The Fallout and Propaganda: Cardinal Sarah and Sacra Liturgia 2016

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of matters ecclesiastical knew it would come. The boat had been rocked so there was bound to be some shouting, mounting insecurity and a sense of control lost. Having lost the battle of the Missal certain forces would be certain to move quickly so as not to lose the battle of the Altar.

However it it is not going to work so well this time around. The young laity and the young clergy and seminarians, in whose hands lies the future of the Church on earth for the next few generations at least, are now far more up to speed on the issues, and connected to each other across the globe in ways never possible when I was a baby Jesuit, thanks to the internet. Moreover, when the forces seeking to put Cardinal Sarah’s genie back in its bottle use highly deficient arguments, the young will see it, and will spurn it, even scorn it.

Cardinal Sarah’s opening speech at Sacra Liturgia 2016 included a specific invitation to priests to begin offering the Eucharistic sacrifice facing east—facing God—in common (in communion we might say) with the congregation, from the 1st Sunday of Advent (the standard date for liturgical change—I almost said “traditional date” but 46 years hardly makes a tradition in light of the Church’s two millennia of existence). There was a roar of approving applause from the delegates. It was not triumphalist applause, but the effusion of relief, even liberation. To hear the cardinal in charge of the liturgy encourage the Church to return to the traditional orientation at the altar—an African cardinal no less, and raised in what we westerners still think of as a mission territory—this was a healing moment for many of us.

Yet, one man’s healing is another’s irritation, though why it should be so is not so clear. One tactic is to cloud the topic is confusion and misdirection, like a magician. Thus we find the American Jesuit Fr Bruce Morrill, of Vanderbilt University, claiming that the cardinal’s remarks were “not official” and that he was not giving a directive as this would require Vatican approval and an official statement from the Congregation of Divine Worship.

In Crux, an online journal that seeks to take the Catholic pulse, we find this report of recent reactionary manoeuvres:

Although his comments were phrased as suggestions and not an edict, Sarah’s desire for a return to the ad orientem posture nevertheless generated wide reaction and debate, in large part because the posture is widely associated with the older Latin Mass in use prior to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65).

In truth, the rules for the post-Vatican II Mass also allow for the use of the ad orientem posture, and some priests celebrate it that way. In the public imagination, however, it’s generally seen as a more traditional way of doing it.

In the aftermath of Sarah’s comments, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster in the UK sent a letter to priests in his diocese saying that the Mass was not the time for priests to “exercise personal preference or taste.”

According to the Catholic Herald, Nichols also noted the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which lays out the rules for celebrating Mass, states in paragraph 299 that “the altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.”

In his statement, Lombardi quoted the same paragraph both in Latin and in Italian.

Lombardi said that when he visited Sarah’s dicastery, Francis expressly told the Guinea cardinal that the “ordinary” form of celebrating the Mass is the one promulgated in the missal by Pope Paul VI, meaning, after the Second Vatican Council. The pope also said that the “extraordinary” form while accepted under the means expressed by Benedict XVI in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, shouldn’t become the norm.

“There are therefore no new liturgical directives for next Advent, as some have wrongly inferred from some of Cardinal Sarah’s words,” Lombardi said.

Lombardi’s rejection of the phrase “reform of the reform” is also noteworthy in light of Sarah’s comments in early July.

In his remarks, Sarah had said that during a private audience with the pope last April, Francis had asked him to study “the question of a reform of a reform” to see how to enrich the twofold use of the Roman rite – the “ordinary form,” meaning the post-Vatican II liturgy in the vernacular languages, and the “extraordinary form,” or the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass.

The propagandist’s art is not dead, but indeed it is ever perfecting its technique. So let’s briefly unpack the propaganda of reaction.

