Cardinal Sarah: Let’s end the ‘hateful divisions’ and ‘public humiliation’ over liturgy

Cardinal Sarah: Let’s end the ‘hateful divisions’ and ‘public humiliation’ over liturgy

The cardinal condemned the ‘ideological clash of factions’ over ad orientem worship

posted Wednesday, 5 Oct 2016

Cardinal Robert Sarah has said the “hateful divisions” over liturgy must end, and that liturgical debates have become an occasion for “public humiliation”.

In an interview with the French publication Le Nef, translated by Catholic World Report, the cardinal, who heads the Vatican’s liturgy department, reportedly said: “Without a contemplative spirit, the liturgy will remain an occasion for hateful divisions and ideological clashes, for the public humiliation of the weak by those who claim to hold some authority, whereas it ought to be the place of our unity and our communion in the Lord. Why should we confront and detest each other?”

The cardinal also said fierce debates over the liturgy are the work of the devil: “Yes, the devil wants us to be opposed to each other at the very heart of the sacrament of unity and fraternal communion. It is time for this mistrust, contempt and suspicion to cease.”

He said he specifically regrets that ad orientem worship has been contested in an “ideological clash of factions”.

In July, the cardinal gave a speech in which he asked priests to begin celebrating Mass ad orientem – that is, facing east. It provoked a debate, in which the Vatican appeared to reject Cardinal Sarah’s remarks.

In the same week, Cardinal Sarah had a private audience with Pope Francis. In this latest interview, the cardinal said he has explained to the Pope that he wanted to help the faithful, not to spark conflict. “As I had the opportunity to say recently, during a private interview with the Holy Father, here I am just making the heartfelt suggestions of a pastor who is concerned about the good of the faithful. I do not intend to set one practice against another.”

In August, referring to the controversy over his speech, Cardinal Sarah said that the reaction to it was “not always very accurate”.

In the new interview, the cardinal said that ad orientem could not be “imposed as a revolution”; it was sensible, he added, to prepare a parish with catechesis first.

He went on to say that “If it is physically not possible to celebrate ad orientem, it is absolutely necessary to put a cross on the altar in plain view, as a point of reference for everyone. Christ on the cross is the Christian East.”

The cardinal was speaking on the publication of his new book The Strength of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise. The book meditates on the encounter with God. In the interview, Cardinal Sarah describes prayer as “a moment of silent, intimate encounter in which a human being stands face to face with God to adore Him and to express his filial love for Him”.

In response to a question about his ad orientem appeal, the cardinal said this encounter can be seen in St Mary Magdalene, who “was able to recognize Jesus on Easter morning because she turned back toward Him”.

He goes on to link this disposition with ad orientem worship: “How can we enter into this interior disposition except by turning physically, all together, priest and faithful, toward the Lord who comes, toward the East symbolized by the apse where the cross is enthroned?”

Cardinal Sarah said this “outward orientation leads us to the interior orientation that it symbolises.” He argues that it dates back to apostolic times, and that it is “not a matter of celebrating with one’s back to the people or facing them, but toward the East, ad Dominum, toward the Lord.”

The cardinal added that ad orientem worship helps the priest avoid the temptation “to monopolise the conversation”. If the priest is “facing the Lord”, the cardinal said, he is less likely to “become a professor who gives a lecture during the whole Mass, reducing the altar to a podium centered no longer on the cross but on the microphone!”

He added: “The priest must remember that he is only an instrument in Christ’s hands, that he must be quiet in order to make room for the Word, and that our human words are ridiculous compared to the one Eternal Word.”

The cardinal said he is “convinced” that priests use a different, more reverent tone of voice when they celebrate Mass ad orientem.

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4 comments on “Cardinal Sarah: Let’s end the ‘hateful divisions’ and ‘public humiliation’ over liturgy

  1. The Reform of the Reform “Will Happen.” The Pope Wants It, Too

    This is what Francis has said in private to Cardinal Sarah, only to deny the whole thing afterward in a statement. But the prefect of the liturgy is promising it once again, in a book of his that goes on sale today, entitled “The Power of Silence”

    by Sandro Magister

    ROME, October 6, 2016 – With Cardinal Robert Sarah Pope Francis cultivates a relationship with two distinct profiles. Benevolent up front, hostile at a distance.

