On Cardinal Sarah’s talk at the Sacra Liturgica conference

I have been watching with fascination and, from time to time, dismay, the reaction to Cardinal Sarah’s talk July 5 at the Sacra Liturgica conference in England.

Here’s a roundup by Leroy Huizenga of some of the reaction over at First Things

And there is a new piece at First Things this morning, by Christopher Ruddy!  This story show no signs of dying down.

Ruddy writes: Cardinal Robert Sarah’s call on July 5th for a wider celebration of the Ordinary Form Mass ad orientem was predictably dead on arrival, given the lack of support from higher authority and most of the episcopate, as well as the widespread sense among clergy and laity that such orientation represents the priest’s turning his “back to the people” in a pre–Vatican II, clericalist manner.

The swiftness and vehemence, however, with which the Cardinal’s suggestion was rejected remains striking. The intensity of that rejection reveals much about liturgy, the reception of Vatican II, and the Church’s identity and purpose.

On Saturday, July 9th, Pope Francis received Cardinal Sarah in audience. On the following day, July 10th, Antonio Spadaro, S.J., editor of Civiltà Cattolica and papal confidant-interviewer, tweeted that the General Instruction for the Roman Missal (GIRM) dictates that the priest must face the congregation at various points during Mass. (Several commentators responded that such instructions presuppose that the priest is otherwise facing in the same direction—ad orientem—as the people.)

That same day, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, in whose diocese Cardinal Sarah had delivered his July 5th address, released a letter to his priests. After noting the importance of dignified liturgical celebration, he claimed that No. 299 of GIRM, which calls for a free-standing altar, holds that versus populum worship “is desirable wherever possible.” (Others have argued that the “desirable wherever possible” phrase pertains not to celebration versus populum, but to the existence of a free-standing altar.) He also warned his priests against a clericalism that would impose the celebrant’s “personal preference or taste” upon the liturgy.

And on the following day, July 11th, the Vatican Press Office Director, Federico Lombardi, S.J., issued a clarification regarding Cardinal Sarah’s original comments and recent papal audience. Father Lombardi reiterated the claim that GIRM No. 299 supports versus populum worship. Stating also that the expression “reform of the reform” should be avoided, he said that “new liturgical directives are not expected.” Pope Francis and Cardinal Sarah, he concluded, were “unanimous” in their agreement on these points. At that point, the Cardinal’s appeal had been totally rejected. The rebuttal was swift, decisive, and total.

 

Like most people, I was reading about the talk and reaction to it and had only been exposed to brief excerpts of Cardinal Sarah’s.   Well, yesterday, I decided to sit down and read the whole talk which is now published at the Sacra Liturgica site in English and in French.

I urge you to read Cardinal Sarah’s talk in its entirety.  See how he anchors his explanation of liturgical reform not only in the documents of the Second Vatican Council and post conciliar popes, but also in popes prior to the council.  He explains how liturgical reform did not begin at Vatican II, but had already been underway.

He goes back repeatedly to what the Council Fathers had written in their text on the liturgy to discern their intent.  His text is an example of what Pope Benedict called a hermeneutic of reform in continuity.

His writing is a marvel of clarity, precision and beauty.  What he called for in the text, i.e. an encouragement (not a directive!) for priests to worship ad orientem is already allowed in the General Instructions of the Roman Missal (GIRM) for the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

It is saddening to see articles like this about the Cardinal:

Cardinal Sarah’s very public slap down shows pope is willing to use his authority

 

Or this piece by Robert Mickens in the National Catholic Reporter: Que Sera Sarah?

Cardinal Sarah quickly made a mark as one of the shrillest voices against “gender ideology,” same-sex marriage, abortion, contraception and other so-called attacks on the family. During the two autumn Synod sessions on the family (2014 and 2015), and even between those sessions, he was among the most visibly active bishops to warn Pope Francis — through books, letters and interviews — not to soften the church’s stance on divorce and remarriage.

People continue to scratch their heads in total confusion as to why Francis gave him such a high-profile post in a pontificate in which Sarah seems so out of step. Some believe it was meant to neutralize the cardinal by putting him in charge of an area of church life (the liturgy) that the pope simply takes for granted and about which he is contemplating no further developments.

Others fear he miscalculated the depth of the cardinal’s commitment to the neo-Tridentinists and the “reform of the reform” movement.

Up until he caused the stir with his recent talk in London, the pope remained remarkably tolerant with him. But that lecture may have been the final straw.

 

I urge you to read the talk in full and then comment.

