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A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife and children.
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“The main place should be given, all things being equal, to gregorian chant, as being proper to the roman Liturgy. Other kinds of sacred music, in particular polyphony, are in no way excluded, provided that they correspond to the spirit of the liturgical action and that they foster the participation of all the faithful.”
— 2011 GIRM, §41 (Roman Missal, 3rd Edition)

Cardinal Sarah’s Liturgical Bombshell
published 9 March 2015 by Jeff Ostrowski

181 Robert Cardinal Sarah AM ALWAYS so pleased when VCL articles are reproduced by other outlets because it feels like we’re making a difference. 1 One of my articles was recently republished by Aleteia. 2 I can tell Aleteia is a responsible website, since they requested permission in advance.

On 3 March 2015, Aleteia published an exclusive interview with Robert Cardinal Sarah, whom Pope Francis recently appointed Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. The English version has a sentence which will interest our readers:

Interviewer: “Your Eminence, in your book God or Nothing, you mention several times the «LITURGICAL WAR» that has been dividing Catholics for decades. You say that this war is particularly unfortunate because Catholics should be especially united on this issue. How can we get beyond these divisions and unite all Catholics in worshiping God?”

Cardinal Sarah: “Vatican II never asked us to reject the past and abandon the Mass of St. Pius V, which spawned many saints, nor discard Latin. But at the same time we must promote the liturgical reform sought by the Council itself.”

Cardinal Sarah then goes on to say a whole bunch of interesting things, including praising the 2007 motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum.

“PROGRESSIVE” MEDIA OUTLETS have been reluctant to discuss this statement by Cardinal Sarah. Several have suggested that, perhaps, there’s a translation issue; but such a position is untenable. Here’s a literal translation, courtesy of an American who’s lived in France for years:

The Second Vatican Council never asked for the rejection of the past and to abandon the Mass of St. Pius V, which has engendered numerous saints, much less to stop using Latin. But at the same time one must promote the liturgical reform desired by the Council itself.

Here’s another literal translation, provided by a different priest—also fluent in French—from a different continent:

The Second Vatican Council never called for rejection of the past or abandonment of the Mass of Saint Pius V, which has produced many saints, nor for discontinuance of Latin. But at the same time it is necessary to promote the liturgical reform sought by the Council itself.

Those of us who have followed comments allegedly made by Pope Francis have occasionally noticed something bordering on schizophrenia. The same accusation could be made against Pope Paul VI, whose statements of 1966 contradict his 11/26/1969 audience, wherein he suggests that abandoning Latin (“No longer Latin, but the spoken language will be the principal language of the Mass”) will somehow lead to “a new and resplendent awakening” of Latin. The Second Vatican Council mandated that Latin be retained, but said regarding the vernacular “the limits of its employment may be extended” if the local bishop grants permission. 3

Much more significant than random excerpts from a pope—be that Francis, Benedict, or any other—are his appointments. Cardinal Sarah’s statement is a “liturgical bombshell” because fifteen years ago it would have been difficult to imagine the CDW Prefect uttering such words. As Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in 2003:

More recently the atmosphere has become more relaxed so that it is possible to raise the kind of questions asked by Jungmann, Bouyer and Gamber without at once being suspected of anti-conciliar sentiments.

Cardinal Sarah has reminded us of something crucial to understand about the Vatican II fathers. They did not hate the 1962 Missal; they believed they could improve it. Remember that they were formed in this liturgy. Consider, also, that during the second Vatican Council, when a Sicilian bishop stood up warning that some might call for the entire Mass to be in the language of the people, “the entire hall burst into uproarious laughter” (source). Obviously, not every single person loved the tradition. For example, the first secretary of the Concilium, Ferdinando Cardinal Antonelli, wrote:

The Consilium is merely an assembly of people, many of them incompetent, and others well advanced on the road to novelty. The discussions are extremely hurried. Discussions are based on impressions and the voting is chaotic. […] Many of those who have influenced the reform…have no love, and no veneration of that which has been handed down to us. They begin by despising everything that is actually there.

Some fail to realize the similarities between the Ordinary & Extraordinary Form. The vice president of World Library Publications recently admitted this. The solution for such people is simple: obtain the Jogues Missal and turn to the Ordinary of the Mass.

SOME POST-CONCILIAR REFORMS can easily be proven wrongheaded. For example, the “third reading” that contemporary scholarship has abandoned. The addition of new Eucharistic prayers—and other items—clearly contradict Sacrosanctum Concilium, as Cardinal Antonelli has pointed out. However, it’s difficult to attack many of the Vatican II reforms from a theoretical standpoint, especially when we consider some of the absurd practices Pius XII allowed in 1958.

The notion of more congregational singing. In theory, this is hard to attack. For example, perhaps the congregation could have been taught to sing simple versions of the chants between the Epistle & Gospel. After all, back in 1905, Fr. Angelo De Santi had suggested replacing the Gradual & Alleluia with an organ interlude (!), and even the great Gregorianist Dr. Peter Wagner agreed it might be better to omit these in some churches.

More variety of Scripture Readings. In theory, it is hard to attack the notion that more readings could have been added; for example, at daily Masses.

More participation. Some pushed for people to actually follow the prayers of the Mass instead of praying the Rosary. The famous video of a Chicago Mass narrated by Msgr. Fulton J. Sheen—produced at the height of the Second World War, by the way—was part of such a movement. Again, in theory, it’s hard to attack this.

Greater use of the vernacular. Even before Vatican II, I believe it was allowed to have certain ceremonies—e.g. the Sacrament of Baptism, Marriage, and so on—in the vernacular. If the readings were chanted in the vernacular in a very dignified way, perhaps the priest would not have to read them again (in English) at the beginning of the sermon. It’s difficult for me to see how this could be 100% condemned in theory.

(Other items could be added to the above list.)

On the other hand, in practice, the past five decades have witnessed terrible liturgical results from some of these changes. We attempt—on this blog—to discuss them when it seems appropriate.

To conclude, I think Cardinal Sarah’s statement was a strong step toward liturgical sanity! I thank God he was named Prefect, especially because he appreciates the beauty of the Extraordinary Form. Without question, pressure will be brought upon Sarah to walk back his statements, but I don’t believe he will.


1   Our articles are sometimes translated into other languages—for instance, this one. A British fellow once wrote to me, requesting to reprint an article…but he first wanted permission to ‘translate’ my words into the Queen’s English!  If you’ve seen Pygmalion, you’ll understand…

2   Some in the Aleteia combox disliked my article, and I was accused of being “unchristian” because I mentioned Marty Haugen’s religion. However, I wonder if that person would accuse Haugen in the same way; Haugen openly and publicly speaks about the fact that he’s not a Catholic.

3   Catholics alive today who carefully read Sacrosanctum Concilium (4 Dec 1963)—the very first document issued by Vatican—will be shocked by the strong statements in favor of Latin.