    Sarah is presumed to be one of those churchmen with a “heart of stone” against whom the pope often lashes out without naming names, for example in the address at the end of the synod last October 24:

    > “The closed hearts which hide behind the Church’s teachings…”

    And it was Sarah, this time with first and last name, in his capacity as prefect of the congregation for divine worship, who was the target of an unprecedented, humiliating statement from the press office of the Holy See this summer, against his aims for a “reform of the reform” of the liturgy:

    > Jesus Will Return From the East. But at the Vatican They Have Lost the Compass (14.7.2016)

    “But who can touch him? He is African, and he enjoys great popularity,” they murmur in the court of Pope Francis.

    In effect Cardinal Sarah, 71, an African from Guinea, is a figure of the first rank in today’s Church, who has risen to extraordinary notoriety and universal admiration thanks to a book he published last year that is both autobiography and spiritual mediation, in the style of the “Confessions,” entitled “Dieu ou rien,” God or nothing: 335,000 copies sold in thirteen languages:

    > A Pope from Black Africa (10.4.2015)

    And now Sarah is returning to the field with a major new book: “La force du silence,” the power of silence. It is edited, like the one before it, by Nicolas Diat and concludes with a poignant conversation between the cardinal and the abbot of the Grande Chartreuse in the French Alps, dom Dysmas de Lassus.

    The book goes on sale today, the feast of Saint Bruno, founder of Carthusian monasticism, for now only in a French edition by Fayard, but it will be released soon in Italian, English, and Spanish, published respectively by Cantagalli, Ignatius Press, and Palabra.

    “Contre la dictature du bruit,” against the dictatorship of noise, the subtitle says. And in effect the deafening noise of modern society, with has even penetrated into the Church, is the soundtrack of that “nothing” which is forgetfulness of God, the focus of the previous book.

    While vice versa it is only silence that allows one to “hear the music of God.”

    Sarah’s meditation touches deeply upon the life of the Church. There are frequent references to the liturgy and to the often disordered forms in which it is celebrated today, meaning to that “divine worship” which is the cardinal’s purview as prefect.

    Some of these passages – both critical and encouraging – are reproduced below.

    And there is one of them in particular – the last one presented here – that demonstrates how Cardinal Sarah is by no means acquiescent in the face of the continuous obstacles that are placed before him from every side.

    It is there where the cardinal once again pledges firmly that “there will take place” that which the statement last summer had presumed to block: that “reform of the reform” in the liturgical camp without which “the future of the Church is at stake.”

    Face to face Pope Francis had urged Sarah to proceed with this “reform of the reform,” in the audience, warm as always, that he had given him last April, as the cardinal himself had reported afterward.

    But then, at a distance – and two days after a second friendly audience – the veto had been unleashed, in that treacherous statement in July, from an anonymous source but nonetheless approved from Santa Marta.

    As a man of faith, Sarah professes obedience to the pope. Or at least to the first of the two Francises he finds before him.


    “The reform of the reform will happen, the future of the Church is at stake”

    by Robert Sarah

    From “”La force du silence”, Fayard, 2016


    Some priests today treat the Eucharist with perfect disdain. They see the Mass as a chatty banquet where the Christians who are faithful to Jesus’ teaching, the divorced and remarried, men and women in a situation of adultery, unbaptized tourists participating in the Eucharistic celebrations of great anonymous crowds can have access to the body and blood of Christ, without distinction.

