As we know well enough, RMS Titanic was a marvel of beautiful construction. She was the largest, most luxurious, and most probably even the safest passenger liner with the best available technology of her day, the first decade of the 1900s.
Built in the Harland & Wolffe shipyards of Belfast, she was launched on 31 May 1911. After trial runs, she was finally ready for her maiden voyage, which was to cover the classic route from Southampton (England) via Cherbourg (France) and Queenstown (Ireland), and westwards on to New York.
And so, on 10 April 1912, the Titanic departed Southampton with over 2,200 souls on board. So large was she that a collision was barely avoided while leaving dock on her inaugural voyage: another much smaller liner, curiously named the New York, was pulled away from her moorings and only barely escaped colliding with the departing Titanic, which was, remember, bound for New York. Not a particularly good omen…
In the Sacra Liturgia UK 2016 Conference in London, His Eminence Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, pronounced some very interesting words in his inaugural address that are being widely shared and commented on in the social networks.
But, you may well ask, dear reader, why begin with the tragic story of the Titanic in order to relate it to the conciliar and postconciliar “reform” of the liturgy, as well as Cardinal Sarah’s intervention in Sacra Liturgia 2016?
Because there is a striking similarity to the tragic story of the ill-fated liner, and the tragic story that is the conciliar and postconciliar liturgical “reform.”
When we speak about the liturgy after Vatican II, oftentimes I deliberately place the word “reform” in quotes since this is how it’s officially known as. But after some fifty years, a much more proper name would be liturgical “revolution.”
Both the Titanic and the Council started out on an optimistic endeavour. Both have met disaster on the way. The “unsinkable” ultimately sank, taking with her over 1,500 souls.
Notwithstanding intentions, original or otherwise, the de facto liturgical “reform,” promoted by the constitution on sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium of Vatican II, is still going asunder, taking countless more souls with it.
To be sure, Cardinal Sarah’s intervention has been receiving much attention. And rightly so, for many reasons, for and against. In his address, among other interesting things, the Cardinal remarked rather naïvely:
In this address I wish to place before you some considerations on how the Western Church might move towards a more faithful implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium. In doing so I propose to ask, “What did the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council intend in the liturgical reform?” Then I would like to consider how their intentions were implemented following the Council. Finally, I would like to put before you some suggestions for the liturgical life of the Church today, so that our liturgical practice might more faithfully reflect the intentions of the Council Fathers…
Let us see here… so he is calling—some fifty years later, mind you!—for a supposed “more faithful implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium.” He wishes to ascertain what the Council Fathers’ alleged original intentions were for liturgical reform.
And how these alleged original intentions were implemented afterwards. To see if this was done in accordance.
And where the actual liturgical reform does not coincide with those alleged original intentions of the Council Fathers, the Cardinal wishes to make suggestions to make so, what has not been so, these past five decades…
And his suggestions include celebration of the Mass ad Orientem, that is, facing towards the East, a common priest-faithful orientation, all looking in the same direction towards the altar, towards the Crucifix that should be in the center of the altar, looking towards Christ who is to come, as the Orient rising in the East.
The liturgy of the Divine Office prays thus during the night hours of the Vigils of Matins: the eschatological expectation of the Lord’s Second Coming.
And particularly chants at dawn in the canticle Benedictus during the Hour of Lauds: … To give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto the remission of their sins: Through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us: To enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death: to direct our feet into the way of peace (Lk 1: 77-79).
The facing of priest and faithful in a common direction ad Orientem, towards the East during Mass, beautifully expresses the reality of the Church-Spouse awaiting the coming of her Spouse, Christ, the Orient, the Sun—and The Son—who rises in the East, in Majestic Glory at the End of Time.
And lest we forget, the Cardinal’s suggestion to also bid the faithful to receive Holy Communion on the tongue while kneeling.
In other words, the Cardinal is piously suggesting celebration of the Novus Ordo Missæ in the correct direction, that is, in the manner of the traditional orientation of the Roman Rite, as well as reception of Holy Communion in what has been the reverent common practice in the Roman Rite for centuries… before the conciliar and postconciliar liturgical “reform.”
Yes, truly awesome pastoral suggestions from the Cardinal-Prefect of Liturgy, but… he is applying these pious initiatives to… the Novus Ordo Missæ?