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13 Responses to On Cardinal Sarah’s talk at the Sacra Liturgica conference

  1. As an Orthodox who regularly flirts with Catholicism, but is unable to commit _in large part_ because of how banal, tawdry, and non-transporting the Mass is in its current form, this is discouraging in the extreme. I have talked to many of my fellow-Orthodox who are converts, and asked them, “why not Catholicism?” And the answer is always the same: “I cannot be spiritually sustained or nourished on the modern Mass.” So if she doesn’t want me as a spouse, but wants some low-brow affectivist nonsense instead, I guess it’s better we not get married.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      Gregory,

      As an Orthodox who regularly flirts with Catholicism, but is unable to commit _in large part_ because of how banal, tawdry, and non-transporting the Mass is in its current form, this is discouraging in the extreme. I have talked to many of my fellow-Orthodox who are converts, and asked them, “why not Catholicism?” And the answer is always the same: “I cannot be spiritually sustained or nourished on the modern Mass.”

      It is imperative to distinguish between the proper celebration of the present ordinary form of the Roman Rite and the inexcusable slop that arises in far too many parishes. I habitually drive past four or five parishes to assist in the celebration of mass at a Benedictine community because there is a night and day difference in the demeanor of both the clergy and the laity, the manner of celebration, the quality of liturgical music and the quality of the homilies.

      Unfortunately, the problems that persist in many parishes are not new. They existed well before the Second Vatican Council, when the prevalent attitude was that the people could not understand the mass celebrated in Latin anyway so one might as well get through it as quickly as possible. In my home parish when I was quite young, we had one curate who would celebrate the Tridentine mass in just sixteen minutes — and that included distribution of communion to the entire congregation! Fifty years after the council, proper celebration of the liturgy still is not a priority in the eyes of many clergy and many parishioners — especially in areas that have large ethnically Catholic populations. The situation does seem to be much better in areas that are not traditionally Catholic, such as the deep south and the Midwest.

      I think that there’s a lack of interior conversion at the heart of this, which the “New Evangelization” was intended to address. Unfortunately, the clergy who don’t “get it” spiritually — who don’t have a living relationship of faith with our risen Lord — are not going to instill that sort of living faith in their parishioners. The proper celebration of the liturgy obviously becomes a priority only when living faith takes root in the clergy and the people.

      Norm.

      • “It is imperative to distinguish between the proper celebration of the present ordinary form of the Roman Rite and the inexcusable slop that arises in far too many parishes. I habitually drive past four or five parishes to assist in the celebration of mass at a Benedictine community because there is a night and day difference in the demeanor of both the clergy and the laity, the manner of celebration, the quality of liturgical music and the quality of the homilies.”

        I don’t have the emotional energy to sustain this narrative in the face of contradiction and opposition, even if it is demonstrably true. I have been a liturgical and spiritual minority before, and it was exhausting. I think I admire your tenacity and Stoic refusal to yield.

        Also, your stories about the parishes you knew growing up were profitable. Thank you.

        “I think that there’s a lack of interior conversion at the heart of this, which the “New Evangelization” was intended to address. Unfortunately, the clergy who don’t “get it” spiritually — who don’t have a living relationship of faith with our risen Lord — are not going to instill that sort of living faith in their parishioners. The proper celebration of the liturgy obviously becomes a priority only when living faith takes root in the clergy and the people.”

        This strikes me as somewhat Gnostic — or Calvinist or Anabaptist, whichever you prefer. It is not Lutheran (Luther was not an innovator on this or really any other point, but selected options from Late Antique and late Medieval Christianity), and not very 7th-Ecumenical-Council-y (to soil this post with what is, I suspect, the ugliest neologism I have ever coined). The mirror by which people recognize the divinity of Jesus is in proper preaching and the proper rites of the Church that figure him, so that “the glory of God” might be known and beheld “in the face of Christ” “as in a mirror”, as Paul wrote. One might treat the figures and types of the Hebrew Bible, preached properly (so that they make the face of Christ, and not the face of a dog, as Irenaeus says), as producing a similar self-knowledge and conversion, as in James. The interiority is produced by this, and the relationship is responsive to this. The interiority can produce new images, but it is not clear to me how one gets the interiority without proper figures to produce it, whether in “wise and eloquent” speakers, as Augustine said, in rites that figure the descent of the God-man and the elevation of man and the microcosm of the world and the union of eternity and time, or in preaching that holds for the apostolic kerygma of the fidelity of God and his enthronement in the cross and resurrection of Christ. Even in the Hours, the psalter and the texts, read digestively, are supposed to divinely seed one with the sensuous imagery of the words, and not merely their bodiless intelligibility (unless, of course, one is a classical Franciscan, and unwisely opts out of the psalter within the Hours). In terms of interior conversion and external form, it seems to me that you have the order backwards.