  1. That a public, prepared speech from the cardinal in charge of overseeing the Church’s liturgy on behalf of the Pope, can be fobbed off as “not official” is extraordinary. We are meant to infer that things unofficial can be safely ignored.
  2. However, what Fr Morrill would be correct in saying is that, indeed, this is not a “directive”. It was an exhortation, formally delivered, powerfully and thoughtfully presented. When far more informal and spontaneous exhortations come from Pope Francis’ mouth, the same people fall over themselves to apply the same to all and sundry. Remember “Whom am I to judge?” Yet Carfinal Sarah’s is to be dismissed as “unofficial”, and “opinion”.
  3. No one, of course, claimed this had been a “directive”, certainly not the cardinal and certainly none of us who were there. The reactionaries have been presenting this as an underhand way of making something mandatory and so they can now valiantly expose the ploy, and reassure all those whose liturgical boats were rocked that they can relax again since the nasty conservatives have been exposed and thwarted.
  4. Cardinal Nichols politely waited till he had met and then seen off Cardinal Sarah before sending his letter to the clergy of Westminster. In that letter he makes two errors of judgment, as others more competent than I have already noted.(a) He equates ad orientem with “personal preference or taste”.
    (b) To support this misjudgment he uses the flawed English translation of #299 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal which asserts that Mass facing the people is “desirable”.However, this is not what the Latin (and thus normative and “official”) text of #299 says. Fr Zuhlsdorf does the comprehensive refutation of the incorrect English translation. Suffice it to say that the key relative pronoun quod is neuter and so cannot refer to celebratio which is feminine. It must therefore refer to altare which is also neuter. In fact the entire paragraph is about the altar, so a directive on facing the people in this paragraph would be incongruous to say the least. Thus, that “which is desirable” (quod expedit) is not facing the people but the placement of the altar away from the wall.As for ad orientem as personal taste or preference, you will note that such arguments are always made on a certain reading of various documents, but never of the rubrics of the Missal themselves. The rubrics are the primary source for how to celebrate the Mass, and any subsequent legislation can only allow for clarifications or exceptions, such as the priest facing the people at the altar. If facing the people was actually the norm then the rubrics would have to be changed. In the third edition of the Roman Missal of 2010 they were not. In an earlier post here I explain (rather presciently it now seems!) how the rubrics clearly assume the traditional eastwards position of the priest at the altar. In fact, the logic of the ritual, even the modern ritual, demands it.

    So let’s be unambiguous: Ad orientem is the norm in the Missal; versus populum is the exception, and it is facing the people that is in fact the expression of personal preference and taste. If there is any ambiguity, it is in the Latin of #299, with the placement of the quod phrase at the end of the paragraph. This mimics the syntax of languages such as English in which word placement is crucial for meaning (unlike Latin, properly translated). Conspiracy theorists would rightly have a field day here!

  5. Fr Lombardi’s introduction of the matter of the Extraordinary Form into this discussion is a red herring, to put it mildly. It is impossible to infer from what Cardinal Sarah said that he was advocating making the Extraordinary Form the “norm” for the Latin rite. This is more confusion and misdirection, and appears at first glance to be an attempt to associate Cardinal Sarah’s remarks with advocacy for the old Mass, employing guilt by association. Fr Lombardi, soon to retire, has no magisterial standing and can be safely ignored. In fact his whole work in recent years has been spent in explaining away public utterances, usually papal ones, that are too embarrassing, or inconvenient, to be allowed to stand.
  6. This seems also to be an attempt to undermine the commission given to Cardinal Sarah by Pope Francis himself, to explore the possibilities offered by the Reform of the Reform movement. For the reactionaries, this will appear to be introducing the wolf of the old Mass in the sheep’s clothing of the modern Mass. Of course they are judging it by conciliar standards, when all sorts of wolves in sheep’s clothing were introduced into texts for later exploitation at the propitious time.The the pure, all things are pure. To the Machiavellian all things are Machiavellian. The real wolves are not hard to find if you pay attention.
  7. The fact that Pope Francis has given Cardinal Sarah the instruction to explore the possibilities in the critiques offered by the Reform of the Reform movement (the new Liturgical Movement we might say) lends significant weight to Cardinal Sarah’s advocacy of the ad orientem direction for Mass. For one thing, surely this advocacy must be seen as the fruit of these same papally-requested explorations—that is the logical conclusion in the context. Moreover, it is hard, therefore, is this context, not to see Cardinal Sarah’s advocacy as having tacit papal approval. The only logical conclusion is that Cardinal Sarah has offered an exhortation to return to the traditional and normative position of facing East at the altar as the fruit of the study he has made at the pope’s request.

So perhaps we need to be reminded, therefore, that no special permission is needed to offer Mass ad orientem since it has always been the normative position in the rubrics of the Mass. To rely on the flawed arguments against this is to place yourself on a bus doomed eventually to crash.

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PS If you are understandably reluctant to rely on the words of a humble simple amateur monk, then do read the definitive yet accessible modern treatment of this topic by Fr Uwe Michael Lang of the London Oratory, Turning Towards the Lord.

47 thoughts on “The Fallout and Propaganda: Cardinal Sarah and Sacra Liturgia 2016

  1. I am an African from South Africa born deep into the practicality of the Vatican II, have read Cardinal Ratzinger’s documents and books one of them being Ratzinger’s report: there he highlights that so many seem to put into practice Vatican II of the media not of the fathers of the council.