    The Church must urgently examine the ecclesial and pastoral appropriateness of these immense Eucharistic celebrations made up of thousands and thousands of participants. There is a great danger here of turning the Eucharist, “the great mystery of Faith,” into a vulgar revel and of profaning the body and the precious blood of Christ. The priests who distribute the sacred species without knowing anyone, and give the Body of Jesus to all, without discernment between Christians and non-Christians, participate in the profanation of the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist. Those who exercise authority in the Church become guilty, through a form of voluntary complicity, of allowing sacrilege and the profanation of the body of Christ to take place in these gigantic and ridiculous self-celebrations, where one can hardly perceive that “you proclaim the death of the Lord, until he comes” (1 Cor 11:26).

    Priests unfaithful to the “memory” of Jesus insist rather on the festive aspect and the fraternal dimension of the Mass than on the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The importance of the interior dispositions and the need to reconcile ourselves with God in allowing ourselves to be purified by the sacrament of confession are no longer fashionable nowadays. More and more, we obscure the warning of Saint Paul to the Corinthians: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill” (cf. 1 Cor 11:27-30).


    At the beginning of our Eucharistic celebrations, how is it possible to eliminate Christ carrying his cross and walking painfully beneath the weight of our sins toward the place of sacrifice? There are many priests who enter triumphantly and go up to the altar, waving left and right in order to appear friendly. Observe the sad spectacle of certain Eucharistic celebrations. . . Why so much frivolity and worldliness at the moment of the Holy Sacrifice? Why so much profanation and superficiality before the extraordinary priestly grace that makes us capable of bringing forth the body and blood of Christ in substance by the invocation of the Spirit? Why do some believe themselves obliged to improvise or invent Eucharistic prayers that disperse the divine phrases in a bath of petty human fervor? Are the words of Christ so insufficient that a profusion of purely human words is needed? In a sacrifice so unique and essential, is there a need for this subjective imagination and creativity? “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words,” Jesus has cautioned us (Mt 6:7).


    We have lost the deepest meaning of the offertory. Yet it is that moment in which, as its name indicates, the whole Christian people offers itself, not alongside of Christ, but in him, through his sacrifice that will be realized at the consecration. Vatican Council II admirably highlighted this aspect in insisting on the baptismal priesthood of the laity that essentially consists in offering ourselves together with Christ in sacrifice to the Father. [. . .]

    If the offertory is seen as nothing other than a preparation of the gifts, as a practical and prosaic action, then there will be a great temptation to add and invent ceremonies in order to fill up what is perceived as a void. I deplore the offertory processions in some African countries, long and noisy, accompanied with interminable dances. The faithful bring all sorts of products and objects that have nothing to do with the Eucharistic sacrifice. These processions give the impression of folkloric exhibitions that disfigure the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and distance us from the Eucharistic mystery; but this must be celebrated in sobriety and recollection, since we are immersed, we too, in his death and his offering to the Father. The bishops of my continent should take measures to keep the celebration of the Mass from becoming a cultural self-celebration. The death of God out of love for us is beyond all culture.

    “FACING EAST” (par. 254)

    It is not enough simply to prescribe more silence. In order for everyone to understand that the liturgy turns us interiorly toward the Lord, it would be helpful during the celebration for us all together, priests and faithful, to face the east, symbolized by the apse.

    This practice remains absolutely legitimate. It is in keeping with the letter and the spirit of the Council. There is no lack of testimonies from the first centuries of the Church. “When we stand up to pray, we face the east,” says Saint Augustine, echoing a tradition that dates back, according to Saint Basil, to the Apostles themselves. Churches having been designed for the prayer of the first Christian communities, the apostolic constitutions of the 4th century recommended that they be turned to the east. And when the altar is facing west, as at Saint Peter’s in Rome, the celebrant must turn toward the orient and face the people.

    This bodily orientation of prayer is nothing other than the sign of an interior orientation. [. . .] Does the priest not invite the people of God to follow him at the beginning of the great Eucharistic prayer when he says” “Let us lift up our heart,” to which the people respond: “We turn it toward the Lord”?

    As prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, I am intent upon recalling once again that celebration “versus orientem” is authorized by the rubrics of the Missal because it is of apostolic tradition. There is no need for particular authorization to celebrate in this way, people and priest, facing the Lord. If it is physically not possible to celebrate “ad orientem,” a cross must necessarily be placed on the altar, in plain sight, as a point of reference for all. Christ on the cross is the Christian East.