      • Rev22:17 says:

        Gregory,

        You wrote: I don’t have the emotional energy to sustain this narrative in the face of contradiction and opposition, even if it is demonstrably true. I have been a liturgical and spiritual minority before, and it was exhausting. I think I admire your tenacity and Stoic refusal to yield.

        For me, it’s just the opposite. I have a need to be fed spiritually. When the parish within which I live fails to do that, my very spiritual survival — even, I dare say, my salvation — depends upon finding spiritual nourishment elsewhere.

        I do not know where I would be today if I had not found a Benedictine monastery about ten miles from my home. To be totally honest about the situation, I am not at all sure that I would still be in the Catholic Church. I give thanks to God constantly for what he has provided, and continues to provide!

        You wrote: Also, your stories about the parishes you knew growing up were profitable. Thank you.

        You’re welcome!

        You wrote: This strikes me as somewhat Gnostic — or Calvinist or Anabaptist, whichever you prefer. It is not Lutheran (Luther was not an innovator on this or really any other point, but selected options from Late Antique and late Medieval Christianity), and not very 7th-Ecumenical-Council-y (to soil this post with what is, I suspect, the ugliest neologism I have ever coined). The mirror by which people recognize the divinity of Jesus is in proper preaching and the proper rites of the Church that figure him, so that “the glory of God” might be known and beheld “in the face of Christ” “as in a mirror”, as Paul wrote. One might treat the figures and types of the Hebrew Bible, preached properly (so that they make the face of Christ, and not the face of a dog, as Irenaeus says), as producing a similar self-knowledge and conversion, as in James. The interiority is produced by this, and the relationship is responsive to this. The interiority can produce new images, but it is not clear to me how one gets the interiority without proper figures to produce it, whether in “wise and eloquent” speakers, as Augustine said, in rites that figure the descent of the God-man and the elevation of man and the microcosm of the world and the union of eternity and time, or in preaching that holds for the apostolic kerygma of the fidelity of God and his enthronement in the cross and resurrection of Christ. Even in the Hours, the psalter and the texts, read digestively, are supposed to divinely seed one with the sensuous imagery of the words, and not merely their bodiless intelligibility (unless, of course, one is a classical Franciscan, and unwisely opts out of the psalter within the Hours). In terms of interior conversion and external form, it seems to me that you have the order backwards.

        I’m not at all into trying to label things and put them into categories, but I would say that the internalization of our faith and the external expression of our faith are mutually dependent on some level. In the celebration of the eucharist, for example, we first assemble as the Body of Christ, to be formed by the Word of God, then we present our gifts which, in the anaphora, become what we already are — the flesh and blood of our risen Lord — that, partaking thereof in holy communion, we may become more fully what those elements embody (here, the adage that “you are what you eat” comes to mind). The proper and reverent celebration of the liturgy clearly draws us into the mystery, but proper and reverent celebration won’t happen unless those involved, and most especially those who exercise liturgical ministry, come to the liturgy already converted and properly disposed. The Second Vatican Council spoke to this quite clearly in the sacred constitution Sacrosanctum concillium on divine worship (internal citations removed; boldface added).

        10. Nevertheless the liturgy is the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed; at the same time it is the font from which all her power flows. For the aim and object of apostolic works is that all who are made sons of God by faith and baptism should come together to praise God in the midst of His Church, to take part in the sacrifice, and to eat the Lord’s supper.

        The liturgy in its turn moves the faithful, filled with “the paschal sacraments,” to be “one in holiness;” it prays that “they may hold fast in their lives to what they have grasped by their faith;” the renewal in the Eucharist of the covenant between the Lord and man draws the faithful into the compelling love of Christ and sets them on fire. From the liturgy, therefore, and especially from the Eucharist, as from a font, grace is poured forth upon us; and the sanctification of men in Christ and the glorification of God, to which all other activities of the Church are directed as toward their end, is achieved in the most efficacious possible way.

        11. But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain. Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.

        In my encounters with Christians of other traditions, my experience has been that we are more often using different words to try to express the same reality of faith than expressing real disagreement. The bottom line, though, is that true belief is manifest in our actions and in the manner in which we conduct ourselves. The most recent issue of The Porthole (the monthly newsletter about the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham) quotes a priest as saying that the litmus test of belief in our doctrine of the blessed sacrament, for example, is whether we genuflect or not when we pass in front of the tabernacle at a time when nobody else is present. That’s certainly a very good example!

        Norm.

