Could Cardinal Sarah Bring an End to the Liturgy Wars?

Pope Benedict XVI explained that he permitted the two missals to coexist not merely to satisfy the wishes of certain groups of the faithful, but also to allow for the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Roman rite.

Cardinal Robert Sarah
Cardinal Robert Sarah (photo: François-Régis Salefran, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

In the years since the Second Vatican Council, a rift has grown between the “conservative Catholics” – those who prefer the traditional Latin Mass – and those who attend the post-Vatican II Novus Ordo Mass, often singing robust hymns by the St. Louis Jesuits.

Are both liturgical forms valid? Yes – although the most strident participants in what has come to be called the “Liturgy Wars” might say otherwise.

  • Traditionalist Catholics who prefer the Latin Mass, wear a mantilla, and kneel to receive Communion on the tongue often eschew the modernists who have left those traditions behind.
  • Novus Ordo Catholics who stand to receive the Eucharist, and who love the contemporary music of David Haas and Michael Joncas, often regard their more traditional counterparts as too “rigid.”

Now, though, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has offered a proposal which could unite the two camps of Catholic worshipers. According to The Tablet, Cardinal Sarah has set out steps for a “reconciliation” between the old and new forms of the Mass. Among the new ideas for achieving peace are:

  • A new, shared calendar of feasts, ensuring that the Novus Ordo and the traditional Latin Mass use the same readings each day.
  • An end to the phrase “reform of the reform.” That phrase, Cardinal Sarah points out, has become synonymous with dominance of one clan over another. “This expression may then become inappropriate,” he says, “so I prefer to speak of liturgical reconciliation. In the Church, the Christian has no opponent.” He suggests, instead, using the phrase “mutual enrichment of the rites.”
  • Reception of Communion on the tongue while kneeling.
  • The inclusion of “Prayers at the Foot of the Altar,” as was customary in the older form of liturgy.
  • The priest, as was customary in the traditional liturgy, should keep his forefingers together after consecrating the host, thus demonstrating the utmost care, reverence and importance with which the priest regards the Body of Christ.

A new liturgy which incorporates elements of both the TLM and the Novus Ordo would incorporate periods of silence – not so that people in the pews can idly twiddle their thumbs, but rather, to encourage adoration and reflection on the mystery.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his Letter to the Bishops that accompanied the Moto Proprio Summorum Pontificum, explained that he permitted the two missals to coexist not merely to satisfy the wishes of certain groups of the faithful, but also to allow for the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the Roman rite. “The two Forms of the usage of the Roman rite,” Pope Benedict wrote,

“...can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal.... The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage.”

Cardinal Sarah, in his July 7, 2017 address on the 10th Anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, acknowledged the intent of the Second Vatican Council to promote greater participation by the people, but called attention to the negative repercussions of the changes. Most especially, he expressed concern that the faithful must understand that the liturgical act is not just a PRAYER but also a MYSTERY, 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 Mass is not just, as some Catholics have come to regard it, a “convivial meal” or the community's celebration of itself. It is an intimate, face-to-face encounter with the triune God.

To supporters of the old rite, Cardinal Sarah stresses that the liturgy is not a “museum object” that must never change. And he argues that those attending the Extraordinary Form must participate actively (through their prayer and attentiveness), and that the Scripture readings, which are often read in Latin, must be understood by the people in the pews.

As for those attending the newer post-Vatican II liturgy, Cardinal Sarah hopes that the priest will take a less prominent role. He wants to see a large cross on the altar, and hopes that this cross will be seen by everyone and will become “a point of reference for all.”