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Posted on Jul 11, 2016 | 2 comments

Cardinal Sarah to Priests: Face East, Sing, Stop Taking Photos at Mass

Cardinal Sarah to Priests: Face East, Sing, Stop Taking Photos at Mass

Robert, Cardinal Sarah. Photo courtesy the Sacra Liturgia conference.

Robert, Cardinal Sarah. Photo courtesy the Sacra Liturgia conference.

In an address at a conference for liturgists in London last week, Robert, Cardinal Sarah, urged priests throughout the world to return to the practice of celebrating parts of Mass “
ad orientem” — facing east — whenever possible, and suggested beginning the practice in Advent.


Standing facing east or “liturgical east” (the closest to east a church’s architect could manage to place the altar) during parts of the Mass was the universal practice for priests and bishops before Vatican II, in the Eastern Catholic rites as well as the Roman rite, and is the norm in the Orthodox Churches. East, the direction of the rising sun, symbolizes Christ’s resurrection, and historically all worshippers including the priest have together faced the East during parts of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.


The Second Vatican Council allowed priests to celebrate that part of Mass facing the people (“versus populum”) as an option, but the posture quickly became the norm and today most Catholics do not know that it is neither mandatory nor even recommended by the Council Fathers as a general practice.


According to the National Catholic Register, Cardinal Sarah told the conference attendees that Pope Francis recently asked him to “begin a study of the reform of the liturgical reform that followed the Council, and to investigate the possibilities of mutual enrichment between the older and newer forms of the Roman rite, first spoken of by Pope Benedict XVI.”


Pope Benedict’s motu proprio (a particular category of papal document, one meaning it is written by the pope himself or under his direction) allowing all priests to celebrate the pre-1964 Latin Mass without special permission from their bishops was a previous step toward reassessing widespread changes in Catholic liturgy following the Council to evaluate whether they were intended, whether they have been helpful, and which should be in general, versus occasional, use.


Cardinal Sarah said that God, not man, should be the center of Catholic worship, and that an honest look at the Council document on liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, shows that changes have not achieved what the Fathers intended.


“I do not think that we can honestly read even the first article of Sacrosanctum Concilium today and be content that we have achieved its aims,” he said, in an excerpt from his remarks published on the conference’s Facebook page. “My brothers and sisters, where are the faithful of whom the Council Fathers spoke? Many of the faithful are now unfaithful: they do not come to the liturgy at all. To use the words of St John Paul II: many Christians are living in a state of ‘silent apostasy’ they ‘live as if God does not exist’ (Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Europa, 28 June 2003, 9). Where is the unity the Council hoped to achieve? We have not yet reached it. Have we made real progress in calling the whole of mankind into the household of the Church? I do not think so. And yet we have done very much to the liturgy!”


Abandoning the old rite, he said, also cut Catholics off from their history – priests as well as laity. And as the liturgy is something that must be lived, not merely studied, that means it cut them off from vital parts of worship itself, “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?”


Saying that Catholics have confused “inculturation” with “promoting their own culture” over participating in universal worship, Cardinal Sarah asserted that liturgy should instead be “the place where my culture is baptised, where my culture is taken up into the divine,” according to EWTN News.


As part of a call for bishops and priests to model general reverence at Mass (such as, for example, refraining from chatting with each other or taking photos at large outdoor Masses), he recommended leading the people in facing east together as a practice that is “perfectly legitimate in the modern rite” and one that he considers “a very important step in ensuring that in our celebrations the Lord is truly at the center,”


He asked priests to celebrate ad orientem when possible and with confidence.


“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,” he said. “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.”


But Cardinal did not limit his suggestions to priests or to posture, as many reports suggest. He also asked 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,” EWTN reported. “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.”


And he suggested singing, rather than speaking, the prayers and readings, seconding Vatican II’s recommendation of Gregorian chant. “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.” In the Facebook 


As soon as they were reported, Cardinal Sarah’s remarks on facing east dominated Catholic news, garnering both criticism and enthusiasm. No official response has been made by any American bishops, but no response was called for.


Cardinal Sarah, former Archbishop of Conkary, Guinea, ha held several important Vatican positions and is now prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He is known as a proponent for reverence and tradition in worship, and has spoken publicly in favor of celebrating ad orientem several times in the past year.


For more on the Cardinal’s talk, including many quotes, see the EWTN News story.


For a summary of the Cardinal’s remarks, see the National Catholic Register.


For excerpts of Cardinal Sarah’s talk with the original French text, as well as excerpts from other talks at the London event, see the Sacra Liturgica Conference Facebook page.


For one text of Cardinal Sarah’s talk , see Catholic World Report. According to the Sacra Liturgia Facebook page, this text is not complete and more will be released. See the page for much more on the conference.


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  1. We would need to stop the StreamSpot live broadcast of the Mass and parish photographers like myself would need to pose everything after Mass.

  2. Why would you have to do that? The priest doesn’t face East for the whole Mass, just for a small part of it.