    The recent roars about Ad Orientem and facing the people in Eucharistic celebration, made me to relive how even the call to priesthood has taken a nasty twist- young men in Africa most but not all are going into the priesthood preferably for being a celebrity being the centre of the gathering week in and week out, they go to the seminary for an easy way out of educational battles and making it in life without much hustle unlike their secular counterparts. All these problem are rooted in the way we celebrate the Eucharist- that is why there are sentiments like these after mass: the mass of this Priest is cool, wow this Priest can dance, wow this priest’s gestures during the Eucharistic prayer are charming and many more. If ad Orientem can be a norm perhaps the church can have a lot of meaning for us who were born deep into this confusion.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you and welcome!

      You are right to remind us of Pope Benedict’s perceptive distinction between the “council of the media” as usurping in the minds and memories of the faithful the council of the Fathers, the real council. We have the opportunity today to influence and utilise the media in getting out the good news in its authentic form.

      The intrusion of the priest’s personality is very hard to avoid in the new Mass, and inescapable when it is said facing the people. The priest’s personality cannot be avoided in the homily, for example. But at the altar it must decrease that Christ might increase. It is not just in Africa, my friend, that men have signed up for the priesthood for the imperfect reasons of status enhancement, career advancement, or even to cover issues of self-esteem, insecurity and identity confusion. The priest’s whose personal needs dominate his life and ministry is usually going to be harmful in the long-run.

      Like you I was born into the confusion of a post-conciliar Church, and having finally discovered what was lost I found myself at times quite angry at the theft. But Christ does not want us to get angry, but to get fixing, and start with ourselves.

      Peace and blessings!


      1. Thanks you Gladys, and bless you. We can safely say that today we have learned at last how much of the baby was thrown out with the bathwater. But it is never too late to bring good out of this, for nothing is impossible to God.


        Liked by 1 person

      1. My parish has two young priests who together are the youngest Administrator and Associate Pastors in the archdiocese. It’s been refreshing that they are strong spiritual fathers. I’m learning so much from them, as well as from other sources (such as your article here). I wish I would have known what the Church really teaches, and why!, when I was younger, but I grew up in the confusing times, with radical social activist priests and nuns …some of whom later left the Church for other pursuits, such as marriage and wicca. Much of what I learned from them, I’ve had to unlearn, but God is opening my eyes and understanding through the people He’s putting in my path.

        Our current priests say Mass versus populum, but I’d like to see a return to the way it was done before I was born. It made sense to me as soon as I learned (years ago) why it was said ad orientem, and I’ve been hoping ever since that someday I may witness it. Alas, so far, the closest I’ve come to any return to Tradition was when the celebrant skipped over the Sign of Peace — *that* was a breath of fresh air! The Mass flowed in a way that “felt” right (I’m a teacher – we don’t like transitions, they must be managed). We also didn’t hold hands during the Our Father, which allowed me to focus on worship. Our young priests have their work cut out for them in tending to our mixed flock of Old Traditionalists, Hippie Peaceniks (who would like to see everyone receive Communion because wouldn’t it be nice to share God? and women deacons, maybe even priests!), and everyone in between. But I think they’re strong enough to handle it, because of their great faith in God, and their trust in His Word. I certainly trust them to give me wise spiritual counsel, even though I’m almost old enough to be their mother.


  2. Thank you again Fr Hugh, your accounts have been invaluable for those us unable to the conference.

    The real issue here, with the Missal, is the same as with the Council itself: how should it be read?
    It is either in the hermeneutic of ‘rupture’: meaning forget what the documents themselves actually say, forget what scholarship says, forget what the competent authorities say, or else it is ‘continuity’, which means a return to a strict reading of the text, listening to what scholars are saying, and listening to competent authorities.

    In this skirmish the whole battle of the VII is being played out, including the rather shameful and not quite truthful bullying by the advocates the hermeneutic of rupture of those who uphold the hermeneutic of continuity.

    My personal fear is that despite what the texts clearly say and is open to everyone to read, that some ‘experts’ really hold an arcane truth revealed only to them, it is really about de-democratising the Church, and placing control into the hands of an elite and arcane oligarchy, who despite clear evidence insist they alone have authority to make a ‘correct’ interpretation.

