N 23 NOVEMBER 2014, Cardinal Sarah was appointed CDW Prefect by Pope Francis. Recently, he encouraged priests—“with prudence and the necessary catechesis”—to face the same direction as the congregation during the Eucharistic Prayer, which the current rubrics assume (though “versus populum” is also allowed). 1 Mass was said that way 99% of the time until the 1960s, and “versus populum” was never mentioned by any Vatican II document. Nevertheless, the words of the Vatican’s chief liturgical officer caused quite a stir.
Some claim the GIRM favors “versus populum” celebration, but enormous obstacles fly in the face of such an assertion. First of all, the sentence erroneously used to justify this assertion comes from the GIRM’s section on constructing new churches and simply doesn’t mean what they claim. More importantly, on 10 April 2000, the Congregation for Divine Worship specifically said nobody is allowed to say the GIRM “favors” either position. 2
Even some bishops have attempted to be “rigid” about the GIRM, trying to outlaw “ad orientem” celebrations in their dioceses. For example, Bishop Martin J. Amos (Davenport, Iowa) recently sent a letter which is absolutely bizarre considering what the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship said on 10 April 2000 (SEE ABOVE).
IF BISHOPS WANT STRICT ENFORCEMENT of the GIRM, why do they ignore certain paragraphs? For example, numerous sections of the GIRM specifically say texts replacing the 1970 propers—Entrance, Offertory, and so forth—must be approved in advance by the local bishop. This is stipulated by both the “universal” GIRM and the “American adaptation” of the GIRM. So what happened to the alleged RIGIDITY we heard so much about following the “ad orientem” suggestion of Cardinal Sarah?
Some maintain that their hymnals were approved by the USCCB, but this is not true. For more than four decades, the front of many hymnals has “approved by the United States Conference”—but that doesn’t apply to any of the hymns! The BCL has confirmed this over and over again, for example:
I point out that the designation in hymnals “published with the approval of the Conference of Bishops” applies only to liturgical texts per se, and not to hymnody or other paraphrased texts.
—Msgr. Richard Hilgartner (21 December 2011)
Monsignor Hilgartner is correct, but most Catholics will never accept that. They will assume—and why shouldn’t they?—that “approved by the USCCB” applies to the hymns and songs, although it never has. You can stand on your head and shout till your face is blue, but you’ll still be doubted. Was this counterintuitive wording written on purpose to confuse? Readers must decide for themselves…
A tremendous amount of musicians in the Ordinary Form replace the propers (illicitly) with songs not approved by the local bishop, in spite of the GIRM requirement. Again, I ask: “What happened to the rigidity?”
For example, when Bishop Amos ends his letter (SEE ABOVE) by saying “I am confident of your obedience in this matter,” does he also expect priests to obey paragraph 48 of the GIRM?
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Furthermore, even when Ordinary Form Masses are offered “ad orientem,” the vast majority is still done facing the people (Liturgy of the Word, Homily, and so forth).
2 Let’s remember that this congregation—which Cardinal Sarah currently heads—is the same congregation which drafted the famous clause in paragraph 299 and got it approved by the pope!