“It is better to avoid using the expression ‘the reform of the reform'”

Well that didn’t take long.

As you’ve seen all over the internet, the Pope slapped down Cardinal Sarah quite strongly, with only a bit of face-saving spared him (as if he had been misunderstood – yeah, right). Now we know what the Saturday meeting between Francis and Cardinal Sarah was about.

No new directives for ad orientem celebration this coming Advent.

More significant, it seems to me, is the phrase “it is better to avoid using the expression ‘the reform of the reform'” – not least because it is an expression Pope Benedict XVI explicitly approved of in his introduction to Alcuin Reid’s book The Organic Development of the Liturgy.

So I gather that the Pope hadn’t asked Cardinal Sarah after all to begin studying a reform of the reform, as he claimed the Pope had done in April.

Pray Tell is happy to provide this translation of the Italian press release:

Some Clarifications on the Celebration of the Mass

Communication of the Holy See Press Office, 11 July 2016

“A clarification is appropriate following media reports circulated after a conference held in London by Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, a few days ago. Cardinal Sarah has always rightly been concerned about the dignity of the celebration of the Mass, in order to adequately express the attitude of respect and adoration of the Eucharistic mystery. Some of his expressions were, however, misinterpreted as if to announce new instructions different from those in effect in current liturgical norms and the words of the Pope regarding the celebration of the Mass facing the people and on the ordinary form of the Mass.”

“Therefore it is good to remember that the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (General Instruction of the Roman Missal), that it contains the relative norms for the celebration of the Eucharistic which remain in full force. # 299 states: “Altare extruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit. Altare eum autem occupet locum , ut revera centrum sit ad quod totius congregationis fidelium attentio sponte convertatur” (That is:” The altar should be built separate from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. Moreover, the altar should occupy a place where it is truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns. The altar should usually be fixed and dedicated.”).”

“For his part, Pope Francis on the occasion of his visit to the Congregation for Divine Worship, had specifically mentioned that the “ordinary” form of the celebration of Mass is that provided for by the Missal promulgated by Paul VI, while the “extraordinary” form, which was allowed by Pope Benedict XVI for the purposes and in the manner he explained in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, must not take the place of the “ordinary”.

“There are not, therefore, any new liturgical directives beginning next Advent as some have wrongly inferred from the words of Cardinal Sarah, and it is best to avoid using the expression “reform of the reform”, referring to the liturgy, as sometimes it has been a source of misunderstanding. This was the agreed view expressed during a recent audience granted by the Pope to the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship.”

The English translation is provided by Dr. James Hadley, lecturer in liturgical art and architecture at The Catholic University of America, Rome Campus. The original Bollettino notice is found in Italian only.




  1. Fr. Ruff,

    I’m perhaps not reading this right, but should we avoid the phrase “the reform of the reform” because Pope Benedict XVI approved of it (meaning that the pope emeritus’ approval is disqualifying), disapproved of it (meaning that he didn’t like it and we shouldn’t either), or is the “approval” referring to the EF and unrelated to “the reform of the reform”?

    1. @Francesco Poggesi:
      I guess I don’t see any explicit connection to Pope Benedict XVI at all in the statement. It simply says to avoid “reform of the reform” which is a source of misunderstanding.

      1. @Anthony Ruff, OSB:
        Thanks. An earlier version of the post drew a link between use of the term and Pope Benedict’s opinion that made the two seem directly connected in a surprising way and in a way that wasn’t mentioned in the translated release.

        I see it’s been edited a bit and is now clearer.

  2. My first reaction is “WOW”. Perhaps the good Cardinal knows now how Ms. Clinton must have felt when she was chastised by Comey. The response by Francis strikes me as very consistent with his previous statements about the Mass. Perhaps he appointed Sarah to insure that matters liturgical could simply settle down. He certainly wasn’t interested in reopening the liturgy wars, but the cardinal must have thought otherwise. The RTR crowd had already broken out the champagne….they are going to be very unhappy. Sorry for your pain.

    1. @Jack Feehily:
      Soon the cardinal prefect will find the lugubrious airs of Mauritius particularly bracing and stimulating. Where he’d have the opportunity to reflect upon the joys and pitfalls of exercising bureaucratic power and the myriad ways he could have been more effective in advancing a “Benedictine” agenda. With the “reform of the reform” now a forbidden expressing in this pope’s presence, the next item to go under cardinal Sarah’s successor might well be Benedict’s 2007 motu proprio. Overtaken by events such the adoption of another liturgical model more along the lines of the Anglican Ordinariate “Book of Divine Worship”, or something very similar to it. Where borrowings from other liturgical traditions are permitted as replacements for Cranmerian texts.

