On July 5, Robert Card. Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), appointed as prefect by His Holiness, Pope Francis, gave a speech in London at the Sacra Liturgia international conference. The speech is available in its entirety: HERE. It is well worth a read. The subject of the speech was that of moving toward an authentic implementation of Sacrosanctum Concilium.
Cardinal Sarah introduced his topic with a quote from Pope Francis. It comes from a message Francis sent on February 18, 2014, to a symposium celebrating the 50th anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium. The whole of the message can be read here. The following part of the message was used by Cardinal Sarah in London:
It is necessary to unite a renewed willingness to go forward along the path indicated by the Council Fathers, as there remains much to be done for a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy on the part of the baptized and ecclesial communities. I refer, in particular, to the commitment to a solid and organic liturgical initiation and formation, both of lay faithful as well as clergy and consecrated persons.
Again, these are Francis’s words, not Cardinal Sarah’s. Francis says that 50 years after its promulgation there is still “much to be done for a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.” While Francis’s comments are not limited to this, he says that he is particularly referring “to the commitment to a solid and organic liturgical initiation and formation” of all Christ’s faithful. What is of particular interest is that Francis explicitly includes clergy in this. In the last section of his speech, Cardinal Sarah gives a few suggestions for moving forward to accomplish “a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.” Taking his cue from Pope Francis, the first suggestion he gives is examining the quality and depth of liturgical formation, especially that of clergy.
Unfortunately, there are many in the Church who have ignored his speech as a whole, opting instead to focus on one thing – his appeal to clergy to celebrate Holy Mass ad orientem. The response has been swift and loud (in some cases vilifying, but we won’t look at those). Ironically, the responses to Cardinal Sarah’s appeal have only served as proof that the Cardinal was right concerning the need to examine the quality and depth of liturgical formation. Let’s look at some of these responses to see this.
The Vatican Clarification
Six days after Cardinal Sarah gave his speech a clarification concerning ad orientem worship was issued by the Holy See Press Office. Some like the Catholic Herald have misrepresented this with headlines such as: “Vatican rejects Cardinal Sarah’s ad orientem appeal”.
Others such as Crux have represented what the Vatican actually did do: Vatican squelches rumors of new rules on Mass facing east.
In fairness to the Catholic Herald though, the Holy See Press Office’s clarification needs clarification. The full text of the clarification can be read here. In the third paragraph it states that the extraordinary form of the Roman rite must not take the place of the ordinary form. What this has to do with anything is beyond me. Cardinal Sarah did not make an appeal for the extraordinary form; he made an appeal for ad orientem worship. This statement from Fr. Lombardi (the Vatican spokesman) is ambiguous and can give the impression that ad orientem is proper to the extraordinary form, but not the ordinary, hence, confusing the extraordinary form with ad orientem worship. That is patently false. Celebrating Mass ad orientem is proper to both forms of the Roman rite.
Before making this confused statement about the extraordinary and ordinary forms, Fr. Lombardi quotes GIRM 299 (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) pointing out that “it contains the norms relating to the Eucharistic celebration and is still in full force.” It is the first half of the instruction which is relevant to our topic:
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 facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.
The implication made, especially in light of what Fr. Lombardi said concerning the extraordinary and ordinary forms, is that versus populum is prescribed by the GIRM to the exclusion of ad orientem. However, the English translation is faulty. A lot of ink has been spilled concerning the proper translation and meaning of n. 299. A simple google search will bring up many results. Fr. Hunwicke’s analysis is a good place to start. For our purposes it is enough to look at what the CDW said concerning n. 299 sixteen years ago. In 2000 many inquiries had been made to the CDW concerning n. 299 and ad orientem worship in the ordinary form. In a response given September 25, 2000, Cardinal Jorge Estevez, then Prefect of the CDW, said:
It is in the first place to be borne in mind that the word expedit does not constitute an obligation, but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum [detached from the wall] and to the celebration versus populum [toward the people]. The clause ubi possibile sit [where it is possible] refers to different elements, as, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc. It reaffirms that the position toward the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier (Cf. the editorial in Notitiae 29  245-249), without excluding, however, the other possibility. [Emphasis mine]
A suggestion, not an obligation. “Seems” isn’t exactly prescriptive. It does not exclude the other possibility: i.e. ad orientem. Not only is it not excluded, but as we’ll see below there are many rubrics which make greater sense in the context of celebration ad orientem than they do versus populum.
As an aside, Fr. Lombardi notes that “it is better to avoid using the expression ‘reform of the reform’ with reference to the liturgy, given that it has sometimes been a source of misunderstanding.” I would agree with him if Cardinal Sarah had used this term during something such as a presser on an airplane. However, Cardinal Sarah was speaking at a liturgical conference to an audience not only knowledgable of the liturgy, but also with the reform of the reform. Hence, he was well within practical prudence to use the expression.