    This is not just about the preference of the priest as Cdl Nichols suggests, it is about how we read and implement the Church’s teaching. In the case of Cdl Nichols email to his clergy it also seems about arrogating a power to himself that properly belongs to priests.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Father for taking the time to comment. Your own comments on things are not far from my attention.

      Perhaps underlying, or is it coinciding?, with the clash of hermeneutics is a clash of authorities. So many bishops and priests forcibly devolved to themselves authority not properly theirs (over liturgy for example) in the wake of Vatican II. Disguising itself as democracy and “hearing the voice of the laity”, it cajoled the docile and obedient laity into accepting their authority as the real one, especially when so little was done to oppose it for so long. Now that the laity, armed with the internet among other things, have been able to source the facts for themselves they shifting their allegiance back to where it properly belongs, not least to tradition and continuity. That this is happening among the young and early middle aged is especially frightening to those who benefit from the status quo, that oligarchy you speak of. So now they snatch authority from below as well, denying faithful clergy inconvenient “options” and writing off active and educated laity as troublemakers, and the younger ones as young fogeys.

      It does all rather look desperate. Perhaps we are getting somewhere.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. A great summary of all the misquotes, mistranslations, and misdirections people have made about this entirely fabricated ‘controversy’, Father, thanks! While plenty in my generation are more open to tradition, as you say, remember that we were really the first to grow up with no memory of ‘the changes’, and abandoning treasured things from childhood is very difficult. Which is to say, there are still a few of my peers out there who would oppose ad orientam with all the passion of those who agitated for the ‘reform’ of the 1970s.

        By way of example, one of my friends posted this on Facebook with a link to an article about the Cardinal’s remarks:

        “In a world where there is so much need, hunger, pain, hate, injustice, poverty etc…is the mission of the Church really dependent on which way we face? Please can we focus on the people and not the position of the priest in Mass? Let’s not turn away from the people but do what Jesus would and look them in the face. I’m sick of this now.”

        Another comment even said, “It’s rubbish to suggest this. Nothing to do with my personal relationship with Jesus. How the church has survived so long with priest like this I do not know.”

        So there’s still work to be done before priests can safely reassume the default posture during the Canon.


      2. Thank you Mark. You raise some good points. There are indeed a good number who have had nothing but a certain type of post-conciliar catechesis, formed to see religion as doing good and being nice and with an implicit expectation of universal salvation. When the Mass is no longer linked to salvation, then it can never really be important.

        The great mission that must coincide with liturgical reform is, as you imply, is a reformed catechesis, especially a liturgical catechesis.

        Peace to you!


      3. That explains the reactions to my comments addressed to elderly hippie radical priests on social media! I even point out to them that I look to them for spiritual direction, because that’s their role — and they make snide replies or even block me. To be fair (sort of), there’s the other extreme as well, bordering on the schism that misleads those of us who seek continuity with Tradition. Either way, they are representatives of Christ, and for that reason I accept their authority to say Mass and hear Confessions, though I reject their personal opinions.


  3. As I said in a previous social media post, and I’m certainly not a “basher” of Pope Francis, but I find it curious that a cardinal, one who has endeared himself to so many Catholics who desire more reverence, orthodoxy and orthopraxy, and at least an eye toward more traditional ways, has his comments “clarified” by the Vatican quite quickly. Yet, when other certain cardinals and bishops make convoluted “off the cuff” comments, Vatican clarification is noticeably, and perplexingly, lacking. Hmmmmm????

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That, dear Kelly, is indeed something that defies logic, though not realpolitik. However, as in previous cases, the official clarifications satisfy very few, and raise even more questions.



  4. “Fr Lombardi’s introduction of the matter of the Extraordinary Form into this discussion is a red herring, to put it mildly.”

    Well said, Fr. Hugh. The responses from Rome and Westminster have been so full of misdirection and deception that if one didn’t know better, one would assume malice aforethought.

    As a Greek Catholic friend said to me yesterday: “They don’t seem aware of the fact that “ad orientem” celbration in the vernacular is the only option for both Eastern Catholics and Orthodox. There are good theological reasons for this. Why do they think its always about your old Mass? Why is it more important to worship like the Protestants than it is to do as we do?”

    I suggested that the answer he sought was probably contained in his question.


    1. Salve!

      Indeed it is hard not to suspect malice aforethought, but charity bids us hope rather that confusion and habit are at work.

      Your Greek Catholic friend has chanced upon a real issue, the European Catholic fascination for dalliance with Protestants who run ever further away from us doctrinally and morally.

      And for all that, did even Martin Luther face the people in his reformed liturgy? I don’t think he did. That should tell us all something.

