Cardinal Sarah encourages priests to celebrate Mass facing east

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Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, says Mass in the London Oratory for the Sacra Liturgia conference, July 6, 2016. Credit: Lawrence OP via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Cardinal Robert Sarah on Tuesday appealed to priests throughout the world to begin saying Mass facing the same direction as the faithful, suggesting that the season of Advent would be an opportune time to do so.
“I believe that it is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction – Eastwards or at least towards the apse – to the Lord who comes, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God,” the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship said July 5 during his opening address at the Sacra Liturgia conference being held in London.

“Dear Fathers, I ask you to implement this practice wherever possible, with prudence and with the necessary catechesis, certainly, but also with a pastor’s confidence that this is something good for the Church, something good for our people. Your own pastoral judgement will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year, when we attend ‘the Lord who will come’ and ‘who will not delay’ may be a very good time to do this.”

Cardinal Sarah's encouragement to priests to say Mass ad orientem was part of an address on how the Second Vatican Council's document on the liturgy can be more faithfully implemented.

He began by recalling that “God, not man is at the centre of Catholic liturgy,” and that “we must be utterly clear about the nature of Catholic worship” to be able to read correctly and implement faithfully Sacrosanctum Concilium.

The cardinal recalled the intention of the fathers of the council, including a limited use of vernacular languages at Mass and appropriate inculturation. Speaking of proper inculturation, the Guinean noted that “ the liturgy is not the place to promote my culture. Rather, it is the place where my culture is baptised, where my culture is taken up into the divine.”

He presented the liturgy of the Anglican Ordinariates “ now in full communion with the Church” as a “beautiful example” of how “cultures and other Christians bring gifts with them into the Church.”

Cardinal Sarah urged looking again at Sacrosanctum Concilium and the intention behind it saying that “I do not think that we can honestly read even [its first article] today and be content that we have achieved its aims.”

He examined the implementation of the Council's directives on the liturgy, noting both its positive and negative aspects, and then presented “ practical considerations on how we can implement Sacrosanctum Concilium more faithfully today.”

“First of all we must examine the quality and depth of our liturgical formation,” he exhorted. “The liturgical formation that is primary and essential is … a question of living the liturgy in all its richness, so that having drunk deeply from its fount we always have a thirst for its delights, its order and beauty, its silence and contemplation, its exultation and adoration, its ability to connect us intimately with He who is at work in and through the Church’s sacred rites.”

To this end he recommended that seminarians should “live the liturgy” as fully as possible, and moreover, that “the full and rich celebration of the more ancient use of the Roman rite, the usus antiquior, should be an important part of liturgical formation for clergy.”

“For how can we begin to comprehend or celebrate the reformed rites with a hermeneutic of continuity if we have never experienced the beauty of the liturgical tradition which the Fathers of the Council themselves knew?”

Cardinal Sarah then turned to the nature of the “active participation” call for by Vatican II, noting that it is “primarily internal.” He noted that “if we understand the priority of internalising our liturgical participation we will avoid the noisy and dangerous liturgical activism that has been too prominent in recent decades. We do not go to the liturgy so as to perform, to do things for others to see: we go to be connected with Christ’s action through an internalisation of the external liturgical rites.”

He added that we cannot “ dismiss the possibility or the desirability of an official reform of the liturgical reform,” saying that some of the post-conciliar reforms “may have been put together according to the spirit of the times and that there has been an increasing amount of critical study by faithful sons and daughters of the Church asking whether what was in fact produced truly implemented the aims of the Constitution, or whether in reality they went beyond them.”

Indeed, the cardinal stated that in meeting with Pope Francis last April, the Holy Father asked him to study the question of a reform of the reform. He reflected, “if we are to implement Sacrosanctum Concilium more faithfully, if we are to achieve what the Council desired, this is a serious question which must be carefully studied and acted on with the necessary clarity and prudence.”

Cardinal Sarah exhorted priests to “be worshippers first and foremost,” adding that the faithful “can see the difference between a priest who celebrates with faith and one who celebrates in a hurry, frequently looking at his watch, almost so as to say that he wants to get back to the television as quickly as possible!”

“I have also seen priests, and bishops, vested to celebrate Holy Mass, take out telephones and cameras and use them in the Sacred Liturgy … to do this is a sacrilege. No bishop, priest or deacon vested for liturgical ministry or present in the sanctuary should be taking photographs, even at large-scale concelebrated Masses. That priests often do this at such Masses, or talk with each other and sit casually, is a sign, I think, that we need to rethink their appropriateness, especially if they lead priests into this sort of scandalous behaviour that is so unworthy of the mystery being celebrated, or if the sheer size of these concelebrations leads to a risk of the profanation of the Blessed Eucharist.”

Cardinal Sarah then turned to his call for priests to say Mass facing in the same direction as the people. He noted that this is “permitted by current liturgical legislation” and “is perfectly legitimate in the modern rite.”

“Indeed, I think it is a very important step in ensuring that in our celebrations the Lord is truly at the centre,” he added.

The prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship appealed also to his fellow bishops to “please lead your priests and people towards the Lord in this way, particularly at large celebrations in your dioceses and in your cathedral. Please form your seminarians in the reality that we are not called to the priesthood to be at the centre of liturgical worship ourselves, but to lead Christ’s faithful to him as fellow worshippers.”

Cardinal Sarah concluded by saying, “we must sing the liturgy, we must sing the liturgical texts, respecting the liturgical traditions of the Church and rejoicing in the treasury of sacred music that is ours, most especially that music proper to the Roman rite, Gregorian chant. We must sing sacred liturgical music not merely religious music, or worse, profane songs.”

The cardinal was followed in his address by Bishop Dominique Rey of Fréjus-Toulon, who said the invitation to say Mass eastwards “calls us to realise once again, in all our liturgical celebrations, that Christian liturgy is essentially oriented to Christ whose coming we await in joyful hope.”

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