      • I’m certainly not going to deny grace and salvation to anyone anywhere — we need to be fed, as you say, because we need to be saved, and it is the responsibility of each to recognize where that might best be done. Questions about the “true Church” and all that take a backseat to this, for better or worse. Very glad you found the Benedictine monastery, Norm. I wrote a piece recently on Benedict. I really like him as a person, I think, and his _Rule_ is brilliant.

        The genuflection test I like very much. The inner and the outer are, as you say, tightly related. “Faith comes by hearing”, however, and I would argue that the internal is produced by the external — even if the external is an internal event, for we are never perfectly present to ourselves, even in our own interiority. We are multiple, overly-schism’d things. Our interiority is external to us, because of our own brokenness. Augustine on the one hand, and the 20th & 21st century theorists of the subconscious on the other, all seem to align here.

      • Rev22:17 says:

        Gregory,

        You wrote: We are multiple, overly-schism’d things. Our interiority is external to us, because of our own brokenness.

        Yes, unfortunately. The healing of schism — the goal of ecumenism — has long weighed constantly on my heart. This is precisely what drew me to adopt Revelation 22:17 as a “life verse” and, subsequently, to use the abbreviated form of the citation as a chat handle.

        Norm.

  2. EPMS says:

    Is the story what Cardinal Sarah said, or the Vatican’s apparent response to what he said? No matter how nuanced and impressive the speech was, it was widely interpreted as a directive and the correction of that impression which was issued by Fr Lombardi made no effort to spare Cardinal Sarah by, for example, laying the blame on misinterpretation and/or shoddy reporting. A zinger about the phrase “reform of the reform” was thrown in, just for good measure.

  3. EPMS says:

    Actually, on rereading Fr Lombardi’s remarks, he does say the cardinal’s words were “misinterpreted”. That rather undermines my point.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      EPMS,

      Actually, on rereading Fr Lombardi’s remarks, he does say the cardinal’s words were “misinterpreted”.

      If you read the text of the cardinal’s message at the conference, it’s pretty clear there was no misinterpretation and that the cardinal overstepped his bounds. The attribution to misinterpretation is just the Vatican’s way of providing the cardinal a graceful way out of the situation.

      Norm.

  4. EPMS says:

    A better researched point: on the first three Holy Thursdays of his papacy, rather than washing the feet of twelve priests, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve people, male and female, adults and children.. This year he got around to changing the rules, or rather “clarifying” that the rubrical phrase “viri selecti” can refer to men, women, or children. This announcement was made over Cardinal Sarah’s signature, but it was accompanied by a letter from Pope Francis, indicating its origin The article in Crux https://cruxnow.com/church/2016/01/21/francis-changes-the-rules-women-can-have-their-feet-washed-on-holy-thursday quotes a US liturgical spokesman to the effect that this is a “clarification” of the phrase but elsewhere the article calls it a “change”, which I think would be the common sense view of most. Nonetheless, individual US dioceses had already permitted the washing of both men’s and women’s feet on Holy Thursday. Several relevant points here, one of which is that the rubric means what the Pope says it means.

    • Rev22:17 says:

      EPMS,

      You wrote: A better researched point: on the first three Holy Thursdays of his papacy, rather than washing the feet of twelve priests, Pope Francis washed the feet of twelve people, male and female, adults and children.. This year he got around to changing the rules, or rather “clarifying” that the rubrical phrase “viri selecti” can refer to men, women, or children. This announcement was made over Cardinal Sarah’s signature, but it was accompanied by a letter from Pope Francis, indicating its origin

      Well, the finally came out. The pope apparently directed the cardinal to prepare and promulgate the document instituting the change a couple years earlier, but the cardinal dragged his feet until the pope went to the congregation personally and demanded immediate action.

      The Vatican has plenty of positions with lots of prestige but little real influence for high-ranking officials who cause problems. Cardinal Sarah seems to be bucking for one of those positions.

      You wrote: Several relevant points here, one of which is that the rubric means what the Pope says it means.

      One of the foremost principles of ecclesial law is that the law is construed according to the mind, or intent, of the lawgiver, and thus that the lawgiver is the authentic interpreter of the law.

      Norm.

  5. Rev22:17 says:

    Deborah,

    You wrote: I urge you to read Cardinal Sarah’s talk in its entirety.

    I finally got a chance to do just that, and I’m pleased to say that I agree completely with about 80% of the cardinal’s text.

    >> The cardinal’s comments about the need for liturgical formation of both clergy and laity are spot-on. Tragically, even fifty years after the council, this reform is still grossly lacking in many places. I would like to see my archdiocese send every seminarian to a Benedictine monastery for a year of spiritual and liturgical formation.

