The British newspaper Catholic Herald has a piece on “the unstoppable rise of Cardinal Sarah.” Now, you have to understand that the Catholic Herald is robustly right-leaning – although their sharpest edges have softened a bit since about March 13, 2013 – so they’re celebrating his rise. This piece considers Sarah papabile, but people who think that likely keep putting out names like him, or Burke, or… well, I wouldn’t bet the farm on it.
What the Herald says about his surprising appointment to the Congregation for Divine Worship by Francis is mostly on the mark:
Few, if any, would have predicted that someone so closely associated with the “Ratzingerian” agenda would be appointed to this post just as the fortunes of the Ratzingerian party were manifestly ebbing in Rome. Indeed, it had been given out as virtually certain that the post of prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship would go to Archbishop Piero Marini, a known opponent of Benedict’s strategy for the liturgy. Archbishop Marini, a fluent Spanish speaker, is known to be close to Pope Francis. Why, then, was he thwarted of his rumoured ambition to take the reins of the Church’s liturgical life, in favour of a cardinal who has given voice to the very Ratzingerian (and un-Marinian) conviction that “one cannot encounter God … without trembling, without awe, without profound respect and holy fear”?
The answer is probably that Francis, who has on several occasions had to learn painfully that not even a pope can exercise absolute control over the curial machine, realised that it was not in his interest to provoke a backlash by an appointment so manifestly contrary to the orientations of his predecessor, in a domain that is not one of his priorities. He does not want to re-ignite liturgy wars. And so his charge to the new prefect was a masterful example of his technique of firing a salvo in apparently opposite directions: “I want you to continue to implement the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council … [and] to continue the good work in the liturgy begun by Pope Benedict XVI.”
But to be honest, after nearly three years of watching Francis, I’m still not sure what to make of him when it comes to liturgy. Is liturgy so unimportant to him [insert your favorite “Jesuits and liturgy” joke here] that he didn’t care much about who his man at CDW would be? Or does impeachable pastoral sense tell him that we have to calm down the liturgy wars by throwing a bone to the right by this appointment, while going in the opposite direction with the rest of his pontificate, and while making liturgy as much as possible not an issue? Or does he not mind giving a bit of support to liturgical traditionalists because of his sense that this agenda will eventually die out on its own merits and need not to be confronted directly? Or (now this would be Machiavellian) does he want the face of traditional liturgy (and theology) to be a spokesman known for his harshness and rigidity?
As I say, I don’t know. I rather doubt it’s the last one. But isn’t it one of the three things that even God doesn’t know, what a Jesuit is thinking?