Cardinal Sarah on the Liturgy: A candid diagnosis followed by a fatal prescription

Cardinal Sarah on the Liturgy: A candid diagnosis followed by a fatal prescription

by Christopher A. Ferrara
August 30, 2017

In a recent article on the state of liturgy in the French journal La Nef, excerpted in English at Sandro Magister’s indispensable blogsite, Cardinal Robert Sarah, the now-neutralized Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, presents the usual “conservative” admissions of the liturgical disaster that has unfolded since the post-Vatican II “liturgical reform” was thrust upon the Church. The usual admissions are followed by the usual “conservative” refusal to admit that the “reform” was a catastrophic blunder that should be abandoned in favor of a return to liturgical tradition. Worse, Cardinal Sarah prescribes a cure that would be worse than the disease.

First, the admissions. Alluding to Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, which “liberated” the traditional Latin Mass from its false imprisonment on the fraudulent pretext that Paul VI had “forbidden” it, Cardinal Sarah declares: “Far from concerning only the juridical question of the status of the old Roman missal, the motu proprio raises the question of the very essence of the liturgy and of its place in the Church. What is at stake is the place of God, the primacy of God.”

Has the Cardinal no idea of what he has admitted? He has implicitly declared that the very place and primacy of God required the liberation of the traditional Latin Mass, which, sad to say, is nonetheless reduced to what is now called “the Extraordinary Form.” What does that say about the new liturgy, the so-called “Ordinary Form,” created by a committee after the Council — the only such innovation in the entire history of the Church?

Cardinal Sarah tells us what it says: “Here then is what the ordinary form must rediscover first of all: the primacy of God.” So, the new liturgy, not the traditional Mass, lacks the primacy of God! That being so, why in Heaven’s name should we not admit that it is a catastrophic failure? When, in the entire bimillenial history of the Church, has the liturgy failed to reflect God’s primacy? Only since Vatican II, when a new rite of Mass was literally fabricated by a committee and then foisted upon the Church, only to disintegrate rapidly under the weight of a thousand options and abuses.

With all due respect to the Cardinal, it is difficult to restrain laughter when one reads the following:

“I am convinced that the liturgy can be enriched with the sacred attitudes that characterize the extraordinary form, all those actions that manifest our adoration of the Holy Eucharist: keeping the hands together after the consecration, genuflecting before the elevation or after the ‘Per ipsum,’ receiving communion while kneeling, receiving communion on the tongue and allowing oneself to be fed like a child, as God himself says to us: ‘I am the Lord your God. Open your mouth and I will fill it’ (Psalm 81:11). ‘When the gaze upon God is not decisive, everything else loses its orientation,’ Benedict XVI tells us. The opposite is also true: when one loses the orientation of the heart and body toward God, one ceases to determine oneself in relation with him, one literally loses the sense of the liturgy.”

So, the Cardinal is “convinced” that it would be a good idea if the new Mass exhibited “the sacred attitudes that characterize the extraordinary form” as reflected in “those actions that manifest our adoration of the Holy Eucharist,” all of which are integral to the traditional Mass, because without these attitudes and actions “one literally loses the sense of the liturgy.”

Could there be a more devastating implicit indictment of the “liturgical renewal” than the observation that its lack of sacred attitudes and actions has caused a loss of the very sense of what the liturgy is?

But then comes the — quite frankly — ludicrous prescription for the admitted liturgical disaster: “Since there is profound continuity and unity between the two forms of the Roman rite, the two forms must necessarily illuminate and enrich each other.”

What? How can there be a “profound continuity and unity” between the traditional Mass and the new Mass when, as the Cardinal himself admits, the new Mass must “rediscover… the primacy of God,” lacks “the sacred attitudes that characterize the extraordinary form,” and has led to a situation in which “one literally loses the sense of the liturgy”?

Moreover, how can the new liturgy and the traditional Mass “enrich each other” when the new liturgy, as the Cardinal himself admits, is desacralized and impoverished in comparison with the traditional liturgy? The claim of continuity and unity is patently untenable. Never before in Church history has a new liturgy been concocted from scratch. All of the Church’s received and approved rites down through the centuries have been traditional — that is, handed down­ — not new creations. The situation the Cardinal describes can only be called a rupture. Indeed, writing as the “conservative” Cardinal Ratzinger, Benedict XVI called the imposition of the new Missal “a breach into the history of the liturgy whose consequences could only be tragic.”

And yet, incredibly enough, Cardinal Sarah recommends that, “with the help of the Holy Spirit, we examine in prayer and in study how to return to a reformed common rite, always for the sake of reconciliation within the Church.” This would, he says, require that “the liturgical calendars may be harmonized” as well as “a convergence of the lectionaries,” meaning that the traditional Mass would be subjected to the insane destruction of the traditional liturgical calendar, which even Cardinal Ratzinger lamented:

“one of the weaknesses of the postconciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the arm chair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth. The most blatant example of this is the reform of the calendar: those responsible simply did not realize how much the various annual feasts had influenced Christian people’s relation to time {…} they ignored a fundamental law of religious life.”

In sum, Cardinal Sarah’s prescription for the liturgical disaster is to combine the new liturgy that caused the disaster with the traditional liturgy that has escaped its ravages. If the Cardinal were a doctor administering to a patient, his license to practice medicine would be subject to revocation for prescribing fatal medication.

Such is the unprecedented crisis from which the Church now suffers: even those who see the crisis are blind — or have blinded themselves — to its causes. No doubt that very blindness of the pastors is part of what the integral Third Secret foretells.

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