  3. Thanks very much for this post, and thanks to Dr. Hadley, for providing the translation. I agree, the language of “reforming the reform” seems to pit one “side” against another “side,” as the note regarding “liturgy wars” suggests.

    Aside from the notion of ‘”returning to a better state of things,” reform also refers to “transformation,” and “change,” which are marks of authentic discipleship, and part of the Church’s calling. Reform, or transformation, is always needed in the Christian life. As the liturgy continues to change and transform, perhaps we will begin to view it as a trajectory of growth, rather than a series of competing visions.

  4. Since this directive was issued on July 11, do you suppose we should call it the “Benedictine” directive?

    Or is it that the priest facing the people is the “Benedictine arrangement”?

  5. If only the Holy Father would “clarify” Liturgicam Autenticam” out of existence………………..

  6. #3 by Katharine E. Harmon: I agree whole heartedly!
    This “them vs. us” rhetoric is getting old, annoying, and frankly boring. Besides being counter productive, it makes us all sound like snarky adolescents. If the reform happens internally with each individual, there is no need to play the game and we don’t need to think in terms of winners and losers. We are supposed to be in this together.

    1. @Ron Jones:

      No game playing, no winners, no losers.

      But, for the first time in (my) living memory, a cardinal has deliberately misled about the wishes of a Pope, and has been slapped down for it.

  7. By whose authority has it been determined that Catholics would do well to avoid uttering phrase “reform of the reform”? I find it unbelievable that via a “directive” contained within a press release, members of the Catholic Church have been called by…whom?…to avoid using the phrase in question. I believe that millions of Catholics will continue to use that phrase.


      1. @Chris Grady#16:

        “Millions” – as if!

        I was gonna say.

        Probably more like “dozens,” at best.

        @Jack Feehily #24:

        …there was no such commission.

        What probably happened was Sarah suggested that they should continue to study Benedict 16’s “good work in the liturgy,” to which Francis responded, “good, good, avanti,” because, well, Benedict, obviously.

        It does make one wonder though: what was Cardinal Sarah thinking, really, when he said the things he said the Pope said the way he said them?

        He is either incredibly naive or supremely arrogant, or maybe both.

  8. To Reynold Williams:

    You ask “by whose authority”. You can believe without a doubt that whatever was in the statement Fr.Lombardi provided, especially on a topic like this that has generated so much controversy, the wording was closely vetted by the Pope. So that is “whose authority” determined this.

  9. I think it’s quite right that a clarification should be made that Cdl Sarah’s comments were not to be taken as a directive, or as a harbinger of a future directive. Not sure this communique came from the Pope or from Fr Lombardi, but it doesn’t really matter. Priests are free to face east along with the rest of us even when celebrating the OF, and I’d encourage them to do so–the Mass isn’t a chat show, and it’s not all about them.

    And although peope argue over how to interpret and translate GIRM 299, in the end it doesn’t matter–priests have been ignoring GIRM willy-nilly for decades (in our parish, we rarely hear anything but EPII). So I’d encourage priests to offer Mass humbly, ‘with the people’ and not ‘against the people’, as is so often done.

    My recurring question: when will the Vatican admit that it can err?

  10. If it’s best not to use the term “reform of the reform”, that would seem to de-legitimate the entire reform-the-reform enterprise. And, by inference, to legitimate the entire trajectory of liturgical reform. Yes? What else can that statement possibly mean?

    The reform-the-reform movement has just been marginalized in a rather breathtaking way. That’s my take, anyway.

  11. No more “Reform of the reform” and an encouragement for priests to exercise currently available options in the rubrics? So much for the commission to continue the liturgical work of Pope Benedict.

