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.
- 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.
- 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”.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.