HE PRESS OFFICE OF THE VATICAN on 11 July 2016 released a statement which was probably the final message by Fr. Federico Lombardi before he retired. Many who are angry about Cardinal Sarah’s public statements are (predictably) acting as though Fr. Lombardi has rebuked Cardinal Sarah. I find such assertions absurd.
Let me share a few brief reflections, although I must be honest: I’ve only read the statement twice. Therefore, my reflections will be cursory. (But don’t curse when you read them!)
Fr. Lombardi cited paragraph 299 of the GIRM, which speaks about how an altar should be constructed when new churches are built. The English translation I saw was erroneous, but the French version seems to be correct, as far as I can tell. (My French is horrible.)
Fr. Lombardi should have quoted the statement from the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship, which put an end to discussion on this point. Cardinal Sarah’s congregation was responsible for creating the 2000 (2002) GIRM and they provide its definitive interpretation. On 10 April 2000, addressing this very question, the congregation stated:
“This Dicastery [i.e. the Congregation for Divine Worship] wishes to state that Holy Mass may be celebrated versus populum or versus apsidem. Both positions are in accord with liturgical law; both are to be considered correct.”
“It should be borne in mind that there is no preference expressed in the liturgical legislation for either position. As both positions enjoy the favor of law, legislation may not be invoked to say that one position or the other accords more closely with the mind of the Church.”
The English translation of Fr. Lombardi—not the French—contains grammatical issues which preclude the notion that the current books favor “versus populum” celebration.
Fr. Lombardi’s statement “clarifies” that no new legislation on ad orientem will be released in Advent. My response would be, “That clarification is not needed because Cardinal Sarah said absolutely nothing—not one word—about new legislation coming in Advent.”
Fr. Lombardi’s statement “clarifies” that Pope Francis “mentioned” that the Extraordinary Form must not eradicate the Ordinary Form. My response would be, “That clarification is not needed because nobody thinks that’s going to happen anytime soon.”
Fr. Lombardi said it’s better to avoid using the phrase REFORM OF THE REFORM because (in his words) this phrase “may at times give rise to error.” Some were surprised by his words, but I was not. I don’t want to scandalize anyone, but Rome moves very slowly and can even—gasp!—be political. Moreover, the Roman Pontiff is always careful never to publicly step on the toes of any predecessor. Rome usually will only focus on the positive. For example, when Pope Paul VI promulgated the liturgical changes, he didn’t talk about how “bad” (in his view) the old liturgy had been. Similarly, for a Roman Pontiff to utter the phrase “reform of the reform” seems unlikely in the near future because it doesn’t match how way popes emphasize the positive and avoid criticizing their predecessors. Perhaps a better phrase would be the one Bishop René H. Gracida uses: “The Renewal of the Renewal.”
That being said, the words of Fr. Lombardi (“may at times give rise to error”) are not very convincing. Which times? Which errors? I’ll be interested to see whether the highest ranking liturgical officer of Pope Francis uses that phrase again. I suppose Cardinal Sarah could make a point of using that phrase so he can “Hagan lío.”
I must admit that I put very little stock in the words of the Vatican Press Office. I have seen many instances over the past years where their “clarifications” only confuse matters.
For example, Fr. Lombardi never condemns the REFORM OF THE REFORM, he says the “phrase” can sometimes confuse. Properly understood (according to what Fr. Lombardi wrote) it would not be problematic. Yet people are coming away with the opposite impression! Throughout the papacy of Pope Francis, I’ve noticed a surprising lack of understanding of how the media works. The results from that lack of understanding have often been unfortunate.
As far as I know—and perhaps a priest can correct me if I’m wrong—priests who celebrate the Ordinary Form are bound by the actual rubrics in those books. They are not allowed to make liturgical changes based on a press conference by Fr. Lombardi. The Congregation for Divine Worship remains in charge of interpreting the liturgical laws which they write (and then submit for approval by the pope). Cardinal Sarah is Prefect of the CDW.
As we have repeated over and over on our blog, no significant changes have been made to the rubrics of the Ordinary Form since it was promulgated in 1970. Period. I know this sounds hard to believe and “boring” but it’s true.
Finally, to those who have claimed that Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the CDW, “lied” about what Pope Francis told him, I encourage those people to send me an email. I have a bridge I’d like to sell them.
I’m not trying to be snarky here, because there’s way too much snark on the internet. That being said, somebody should inform the editor of America (a Jesuit Magazine) that it’s “ad orientem” not what he wrote:
Regarding my thoughts on this matter, as with all my articles, feel free to “take ’em or leave ’em.”