Cardinal Sarah’s Clarion Call

Sacra Liturgia 2016 has opened, and opened with a bang. After an impressive solemn vespers according to the breviary of 1961, with Bishop Dominique Rey as the celebrant, we decamped to Imperial College to hear the opening address from Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Worship.

His Eminence’s speech was long, and in fact it went over time so a page or two were omitted, sections dealing with such things as liturgical music. What you have no doubt heard by now, such is the power of the Internet, is that what Cardinal Sarah did not omit was very exciting.

You can find the speech served up in chunks on the Facebook page for Sacra Liturgia. Suffice it to say that Cardinal Sarah examined the intentions of the Fathers at Vatican II in the liturgical reform as laid out in Sacrosanctum concilium; how those intentions came to be implemented; and then he laid out suggestions for moving forward in promoting an authentic liturgical reform that embodies the true intentions of the Council Fathers.

One of the things the Cardinal repeatedly referred to was the need for a fuller and more adequate liturgical formation of the clergy, not just the faithful. He cited examples more than once of clergy he has encountered who seem to have little comprehension of their role in the liturgy, or indeed of what is actually happening in the liturgy itself. It was a call to a renewed liturgical catechesis of the clergy.

Looking to the faithful, the Cardinal asked where are the faithful for whose benefit all the reforms were enacted? The faithful, he said, have become the unfaithful. The implicit question here was, to what degree has the liturgical reform as enacted failed, leading to a silent apostasy in huge swathes of the people of God? The reforms, he implied, were developed according to agenda other than that of the Council Fathers, such as ecumenism and the spirit of the age. He might also have included a scholarship on early liturgy that is more and more discredited by recent scholarship. He lamented a reductive understanding of the Eucharistic mystery, with an excessive priority laid on the meal aspect of the Mass. Activism is exalted and preferred. Adoration has been removed from the life of the majority of parishes.

A conclusion the Cardinal drew from this survey of the implementation of the liturgical reform is that many clergy have too often since the conciliar reforms damaged people’s faith rather than nurtured it, in their liturgical abuses, innovations, carelessness and sloth. They have made themselves too often the master of the liturgy not its humble servant.

It was the cardinal’s suggestions for future action that brought the speech to a lively climax. He highlighted the need to revisit the liturgical formation of the clergy so that clergy are equipped to nourish in the faithful a sound and full liturgical spirit. To this end he declared that instruction in the Extraordinary Form of the liturgy was indispensable in forming a full and sound liturgical spirit. After all, there were 1900-odd years of liturgical experience and fruitfulness before the Second Vatican Council. This cannot be excluded from our contemporary liturgical formation, and must serve as the necessary foundation for any reform.

The Cardinal also called for a searching reappraisal of what is meant by “active participation” so as to avoid the prevailing common confusion. It is not to be confused with activity, nor does it involve a clericalization of the laity by giving to them roles proper to the clergy. He saw a need to promote the internalization of our liturgical participation, and we need to form young people in how to pray the liturgy as well as in how to do it.

Then came the first eyebrow-raising moment. Cardinal Sarah revealed that Pope Francis has asked him to study the possibilities of the “reform of the Reform” movement to benefit the Church today in order that the heritage of Vatican II might be properly honoured and implemented.

Then he came to a specific recommendation, one which was effectively the climax of the speech. He called for the return of  shared orientation of priest and people, facing the Lord together in the symbolic direction of the East. In this way we can begin to ensure that the Lord is truly the centre of our liturgy. He then asked the clergy to implement a return to Masses celebrated facing East from the First Sunday of Advent this year. He urged the clergy to do this with the confidence that what they are doing is something manifestly good for the faithful. He ended this section by quoting the prophet Jeremiah, from whose mouth we hear the Lord say “The people have turned their backs on me”.

This announcement was greeted with sustained applause. Of course on one level he was preaching to the converted. But the converted were given a great boost to their self-confidence in pursuing a resacralisation of the liturgy, investing the talk with an urgency that had been lost after the abdication of Benedict XVI. It is clearly implied that Pope Francis has given Cardinal Sarah a mandate to promote the positive aspects of the reform of the Reform. That mandate the Cardinal has now passed on the rest of the Church. A high bar has been set for the rest of the conference.

The photographer, Fr Lawrence Lew OP I think, has given me my 10 seconds of fame, the photo of which is included below, taken just before Cardinal Sarah gave this talk. Speaking with me is Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco. My photos of the talk are not really worthy of  posting. My thanks to Fr Lawrence.

8 thoughts on “Cardinal Sarah’s Clarion Call

  1. This is so exciting and wonderful. It’s been a puzzling scene I’ve beheld since arriving in the Church three years ago, but I’ve been catechised and formed in a parish where everything Cardinal Sarah is calling for is normal – St Birinus at Dorchester on Thames. Deo gratias!


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