AST SUMMER’S Sacra Liturgia conference in New York City began with special interest as attendees were read a welcome letter from Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. In that letter, the Cardinal revealed that, upon accepting his post at the CDW, Pope Francis asked him to continue the good work of Pope Benedict XVI on the liturgy.
At the Sacra Liturgia proceedings presently underway in London, no letter was necessary, as Cardinal Sarah was present to speak at the opening session and offer Mass on the second day of the conference. Again this year, Cardinal Sarah said some very important things. Before offering a more detailed summary of his talk, allow me to present the two most important points, which will be very interesting to those who work closely with the liturgy:
1. Cardinal Sarah said that we cannot discount the possibility of an official “reform of the reform.” Amplifying this point, his Eminence revealed that, in an April 2015 audience with Pope Francis, the Holy Father requested that he investigate this possibility with a view toward formalizing the “mutual enrichment” encouraged by Summorum Pontificum. He spoke of this as “a delicate work,” requiring careful study, clarity, and prudence.
2. Speaking about urgent liturgical priorities, Cardinal Sarah approached the topic of the orientation of worship. He said that it is important that we return, as soon as possible, to the practice of offering Mass ad orientem (or at least toward the apse of the church). This he described as a “perfectly legitimate” option and “a necessary step toward making sure the Lord is at the center” of our worship. Priests who exercise this option, he said, should do so with the confidence that this is something good for the Church. The cardinal asked priests to implement this reform whenever possible, after suitable catechesis, suggesting even a potential starting date: the First Sunday of Advent this year.
These were the two most significant remarks from Cardinal Sarah, but there was much more content also worthy of our consideration. Here I shall present a general overview of his other points.
PENING HIS remarks with a rich reflection on the first paragraph of Sacrosanctum Concilium, Cardinal Sarah stated that much remains to be done for the full assimilation of the council’s Constitution on the Liturgy. He further stressed that, as we become further and further removed from the time of the Second Vatican Council, it is more and more necessary to seek out the true intentions of the council Fathers. The cardinal warned against doing eisegesis with Sacrosanctum Concilium, imputing to it things that it does not, in fact, say. Reading the document in this way, one discovers that the council Father desired a liturgical evolution, not a revolution.
His Eminence spoke briefly about enculturation. “I am an African,” he said, adding that the liturgy is not the place to glorify his culture. The liturgy, rather, is the place where all cultures are baptized and taken up into the divine.
Turning to a historical consideration, Cardinal Sarah spoke about a faction of priests who rejected the post-conciliar reformed rite and continued to celebrate the traditional rite without authorization. It was never the intention of the council Fathers, however, to coopt the liturgy into “a tool of division.” This unintended effect was lamentable. The cardinal argued that the freedom offered to the Church in 2007 through Summorum Pontificum has provided the solution to this tension, since it is now possible to respect and rejoice in legitimate liturgical diversity.
Attention was given also to the formation of the clergy. “We cannot talk about liturgical reform,” the cardinal observed, “without liturgical formation.” Notably, the cardinal directed his remarks equally to seminarians studying for the priesthood and candidates for the permanent diaconate. Candidates for the permanent diaconate were highlighted as needing a profound immersion in liturgical formation over a prolonged period of time (a need that is frequently not met in the contemporary life of the Church). For seminarians, moreover, an important part of their formation should be the usus antiquor. Cardinal Sarah asked, “How can we begin to comprehend or celebrate the reformed rites with the spirit of continuity if we have never experienced” the beauty of the rites that the council Fathers knew so well?
In speaking about the real possibility of an official reform of the reform, Cardinal Sarah made reference to a “learned study” given by Fr. Thomas Kocik at Sacra Liturgia USA 2015 in New York City. In his presentation, Fr. Kocik proposed practical ideas for what such a reform might look like. Some of his specific suggestions are reported here.
These remarks from Cardinal Sarah were a wonderful beginning to this Sacra Liturgia conference. His presentation included many important points that I have not included above. Readers will be happy to know, then, that the full text of Cardinal Sarah’s lecture will be available early next week on the Sacra Liturgia Facebook page.