Vatican Liturgy Chief asks all priests and bishops to face east for Mass, faithful to kneel for Communion

Vatican Liturgy Chief asks all priests and bishops to face east for Mass, faithful to kneel for Communion

[If His Eminence’s announcement does not have a protocol number (the number issued by the Vatican’s Liturgy Congregation to all official documents pertaining to the liturgy), then it’s only “one man’s opinion” – or rather, one cardinal’s suggestion; the 71-year old cardinal may soon be the victim of the pope’s policy towards “ultraconservatives”: “You remove a nail by applying pressure upwards. Or you tranquilize them, put them to the side, when they reach retirement age.”]

John-Henry Westen

LONDON, July 5, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Speaking at a conference on the liturgy in London yesterday, Cardinal Robert Sarah, the highest authority on the topic in the Catholic Church under Pope Francis, asked all bishops and priests to adopt the ancient posture in the Mass where the priest faces the tabernacle along with the congregation, rather than facing the people. He asked that the posture be adopted by Advent of this year, which begins November 27. During the same talk, Cardinal Sarah encouraged all Catholics to receive Communion kneeling. During the talk, the Vatican’s liturgy chief revealed that Pope Francis had asked him to “continue the liturgical work Pope Benedict began.”

The announcement was immediately recognized by Catholic Herald deputy editor Dan Hitchens as “the biggest liturgical announcement since Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum gave greater freedom for priests to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.”

Vatican watchers are particularly stunned that Francis, who is regarded by many as a liberal, has encouraged a more traditional approach to liturgy. Yet Cardinal Sarah said, “Our Holy Father Pope Francis has the greatest respect for the liturgical vision and measures of Pope Benedict.”

French Bishop Dominique Rey, who was present at the conference, took up Cardinal Sarah’s request without hesitation, vowing to at least begin to implement the change in his diocese by Advent. Rey, the Bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, addressed Cardinal Sarah at the conference, saying: “In response to your appeal I wish to announce now, that certainly on the last Sunday of Advent of this year in my celebration of the Holy Eucharist at my cathedral, and on other occasions as appropriate, I shall celebrate ad orientem—towards the Lord who comes.” Bishop Rey added, “Before Advent I shall address a letter to my priests and people on this question to explain my action. I shall encourage them to follow my example.”

Cardinal Sarah gave thanks for the many celebrations of the liturgy that are devout and give glory to God, but he also lamented the many abuses of the liturgy in the Church. “In recent decades,” he observed, “we have seen many liturgical celebrations where people, personalities and human achievements have been too prominent, almost to the exclusion of God.”

Cardinal Sarah used his African heritage to drive home the point. “I am an African,” he said. “Let me say clearly: the liturgy is not the place to promote my culture. Rather, it is the place where my culture is baptised, where my culture is taken up into the divine.”

Sarah suggested that the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council intended liturgical reform to bring more of the faithful to the Mass, yet for the most part the effort has failed. “My brothers and sisters, where are the faithful of whom the Council Fathers spoke?” he asked.

The cardinal continued:

Many of the faithful are now unfaithful: they do not come to the liturgy at all. To use the words of St John Paul II: many Christians are living in a state of “silent apostasy;” they “live as if God does not exist” (Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Europa, 28 June 2003, 9). Where is the unity the Council hoped to achieve? We have not yet reached it. Have we made real progress in calling the whole of mankind into the household of the Church? I do not think so. And yet we have done very much to the liturgy!

He expressed “profound grief” at the “many distortions of the liturgy throughout the Church today,” and proposed that the “Eucharist is too great a gift to tolerate ambiguity and depreciation.”

One such abuse he mentioned was when priests “step aside to allow extraordinary ministers distribute Holy Communion” which for many priests was thought to be a way of allowing lay people to participate in the Mass in a substantial way. Rather, said Cardinal Sarah, “This is wrong, it is a denial of the priestly ministry as well as a clericalisation of the laity.”

“When this happens it is a sign that formation has gone very wrong, and that it needs to be corrected,” he added.

He encouraged a generous reception of the traditional Latin Mass and also encouraged traditional practices Pope Benedict proposed previously, including the use of Latin in the new Mass, kneeling for Holy Communion, as well as Gregorian chant. “We must sing sacred liturgical music not merely religious music, or worse, profane songs,” he said. “The Council never intended that the Roman rite be exclusively celebrated in the vernacular. But it did intend to allow its increased use, particularly for the readings.”

