Cardinal Sarah: ‘Liturgy Must Reform Itself to Be More Faithful to Its Mystical Essence’
The cardinal’s speech addressed various debates about the liturgy following the Second Vatican Council.
COLOGNE, Germany — Despite the controversies and abuses following the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic liturgy is ultimately a source of unity that forms Christians in the sacrifice and salvation of the cross, Cardinal Robert Sarah has said.
If Catholics feel they are undergoing a divisive “liturgical war,” the cardinal said, they should see it as “an aberration.” Instead, the liturgy is “the space par excellence where Catholics should experience unity in truth, in faith and in love.”
“As a result, it is inconceivable to celebrate the liturgy while having sentiments of fratricidal conflict and rancor,” he said. “In this ‘face-to-face’ with God that is the liturgy, our heart must be pure of all enmity, which requires that everyone must be respected in his own sensibility.”
Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, stressed the need to reaffirm that the Second Vatican Council never called for a break from the past. Rather, the Council’s vision of liturgical renewal should be promoted.
The cardinal prepared his remarks for the 18th Cologne International Liturgical Conference, which is focusing on the 10th anniversary of Benedict XVI’s instruction Summorum Pontificum, which gave broad leeway to priests for the celebration of the Roman Catholic liturgy according to the 1962 Latin-language Roman Missal, now known as the extraordinary form.
The cardinal’s speech, which he did not deliver in person due to other commitments, addressed various debates about the liturgy and the direction of the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council.
After the council, Blessed Paul VI issued a new Roman Missal, now known as the ordinary form, which was widely translated from Latin into local languages.
Cardinal Sarah said both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the liturgy should bring to the faithful “the beauty of the liturgy, its sacredness, the silence, the recollection, the mystical dimension and adoration.”
“The liturgy must put us face-to-face with God in a personal relationship of intense intimacy. It must plunge us into the intimacy of the Most Holy Trinity,” he said, adding that “the liturgy should allow us to attain all together to the unity of faith and to the true knowledge of the Son of God.”
He rejected any efforts to oppose one Roman Missal to the other or to oppose the Roman liturgy to those of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
“We ought, rather, to enter into the great silence of the liturgy, allowing ourselves to be enriched by all the liturgical forms, whether they be, incidentally, Latin or Eastern,” he said.
Without mystical silence and a contemplative spirit, the liturgy will remain “an occasion for hateful divisions, for ideological confrontations and for public humiliations of the weak by those who claim to hold authority, instead of being a place of our unity and our communion in the Lord.”
Cardinal Sarah spoke of the importance of liturgical formation, which must begin with a proclamation of the faith and a catechesis based in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This formation “protects us from the risk of the more or less learned deviations of certain theologians in need of ‘novelties.’”
For Cardinal Sarah, the heart of all authentic Christian liturgy includes efforts to improve and esteem its beauty and sacredness as well as “maintaining the right balance between fidelity to the Tradition and legitimate evolution.” This last point means “absolutely and radically” rejecting any interpretation that sees liturgical history as a break with the past.
The cardinal spoke at length of divisions over the liturgy, delivering some strong criticism for some abuses.
While the sense of the sacred is inseparable from the liturgy, some of the faithful have been so mistreated or deeply troubled by superficial celebrations of the liturgy that they have become “liturgically homeless.”
Cardinal Sarah criticized a vision of liturgical reform that failed to fulfill the authentic restoration envisioned by the Second Vatican Council. This vision was carried out with “a superficial spirit” and wrongly aimed “to eliminate at all cost a heritage perceived to be totally negative and outdated in order to dig an abyss between before and after the Council.”
For Cardinal Sarah, the Second Vatican Council was not intended to be “a rupture with the Tradition,” but a rediscovery and confirmation of Tradition “in its deepest significance.”
“In fact, what is called ‘the reform of the reform,’ and which should perhaps be called with greater precision ‘the mutual enrichment of the rites,’ to adopt an expression of the magisterium of Benedict XVI, is above all a spiritual necessity,” he said.
“Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger tirelessly repeated that the crisis that has been shaking the Church for the past 50 years, principally since the Second Vatican Council, is linked to the crisis of the liturgy, and thus to the disrespect, desacralization and horizontalization of the essential elements of divine worship.”
As Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his memoirs, he is convinced that “the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy.”
Cardinal Sarah added: “We cannot close our 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.”
He contended that those who enacted negative changes in the liturgy forgot that it is not only a prayer, but is especially a mystery “that we cannot understand entirely, but which we must accept and receive in faith, love, obedience and an adoring silence.”
This, he said, is the true meaning of the Council’s endorsement of “the active participation of the faithful” in the liturgy.
The “crisis of faith” since the Council has affected many Christian faithful, especially many priests and bishops, and has made them incapable of understanding the Eucharistic liturgy as a sacrifice identical to the sacrifice of the cross.
Cardinal Sarah emphasized that the Mass is “the living sacrifice of Christ who died on the cross to free us from sin and death, so as to reveal the love and glory of God the Father.” Every celebration of the Mass aims for “the glory and adoration of God and the salvation and sanctification of men.”
True worshippers of God do not reform the liturgy according to their own ideas and creativity to please the world. Rather, they “reform the world with the Gospel” to help the world access the liturgy that is “the reflection of the liturgy that is celebrated from all eternity in the heavenly Jerusalem.”
Cardinal Sarah stressed Benedict XVI’s approach. The Pope’s 2007 letter to bishops accompanying Summorum Pontificum said it aimed “to allow for the mutual enriching of the two forms of the same Roman rite” and opened the possibility of perfecting them “by highlighting the best elements that characterize each.”
The cardinal offered guidelines for Summorum Pontificum, saying it should be applied “with great care” and not as “a negative and regressive measure turned towards the past.” Neither should it be applied “as something that builds walls and creates a ghetto.”
Rather, it should be “an important and genuine contribution to the current and future liturgical life of the Church.” It can contribute to the liturgical movement, from which “more and more people, in particular the youth, draw so many true, good and beautiful things.”
Where the extraordinary form is celebrated, the cardinal said, pastors have reported “greater fervor” among both the faithful and the priests. Where the ordinary form is celebrated, there has been a positive impact on the liturgy, especially in the rediscovery of the postures of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, such as kneeling and genuflection.
Cardinal Sarah said there was a renewed sense of the importance of “sacred silence” at important parts of the Mass that allows priests and the faithful to “interiorize the mystery of the faith that is celebrated.”
Liturgical reform itself has a mystical goal, he said: “The liturgy must, therefore, always reform itself to be more faithful to its mystical essence.”