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13 July 2016 | by Christopher Lamb

Cardinal Sarah's very public slap-down shows Pope is willing to use his authority 


Public rebuke for senior clergyman shows Francis can censure those who disagree

When it comes to those he disagrees with, Pope Francis’s approach is to avoid direct confrontation, preferring instead to ignore them and get on with his job. But in the case of Cardinal Robert Sarah he has made an exception. 

Last week the 71-year-old Guinean prelate unilaterally announced that priests should start to turn their backs on the congregation and face east to say Mass - something which liturgical traditionalists often call for as it is how the priest celebrates the Old Rite Latin liturgy. 

This is all part of an agenda described as a “reform of the reform” which would make the Mass ordinary Catholics attend on Sunday more like the one celebrated before the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. It means more latin, more chant and less participation from the congregation.  

Soon after the cardinal made his remarks, however, the Vatican released a statement saying there will be no changes to this part of the liturgy and, crucially, that this had been “expressly agreed” during a recent audience between the cardinal and the Pope. It added that the phrase “reform of the reform” should be avoided.

It is highly unusual for the Vatican to publicly slap down a Prince of the Church, yet not entirely surprising given how Cardinal Sarah has operated since his appointment to lead the Holy See’s liturgy department. 

There have been a series of incidents that reveal the cardinal is part of a faction making life difficult for this Pope: take, for example, the fact it took Cardinal Sarah’s department more than a year to implement Francis’ simple request that women should be included in the Holy Thursday foot-washing ritual. 

Among Rome’s conservative circles Sarah is often put forward as a future Pope, with Benedict XVI devotee, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, comparing the cardinal to the 5th century North African Pope Galasius (he made this comparison on the eve of Francis’ visit to Africa). 

Away from the liturgy, Sarah has written books opposing any change to Church teaching on communion for the divorced and remarried while during the synod on the family last October compared “western homosexual and abortion ideologies” to Nazism and Islamic terrorism. It is hardly the language of the Pope and his desire for a more merciful and compassionate Church. 

All this has left people wondering why Francis appointed the cardinal to his current role. At one level appointing a conservative has neutralised the liturgy wars, whereas putting a more liturgically progressive figure into the job during a radical papacy could have made divisions worse. 

For his part, Francis is not someone who obsesses about the liturgy: he celebrates his morning Masses facing the people in a simple, modern chapel in the Casa Santa Marta, while is happy with the use of Latin for big papal celebrations.   

And given all that is on his plate, the last thing he needs now is a fight over the liturgy. So despite his aversion to taking people on face-to-face, his handling of the Cardinal Sarah matter shows this Pope will use his authority if necessary. 





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User Comments (31)

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Comment by: Ishvara
Posted: 25/08/2016 15:03:29
As I add my response to all the previous comments, Sarah is back again reiterating his position, this time in contradiction to that of the Pope's expressed stance. Sarah probably considers himself not merely a cardinal, but a Pope! This raises the issue of all extreme conservatives. They have reached the point of Fundamentalism. For those who are familiar with these psychological phenomena, it would be clear that extreme conservatism or fundamentalism is a symptom of pathogenic fearfulness and dangerous sense of insecurity. Such cannot be the teachers or leaders in any sense.
Comment by: Louise
Posted: 04/08/2016 12:49:41
The preoccupation bordering on totemic obsession for ad orientem in the Mass on the part of liturgical traditionalists blinds them to the greatness of this papacy. Pity. All they can do is attack the Holy Father of alleged 'liberalism' or ' modernism.' On the contrary, the Pope is simply preaching the Gospel but he is not obsessed with liturgical rubrics nor does he wish to lead a church turned in on itself. Rather he wants a church concerned with those on the peripheries ie: those forgotten, left behind, ignored by too long by those at the centre. That this is considered a radical move by some shows just how obsessions with liturgy can blind us to what is really important.
Comment by: Boyers
Posted: 25/07/2016 23:04:53
to Albertjazz

Your posts display an appalling ignorance of liturgical history - so common from those self-appointed guardians of the truth (Weren't the Scribes and Pharisees just that?)

You lament Communion in the hand as an aberration from Vatican II which is, in your mind, responsible for every evil in the world, including a heretical Pope Francis. Please do your basic homework before posting such utter junk - totally risible. Who said (before Vatican II) "When you receive communion place your hands so that they make a throne for the Lord" and who said "Be careful that no part of the host falls to the ground through your neglect"?
I humply suggest you engage on a course on liturgy before you post such utter junk - all you manage to do is to make yourself a laughing stock and further undermine your crass opinions.
Comment by: Pat
Posted: 24/07/2016 18:06:26
Very good point David. And indeed I would trace the line back further - to Pope St Pius X as well. I pray to Our Lord that we may have someone like that back at the head of the church soon. Of course that sentiment would make me a fascist in the fevered view of some eyes I suppose. And no I am not a member of the SSPX before anyone accuse me. The liberal position seems to grant infallibility to every passing thought and whim of the Holy Father as though he was a production line of inarguable and uncontested pronouncements when the reality is anything but that.
Tradition as G K Chesterton once wrote is giving a voice to previous generations and we abandon it at our peril.