Speaking of kneeling for Holy Communion, the Vatican liturgy chief reminded priests that they are forbidden from denying Communion to the faithful for kneeling for reception of the Sacrament. Moreover, he encouraged all to receive while kneeling where possible. “Kneeling at the consecration (unless I am sick) is essential. In the West this is an act of bodily adoration that humbles us before our Lord and God. It is itself an act of prayer. Where kneeling and genuflection have disappeared from the liturgy, they need to be restored, in particular for our reception of our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion.”

A lengthy section of his talk was devoted to calling priests and bishops to celebrate Mass facing “ad orientem” or with the people facing Our Lord. Here are the key excerpts:

Even though I serve as the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, I do so in all humility as a priest and a bishop in the hope that they will promote mature reflection and scholarship and good liturgical practice throughout the Church.

I want to make an appeal to all priests… I believe that it is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction—Eastwards or at least towards the apse—to the Lord who comes, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God… I think it is a very important step in ensuring that in our celebrations the Lord is truly at the centre.

And so, dear Fathers, I ask you to implement this practice wherever possible, with prudence and with the necessary catechesis, certainly, but also with a pastor’s confidence that this is something good for the Church, something good for our people.

Your own pastoral judgement will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year… may be a very good time to do this. Dear Fathers, we should listen again to the lament of God proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah: “they have turned their back to me” (2:27). Let us turn again towards the Lord!

I would like to appeal also to my brother bishops: please lead your priests and people towards the Lord in this way, particularly at large celebrations in your dioceses and in your cathedral. Please form your seminarians in the reality that we are not called to the priesthood to be at the centre of liturgical worship ourselves, but to lead Christ’s faithful to him as fellow worshippers. Please facilitate this simple but profound reform in your dioceses, your cathedrals, your parishes and your seminaries.

Throughout the talk, Cardinal Sarah stressed the grave responsibility of priests regarding the Eucharist. “We priests, we bishops bear a great responsibility,” he said. “How our good example builds up good liturgical practice; how our carelessness or wrongdoing harms the Church and her Sacred Liturgy!”

He warned his fellow priests, “Let us beware of the temptation of liturgical sloth, because it is a temptation of the devil.”

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8 comments on “Vatican Liturgy Chief asks all priests and bishops to face east for Mass, faithful to kneel for Communion

  1. Sounds like a good plan to me !

  2. [More on “Where’s the beef?” – or in this case, the protocol number]

    Novus Ordo Illusions: In Liturgy, Words without Law Mean Very Little — or Nothing at All.

    Posted by New Catholic at 7/06/2016

    Cardinal Sarah in a speech to the Sacra Liturgia conference in London yesterday invited priests to start celebrating (the New Mass of Paul VI) facing the liturgical east (versus Deum), that is, facing the altar.

    His words, by way of the Catholic Herald:

    “It is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction – eastwards or at least towards the apse – to the Lord who comes.” … “I ask you to implement this practice wherever possible.”

    He said that “prudence” and catechesis would be necessary, but told pastors to have “confidence that this is something good for the Church, something good for our people”.

    “Your own pastoral judgement will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year, when we attend ‘the Lord who will come’ and ‘who will not delay’.”

    There have been enthusiastic reactions to these words…unseen since the Prefect of Divine Worship was Cardinal Arinze in the early 2000s…and Cardinal Cañizares!

    In the end, it is not for a lack of good words from the Prefects of Divine Worship that the liturgical situation worldwide has remained a mess (we emphasize “worldwide” — it is not because there are interesting celebrations, usually imitating the Traditional Mass, in very specific parishes in Britain, the occasional American haven, or one or other place that the global situation has improved at all).

    In the end, especially in our age of over-centralization of liturgical decisions, only liturgical Law really matters. A Cardinalatial suggestion will remain a mere unheard suggestion. In the end, the only act that made a difference was the act of law called “Summorum Pontificum”.

    Summorum Pontificum is coming under fire in many places, as many correspondents have mentioned to us in the past couple of years: we must do everything to protect and save this law, and not wade in fantasies on the Novus Ordo that should be left in the 1990s, when Summorum did not exist.