      Peace and blessings!


  5. ok, 2 small cents from the non-catholic american in the bunch ( note my humility of lower caps… and we should note that that is a lapsed anglican with strong Catholic roots…but I digress)

    Frist—I love the reference to having once been a baby Jesuit :)— shades of the little baby Jesus…

    Secondly, leave it to the American choir to begin the rabble rousing—

    And interesting that a commentary regarding the “woe be unto us” fright tactics that dare we turn back the clock to a Latin mass… that the good father’s commentary would be shared in both English and…oh me, Latin….amusing really.

    From everything I’ve read and heard regarding Cardinal Sarah……he is a very holy man.
    A rather nice quality to be found in a man of the cloth—
    preferred by some, even more so, to learned intellect—
    and yet happily Cardinal Sarah seems to possess both…
    add to that, common sense…hummmmm… and you’ve got a dangerously powerful combination!

    Sounds as if maybe he should have had a pontifical nod a while back…but then again, I digress.

    Way back in time…when I was a wee anglican…I gave a sermon on Youth Sunday at the Cathedral of St Philip in Atlanta (yep a girl could give the homily on youth Sundays—not that that is any sort of desire for women in the preisthood—no way, no how, not never…digressing….)

    My theme was that of being on fire—with the Holy Spirit—-
    That despite the current events of the times…as this was the time of post Vietnam… yet a current explosion of recreational drugs. Post Woodstock… yet a current, and on going, desire of peace, love and rock and roll—
    I noted the often overlooked news stories coming from that dark and mysterious sub continent of Africa that there was found alive and well the fire of the Holy Spirit racing through the predominantly black African churches both Catholic and Anglican.

    This was during the time of a rising Desmond Tutu, a ruling Idi Amin and the martyred Archbishop Luwum—the murdered anglican bishop by Idi Amin’s brutal and corrupt leadership—a murder that was carried out in order to silence the voices of the faithful that were rising up to the top throughout all of Africa—as we continue seeing fruits of that rising.

    It is a grassroots rising within the Church, lead by the faithful who yearn to hear not man’s words or desires—but the words and proclamations of God…
    Cardinal Sarah may know a thing or two about all of that which, perhaps, the rising “malcontents” do not…

    Just 2 cents Father….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In many respects I am still a baby, so not much changes!

      Cardinal Sarah is indeed a man of the Spirit, and he would be a worthy successor to Pope Francis. Holy Mother could do with a swig from an African cup at this point time.


      Liked by 1 person

  6. We are very blessed in the Diocese of Rochester, NY to have several newly ordained priests and seminarians who can/will celebrate the Extraordinary Form as well as a reverent Novus Ordo. A couple of ad orientem Masses are already scheduled. Of course, we have a terrific bishop leading us –Bishop Salvatore Matano!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. When in doubt about an English translation of Latin, I always read the text in a different, Latin-based language.

    So I just read the Roman Missal paragraph 299 in French and it’s pretty clear that they are talking about the altar, not the orientation:” Il convient, partout où c’est possible, que l’autel soit érigé à une distance du mur qui permette d´en faire aisément le tour et d´y célébrer face au peuple.”

    Which translates into English: “It’s suitable, wherever possible, that the altar be erected at a distance from the wall that allows to easily walk around it and to celebrate facing the people.”

    Why did they put the part about “desirable, wherever possible” at the end of the sentence in English, I don’t know but it makes it ambiguous.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Béatrice!

      Salut et merci.

      The French renders it accurately indeed. I had not yet thought of going to the French (or elsewhere), so your contribution is most welcome.

      You answered your own question I think “it makes it ambiguous”.



  8. “We are meant to infer that things unofficial can be safely ignored.”

    In fairness, had the Pope chosen, say, Piero Marini or Arthur Roche as CDW Prefect instead of Cdl. Sarah (which scuttlebutt suggests was a serious possibility), we might well want the option of being able to politely ignore prepared remarks that don’t take the form of a CDW protocol in Notitae if they amounted to a plea to use as many Eucharistic Ministers as possible (to pick one example).

    Cardinal Sarah’s plea is edifying because it points to a permissible (indeed, arguably assumed) posture for celebration which happens to be congruent with the ancient and consistent tradition of the Church, East and West, until the late 20th century.


    1. I take your point though I challenge it to some extent. There is a qualitative difference between ad orientem (ancient and still actually normative though not compulsory) and EMHCs (totally without precedent and by definition for exceptional circumstances).