Comment by: David
Posted: 24/07/2016 14:33:12
Acushla wrote: "Pope Francis is God's choice and everything he does is inspired by the Holy Spirit."
In view of this contributor's enthusiasm for papal teaching, can he or she confirm that if we replace the word 'Francis' by 'Benedict XVI' or 'John-Paul II' or 'Paul VI' it still applies? Since Francis has not revoked one jot of his predecessors' doctrinal statements, we can assume that they all still apply.
Comment by: Pat
Posted: 24/07/2016 12:41:53
To Acushla,

And your comments are not judgemental? I genuinely admire your passion which is missing in so much of the modern church, even if I believe it to be misguided but the only example of intemperate judgement in this debate appears to come from you.
May Our Lord grant us all peace.
Comment by: ACUSHLA
Posted: 23/07/2016 17:30:10
You so called traditional catholics are all the same. Hateful,insulting,angry, Pharisaic, liars,the list is endless. This article by Lamb is perfect.The Church around the world is growing and vibrant.Vatican 11 is excellent.Pope Francis is God's choice and everything he does is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Your tiny group of so called traditional Catholics never grows and keeps losing followers because of your negative hateful judgemental qualities which are repulsive.You must accept Vatican 11 and respect the Pope or leave the Church and form your own.
Comment by: Denis
Posted: 21/07/2016 16:24:17
As David said, this is really a nasty, sneering and disingenuous article. How sad it appears in what purports to be a Catholic magazine.
Comment by: David
Posted: 20/07/2016 10:13:39
Unfortunately, this article illustrates the type of journalism we would not expect in a professional, Catholic publication: sneering, jeering comments, inaccurate representation of what Cardinal Sarah actually said about eastward facing Mass, and claims of polemic and division where there is actually none. The fear of change, the desire to repress real debate and discussion of liturgical matters, and a curious tendency to idolize Pope Francis' every word suggest a very poor vision of the breadth and depth of the issues concerned by Cardinal Sarah's comments. Since Cardinal Sarah did not say that Mass should NEVER be celebrated facing the people, why does 'The Tablet' denigrate any suggestion that it could EVER be celebrated facing east? Surely the unfathomable depths of the Eucharistic mystery are expressed by both positions? It is insulting to our Orthodox and High Anglican friends to suggest otherwise.
Comment by: Boyers
Posted: 19/07/2016 10:32:53
to albertjazz....

Not afraid of anything traditional! The trouble is that "conservatives" have little sense of litugical history - for them Trent is normative, but if you wanted to be really authentic, start reading Justin on the celebration of the eucharist. Traditional didn't start and stop with Trent!
Comment by: Alyosha
Posted: 19/07/2016 02:59:05
Francis, like most "liberals", is happy for people to express their opinions provided that in the end they are the same as his. A narcissist without holiness, he has the same episcopal personality that was common back in the day ie when nothing was done about abuse whether fiscal, sexual or spiritual but bishops were, we were told, so more "friendly", much more "approachable" and knew how to smile.
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Comment by: Pat
Posted: 17/07/2016 19:21:08
The post conciliar church is terrified that when people experience what they have been missing and the spiritual paucity of the mass foisted upon them by the input of protestant advisors to the council they just might demand that the church begins to stand for eternal truth once more. The holy mass is about the sacrifice of Our Lord and is not about us and our ability to knock out a tune on a guitar. The facile interpretation that the priest is facing 'away' from the congregation rather than facing our God and creator and effectively leading the congregation who also face the same way is childish and self centred. I despair of liberal modernists who appear to nothing more than over indulged brats and alarmingly intolerant of others. No-one, it seems is more intolerant than a 'liberal'
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Comment by: Frankkly
Posted: 15/07/2016 19:12:05
How tiresome Catholics can be! 'Facing the Lord'? The Lord is in my heart. Do I do pirouettes ?

Taking Communion in the hand - What? Just like the Apostles did?

The use of Latin is, somehow, more dignified and sacred than the vernacular? Why not Aramaic which the Lord spoke at the Last Supper? Or Greek, which was the language of the Early Church and the language of Sacred Scripture?
The essential thing is the dignity and reverence we give to the Mass, whatever Rite is used.