The New Order of Mass that was promulgated by Paul VI on 30 November 1969, after years of ad experimentum when the traditional Roman Rite of Mass was being dismantled gradually from 1964 onwards?
The promulgation of this New Rite of Mass as the concrete putting in action of the conciliar constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium, that—lo!—was promulgated by the very same Paul VI on 4 December 1963?
And Cardinal Sarah is applying his suggestions to this very same New Rite of Mass, promulgated by the reigning Pope, who likewise ultimately approved the tinkering of the Rite of Mass being undertaken since 1964 by the Commission Consilium, under the nefarious direction of +Archbishop Anibale Bugnini, who by the way, had been negatively influencing the Church’s liturgy since 1948…
And Cardinal Sarah daring to further infer, that his suggestions would not only improve the celebration of the New Mass, it would mean actually being “more faithful” to the original intentions of the Council Fathers when Sacrosanctum Concilium (SC) was promulgated in the first place…? Really, Your Eminence?
To be fair to the Cardinal, true enough, nowhere in Sacrosanctum Concilium do we read anything about the Mass being celebrated versus populum, that is, facing towards the people.
Nowhere do we read the formal introduction of abominable modern-ist “liturgical music,” when even SC establishes that everything being equal—a suspicious loophole that would prove disastrous—Gregorian Chant merely has pride of place. We all know far too well what that means!
We even read in SC that although the introduction of the vernacular has its pastoral usefulness, Latin was to be retained in… the Latin Rite! Who would have guessed, of all things, my goodness! And along with the symbolic “pride of place” for Gregorian Chant, we also know far too well how the beautiful language of Latin has fared in the new “Latin” Rite!
And no, nowhere do we read the promoting of what has since become known as liturgical abuses, such as “clown Masses,” and other outlandish oddities so commonplace these past fifty some years.
Though one can choose to wonder how such irreverent absurdities can be considered mere “liturgical abuses” when being consented by the legitimate authorities for fifty years…
OK, in Cardinal Sarah’s defense, but… SO? So what? So what if none of what has become—de facto—typically characteristic of the Novus Ordo Missæ, is not explicitly written in Sacrosanctum Concilium?
Could not the “reformers” have purposefully worked in phases, little-by-little, to wary us with continual changes, until we gave up and got used to it?
Seems to be just exactly what they did: in 1963, Sacrosanctum Concilium, in 1964 Inter Oecumenici, in 1965-1966 changes gradually introduced in the ever-morphing rite of Mass, in 1967 the Missa Normativa, in 1969 the full-blown Novus Ordo Missæ. We had it coming!
Do original intentions really matter so much, given what has actually been happening under the Council’s authority? Especially after half-a-century of consented and approved liturgical revolution?
Is that proof enough therefore—as Cardinal Sarah is seemingly pointing out—that the Church has actually been unfaithful to her own principles of liturgical “reform” as set forth by Sacrosanctum Concilium? Is it at all reasonable to assert such? Or is it rather an utterly moot point to do so?
How can such a proposition honestly be maintained if every one of the liturgical innovations and novelties, which apparently, according to Cardinal Sarah, detracts from SC’s original intentions—such as Mass versus populum, Latin being eliminated in practice… in the supposed new Latin Rite (!), Communion in the hand while standing, altar girls, female lectors and acolytes, etc., were duly approved, sanctioned (even implicitly), and promulgated by a reigning Pope? I do believe I make my point clear…
To fathom what Cardinal Sarah is saying is to necessarily accuse—and likewise excuse—the postconciliar Popes, beginning with Paul VI himself, for having started permitting all this postulated “infidelity” to Sacrosanctum Concilium and all the official tinkering that came after.
Alas no indeed, Cardinal Sarah certainly does not go that far. But that’s the only logical conclusion to his line of thought. And of course, it’s completely absurd. Hence the Cardinal’s weak position.
Perhaps he should go that far, however, if only to set the record straight: the liturgical reform of the sacred liturgy, under the auspices of Vatican II, generally considered, has been one epic failure.
Thus, we urgently need a liturgical re-set. That necessarily means going back to the ancient Roman Rite: of the Mass, the Divine Office, and the Sacramental Rituals.
