From a certain point of view, Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea just had his wings clipped. Pope Francis on Sept. 9 took away a considerable share of the control over translations of texts for use in Catholic worship from his Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in the Vatican, and assigned it instead to local bishops’ conferences.
In part for that reason, Cardinal Sarah’s first public appearance in Rome on Sept. 14 at a conference at the Dominican-sponsored Angelicum University on the 10th anniversary of “Summorum Pontificum,” a document of Pope emeritus Benedict XVI widening permission for celebration of the older Latin Mass, had the feel of a news event.
Cardinal Sarah, now 72, spoke for almost an hour, and here’s what seems to be the bottom line on where he stands: If anyone expects the cardinal now to go gentle into that good night, muting his strenuous defense of liturgical tradition, they can forget it.
On Sept. 14, Cardinal Sarah came out firing on all cylinders, insisting that Catholic worship is not the place for “creativity and adaptation” because “it has already been adapted,” making it the place where “past, present and future meet in an instant.” He plugged the “ad orientem” posture at Mass, and issued both a stirring defense of young adepts of the Latin Mass and a strong call to brother bishops to “make space” for them.
Yet equally, if anyone expected the cardinal to go to war against his boss, subtly or not-so-subtly suggesting Pope Francis is the problem (as some in the crowd gathered Sept. 14 have publicly argued he is) they can forget that, too.
At several points during his address, Cardinal Sarah explicitly described “Summorum Pontificum” as something Benedict initiated and that “Pope Francis has continued.” Never referring to the new “motu proprio” on translation, Sarah certainly didn’t come anywhere close to criticizing it.
In other words, the takeaway seemed to be that Cardinal Sarah plans to remain precisely what he’s been up to at this point — a hero in some ways to the more traditionalist wing of the Church, which gave him loud and sustained applause on Sept. 14, but not from the leader of the in-house opposition.
He began by praising Summorum Pontificum as a “sign of reconciliation in the Church” from Pope Benedict, reminding everyone that he had explicitly affirmed it was “never abrogated.”
He argued that a more reverent and sober form of liturgy that places the accent on the “primacy of God” has never been more important than now, facing a world marked by “an ever more aggressive secularism, consumerism, a terrorism without God, and a culture of death that puts at risk our most vulnerable brothers and sisters.”
Cardinal Sarah suggested that if the Church today finds itself not always sufficiently “zealous” about its mission, liturgy overly shaped by modern tastes and fashions could be one of the causes. He also stated that “much remains to be accomplished for a complete and correct application” of the vision of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) on sacred liturgy.
As he often does, Cardinal Sarah offered a strong plug for celebrating the Mass “ad orientem,” meaning with both the priest and the people facing east toward the altar, and ultimately, towards God. He called it a gesture that was “almost universally presumed in the antique forms of the Roman rite, rendered freely accessible by Benedict XVI for those who desire to use it.”
However, the cardinal said, “this beautiful antique practice, so eloquent about the primacy of the all-powerful God, isn’t restricted just to the antique rite.
“It’s permitted and encouraged, and, I would insist, pastorally advantageous, in the more modern form of the Roman rite.”
On the importance of small things, such as the vessels used during the Catholic Mass, Cardinal Sarah cited the example of two American seminarians who once brought him the chalice he was to use before Mass and asked him to bless it before they placed it near the altar, calling that a “very moving” touch.
Taking up the theme of his recent book, he delivered a strong plea for greater silence in worship, calling it “the first act of sacred service.”
Cardinal Sarah also underlined what he described as the “many young people discovering this liturgical form, who feel attracted by it and find it a form particularly appropriate for them.
“They encounter the mystery of the Holy Eucharist,” he said, “which is more and more a key virtue for them in the modern world.”
Cardinal Sarah conceded that “many in my generation struggle to understand this,” but insisted that “I can give personal testimony to the sincerity and dedication of this younger generation of priests and laity, and then many good vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life born in communities using the antique rite.”
“Open your hearts and minds to these young brothers and sisters, and look at the good they do,” the cardinal said. “They’re not nostalgic or oppressed by the ecclesiastical battles of recent decades, they’re full of joy to live life with Christ amid the challenges of the modern world.”
Cardinal Sarah issued a direct appeal to his brother bishops to be open to people attached to the older Mass and more traditional customs and observances.
“These communities need paternal care,” he said, “and we must not allow personal preferences or misunderstandings that keep the faithful away who adhere to the extraordinary form of the Roman rite. We bishops and priests are called to be instruments of reconciliation and communion in the Church for all the Christian faithful, and I humbly ask you, in the one faith we have in common and in accord with the words of Benedict XVI and Pope Francis, to generously open your hearts to allow in everything the faith offers, and to create space for it.”
Statistically, he conceded, these people may remain “a small part of the life of the Church,” but that, he said, “doesn’t make them inferior or second-class.”
Cardinal Sarah used the controversial term “reform of the reform,” sometimes used to describe Pope Benedict’s decision to normalize access to the older Latin Mass, which critics associated with an effort to roll back reforms launched by the Second Vatican Council.
Cardinal Sarah said he prefers to talk about a “positive enrichment” of both forms through wider contact between the two, suggesting greater space for silence is something the new Mass could learn from the old — while adding that he was merely speaking of possibilities, and that liturgical changes should not be “forced without study and adequate preparation and formation.”
Finally, Cardinal Sarah issued a challenge to his audience, asking that they stop calling themselves “traditionalists,” and stop allowing others to refer to them that way.
“You’re not enclosed in a box or in a library or museum of curiosities,” he said. “You’re not ‘traditionalists.’ You’re Catholics of the Roman rite, like me, like the Holy Father, not second-class citizens in the Catholic Church because of your cult and spiritual practices.”
This article originally appeared at the Catholic news site cruxnow.com