by Matias Augé
On the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the publication of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, La Nef (juillet-août 2017 – n. 294) offers a long position paper by Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. In it, the cardinal proposes and makes concrete his well-known position on the “Reform of the Reform” of the Mass liturgy of Paul VI. The text’s first part is historical and doctrinal, which leads to a second part with specific proposals.
Sarah says that “the liturgy has become a battlefield, the place where the champions of the pre-conciliar Missal and those of the reformed Missal of 1969 face off.” In this situation, the aim of his paper is “liturgical reconciliation.” While I appreciate the cardinals’ love for the liturgy and his good intentions, I think that his reasoning is not without some ambiguities.
Following Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Sarah claims that the extraordinary form of the Roman liturgy is entirely consistent with the requirements of Vatican II. He asks: “How can we think that the Council wished to contradict what was in use before?”
Of course, Your Eminence: “contradiction,” no; but “reform,” yes. Sacrosanctum Concilium “desired to undertake a general restoration of the liturgy” (no. 21). And of course it was a matter of reforming the liturgy which was celebrated in the Church at that point in time.
Later, in support of his thesis, Sarah argues that it is “incorrect to hold that the two forms of liturgy express opposing theologies. The Church has a single truth which she teaches and celebrates.” Again, I must say: two “opposing” theologies, no; but “different,” certainly. As the cardinal himself says, quoting Benedict XVI, “the history of the liturgy consists of growth and progress.”
If this principle is then applied to the reform of Paul VI, we can say that there is growth and progress in the Missal of 1969. However, note that the Cardinal equates “theology” with “truth” and states that there is a “single truth.” But one cannot say the same of theology: the post-Tridentine theology of the sacraments is one thing, and the sacramental theology inspired by Vatican II is another. This is not a “hermeneutic of rupture,” but of growth and progress.
Some may think that my critical reflections on the first part of Cardinal Sarah’s paper are irrelevant. But I think that this kind of “minimalist” reading by the cardinal, common in traditionalist circles, is ambiguous and exploitable, and it serves to justify and extol what Summorum Pontificum decided.
As has been said by others, the fathers of Vatican II who approved Sacrosanctum Concilium did not intend to create two forms of the Roman liturgy. I know how some will respond to my observation: Vatican II did not intend to bring about a reform such as that of the 1970 Missal. But if it be that the Mass of Paul VI went beyond the letter of the liturgy constitution, then the solution offered by Summorum Pontificum not only did not solve the problem, but deepend it. In my opinion, after some years of experience with the reformed Mass, one could intervene and correct, enrich or change certain elements of the Mass of Paul VI and focused on it’s dignified celebration. But now everything has become more complex, as shown by the proposals made by Sarah in the next part of his paper.
In fact, it is to the cardinal’s credit that he puts forth his concrete proposals in order to reach “a common reformed ritual in order to facilitate reconciliation within the Church.” First, the cardinal hopes that we can achieve a common liturgical calendar for the two forms of the Roman rite, and also a “convergence” of the lectionaries. His Eminence knows better than I that an ad hoc committee labored during the pontificate of Pope Benedict without succeeding in producing a concrete proposal, given the difficulty of the task.
But the most significant thing is the list of changes or “enrichments” of the Ordinary Form which the cardinal then proposes: orientation toward the Lord; genuflection before the elevation and after the Per ipsum (“Through him, with him, in him…”), communion kneeling and on the tongue; the use of Latin for some parts of the Mass “to rediscover the profound essence of the liturgy”; “praying the Canon in silence” in order to enhance its experience; the inclusion in the next edition of the reformed Missal of the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar of the Extraordinary Form in a simplified, adapted form, and the Offertory prayers of the Extraordinary Form… Oh, I almost forgot: it is also proposed that, after the consecration, the fingers which touched the sacred Host remain united. This last proposal reflects a Eucharistic theology which is no longer viable.
These proposals are justified by Cardinal Sarah because, according to him, the Ordinary Form needs to be “enriched with holy attitudes that characterize the Extraordinary Form.” At this blog I have repeatedly spoken of the sense of “mystery” and the “sacred” in the liturgy. It is enough to review what I posted a few days ago by Loris delle Pietra: “Faced with polemical assertions of those who lament the disappearance of a supposed ‘sense of mystery,’ it must be reaffirmed that this cannot be confined to one particular evolutionary phase of the Roman rite, certainly not in those aspects that tend to conceal rather than to reveal, but it is bestowed and mediated through participation in the ‘linguistic’ modality proper to the rite.”
In conclusion, let me quote a statement of Cardinal Sarah from the end of his paper: “For some, the expression “Reform of the Reform” has become synonymous with a tribe from another realm.”
Perhaps this feeling is possible because the term concerns the reform of the Ordinary Form, forgetting that Vatican II decreed the reform of what today is called the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite. Thus the expression “Reform of the Reform” becomes “laughable.” I repeat that I understand the good intentions of Cardinal Sarah. But I believe that his proposals are guided by a minimalist vision of Sacrosanctum Concilium and would hardly find a broad consensus in the Church. Indeed, they may even cause new divisions, and then we would end up with three forms of the Roman rite: Ordinary, Extraordinary, and “hybrid.”
Matias Augé is former consulter to the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship, longtime professor of liturgy at Sant’ Anselmo in Rome, and a highly regarded liturgical theologian. He blogs at Munus: Liturgia e Dintorni, from which this post comes.
Reprinted with the author’s permission. Translated by Anthony Ruff.