Where he does offer very valuable liturgical insight is when he says, rather sensibly:
I wish to underline a very important fact here: God, not man is at the center of Catholic liturgy. We come to worship Him. The liturgy is not about you and me; it is not where we celebrate our own identity or achievements or exalt or promote our own culture and local religious customs. The liturgy is first and foremost about God and what He has done for us. In His Divine Providence Almighty God founded the Church and instituted the Sacred Liturgy by means of which we are able to offer Him true worship in accordance with the New Covenant established by Christ. In doing this, in entering into the demands of the sacred rites developed in the tradition of the Church, we are given our true identity and meaning as sons and daughters of the Father.
But ironically, it is here also where the Cardinal’s otherwise sound liturgical reasoning, slams against SC and the de facto, officially approved liturgical “reform” that ensued.
Such a statement, given by—no less!—the Cardinal-Prefect of Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments—at a conference on the sacred liturgy of the Church, in A.D. 2016, is noteworthy, to say the least!
Truth be told, it represents some of the most theologically sound contributions made towards the liturgical life of the Church—after Vatican II—by a high-ranking prelate in Rome.
But ironically and paradoxically, it also undermines the very theological foundation of Cardinal Sarah’s surprising statements: i.e, it simply cannot be readily applied to the Novus Ordo Missæ.
And more so: it can’t be applied to the Novus Ordo by design. It’s rather like features in Microsoft Windows which are actually bugs, the same bugs being actually features in Apple macOS!
Yes, dear readers of akaCatholic, the Novus Ordo Missæ is, by design, a Protestant, anthropocentric, liturgical form of worship. These are features, not bugs. Full stop. And this coming from a bi-ritual priest (for the time-being) such as myself.
Does it, or can it, have its moments, here and there? Most certainly. I do what I can, and I know of Facebook priest-friends who have been celebrating ad Orientem and bidding their faithful to receive Holy Communion kneeling and on the tongue… and have been able to get away with it!
In fact, these good priests testify to the spiritual benefits of ad Orientem liturgical worship in their parishes, even if it’s in the Novus Ordo Rite. Naturally, these priests also celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass, and I’m sure they can tell the difference…
And I am quite sure my good brother-priests must realize that they can only continue to get away with ad Orientem Novus Ordo worship while their bishops either know it not, or do know what they are doing and either actively encourage it, or at least tacitly approve it.
The moment another bishop shows himself unsympathetic to the cause, they of course must cease and desist, out of obedience. Like His Excellency, Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas, for instance…
So, my good brother-priest Facebook friends have been, quite understandably, among the first to not only publicly support the declarations of the Prefect of Divine Worship in Sacra Liturgia 2016, but have shown great hope in his suggestions.
As for myself, I admit to having been rather pessimistic about the real prospects for ad Orientem worship in the postconciliar rite, and the shifting to Communion exclusively on the tongue, whether kneeling or standing. Not going to happen at large, sorry. Call it intuition or whatever.
Well, Father, it’s amazing nonetheless what Cardinal Sarah said, you know! It’s the start of something big! Well, his words are I suppose some sign of tenuous hope in this liturgical wasteland after Vatican II.
With the exception, of course, of his rather naïve assertion that SC hasn’t really been applied faithfully all these years. Sorry, Your Eminence, but you surely must know that that’s just not the case.
All in all, I haven’t been proven wrong—make no mistake—and in short time! The powers that be didn’t wait even 48 hours to discredit Cardinal Sarah’s traditional liturgical suggestions. This speed in counter-reaction would have made our childhood friend, the Road-Runner, run (meep meep!) for his money!
Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, Sacra Liturgia 2016 and Sarah’s host no less!, immediately wrote a pastoral letter to his priests actually discouraging them from celebrating the Novus Ordo ad Orientem.
All the time the Sacra Liturgia conference was still being hosted! I daresay now, that’s just awesomely fast, lest some poor naïve priest of his was just getting ready to implement Sarah’s suggestion for this upcoming Advent!
But what’s particularly outlandish in his pastoral letter is the claim that—wait for it!—: Mass is not the time for priests to exercise personal preference or taste (!) Oh, really? I mean, really??
Only now, after Sarah’s intervention, is he concerned about priests exercising personal preference or liturgical taste, even if the Novus Ordo rubrics have always fully permitted—and in fact, presumed all along—ad Orientem worship?
While Nichols noted that the Congregation for Divine Worship had confirmed back in 2009 that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) still allows for Mass to be celebrated facing East, the cardinal wrote: But it also ‘reaffirms that the position towards the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier’. Thus the expectations expressed in GIRM 299 remain in force whenever the Ordinary Form of Mass is celebrated.
