that in mortal sin can receive the Eucharist. This is a very terrible joke. Sacraments are like medicines; you don’t take medicine lightly, you need to know them, take them in the right time, read the instructions, being in good disposition, or they will not be beneficial for you but dangerous. It is evident that in the last decades with the Sacraments, starting from the greatest one that is the Eucharist, someone has played too much. But I am not the only one saying this; also then Cardinal Ratzinger said that he was seeing deformations that were barely bearable.
Why has this happened?
Because we lost sight of the nature of sacred liturgy. Sacred liturgy was always perceived as our privileged relationship with God. In this relationship, God gives us grace and we offer Him our humanity, what we are. Liturgy is a cultus (from Latin “colere“, a cultivated relationship). So liturgy is a relationship between us and God. It cannot be reduced to worldly entertainment. I like to repeat that the fact that in Italian we use the word “animare” (“entertain”) to define this function of performing duties in the liturgy, helps us understand the corruption of the idea of liturgy itself, like being in a touristic village where there is someone to entertain other people. On the contrary I say that liturgy does not need “animazione” (“entertainment”), it is not a cadaver that has to be “reanimated,” the liturgy has already its anima (soul). Liturgy is a gift that we receive from above, from God Himself. We have to serve the liturgy. In the liturgy we have “ministers,” people who serve for something assigned to them. So we serve the sacred liturgy, we serve with music (we speak of musical service), not of “animazione.” This is why the problem is the distortion of the nature of the liturgy. Sacrosanctum Concilium had tried to recall this true nature, when the at the beginning it spoke of “the immutable nature of the liturgy.”
For you is this crisis a crisis of the liturgy that touches the sacraments or a crisis of the sacraments that touches the liturgy?
It is a crisis of the faith, in the presence of God and His effective action for our salvation. Sacraments are what Saint Ambrose called “being face to face with Christ” or what Saint Leo the great called “the visible of Christ that flows in the Sacraments”; the invisible left with Him in the Ascension. So it is a crisis of faith, that means recognizing the God is present and that I can enter into a relationship with Him. For a relationship to exist you need two people. You need a presence, because I enter in relationship with a presence. In the Psalms and spiritual hymns we say often “in your presence, o Lord….” The consequence of losing the consciousness of this has given as a result losing the sacred. By the way, this expression “the sacred” is an expression that summarizes a certain meaning and that has to be used but also explained.
When is something or someone sacred?
Sacredness is the presence of God. A thing is sacred because God touches it. We would say sacred, holy, sacrosanct. And so the crisis of the sacred, the loss of sacredness in the liturgy, is a crisis that come from the lost perception of His presence.
In this the situation is it possible to obtain anything good?
Look, if you and I, who are speaking now, already have a different idea from what the mainstream opinion wants us to believe, this is already something important. Not only that: this new movement, a “rebirth movement” we may call it, the movement of the reform of the reform, is irreversible. When I participated in the presentation of the recent book of Cardinal Sarah, I could observe that the room was stuffed with people. The people that have consciousness of this situation is already here, the movement has already started. We don’t need at this stage to wait for new deliberations, new dispositions…they will come. But the rebirth starts in the heart of people. If in the people there is this new consciousness about the sacred rite, sacred music and sacred art, it means that the reform movement has already started.
It seems that the level of some clergy is nowadays not so elevated (I am generalizing, of course, there are exceptions to this). As a priest, what do you think?
Cardinal Sarah has said that the problem is the spiritual training of priests. The priest is a man of God that is speaking with Him, serving Him, having a dialogue with Him for the salvation. We say in the Mass: “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may be acceptable to God, the almighty Father”. And the people respond: “May the Lord accept the sacrifice at your hands for the praise and glory of his name, for our good and the good of all his holy Church”. This formula gives us in short the sense of priesthood. If the priest is not conscious of this function as mediator, in union and imitation of Christ, this being “sacer-dos”, a sacred heritage of whom he is bearer, how he can conceive a sacred liturgy, a sacred music, a sacred art and most of all, a sacralization of the world for the salvation of men? This is the problem. I have to say that there are also many priests that know this and I am quite confident that we have a good future in this direction.
Those who have good formation and understanding are not the majority …
Ten years ago we were not even talking about these things. The fact that we are now talking about these things says a lot on what is going to happen. I know there are people in crucial positions that are not good, this is true. But I think that in 15 years’ time things will change and I can see that, here and there, things are already changing, especially abroad (USA for example). I am quite reassured because I can see that are especially young people who are acquiring a new consciousness of the situation of the Church. I receive every day mails or phone calls from priests, seminarians, lay people. So things are changing. You say that a majority of priests are like that; I am not able to quantify the percentage but I know that the Movement is rising and now they are facing with the others, there is a strong confrontation between the different positions.
There is certainly a confrontation, that is shown in different ways in different places, with also someone hitting below the belt and all we can imagine in situations like this. But this is normal, in Church history much worse than this has happened. The ones that are convinced that the true reform will grow in the hearts, as Benedict XVI has said, should have the courage, the tenacity and the patience to go on, in a well argued and rational way, so to show the reasons of what we believe and propose.
In this current situation of secularization, I am not sure what is the majority and what is the minority. Emotionality also plays a role. Often people go after certain events because they follow an emotional instinct but there is no real commitment. This is the reason why I am very skeptic about majorities, because when they are led by this emotionality, they can change side very easily. I think that what is important, as Ratzinger has said somewhere, are the creative minority, those groups that are apparently not important, but that in reality they become agent of change. This is what happened in the history of the Church. Changes have come not for revolutions, but for an inner spiritual change that has overflow outside. I have trust in this “good contagion”. It is necessary that those who know about this do not let themselves to be impressed and lose courage. We are convinced that today’s humanity needs God, needs the sacred, and we have to do everything we can, through a liturgy that really speaks of the Other (as was said by Cardinal Sarah), a liturgy that has the sign of adoration – so the great sacred music that is raising our hearts to God and not lowering everything – and that will allow us to meet the needs of contemporary men, a man that needs God but that lives in this situation of desolation caused by our technological society.