Cardinal Robert Sarah recently wrote an article on liturgy that appeared in the Vatican’s L’Osservatore Romano. Why should we pay attention? Because Cardinal Sarah has an important role in the Church. Thanks to Pope Francis, Cardinal Sarah heads up the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, which oversees liturgical questions and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. As I’ve noted in previous posts, Cardinal Sarah is also widely recognized for his virtues and prayer life. (Dr. Samuel Gregg penned a beautiful tribute to him, which you can read here.) So, just what did Cardinal Sarah write about in his article? Generally, it was a reflection on the Second Vatican Council’s document on liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium. In his reflection, Cardinal Sarah clearly expresses his desire for greater education and formation regarding widely misunderstood aspects of the liturgy in the post-conciliar era. For example, what is true “active participation” on the part of the faithful? It is the following observation, however, that is making some waves. While discussing the ancient practice of the priest and faithful facing East together during Mass he writes,
It is entirely consistent with the conciliar constitution, it is indeed opportune that, during the rite of penance, the singing of the Gloria, the orations, and the Eucharistic prayer, everyone, priest and faithful, should turn together towards the East, to express their will to participate in the work of worship and of redemption accomplished by Christ. This manner of doing things could opportunely be put into place in cathedrals, where liturgical life must be exemplary.
The cardinal isn’t merely praising ad orientem worship within the isolated context of the extraordinary form of the liturgy. He’s talking about ad orientem within the novus ordo liturgy, and how it is “entirely consistent” with Sacrosanctum Concilium. I find this interesting for a couple of reasons. First, how many people are aware of the fact that Sacrosanctum Concilium said nothing about the priest facing the people during Mass? Travel around to different parishes and it’s pretty obvious: not many.
Second, and more importantly, there’s been an obvious attempt by media pundits and others to distance Pope Francis from Pope Benedict XVI in many ways, liturgy being one of them. Very briefly, according to this narrative, Pope Francis is a liturgical minimalist who favors simplicity, while Pope Benedict stands out as the paragon of a “renaissance pope.” For his part, Cardinal Sarah is widely known as a “Ratzingerian” when it comes to the liturgical reform and movement. Like Pope Benedict, Cardinal Sarah favors a true “reform of the reform” of the new Mass in light of Vatican II, as a “hermeneutic of continuity” and not rupture. He also recognizes and seeks to remedy the gross abuses and violations in the liturgy that have taken place under the destructive “Spirit of Vatican II.”
Cardinal Sarah’s appointment as Prefect of the Congregation that oversees liturgical norms in the Church shocked many who were expecting Pope Francis to appoint someone more progressive in liturgical matters. What was even more noteworthy was a revelation from a week ago in New York City, when Cardinal Sarah addressed the Sacra Liturgia Conference. In his remarks, he disclosed to the attendees that Pope Francis personally requested that the cardinal “continue the good work in the liturgy begun by Pope Benedict XVI.” So with Sarah’s appointment and this specific charge from the Holy Father, it’s clear that Pope Francis, different though he may be from Benedict in many ways, desires the same thing on the big questions.
So where do we go from here? Cardinal Sarah wrote about cathedral Masses. It is obvious that the vision that guided our cathedral’s unfortunate “in-the-round” renovation in 2002, under Archbishop Weakland, was markedly opposed to the Ratzingerian ideal. No newsflash here. Weakland and Ratzinger are polar opposites in more ways than one. It is obvious that the former Milwaukee archbishop favored a hermeneutic of rupture as opposed to continuity when it came to liturgy, and the disastrous cathedral renovation is the physical embodiment of this. The good news is that his more radical views are fading into the past. But we’re not quite out of the woods yet. We cannot ignore the fact that many priests and others were profoundly molded in Weakland’s errant ecclesiology and liturgical sensibilities, and will resist any move to a hermeneutic of continuity.
Taking a cue from Pope Francis, Pope-Emeritus Benedict and Cardinal Sarah, I recommend we finally turn the page in our parishes in Milwaukee in concrete ways. Let’s embrace, in the truest, fullest sense, the hermeneutic of continuity with the Second Vatican Council within the novus ordo liturgy. Let’s recognize the mistakes made, instead of continuing to normalize the aberrations. With his very feasible suggestion for ad orientem worship within the novus ordo Mass, Cardinal Sarah, who clearly has the Pope’s blessing, has given us an excellent first step to get started.
So what’s holding us back?