Well, the truth of the matter is this fact: #299 of the GIRM has been (deliberately) mistranslated to the vernacular, giving the impression that the liturgical legislation actually prefers or recommends versus populum worship.
No! It actually states something quite different: that the altar preferably should be separated from the wall so as to be able to walk around it (such as when incensing) and make merely possible Mass versus populum.
Back in 2002, when the Third Editio Typica of the Paul VI Missal was promulgated, the Congregation for Divine Worship, under then Cardinal-Prefect Jorge Medina, clarified that the GIRM in no way whatsoever legislated preference for either ad Orientem or versus populum worship.
Furthermore, that this liturgical law could not be used to impose or even suggest either preference. Cardinal Nichols may have missed that, surely… And outgoing Vatican spokesman Fr. Lombardi, must have missed it too, as we shall see presently…
Honestly, on what planet has the Cardinal-Archbishop of Westminster been living on the past half a century? Who on earth is Nichols kidding?
These past fifty years of typical Novus Ordo worship has been all about priests—and faithful made in their own image and likeness—abusing personal preference and imposing upon an unhappy Church bad liturgical taste: in artwork, in music, in vestments, in homilies, etc.!
But lest we think this is a mere local issue, we come to learn that even Rome has intervened! Fr. Federico Lombardi must have received some order to do what he is best at: giving the “correct interpretation” to someone else’s previous words—lo!, this time not of Pope Francis, however—but rather of Cardinal Sarah’s words in Sacra Liturgia 2016.
The Vatican literally rushed to dismiss what many understood to be an unequivocal invitation by Cardinal Sarah—rightly so, because it was—to all bishops and priests to celebrate Mass ad Orientem, starting in Advent, claiming the outrageous assertion that the Cardinal’s words were “misinterpreted.”
Well, since Fr. Lombardi has gotten so used to correction a posteriori, perhaps he reacted… instinctively.
Fr. Lombardi did say though that Cardinal Sarah has always been rightly concerned about the dignity of the celebration of the Mass. But he added that some of his expressions were allegedly misinterpreted as if he were announcing new instructions different from the liturgical norms given until now, and the words of the Pope on the celebration of Mass towards the people in the Ordinary rite of the Mass.
Sarah likewise stated—again, rightly so—that ad Orientem worship would ensure that in our celebrations, the Lord is truly at the centre. Your own pastoral judgment will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year… may be a very good time to do this.
He also made a clear—but utterly vain—appeal to bishops to adopt the practice, asking them to lead your priests and people towards the Lord in this way and to form your seminarians that we are not called to the priesthood to be at the centre of liturgical worship ourselves, but to lead Christ’s faithful to him as fellow worshippers.
Yet again, Cardinal Sarah’s words are, from a traditional liturgical perspective. theologically very insightful and quite correct. Problem is that they cannot be applied to the Novus Ordo Missæ.
Certainly, no forthcoming “traditional” modifications to the Novus Ordo will be encouraged by bishops whose likes positively ignored John Paul II’s 1984 Indult for the Traditional Latin Mass, only to treat Benedict XVI’s 2007 universal right to the Traditional Rite as if it were a mere indult… an insult if ever there was one.
What, and run the risk of making the anthropocentric New Rite of Mass look even remotely similar to the theocentric Old Rite of Mass??
Therefore no, I’m afraid these pious and also theologically sound suggestions, will not be implemented at large in the postconciliar rite of the Church, any time soon.
Of this we can be sure from negative reactions from prelates like Cardinal Nichols, the Bishop of Little Rock, Arkansas, and from the Vatican herself. In his communiqué, Fr. Lombardi merely repeated the mistranslation of #299 of the GIRM, regarding the disposition of the altar, in order to justify—legally incorrect—versus populum worship.
Fr. Lombardi concluded by saying that all of what he had said in his communiqué was unanimously expressed during a recent audience granted by the Pope to the cardinal prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. And Cardinal Sarah met the Pope in private audience on Saturday, soon after his return from London. Poor fellow, wonder how that meeting went!
