03 April 2017, The Tablet

Cardinal Sarah attacks 'devastation and schism' of modern liturgy and praises text Pope wants to review

A speech by the Holy See’s liturgy prefect has lambasted the liturgical changes which occurred following the Second Vatican Council while praising controversial guidelines on Mass translations that Pope Francis has reportedly called to be reviewed. 

Cardinal Robert Sarah, who runs the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, argued in a message sent to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the publication
of the Motu proprio Summorum Pontificum by Pope Benedict XVI that those promoting a “modern liturgy” had caused disaster, devastation and schism by trying to reduce the Mass into a “simple convivial meal”. 

The 1962-65 gathering of bishops during Vatican II sought to renew Catholicism by re-connecting to the early Church while urging Catholics to engage in a dialogue with the world: and the church leaders who gathered in Rome at that time voted almost unanimously to reform the liturgy. But in the message sent this week to a German liturgical colloquium, Cardinal Sarah said "the post-conciliar Catholic Church" had "abandoned her Christian roots" which had seen her serious crisis in all areas of the Church’s life. 

“Many believe and declare loud and long that Vatican Council II brought about a true springtime in the Church. Nevertheless, a growing number of Church leaders see this ‘springtime’ as a rejection, a renunciation of her centuries-old heritage, or even as a radical questioning of her past and tradition,” the cardinal argued“The Second Vatican Council wished to promote greater active participation by the people of God and to bring about progress day by day in the Christian life of the faithful. Certainly, some fine initiatives were taken along these lines,” he explained.  

“However we cannot close our eyes to the disaster, the devastation and the schism that the modern promoters of a living liturgy caused by remodelling the Church’s liturgy according to their ideas. They forgot that the liturgical act is not just a PRAYER [sic], but also and above all a MYSTERY [sic] in which something is accomplished for us that we cannot fully understand but that we must accept and receive in faith, love, obedience and adoring silence."

The cardinal also accused some bishops of refusing to "translate faithfully" the original Latin text of the Roman Missal into their languages: with some, he argued, wanting to translate the missal "according to the fantasies, ideologies and cultural expressions".

He was also full of praise for Liturgiam Authenticam, the 2001 text released by the Vatican setting out principles for how to translate Latin into vernacular languages, despite informed sources in Rome saying the Pope wants this text to be reviewedCritics of this document argue it produces overly latinate translations and obscure sounding phrases which hinder the "full active participation" of people in the Mass, as wished for by the Second Vatican Council.

Francis is believed to have set up a commission to examine Liturgiam Authenticam and has put Archbishop Arthur Roche, the secretary of the liturgy department and Cardinal Sarah’s number two, in charge. Despite Francis’ reported move, the cardinal praised the "tremendous, marvellous work" of those bishops conferences - including the English speaking conferences, as well Spanish and Korean ones -  that have translated the missal in "perfect conformity" with the 2001 text. 

This is not the first time that Cardinal Sarah has appeared to be at odds with the Pope on liturgy: last year Francis rebuked him for suggesting priests should turn east and celebrate Mass "ad orientem" or with their backs to the people. 

The cardinal’s latest intervention was sent to a gathering taking place near Aachen marking ten years since Benedict XVI lifted restrictions on the Tridentine liturgy, which the Vatican II had sought to reform. In a long text, which has been translated into English for Catholic World Report, the cardinal said the old rite - the extraordinary form - should help enrich the reformed - ordinary form - Mass. 

Quoting Benedict XVI he said the old Mass can develop the contemporary version through "the rediscovery of postures expressing adoration of the Blessed Sacrament: kneeling, genuflection, etc, and also greater recollection characterised by the sacred silence".  

Cardinal Sarah argues that most Catholics - including bishops and priests - do not know the liturgical teaching of Vatican II, which was not a reform but a "restoration" aimed at ensuring the liturgy glorified God and “men are sanctified.”

He explained that a “mystical and spiritual renewal” of the liturgy was needed which was “missionary in character” and to which “Pope Francis is calling us.” But, the cardinal stressed, this must not be done by suppressing old forms of the liturgy or seeing them as “totally negative and outmoded”. 

NOTE: There has been no official confirmation from the Vatican over the setting up of the commission reviewing Liturgiam Authenticam - although some small independent blogs have published a list of names. Furthermore, when the congregation was asked by the Pope to issue a simple decree allowing for women to be included in the Holy Thursday feet washing ritual, the department took ten months to produce it. 

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