    >> I do agree with the cardinal’s comments that the reform of the liturgical rites occurred too quickly. A more gradual approach (one or two changes at a time) would have given a stronger sense of continuity.

    >> The cardinal’s comments about various abuses and about proper liturgical vesture are also spot-on. Such abuses need to stop, with the caveat that there is a legitimate need to photograph significant events in the life of a church, a community, and the parishioners. A few years ago, I discretely shot five rolls of film documenting the solemn dedication of a church — and, for such a historic occasion, I would not hesitate to do so again, but I also was not serving a liturgical minister during that service. (BTW, I also donate copies of photographs and a photo disk containing the photographs in digital form to the official archive of the church.)

    >> The issue of cultural adaptation of the liturgy is much more complex than what the cardinal implies. The fundamental problem is that a particular action or gesture may take on a very different meaning in two different cultures, even to the point that an act of reverence in one culture might be an act of defiance in another. Nevertheless, the Second Vatican Council put procedures in place to deal with this — episcopal conferences now can legislate cultural adaptations within their territories, or even authorize the bishop of a diocese to do so, subject to ratification by the Vatican.

    >> And the cardinal is quite correct to point to the history of liturgical study that began in the early 20th century, and that laid the groundwork first for the restoration of the celebration of the paschal triduum by Pope Pius XII and subsequently for the sacred constitution Sacrosanctum concillium promulgated by the Second Vatican Council. Here, Anglican influence really shines in a positive way: the Oxford Movement in Anglicanism was a major impetus for these studies! Nevertheless, the continuity is clear: the scholars who undertook these studies became the periti (consultors) to the post-conciliar Congregation for Divine Worship charged to carry out the revision of the various liturgical rites.

    However, there are a couple areas in which the cardinal seems to miss the mark.

    >> The assertion that the Second Vatican Council did not discuss the provision of additional anaphoras (“eucharistic prayers”) is nonsense. There was a Wednesday afternoon in 1963 when, after leading the crowd below in praying the Angelus from the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s square, Pope John XXIII announced to the world that he thought that St. Joseph should be mentioned in the “canon” of the mass and thus that he was the words “St. Joseph, her husband,” following the mention of Mary therein. Of course, the Catholic world thought it quite lovely that the pope had a devotion to St. Joseph and thus decided to add him to the “canon” in this way — but what really happened? On the preceding Monday, a bishop from a mission land, speaking to the council, shared his observation that the “Roman canon” did not resonate with the peoples of mission lands and, noting that other “canons” had been used at other times and places, humbly proposed that it might be worth looking though these other texts to see if some of them might be more suitable in that circumstance. Cardinal Ottovani, then Prefect of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, responded on Tuesday with a sterling diatribe about how the word “canon” meant “fixed” and that the “canon” of the mass, having been fixed for all time, could never, ever, possibly ever be changed. So on Wednesday morning, a rumor began to swirl though the council chambers to the effect that the pope — a man of action rather than debate — was going to make an announcement after the Angelus, inspiring many bishops to drift outside to hear what he was going to say. And it was thus that he announced to the world that he was changing the canon — that is, doing precisely what Cardinal Ottovani had declared to be impossible just a day earlier.

    >> The notion that the council intended the mass to remain partly in Latin is also not quite accurate. Rather, the bishops had more than a few concerns that the reforms, which were going into what seemed to be uncharted territory, might not work, so they wanted to leave the flexibility to go further or to backtrack as necessary. This accounts for a lot of the doublespeak in the constitution itself: Latin should remain the principal language of the liturgy, but the vernacular may be admitted, the organ should remain the principal liturgical instrument but other musical instruments may be admitted, etc.

    And, finally, there’s one reform that we are just beginning to see. We really do not have very many churches that are really designed for the new liturgical rites, and in which the new liturgical rites can realize their full potential. In this regard, the plans for the new cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, to be dedicated under the title of Christ Cathedral early next year, and the surrounding campus are quite interesting. The plan for the interior (click on the second link to view the interactive map of the campus, then move the mouse cursor over on the button superimposed on the cathedral building and click on “look inside” on the menu that appears above it to view a cutaway of the floorplan) puts the altar at the center of the building, making it truly the center of worship. I wonder how the cardinal would react to this: a place of worship in which half of the congregation faces eastward and half faces westward! (And for what it’s worth, the press release announcing the new title said that the Vatican had approved it. It does not seem normal for the Vatican to involve itself in the naming of a new church, unless… could there be a plan to designate it as a minor basilica???) But it takes time to build new buildings and to reconfigure existing buildings, so we’re still putting the new wine into the old wineskins….

    Norm.

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