Meanwhile, Papal advisor Fr. Antonio Spadaro, published several tweets, incorrectly quoting from the GIRM, emphasising that Mass should be facing the people. Oh yes, Papal advisor Fr. Spadaro, who cares that you are—and the Pope, for that matter—violating liturgical law, without even the decency to change it, at least!
Oh wait, I was forgetting… Francis did just that for Holy Thursday, did he not? Making into liturgical law what had been an abuse for decades—washing the feet of women, completely altering the original meaning of Our Lord’s gesture, relating it to the apostolate of a male-only priesthood—that Francis himself had been doing as priest and bishop. Some would call that humble, my word… but I digress…
Although Cardinal Sarah made no distinction between what since Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007) and later Instruction Universæ Ecclesiæ, (2011), is known as the Ordinary and Extraordinary Forms of the Mass, Fr. Lombardi said that Pope Francis, when he recently visited the Congregation for Divine Worship, specifically mentioned that the Ordinary form of the Mass (aka Novus Ordo) is that provided by the Missal promulgated by Paul VI, while the Extraordinary Form (aka the Traditional Latin Mass of All Ages) must not take the place of the Ordinary.
Goodness no, God forbid such a thing! In other words, Fr. Lombardi, following Pope Francis’ lead, wanted to make clear (how refreshing!) that Masses celebrated facing East do not have to apply to the Ordinary form of the Mass. Oh, of course not! As if ad Orientem was already commonplace after Vatican II…
Just for extra clarity, Fr. Lombardi added: There are therefore no new liturgical directives foreseen from next Advent, as some have wrongly inferred from some of the words of Cardinal Sarah, and it is best to avoid using the expression ‘reform of the reform’ when referring to the liturgy, as it’s sometimes been a source of misunderstandings.
Well, now that’s ironically true: it is utterly useless to keep talking about Benedict XVI’s supposed “reform of the reform” of the sacred liturgy.
Firstly, there took place no liturgical “reform” at Vatican II: it was a liturgical Revolution. Its effects are similar to the nefarious 1917-1918 Bolshevik Revolution that overthrew and murdered a beautiful and pious (alas, Eastern Orthodox, not Roman Catholic) Russian Imperial Romanov Family… including children and the family dog; i.e., very thorough.
The Novus Ordo Missæ would seem to be the liturgical representation of Original Sin with the Fall of Adam and Eve; i.e., with deep, inherited, long-lasting effects on humanity, in imperious need of divine intervention.
And secondly, as we have just witnessed the unaccustomed celerity with which certain prelates and even the Vatican, have stepped over themselves to, in practice, discredit Cardinal Sarah’s otherwise sound liturgical suggestions.
Indeed, any notion of “liturgical reform of the reform” is meaningless. What Holy Mother Church needs—urgently—is a liturgical restoration—nothing less will do. But—irony of ironies—the most postconciliar progressives are actually quite the conservatives when it comes to a true, organic reform of the sacred liturgy, as the Church has traditionally always done throughout the ages… before Vatican II.
It must be extremely difficult indeed to stop looking at and worshipping our wonderful little selves. One can almost hear a familiar dialogue from the fairytale, Snow White (yes, we traditionalists can dialogue too!): Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most progressive of them all?
And so, Cardinal Sarah, (still as of this writing) the Vatican’s Prefect for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, would have us look towards the East. And he is quite correct, for the Orient—Our Lord Jesus Christ—is our only hope of Redemption and Salvation. Something that on many other doctrinal and pastoral levels, and not only liturgically, many in the Church seem to neglect.
But let’s face it. Since Vatican II, we, the human element of the Church, are aboard the Titanic steaming West, though as Francis would have it, we must look forward! Yes, as Francis said about the postconciliar Mass when in 2015 he highly praised the 50th anniversary of Paul VI’s 1965 first versus populum Mass in the vernacular Italian (even before the Novus Ordo of 1969!): we must look forward, never backwards, always looking forward…
Oh yes, we are sure looking “forward” all right, but in the wrong direction: towards the westering sun, ultimately towards ourselves in a liturgy we make in our own image and likeness, towards the ever increasing darkness of a life-threatening iceberg that we may not avert in time… pro multis, for many.
Well, come to think of it, the real Titanic, for all her imprudent navigation, was actually far better off: despite several warnings of dangerous ice in the area, when the time ultimately came, at least she tried to veer away from the iceberg! The Titanic didn’t make it. But tried to. Which—alas—is sadly more than we can say for many of us…