  3. Cardinal Sarah said:

    When I was received in audience by the Holy Father last April, Pope Francis asked me to study the question of a reform of a reform and of how to enrich the two forms of the Roman rite.

    Concerning “enriching” the “extraordinary form” (traditional Latin liturgy) of the Roman rite: Little has been said, and nothing has been done. IMHO: For the better, because much of what has been suggested would repeat the changes to the traditional Latin Mass in the immediate post-Vatican era by Archbishop Bugnini’s liturgical Consilium (created by Pope Paul VI) before the introduction of the Novus Ordo Mass – such as abolishing the prayers at the foot of the altar and the last Gospel, the weekday lectionary, and the extra eucharistic prayers.

    Even the minimal addition of the feasts added to the universal calendar since Vatican II and possibly some of the new prefaces from the Novus Ordo missal (proposed many years ago before Cardinal Sarah appeared on the scene) has not yet been implemented. It could have been done long ago by/at the FSSP seminary in Econe and authorized/published “pro forma” by the Holy See, as was done with the revision of the Latin Gregorian chant books (Graduale and Antiphonale) for the Novus Ordo liturgy – with the actual work done by the Benedictine monks of Solesmes, which uses the Novus Ordo liturgy in Latin – and then authorized “pro forma” by the Holy See.

    Some have advocated a return of the traditional Latin Mass to a form before that of the 1962 Missal, thus undoing much of Bugnini’s first (pre-Vatican II) liturgical revolution on the litirgical commission created by Pope Pius XII (independent of the then-Sacred Congregation of Rites) especially many of the innovations in the “restoration” of Holy Week. A member of that commission called that restoration “the head of the battering-ram which pierced the fortress of our hitherto static liturgy.”

    Concerning a “study” of the “reform of the reform” and “enriching” the “ordinary form” (Novus Ordo) of the Roman rite: What Cardinal Sarah’s Liturgy Congregation has done so far at Pope Francis’ command are the “inclusive” foot-washing on Holy Thursday and the elevation feast of St. Mary Magdalen from a “memorial” (equivalent to a “third class feast” to in the 1962 Missal) to “feast” (equivalent to a “second class” one) because she was “equal to the Apostles” and “Apostola Apostolorum (Apostle of the Apostles)” because she was the first to see the rise Jesus and told of such to the Apostles – and also as a concession by Pope Francis to feminsts. Some traditional liturgists see it as a restoration of her feast to its pre-1962 category as a “major double.”

  4. I think this is the first time in..years?… that I have woken up to be greeted by a positive announcement form Rome!
    Can it be true?
    Will anyone actually enforce it?
    Will the local priests take the slightest notice of it?
    Will the diocesan bishops make sure it happens?
    Am I dreaming and none of this actually hapened?

  5. Tom,

    Thank you for clarifying the situation.

    I must admit I can’t understand Pope Francis supporting Cardinal Sarah.
    Perhaps he is hoping the whole thing will just die away.
    Still, it is a great idea, a start. Now it will be interesting to see what happens next.
    Most importantly, I will be waiting to see if the Pope takes steps to actually order the world’s bishops to implement these measures. And when they don’t – what will be done about that?

    • As I said above in my foreword to the post of the LifeSiteNews item:

      [T]he 71-year old cardinal may soon be the victim of the pope’s policy towards “ultraconservatives”: “You remove a nail by applying pressure upwards. Or you tranquilize them, put them to the side, when they reach retirement age.”

      See my comment above on studying the reform of the reform and enriching the two forms of the Roman rite. Part of it deals with how the Pope is using the Cardinal for his own liturgical ends.

      Also when Francis made Cardinal Sarah prefect of the Liturgy Congregation, he replaced some mid-level appointments by Benedict XVI (which were “for the better”) with some not-so-great ones such as the English Archbishop Roche as secretary of the Congregation. He regarded the Pope’s liturgical innovation of the “inclusive” Holy Thursday foot-washing as a “return to tradition

      Concerning (1) your comment “I will be waiting to see if the Pope takes steps to actually order the world’s bishops to implement these measures”: Don’t hold your breath; and (2) your question “And when they don’t – what will be done about that?”: Nothing!

  6. Diocesan clergy who have already adopted the principles evinced by +++Sarah are, to a greater or lesser extent, ostracised by their confreres.

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