Catholics should be more concerned with spreading the Good News and be more involved in the Corporal Works of Mercy in this Year of Mercy than Yah Boo arguments about one Rite being, somehow, 'superior' to another. Jesus was always against elitism.
Comment by: Albertjazz
Posted: 15/07/2016 18:08:40
The Liturgy is all important,culminating in reverence to the Real Presence of our Blessed Lord.The Novo Ordo sees folk in line mostly chatting away,them Communion in the hand,communicants castling walking back to the pew,then no time for private prayer before the priest starts giving out parish notices! Francis and his acolight Cardinal Nicholls promote this manner of liturgy.So I ask do most Catholics today really believe in the real presence ? so many a receiving communion so few receiving the sacrament of penace !
Comment by: Jim Bowman
Posted: 15/07/2016 00:03:49
Am pleased to hear Pope does not obsess over liturgy. He obsesses over other matters? Wow.
Comment by: Mahrt
Posted: 14/07/2016 18:44:46
You reported: "Last week the 71-year-old Guinean prelate unilaterally announced that priests should start to turn their backs on the congregation and face east to say Mass." The cardinal said no such thing that they should "turn their backs on the congregation." He advocated turning to the Lord. Turning his back to the congregation is a description of someone who does not understand the posture; when the priest and congregation face the same direction, it is clear that they are addressing the Lord. When the priest faces the congregation, it is not clear whether he is addressing the Lord or the congregation. Addressing the congregation is most appropriate in the Liturgy of the Word, and the cardinal's view includes the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word at the chair, i.e., facing the congregation. The Liturgy of the Eucharist, then, would be at the altar facing the same direction as the congregation. The text of the Eucharistic prayers makes it clear that the address is to the Lord, and this posture includes the congregation in that address.
Comment by: Lucius707
Posted: 14/07/2016 16:00:38
There was no slap-down because there WAS no directive from Cardinal Sarah. Latin, chant, active participation are things required by Vatican II's decree on the liturgy. Mr. Lamb should re-read it. If Mr. Lamb does the research he will see that when the Missal of Paul VI was promulgated, it presumed that the priest/people were facing the Lord which is true in the current Missal. If you look at #29 in the Editio Typica of the Ordinary Form it says: And the priest standing in the middle of the altar turns to the people and says: Pray Brethren. #299 of the General Instruction (see the Latin text) allows for the possibility of Mass facing the people. It's not mandatory. What it says is expedient is the altar separated from the wall which goes back to St. John XXIII and the Missal of '62! What's the real fear here? Are we still clinging to a rupture-narrative of the Council as if the Church only began in '65? The ad orientem position is the ancient tradition in the East and the West.
Comment by: Mark
Posted: 14/07/2016 15:18:42
But did Pope Francis really confront Cardinal Sarah? When the Vatican issues a statement, just who is the "Vatican"? Pope Francis has many advisers who dislike anything traditional or conservative in nature, so it may very well have come from one or more of them. Pope Francis seems to enjoy using the media as his many "off the cuff" interviews demonstrate. If this was really an important issue to him, why doesn't he talk about this to the media himself? It's interesting that such a quick response came from the "Vatican" which indicates that they (whoever they are) are only interested in open dialogue when it's discussing a liberal or progressive viewpoint and not a traditional or conservative one. Many faithful Catholics are becoming more and more dismayed with all of the confusion coming from the "Vatican".
Comment by: dr. timothy j. williams
Posted: 14/07/2016 15:05:22
"It means more latin [sic], more chant and less participation from the congregation." Really? is THIS the extent of Mr. Lamb's understanding of prayer and liturgy? I attend a Latin mass on a regular basis, and I participate fully in the manner appropriate to the faithful. I suspect that since I am not clapping my hands or jumping up and down, this would be a sign of "dead faith" for Pope Francis...
Comment by: Jramza
Posted: 14/07/2016 13:46:58
A fair question, Albertjazz. I think reading replies like the one above, which talk about Pope Francis advancing a modernist agenda to destroy the Church, is very much why many mainline Catholics are often distrustful of Traditionalists - for so many of them, it is their unique view of the Faith, or heresy. No room to "get along."
Comment by: pataburd
Posted: 14/07/2016 13:03:36
Apparently the Holy Father has no problem advancing a Modernist destruction of the Faith while at the same time proscribing any Traditionalist preservation of the Faith. Francis is simply the logical (and frightful) conclusion to Vatican II run amok.
Comment by: albertjazz
Posted: 13/07/2016 17:04:49
Why is the post conciliar church so scared of anything traditional being introduced
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