    1. @Ben Yanke:
      That’s the point, there was no such commission. The cardinal thought that he enjoyed authority apart from the pope. He was appointed to serve the Holy Father and his brother bishops, not to tell anyone what they should do or not do regarding ad orientam or any other matter as well. To provide a crude analogy: Suppose I ask someone to be a coordinator of Communion Ministers in my parish. SOmetime thereafter I get a copy of an email he sent to all CM’s telling them that from now on we won’t be administering the Cup of Christ’s Blood because he read a church document pointing out the great risk of spillage and desecration. But I was away on vacation when this happened. When I returned I learned that a huge controversy was stirred by his missive. I would have to tell him of course he had overstepped his bounds and I was relieving him of that post. Any questions?

  12. Not surprised by this, or disheartened. I find it unlikely that a reform of the reform will take place at the present time, as there is still much of the Church establishment who are emotionally invested in how things are currently done. However, I think history, the documents of Vatican II, and current trends more or less guarantee a reform of the reform eventually. I imagine most of us likely won’t live to see a formal revision of the liturgy but will continue to see more traditional celebrations of the OF and interest in the EF.

  13. “it is best to avoid using the expression “reform of the reform”, referring to the liturgy, as sometimes it has been a source of misunderstanding.”

    I’m not sure what this means, practically speaking…

    The logic is unclear to me – “a phrase has sometimes been a source of misunderstanding, therefore it should not be used.” Wait – does that mean
    a – properly understood it would not be problematic
    b – the phrase itself is flawed and thus understood properly causes misunderstandings

    If (a), then it would seem better to expound on a proper understanding of this oft-heard phrase

    If (b), then it would seem important to point out those flaws which render the phrase un-usable. In addition, it would be helpful to say “x is a flawed phrase, which in and of itself causes misunderstandings, and should not be used”.

    In other words, misunderstanding can be the fault of the listener just as easily as the phrase. Maybe this Vatican statement is just very politically-careful language, but it doesn’t really clarify anything for me.

    As far as the Sarah statement, this Vatican statement only confirms what I knew the minute I read what Sarah said: there was no official pronouncement here, just one cleric’s personal appeal to brother clerics to use a certain licit posture liturgically. If certain “camps” trumpeted this as a universal, official declaration, they have only themselves to blame for the ensuing emotional letdown…

    1. @Jared Ostermann:

      “The logic is unclear to me – “a phrase has sometimes been a source of misunderstanding, therefore it should not be used.” Wait – does that mean
      a – properly understood it would not be problematic
      b – the phrase itself is flawed and thus understood properly causes misunderstandings”

      I think it means, “Stop using the phrase, ‘reform of the reform’, because its use misleads some people into thinking that the institutional church is about to press the reset button on post-Conciliar liturgical reform. No such change of direction is contemplated.”

  14. Let’s face the facts: “Reform of the reform ” means: “Go back to the old”, as proven by our current awful Roman Missal. That was the beginning result of Liturgiam Authenticam, which contradicts the translation authority rightly given to Bishops’ Conferences in VII. Pope Francis’ appointment of Cardinal Sarah as a “throwing of a bone” to the liturgical traditionalists has certainly backfired. He would do well to appoint JPII’s MC Marini(?)…then we’d finally have some balance.

  15. Jack Feehily : @Ben Yanke: That’s the point, there was no such commission. The cardinal thought that he enjoyed authority apart from the pope.

    1st, no one is saying he was changing the law. He asked priests to consider doing something that they already have the right to do. That’s all he did, it had noting to do with his “authority” and certainly nothing to do with his authority “apart” from the Holy Father.

    And 2nd, yes, he was given such a commission by +PF.


  16. If only the editor had categorized our brother Robert’s remarks as Humor from the beginning, he would have saved us a lot of unnecessary debate of the topic and, more important for Christians, would have saved the lame duck prefect the public dressing-down he finally received. The liturgy is not the personal plaything of a pope or of any of us. It is the prayer of the entire church.

  17. I agree with comment #25. After having read Cardinal Sarah’s comments about offering Mass ad orientem, I knew immediately that there wasn’t any reason to believe that Pope Francis had intended to compel priests to offer Mass ad orientem. Anyone who read that into the Cardinal’s remarks are to blame for having twisted Cardinal Sarah’s words. Cardinal Sarah did not do anything wrong when he urged priests to offer Mass ad orientem.

    I also reject that Pope Francis and/or the press release “slapped down” Cardinal Sarah. I believe that the use of that description is disgraceful as it portrays Pope Francis as a vicious man.

    If anything, this is the Year of Mercy. We are not called to “slap down” our brothers and sisters.

