Sacra Liturgia UK has begun in London, and His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has given a magnificent address to open the conference.
Cardinal Sarah started with the speech given by Pope Francis in February 2014 regarding the 50th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium, in which the Pope asked for “a renewed willingness to go ahead on the path indicated by the Council Fathers, as there remains much to be done for a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution of the Holy Liturgy on the part of the baptised and ecclesial communities.” How, the Cardinal asked, might the Western Church move towards this more faithful implementation of the liturgy constitution the Pope spoke of?
He began with a brief examination of what the sacred liturgy is, reminding everyone of what St Pius X wrote about active participation in Tra le sollecitudini, and then examining Sacrosanctum Concilium. The liturgy is “the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed... the font from which all her power flows,” the source of strength and grace, where we offer sacrifice and praise (cf. SC 10). It is a sacred thing, a holy thing:
Catholic liturgy is no ordinary human gathering... God, not man, is at the centre of Catholic liturgy. (Cardinal Sarah)
Cardinal Sarah then moved on to a consideration of what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council intended in Sacrosanctum Concilium. Their four reasons for liturgical reform can be seen in the very first paragraph:
This sacred Council has several aims in view:  it desires to impart an ever increasing vigour to the Christian life of the faithful;  to adapt more suitably to the needs of our own times those institutions which are subject to change;  to foster whatever can promote union among all who believe in Christ;  to strengthen whatever can help to call the whole of mankind into the household of the Church. (SC 1)
“The Council Fathers did not want to change things simply for the sake of change,” Cardinal Sarah said. They were familiar with the previous decade of liturgical reforms, and they expected things to continue in that vein. He highlighted the Ordinariate liturgical books as a “beautiful example” of authentic inculturation, and went on to say that we have to read Sacrosanctum Concilium in its context, which is reform in continuity with tradition. The Council Fathers intended an evolution, not a revolution.
Cardinal Sarah was very forceful in insisting that formation in the liturgy is absolutely essential, quoting Sacrosanctum Concilium 14, 21, and 48:
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work. Yet it would be futile to entertain any hopes of realising this unless the pastors themselves, in the first place, become thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy, and undertake to give instruction about it. A prime need, therefore, is that attention be directed, first of all, to the liturgical instruction of the clergy. (SC 14)
In order that the Christian people may more certainly derive an abundance of graces from the sacred liturgy, holy Mother Church desires to undertake with great care a general restoration of the liturgy itself... In this restoration, both texts and rites should be drawn up so that they express more clearly the holy things which they signify; the Christian people, so far as possible, should be enabled to understand them with ease and to take part in them fully, actively, and as befits a community. (SC 21)
The Church, therefore, earnestly desires that Christ's faithful, when present at this mystery of faith, should not be there as strangers or silent spectators; on the contrary, through a good understanding of the rites and prayers they should take part in the sacred action conscious of what they are doing, with devotion and full collaboration. (SC 48)
This formation is what the Council Fathers intended and desired for the Christian people, and the Cardinal pointed out that the specific ritual reforms proposed in the constitution (e.g. the restoration of the prayer of the faithful in SC 53) are a means to an end - the end being the authentic liturgical formation of the faithful. In the light of critical and academic studies, plus the lived experience of the last 50 years, Cardinal Sarah mentioned that we may need to reconsider some of these reforms. If this is the case, we need to ask the Lord for His guidance in these matters.
With regards to the liturgical reforms carried out after the Council, Cardinal Sarah said that the post-conciliar reforms went beyond the constitution, giving the example of the introduction of multiple Eucharistic Prayers (an idea not in SC but accepted and implemented by the Consilium anyway). The question of whether the reforms have helped or hindered the faithful is a legitimate question for study. Can we read Sacrosanctum Concilium and be content that we have achieved its aims, when many Catholics do not come to the liturgy and live as if God does not exist? Have we made real progress in “call[ing] the whole of mankind into the household of the Church?” (SC 1) “I don’t think so” was the candid assessment of Cardinal Sarah. He stressed that we should not be unduly pessimistic - many communities do reap fruit from the reformed liturgy and pray it with great faith and joy - but we can (and must) do better! Quoting St John Paul II, alongside the lights of the reforms, there are also the shadows (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia 10), and we need authentic liturgical formation, especially for children, young people and seminarians, to disperse the shadows.
Practically, Cardinal Sarah called for a detailed examination of the quality and depth of liturgical formation, especially in seminaries. Too often we assume that knowing things about the liturgy is all that is required for liturgical formation, when what is more important is an immersion in the depths of the liturgy, a living out of a truly liturgical life. The beauty and silence of the liturgy, among its many other qualities, are where formation has to begin. Moreover, an authentic liturgical formation should include the usus antiquior; how, the Cardinal asked, can we live the reformed rites properly if we do not know the liturgy of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council?
It is also important, the Cardinal said, that we are clear about the nature of active participation as primarily internal, to fulfill the words of the liturgy constitution and have “a good understanding of the rites and prayers” (SC 48), avoiding the “liturgical activism” that has, in places, been a very harmful feature of the practice of the reformed rites. Continued study and criticism of the reformed rites is necessary: to what extent do the post-conciliar liturgical reforms reflect the zeitgeist of the 1960s and 1970s, rather than continuity with the tradition of the Church (contra SC 23)? With regard to this particular question, Cardinal Sarah said that:
We cannot dismiss the possibility of an official reform of the liturgical reform.
He then gave some (unexpected) news that Pope Francis had asked him to study the question of the reform of the reform and the mutual enrichment of the OF and EF that Pope Benedict XVI spoke of in the letter that accompanied Summorum Pontificum (see also Universae Ecclesiae 25):
When I was received in audience by the Holy Father last April, Pope Francis asked me to study the question of a reform of a reform and of how to enrich the two forms of the Roman rite. This will be a delicate work and I ask for your patience and prayers. But if we are to implement Sacrosanctum Concilium more faithfully, if we are to achieve what the Council desired, this is a serious question which must be carefully studied and acted on with the necessary clarity and prudence. (Cardinal Sarah)
I am certain that the Cardinal can rely on many prayers, as well as patience, from readers of this blog, and I am also sure that we will hear more about this work in the months and years to come.
Cardinal Sarah ended with an appeal to all priests, which will be familiar to those who have read his recent articles and interviews in L’Osservatore Romano and Famille Chrétienne: it is very important that as soon as possible we return to a common orientation of priest and people eastwards in those parts of the liturgy where we are addressing God. This is a very important step to ensure that, in our celebration of the sacred liturgy, God rather than man is at the centre of it. The Cardinal implored all priests to implement this with suitable catechesis, and confidence. He suggested that the 1st Sunday of Advent this year would be a good time to start!
Finally, Cardinal Sarah finished by thanking all those involved in the liturgical apostolate, the “new liturgical movement,” praying for them and asking them for their prayers for him.
Let us pray especially for Cardinal Sarah and for everyone in the CDWDS, that they would live the sacred liturgy, and that God’s will be done in their future work!
(For those with a Facebook account, extracts from the Cardinal’s address can be found at the Sacra Liturgia page.)