Saturday, August 15, 2015

Cardinal Sarah on Ad Orientem - A Case of Reading a Little Too Much Into Things.

Adoremus Bulletin has published the English translation of Cardinal Sarah's The Silent Action of the Heart.

The "coverage" it has garnered thus far (what little of it there is) has focused on a brief section which mentions ad orientem worship. The relevant sections are as follows:

Contrary to what has sometimes been maintained, it is in full conformity with the conciliar Constitution—indeed, it is entirely fitting—for everyone, priest and congregation, to turn together to the East during the penitential rite, the singing of the Gloria, the orations, and the Eucharistic prayer, in order to express the desire to participate in the work of worship and redemption accomplished by Christ. This practice could well be established in cathedrals, where liturgical life must be exemplary (cf. §41).

Of course it is understood that there are other parts of the Mass in which the priest, acting in persona Christi Capitis, enters into nuptial dialogue with the assembly. But this face-to-face has no other purpose than to lead to a tete-à-tete with God, which, through the grace of the Holy Spirit, will become a heart-to-heart. The Council thus proposes additional means to favor participation: “acclamations, responses, psalmody, antiphons and songs, as well as…actions, gestures, and bodily attitudes” (§30).
The usual suspects are making much of this, without paying much attention to the actual context.

As the title of the article should imply, the mention of ad orientem worship is part of a much larger discussion. The title should tip the reader off. Cardinal Sarah is returning to a topic Ratzinger felt needed addressing: the proper understanding of participatio actousa. Namely, he attempts to wade through mire of participatio actousa as constant business in the liturgical setting in favor of contemplative participation. The liturgy, if it is to accomplish anything, must effect contemplation. In the context of this discussion, Sarah addresses two of the endemic problems in contemporary Western liturgical praxis: the assumption that there is a need to be busy at the liturgy and there is a need for the priest to function as a host or entertainer. The later can be addressed if the priest defers to the points in the rubrics which suggest that he should be facing in the same direction as the people, that is, towards the altar. This does not mean a return to ad orientem; Sarah continues by noting the rubrics in the Missale Romanum which presume the priest is facing the people and implies they should be followed as such.

The article is, overall, sound post-Vatican II Roman liturgics.

It does not, in any way, favor the return to ad orientem. Rather, Sarah's point is much more germane to the discussion of the Latin liturgy in the contemporary period. Sarah, argues in favor of the priest losing his personality to the rubrics of the Missale Romanum, and the people to get over a deeply ingrained aversion to silence and contemplation. Perhaps better phrased, the people are to lose their personalities to the rubrics as well, the modern Roman liturgy having its own ritual flow.

Ultimately, he reads more like one of his predecessors, Cardinal Arinze, in so far as Arinze was of the opinion that the problem was not the reform of the Roman liturgy, but its reception. This is a position I have argued elsewhere on this blog. The reform of the Roman liturgy is here to stay. However, beginning with Pius X's revision of the breviary, a sentiment developed which saw the liturgy as something to be continually re-codified, toyed with, and ultimately remodeled whenever it was deemed expedient. The Missale Romanum of Paul VI was therefore received as a continuation of this process. Given that the Pauline liturgy is the dominant liturgy of the Roman Church, it must no longer be received as such, but as a Received Liturgy. That is, as a liturgy that exists by its nature apart from the community, to which the community is called to find conformity with and execute with fidelity, and for which it constitutes the highest expression of identity and communion. In other words, the law of prayer must be reestablished in the Roman Church, and the dominant liturgy must must fulfill that role.

The article is not, by any stretch, authoritative, in so far as it does not contain any legislative mandate. In the current climate especially, it will noted by the predictable crowds,, and ignored by liturgical school of thought that has seen a revival during the current pontificate. Regardless, it is worth a read. Will it start a culture change? That depends if Cardinal Sarah walks out on the balcony of St. Peters.


  1. From the way some talk about "ad orientem" you would think they had never seen the inside of a Roman basilica. Or, from the response to this plain contradiction, that the Roman rite remained completely unchanged from those early periods when the congregation all turned east at the consecration.

  2. Facing the wrong way is the absolute worst thing you can do liturgically, in my humble opinion. If the Roman Catholics can't even get that right, what hope is there for anything else? "Ad orientem" is not an option, it should be mandatory.