    John Andrews

    1. @John Andrews:
      Rocco Palmo at Whispers in the Loggia, a far more experienced reporter on things ecclesiastical than I, tweeted this:
      “No ‘turn toward the Lord,’ but a ‘come to Jesus’ – full Eng of Lombardi’s smackdown of Card Sarah ad orientem bid:”

      When a cardinal is called in to see the pope, and then a press release like yesterday’s is issued, we call that a “slap down” or a “smackdown.” I’m just reporting what happened – and it clearly happened at Pope Francis’s behest. When a cardinal claims that the pope asked him to carry out a reform of the reformed liturgical books, and then a papally-approved press release says it is best to avoid the term “reform of the reform” – if that isn’t a slap down, I don’t know what is.

      I wouldn’t bring in “Year of Mercy” piety to deny the facts of what happened. Strong leadership from the pope, including public correction of a cardinal, is not necessarily at odds with mercy.


  18. If I’m allowed to follow my last comment with an additional remark, I thank you and offer this. Cardinal Sarah was victimized by the same misinterpretation process that has victimized Pope Francis over so-called “controversial” statements.

    Many times has Pope Francis said something totally Catholic, but then been misinterpreted and attacked. The same thing happened to Cardinal Sarah.

    Cardinal Sarah said nothing controversial about ad orientem, unless ad orientem, the ancient and traditional Catholic practice, which is alive in the Church today, is controversial.

    Eastern Catholics celebrate ad orientem. Catholics who offer the Mass of Pope Saint John XIII celebrate ad orientem. Catholics in the Ordinariates celebrate ad orientem. Catholic bishops and priests offer the Ordinary Form ad orientem.

    Pope Francis has celebrated ad orientem.

    The Orthodox celebrate ad orientem.

    Never did Cardinal Sarah say even one word that should have led anyone to say that Pope Francis planned to implement ad orientem Mass at Advent.

    There wasn’t anything “controversial” (unless an ancient and totally acceptable Catholic liturgical practice, which is alive today) about ad orientem. There isn’t anything controversial about promoting ad orientem.

    Cardinal Sarah did nothing wrong. I also don’t accept the interpretation that the press release indicated that Pope Francis “slapped down” Cardinal Sarah.

    I maintain that the phrase is disgraceful. I think it’s a disgrace to say Pope Francis “slapped down” a follower of Jesus Christ.

    But if I’m wrong, and Pope Francis, especially during the Year of Mercy, “slapped down” a child of God, then…well, that says a lot about Pope Francis that isn’t nice to even think about.

    But I don’t believe that Pope Francis is a man who “slaps down” people, atheists, non-Catholic Christians, non-Christian religious people, and especially Cardinal Sarah, a child of God.

    Thank you for allowing me my say.

    John Andrews

    1. @John Andrews:
      You write:

      “Cardinal Sarah said nothing controversial about ad orientem, unless ad orientem, the ancient and traditional Catholic practice, which is alive in the Church today, is controversial. … There wasn’t anything “controversial” (unless an ancient and totally acceptable Catholic liturgical practice, which is alive today) about ad orientem. There isn’t anything controversial about promoting ad orientem.”

      If the explosion on the blogosphere in the last few days have shown anything, it is that promoting ad orientem it is highly controversial!.

      Note, I am not one to condemn ad orientem, nor have I done so. I have celebrated ad orientem. But I’m perfectly aware that promoting it – which I don’t do – is highly controversial.

      I suppose one should that that it SHOULDN’T be controversial, that there’s NO REASON why it should be. But yet, it is. I state that as a fact, apart from my judgment of it.


  19. Cardinal Sarah’s original remarks were reported in the secular press, and in my observation they acquired a surprising amount of traction. People who are not at all “churchy” were asking me whether this (ad orientam celebration) was really going to happen. In addition, as reported, Cardinal Sarah had suggested that a Vatican commission was going to study whether ad orientam should be pursued. That made it sound as though the Holy See is looking very seriously at promoting the option. Francis, through his spokesman, has essentially replied, “Nothing of the kind is happening here”. I don’t think it’s wrong to view that as a rebuke. Perhaps it is a very polite rebuke – there is a tradition of courtly rebuking in the Vatican :-).

  20. I am sure this correction will silence the RotR crowd just like issuing the new Missal translation silenced those who were critical of it.
    Oh, wait…

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