      You cannot validly ignore the upholding of tradition but you can safely ignore attempts to make the extraordinary ordinary. Well, I can at any rate!



      1. I don’t really disagree, of course, Fr Hugh!

        If I was inching toward a point, it was about the hard lessons we have learned, or ought to be learning, about unhealthy ultramontanism, So much of the damage has been done by Catholic positivists who need no other direction than: “Rome has spoken” (or “The Pope has spoken”). No matter how absurd or harmful the thing was that Rome said, or what its actual basis was. It was Rome that gave the effective imprimatur to the revolutionary efforts to abandon ad orientem celebration beginning in 1865, after all. Few dared to question it or challenge it. The same goes for so much else that was put in place with the liturgy in 1965-1970.

        Could be that I’ve been reading too much Fortescue of late, though…


      2. Nor do I disagree with you. Perhaps the silver lining is that we can begin again to see the proper role of the papacy, without demeaning its sacredness. “The Banished Heart” by Geoffrey Hull first alerted me to the dangerous precedent set at Trent in having popes do more than tinker with the liturgy, however good and noble their intentions.

        Time to sleep!


  9. Sorry to be pessimistic Father, but the Novus Ordo is an anthropocentric liturgy BY DESIGN. After 50 years of modernist liturgies, the well-meaning suggestions by Card. Sarah are not going to be adopted. But hey, those priests who can do it and get away with it, by all means go full steam ahead! I know the priests in my diocese wont be able to do it, not even dream of it. There is a different underlying theology between the two forms of the Mass. The great majority of “Vatican II” priests WILL NOT COMPLY with Cardinal Sarah’s recommendation. Besides, for this to have even the slightest chance of going anywhere, MAKE IT LITURGICAL LAW. You all must know that. And certainly Pope Francis would not encourage such a theocentric celebration of the Mass, for that would be “going backwards,” as he said of the liturgy. We must “go forward, always forward,” he said, remember? The TLM was a mere fad, as he told the Croatian bishops. Making the Novus Ordo even look a bit more TLM is unthinkable for those who share the current Pope’s thoughts on the matter. And I think that most of the more traditional-minded priests, who really would go ahead and celebrate the NO ad Orientem, will not be permitted to do so. In short, I think Cardinal Sarah’s recommendation is fine but it simply will not be implemented at any respectable level, sorry. God Bless you!


  10. What’s always struck me about the approach taken with regard to ‘orientation’ is precisely the one made by the cartoon – and by a number of people in this thread. No doubt there is a democratic ‘theology of inclusion’ incorporated by having priest and people form a circle, as opposed to a hierarchical theology of supposed exclusion, in which the priest ‘leads’ the people in worship (consider Mtt.18:20). I think I can also see an ‘ecumenical’ point in favouring an orientation which most of our hitherto estranged sister churches deliberately chose in pursuit of ideas which were based on a rejection of authority, the priesthood, and the supposed ‘idolatry’ associated with a focus on ‘images’ The question for me has always been whether these considerations were enough to justify such a radical departure from a tradition the principle of which is to recognise that the focus of all is bent on Christ, who, as the incarnate Word, mediates between Man and God. To ‘turn one’s back’ on that is highly questionable, not just in terms of respect, but theology itself, whether or not the practices are more symbolically ‘democratic’ or ‘ecumenical’. My experience since 1967 proves to e that it is not just in Africa that an undue emphasis on the personality of the individual priest can be extremely undesirable from any balanced or reasonable point of view. The homily usually gives sufficient rein to any individual talents which a given pastor has it within his grace to bestow upon his largely uncomplaining flock.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. An Orthodox comment, if I may. With us the altar is always — or where possible always — freestanding, but nonetheless the celebrant faces east, i.e. with his back to the people. There is only one point when he takes up a position facing them across the altar: when after the Little Entrance he and the deacon ascend to the ‘high place’ east of the altar, where they remain during the reading of the Epistle. Traditionally this is the site of the Bishop’s Throne; it is significant that if a priest is presiding and not a bishop he is directed to sit not on the throne itself, but to one side of it.


    1. This sounds very much like the ancient western arrangement too – cathedra at the very east of the apse etc.

      But you confirm my (and not mine alone of course!) contention that facing east was THE Christian direction for worship.



  12. I am a product of Pre-Vatican II and deeply miss our Holy Mass as it was at that time.

    I would gladly welcome any change in our mass that’s reflects our tradition.

    I also agree that Cardinal Sarah would be a welcomed successor to Pope Francis.

    Thank you Father for your insight.


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