    I refuse to waste time in opposing one liturgy to another, or the rite of Saint Pius V to that of Blessed Paul VI. What is needed is to enter into the great silence of the liturgy; one must allow oneself to be enriched by all the Latin or Eastern liturgical forms that favor silence. Without this contemplative silence, the liturgy will remain an occasion of hateful divisions and ideological confrontations instead of being the place of our unity and our communion in the Lord. It is high time to enter into this liturgical silence, facing the Lord, that the Council wanted to restore.

    What I am about to say now does not enter into contradiction with my submission and obedience to the supreme authority of the Church. I desire profoundly and humbly to serve God, the Church, and the Holy Father, with devotion, sincerity, and filial attachment. But this is my hope: if God wills, when he may will and how he may will, in the liturgy, the reform of the reform will take place. In spite of the gnashing of teeth, it will take place, because the future of the Church is at stake.

    Damaging the liturgy means damaging our relationship with God and the concrete expression of our Christian faith. The Word of God and the doctrinal teaching of the Church are still listened to, but the souls that want to turn to God, to offer him the true sacrifice of praise and worship him, are no longer captivated by liturgies that are too horizontal, anthropocentric, and festive, often resembling noisy and vulgar cultural events. The media have completely invaded and turned into a spectacle the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the memorial of the death of Jesus on the cross for the salvation of our souls. The sense of mystery disappears through changes, through permanent adaptations, decided in autonomous and individual fashion in order to seduce our modern profaning mentalities, marked by sin, secularism, relativism, and the rejection of God.

    In many western countries, we see the poor leaving the Catholic Church because it is under siege by ill-intentioned persons who style themselves intellectuals and despise the lowly and the poor. This is what the Holy Father must denounce loud and clear. Because a Church without the poor is no longer the Church, but a mere “club.” Today, in the West, how many temples are empty, closed, destroyed, or turned into profane structures in disdain of their sacredness and their original purpose. So I know how many priests and faithful there are who live their faith with extraordinary zeal and fight every day to preserve and enrich the dwellings of God.

  2. Robin: Gosh, Batman, if a progressive modernist or neo-Catholic charismatic gets angry at too much criticism from neo-Pelagian triumphalists obsessed with traditional rubrics is he hiding his joy or does he just need to get slain in the spirit again so that he can show his joy by rolling around on the floor?

    Batman: You ask difficult questions sometimes, Robin.
    Perhaps he has misplaced his joy in the search for the historical Jesus during one of the neo-Gnostic manifestations as the Teilhardian Omega Point of cosmic evolution.

    Robin: Gee, I hadn’t thought of that, Batman.

    Batman: Progressive modernism can be tricky, Robin.
    We’ll pick up on this again after you have finished all of your Latin homework.

  3. Is not this cardinalatial “j’accuse!” still floundering in its explicit complicity with the schismatic un-council of most deplorable memory and its schismatic, talmudized, protestant “new rite?”

    Neither Cd Sarah nor Cd Burke have yet condemned either nor demanded, at all possible cost to their ecclesial status, that the council and all its pomps and works be ash canned, along with the nervous ordeal “rite.”

    Until, it is all just so much beating the air with fists.

    No pope, no council may ever “change the Mass” any more than either can licitly or validly rewrite the Scriptures, dogma or 2,000 years of Sacred Tradition. And it truly began under Pius XII in the 1940s when he patronized Bugnini’s desecration of the Mass of the Pre-Sanctified, obliterating the single oldest, most solemn liturgical observance on the Church calendar – a liturgy believed to have been celebrated by the Apostles themselves!

    That was nearly 20 years before the political revolution hijacked the levers of Vatican power and prestige.

    • Chronological clarification: The “new” rite imposed by Pius XII concerning the Triduum was not promulgated until the 1950s, when the tacit approval granted by the Pope in the 40s became explicit.

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