Jesus Will Return From the East. But at the Vatican They Have Lost the Compass
The Holy See disowns Cardinal Sarah, who wants all the priests and faithful at Mass to be “facing the Lord.” But he is not giving up, and is relaunching the proposal. From Ratzinger to Bergoglio, the uncertain fate of the “reform of the reform”
by Sandro Magister
ROME, July 14, 2016 – It was Pope Francis himself, in 2014, who wanted Cardinal Robert Sarah at the head of the congregation for divine worship, albeit after purging the same congregation of the officials most in harmony with the cardinal, a great devotee of tradition.
But the rapport between Sarah and the pope has always been difficult. And in recent days a rupture has developed, according to the statement in three languages released on Monday, July 11 by the press office of the Holy See:
The statement followed a two-day audience between Sarah and the pope. An audience preceded in its turn on July 5 by a conference with the cardinal in London, which had made a big splash.
The statement says about the conference that “some expressions have been incorrectly interpreted, as if they were intended to announce new indications different to those given so far in the liturgical rules and in the words of the Pope regarding celebration facing the people and the ordinary rite of the Mass.”
And it concludes:
“Therefore, new liturgical directives are not expected from next Advent, as some have incorrectly inferred from some of Cardinal Sarah’s words, and it is better to avoid using the expression ‘reform of the reform’ with reference to the liturgy, given that it may at times give rise to error.”
The same day, however, on which the Vatican issued this statement, Cardinal Sarah relaunched through the English-language website “Sacra Liturgia” the complete official text of his conference in London, in English and French, emphasizing that “nothing was removed” from what he had said:
The whole conference is a must-read. But here it should be enough to point out that in it Sarah attributes to an understanding between himself and Pope Francis precisely that expression of the “reform of the reform” which the Vatican statement is instead seen to have prohibited:
“I can say that when I was received in audience by the Holy Father last April, Pope Francis asked me to study the question of a reform of a reform and the way in which the two forms of the Roman rite could enrich each other.”
And then, above all, here unaltered is the passage from the conference that made such a stir, concerning the orientation of liturgical celebrations:
“I want to make an appeal to all priests. You may have read my article in ‘L’Osservatore Romano’ one year ago (12 June 2015) or my interview with the journal ‘Famille Chrétienne’ in May of this year. On both occasions I said that I believe that it is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction – Eastwards or at least towards the apse – to the Lord who comes, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God. This practice is permitted by current liturgical legislation. It is perfectly legitimate in the modern rite. Indeed, I think it is a very important step in ensuring that in our celebrations the Lord is truly at the centre.
“And so, dear Fathers, I humbly and fraternally ask you to implement this practice wherever possible, with prudence and with the necessary catechesis, certainly, but also with a pastor’s confidence that this is something good for the Church, something good for our people. Your own pastoral judgement will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year, when we attend ‘the Lord who will come’ and ‘who will not delay’ (see: Introit, Mass of Wednesday of the first week of Advent) may be a very good time to do this. Dear Fathers, we should listen again to the lament of God proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘they have turned their backs to me and not their faces’ (2:27). Let us turn again towards the Lord! Since the day of his Baptism, the Christian knows only one direction: the Orient. ‘You entered to confront your enemy, for you intended to renounce him to his face. You turned toward the East (ad Orientem), for one who renounces the devil turns towards Christ and fixes his gaze directly on Him’ (From the beginning of the “Treatise on the Mysteries” by Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan).”
The Vatican statement of July 11 makes a show of demolishing this argumentation of Cardinal Sarah by citing a passage of the general instruction of the Roman missal of 2002, which prescribes that the altar “should be built separate from the wall, in such a way that . . . Mass can be celebrated facing the people.”
But it does not say that this rule applies to churches of new construction, while for older ones the erection of a new altar “versus populum” is admitted only when the old altar facing the apse “makes the people’s participation difficult but cannot be moved without damage to its artistic value.”
Nor does it realize that the rule according to which “the altar should occupy a place where it is truly the centre toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns” almost always backfires against the ersatz new altars, instead of against the monumental altars of the past.
Sarah had essentially already replied to the objections reissued by the Vatican statement, in the interview with “Famille Chrétienne” to which he referred in the conference, explaining how it is “totally legitimate and in keeping with the letter and spirit of Vatican II” to celebrate Mass facing East, and illustrating the very profound symbolic richness of this:
But above all, Sarah had already stated the essentials in the article – to which he also referred in the London conference – that he published in “L’Osservatore Romano” of June 12, 2015, an article of capital importance for him, even if it was treacherously kept in the dark by the information outlets of the Holy See:
The cardinal wrote among other things in that article paradigmatic of his action as prefect of the congregation of divine worship:
“Unlike what has been maintained at times, it is entirely in keeping with the conciliar constitution and it is even appropriate that, during the rite of penitence, the singing of the Gloria, the petitions and the Eucharistic prayer, everyone, priest and faithful, should turn together toward the East, to express their will to participate in the work of worship and redemption carried out by Christ. This way of acting could opportunely be implemented in the cathedrals where the liturgical life must be exemplary.”
Not to mention how dear to Benedict XVI and to his “reform of the reform” was the question of the orientation of the liturgical celebrations, especially after the publication in 2006 of an essay on the part of the Anglo-German liturgist Uwe Michael Lang, with a preface by Joseph Ratzinger himself:
> “Turning towards the Lord”
Cardinal Sarah said in this regard, at his London conference:
“I repeat what I have said elsewhere, that Pope Francis has asked me to continue the extraordinary liturgical work Pope Benedict began (see: Message to ‘Sacra Liturgia’ USA 2015, New York City). Just because we have a new pope does not mean that his predecessor’s vision is now invalid. On the contrary, as we know, our Holy Father Pope Francis has the greatest respect for the liturgical vision and measures Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI implemented in utter fidelity to the intentions and aims of the Council Fathers.”
Among the reactions against the conference held in London on July 5 by Cardinal Robert Sarah – apart from the tweets of the director of “La Civiltà Cattolica” and a confidant of the pope, the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro – one that must be pointed out is that of Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, who the following day wrote a letter to his priests cautioning them against celebrating Mass facing East:
A previous spat between Francis and Cardinal Sarah concerned the modifications to the rite of the washing of feet, which the cardinal promulgated on the condition of the simultaneous publication of the letter from which it emerged that the modifications had been imposed by the pope:
On the book “Dieu ou rien. Entretien sur la foi,” translated into a dozen languages, which in 2015 revealed Cardinal Sarah to the world:
Another book of his will be released at the end of the summer, this one more directly concerning the liturgy.
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.