For all of the talk about Laudatio Si, Pope Francis' new 80,000-word encyclical on the environment, the bigger earthshaker, as far as I am concerned, came from just across the Piazza San Pietro, at the Congregation for Divine Worship. The relative new Prefect, Robert Cardinal Sarah, sent major tremors of his own in a piece he wrote for L'Osservatorio Romano.
In his frank article, published in the Vatican newspaper, Cardinal Sarah makes some rather epic statements about the state of the Church's liturgy. He was direct in his emphatic words concerning the Church's form of sacred worship.
The liturgy is essentially the action of Christ. If this vital principle is not received in faith, it is likely to make the liturgy a human work, a self-celebration of the community. To speak of a ‘celebrating community’ is not without ambiguity and requires real caution. The participatio actuosa [active participation] should not therefore be understood as the need to do something. On this point the teaching of the Council has often been distorted. It is instead to let Christ take us and associate us with his sacrifice.Now, he is not saying anything new. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made the same prophetic statements as the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. He even wrote three books and numerous araticles on the subject. As pope, Benedict certainly tried to lead by example. The noble beauty of the vesture he used, the enhancement of chant in the liturgy and his orientation towards the Other helped to enhance and increase the aura of sanctity in the liturgy.
Cardinal Sarah even touched upon the issue of the orientation of both the celebrant and the faithful during the Mass. He soundly dismisses the mistaken notion that the celebrant and the faithful need to face each other at all times.
It is entirely consistent with the conciliar constitution, it is indeed opportune that, during the rite of penance, the singing of the Gloria, the orations, and the Eucharistic prayer, everyone, priest and faithful, should turn together towards the East, to express their will to participate in the work of worship and of redemption accomplished by Christ. This manner of doing things could opportunely be put into place in cathedrals, where liturgical life must be exemplary.
Here, Cardinal Sarah advocates for the usage of ad orientem. For me, this is of particular importance because there remains so much misunderstanding about this particular posture, even from those who should know better. Is the celebrant giving me his back when he uses this posture during Mass? Why isn't he looking at us? This line of questioning is almost akin to liturgical navel-gazing. The celebrant and the faithful are not the most important actors in the Mass. The Lord is. When we spend more time looking at each other instead of turning towards the Lord, we have missed the point of the Mass.
Ad Orientem is slowly coming into being, thanks to pioneers like Benedict XVI, Bishop James Conley and Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, who have promoted this posture through both word and deed. Even Pope Francis has made use of thsi posture on a few occasions. The celebrant faces the faithful when addressing them, but, he joins them in turning towards the Lord when making supplication to God on their behalf.
Another point that Cardinal Sarah touches on is the use of Latin. While he is saying nothing new, his spirited defense of the language is certainly cause for relief for those of us who have been out swirling in a never-ending sea of OCP-concocted bilingual liturgies. Rather than unite language groups, these liturgies cause a further divide as they do not encourage prayer in the common language of the Church, the tongue she has used for centuries.
According to the online journal Catholic Culture,
"Cardinal Sarah recalled the Council’s teaching that the faithful should 'be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them,' and said that the liturgy 'must stop being a place of disobedience to the requirements of the Church.'"
Sadly, as I have written on many occasions, this seems to be lost on OCP which prides itself on releasing the latest bilingual settings that promise to unite bilingual congregations in song when, in reality, they only promulgate the great divide.
But, Cardinal Sarah brings new hope. He brings a promise of carrying out the liturgical reforms initiated by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI. Cardinal Sarah asked Pope Francis what was expected of him in his new role as prefect. According to the African cardinal, it is the wish of Pope Francis that he continue Benedict's liturgical work. And that was the real bombshell as well as cause for great hope!