The Spadaro Tweets
Fr. Antonio Spadaro, the editor of La Civilta Cattolica, took to twitter to express with many tweets (they are dated July 10) his support for Mass celebrated versus populum or facing the people. This would be fine if he gave his reasons for preferring versus populum over ad orientem worship. However, he did not do that. He posted quotes, paraphrases, and paragraph numbers from the GIRM in an attempt to show that the current rubrics call for Mass to be celebrated versus populum. One paragraph number he listed as supporting versus populum was n. 157:
When the prayer is concluded, the priest genuflects, takes the host consecrated in the same Mass, and, holding it slightly raised above the paten or above the chalice, while facing the people, says, Ecce Agnus Dei (This is the Lamb of God). With the people he adds, Domine, non sum dignus (Lord, I am not worthy).
However, he fails to take into consideration (intentionally?) the very next paragraph, 158:
After this, standing and turned toward the altar, the priest says quietly, Corpus Christi custodiat me in vitam aeternam (May the Body of Christ bring me to everlasting life) and reverently receives the Body of Christ. Then he takes the chalice, saying quietly, Sanguis Christi custodiat me in vitam aeternam (May the Blood of Christ bring me to everlasting life), and reverently receives the Blood of Christ.
There are many times in the GIRM that the priest is instructed to face the people. From the perspective of versus populum worship, however, these instructions are entirely superfluous because the priest is already facing the people when he is at the altar. From the perspective of ad orientem worship, however, the number of times these instructions are given make perfect sense. It also should be no surprise from the perspective of ad orientem worship that the instruction to turn toward the altar is not nearly so frequent. If celebrating ad orientem the priest is instructed to face the people for one thing (such as inviting the assembly to pray) and then afterwards instructed to do something at the altar (such as praying over the offerings) the instruction to turn toward the altar is implied through its necessity. This sequence of events is exactly what happens in the instruction given in n. 146 of the GIRM which Fr. Spadaro quotes:
The priest, FACING THE PEOPLE and extending and then joining his hands, invites the people to pray -INSTITUTIO GENERALIS MISSALIS ROMANI 146
What Spadaro quotes is incomplete. The paragraph in full reads:
Upon returning to the middle of the altar, the priest, facing the people and extending and then joining his hands, invites the people to pray, saying, Orate, fratres (Pray, brethren). The people rise and make their response: Suscipiat Dominus (May the Lord accept). Then the priest, with hands extended, says the prayer over the offerings. At the end the people make the acclamation, Amen.
So paragraph 146 of the GIRM concerns the “Orate, fratres,” for which even in the extraordinary form the priest is instructed to turn and face the people. For priests accustomed to celebrating ad orientem and for people accustomed to attending Masses celebrated ad orientem this instruction is wholly common.
None of the above is to imply that the current instruction favors or obligates one to ad orientem. That would be almost as ridiculous as saying that it requires versus populum.
The Martin Tweet
After the clarification from Fr. Lombardi, Fr. James Martin, editor of America magazine, sent out a tweet:
Whoa. Vatican squashes rumors that said priests were about to be asked to celebrate Mass with backs to people.
The tweet can be seen with its reactions here. Unfortunately, by using the phrase, “with backs to people,” Fr. Martin has revealed that he is either ignorant concerning ad orientem worship and/or that he is prejudiced against it. No priest who celebrates ad orientem and no layman who attends ad orientem Masses says that the priest is celebrating with his back to the people. They say “facing East” or that the congregation and the priest are facing the Lord together.
In the GIRM often times when the priest is instructed to turn in such a way that he and the people would be facing the same direction it says, “toward the altar.” It never says, “back to the people.” In my experience the only people who speak of ad orientem worship as the priest celebrating with his back to the people are those who are not familiar with it either practically or theologically, or who are prejudiced against it. This was an exceptionally poor choice of words on the part of Fr. Martin.
Examining Liturgical Formation
Cardinal Sarah said that we must examine the quality and depth of the liturgical formation of the clergy, religious, and laity. He says that this formation is primarily and essentially that of immersion.
It is a question of living the liturgy in all its richness, so that having drunk deeply from its fount we always have a thirst for its delights, its order and beauty, its silence and contemplation, its exultation and adoration, its ability to connect us intimately with He who is at work in and through the Church’s sacred rites.
But this formation does not exclude formation in knowledge (cf. Sancrosanctum Concilium 15-17).
In addition to the necessity of living the liturgy, Card. Sarah adds:
that the full and rich celebration of the more ancient use of the Roman rite, the usus antiquior, should be an important part of liturgical formation for clergy, 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 and which has produced so many saints over the centuries?
This is common sense. Pope Francis has said, “there remains much to be done for a correct and complete assimilation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy on the part of the baptized and ecclesial communities.” Most of the faithful including the clergy give no thought whatsoever to the extraordinary form, and there are a good number (oh, how many I have met) who are antagonistic toward the extraordinary form. So many people including clergy do not see or know of the continuity between the two forms. How can we realize what the Second Vatican Council called for if we treat today’s liturgy as if it exists in an historical vacuum?
Fr. Lombardi, Fr. Spadaro, and Fr. Martin have all misrepresented the Mass. Fr. Lombardi was confused. Fr. Spadaro was misleading. Fr. Martin was either ignorant, prejudiced, or both. And, yet, these are three influential priests who people listen to; and they represent a great portion of the clergy in regards to thinking and practice. Through their reactions to Cardinal Sarah’s appeal for ad orientem worship, they have proven him correct on liturgical formation.