Benedict XVI: The Liturgy Is in “Good Hands” With Cardinal Sarah

In an afterword for the cardinal’s new book on the importance of silence, the Pope emeritus praises the Vatican’s liturgy chief as a “spiritual teacher.”

Cardinal Robert Sarah.
Cardinal Robert Sarah. (photo: Edward Pentin photo)

Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has said the Church’s liturgy “is in good hands” with Cardinal Robert Sarah, and praised him for his mastery of silence and interior prayer.

The Guinean cardinal “is a spiritual teacher” Benedict XVI writes of the cardinal prefect the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, in an afterword for Cardinal Sarah’s new book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, published last month in English by Ignatius Press.

He is someone who speaks “out of the depths of silence with the Lord, out of his interior union with him, and thus really has something to say to each one of us,” Benedict says in his short essay.

The Pope emeritus adds: “We should be grateful to Pope Francis for appointing such a spiritual teacher as head of the congregation that is responsible for the celebration of the liturgy in the Church.”

Benedict’s warm words are likely to encourage the cardinal who has battled a number of factions in the Vatican over the past year.

In particular, he called last July for a return to the practice of celebrating the Mass ad orientem — facing East, away from the faithful and towards God — a suggestion that received a swift, unfavourable response from the Vatican.  

At the end of March, he said the Church cannot close her eyes “to the disaster, the devastation, and the schism that the modern promoters of a living liturgy have provoked by remodeling the liturgy of the Church according to their ideas.”

“They forgot that the liturgical act is not only a prayer, but also and especially a mystery within which something is realized for us that we cannot understand entirely, but which we must accept and receive in faith, love, obedience, and an adoring silence,” he said in his talk, which also received a frosty response among those more favourable to modern, liturgical innovations.

But Benedict XVI, who has long shared the same analysis and approach to the liturgy as Cardinal Sarah, not only takes the opportunity in his afterword to praise the cardinal and his new book, but also uses it to offer a firm vote of confidence in his role as cardinal prefect.

The Pope emeritus explains that anyone today who “reads the ever-thicker commentaries on the Gospels remains disappointed in the end” because they have “something essential” that is lacking, namely “entrance into Jesus’s silence.”

“If we cannot enter into this silence, we will always hear the word only on its surface and thus not really understand it,” he writes.

Cardinal Sarah, on the other hand, “teaches us silence—being silent with Jesus, true inner stillness, and in just this way he helps us to grasp the word of the Lord anew,” Benedict writes.

He notes that the cardinal speaks hardly of himself, “but now and then he does give us a glimpse into his interior life,” in particular admitting to the need “for a deeper, more complete silence” which he finds in “days of solitude, silence, and absolute fasting have been a great support” — an “unprecedented grace.”

“These lines make visible the source from which the cardinal lives, which gives his word its inner depth,” Benedict XVI continues, adding that through this insight, the cardinal can “see the dangers that continually threaten the spiritual life, of priests and bishops” and the wider Church as the Word is “replaced by a verbosity that dilutes the greatness of the Word.”

Benedict admits that "specialized knowledge is necessary" but it can also "talk right past the essential thing unless it is grounded in a deep, interior union with the praying Church, which over and over again learns anew from the Lord himself what adoration is.

"With Cardinal Sarah, a master of silence and of interior prayer," Benedict concludes, "the liturgy is in good hands."

Archbishop Georg Gänswein will be among others launching the book in its German language edition in Rome on May 24.  

The full text of Benedict XVI’s afterword can be found in First Things.