Rorate Caeli

Contra Cardinal Sarah: The Bitter and Noxious Fruits of Ideology

By Father Richard G. Cipolla

It is quite remarkable to be living at a time when a Cardinal of the Roman Church and the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship is publicly contradicted and humiliated.  I do not know Cardinal Sarah personally, but from his writings, I suspect that he is using his humiliation in a spiritually profitable way.  But one has to wonder at the absence of any sense of fatherly concern and mercy in the Year of Mercy.

It seems that there is no limit to the nonsense that Father Lombardi allows himself to spew forth in defense of the indefensible.  We hope that once he lays aside this burden, as he will very soon, he can return to more spiritually profitable endeavors. The ideology that lies behind that repudiation of Cardinal Sarah’s exhortation to return to the Traditional posture of the priest at Mass rang out quite clearly in the Clarification.  It is an ideology that has for so many years prevented the Church from restoring the liturgical life of the Church that is necessary for the mission of the Church to the world.  It is an ideology that has no basis in Tradition and in fact is a break with Tradition.  Anyone who still believes that the Mass of Paul VI is continuous with the Roman Rite of Catholic Tradition needs to get out into the fresh air more. 

The heart of the ideology driving the post-Conciliar reform of the liturgical books is the destruction of  the Traditional understanding of the Mass as a sacrifice, namely, the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Calvary, the offering of the Son to the Father.  Without the Roman Canon, which the reformers tried to get rid of entirely, that the Mass is a sacrifice is not evident in the three new Eucharistic prayers.  What is at stake in the insistence on versus populum is the very nature of the Mass.  What most Catholics believe today is that the Mass is a community meal and the priest’s job is to say the words that change the bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Christ for the purpose of Holy Communion.  The Mass is for them. The priest facing the people engenders this understanding quite readily and enforces a heavily horizontal experience of the Mass.  The almost universal practice of Communion in the hand standing in a line as if waiting for ham in a deli is the result of a deliberate repression of Communion on the tongue kneeling and telling the people that standing in the hand is the only way to receive Holy Communion after Vatican II.  All nonsense.  All ideology.

Fr. Lombardi’s defense of the celebration versus populum had no substance except for ideology.  For him to use the General Instruction of the Roman Missal 299 as a basis for versus populum as the necessary norm is shameless.  Much has been written on the meaning of the Latin in this section of the GIRM, quite apart from the translation into English.  I speak as a Latin teacher of many years, and I would insist that there is no way to conclude from 299 that all celebrations of Mass must be facing the people.  That famous “quod” that introduces the relative clause cannot possibly refer to the celebration of Mass versus populum.  The English translation has been faulty from the beginning, or rather, from when that clause was added.  In addition the Congregation for Divine Worship in September 2000 rejected the interpretation that 299 made a free -standing altar obligatory and therefore versum populum obligatory. 

Furthermore, the very rubrics of the Paul VI missal assume that the priest is celebrating ad orientem.  It is distressing to have to repeat all of this at this time, but the fact is that most of our bishops may have never read the rubrics in English let alone Latin.  At the "Orate fratres", the rubric reads:  Stans postea in medio altaris, versus ad populum….The obvious and easy English translation is:  Then, standing in the middle of the altar, turning  to the people….Why should he turn to the people if he is already facing them?  There are other examples where the rubric calls for the priest to turn to the people.  And again, it is tiresome to have to go through these explanations once again.  But after what happened in the slap down of Cardinal Sarah by the powers that still be, one has to rehearse certain facts and show how it is sheer ideology that has driven and continues to drive the intense hostility to the Traditional understanding of the Mass as the Holy Sacrifice (despite pious talk about the Holy Sacrifice).

So much of what is happening and why it is allowed to happen has to do with a papalatry gone wild.  The irony is that the Second Vatican Council introduced and spoke so glowingly of collegiality vis a vis the bishops and the Pope, but the reality after the Council is that of a highly centralized papacy whose power seems to have no bounds.  There seems to be a never ending speculation about Benedict XVI’s resignation.  Perhaps he figured out that the power of the papacy and the authority of the papacy are two different things entirely, and that it is entirely possible to renounce the power and keep the authority, because, as someone has said, power comes from the office, authority is earned.  Stuff to ponder. But in this context, to claim, as Fr. Lombardi stated, that the Extraordinary Form must never or can never replace the Ordinary Form has no basis in Summorum Pontificum, nor in rational thinking, nor in any magisterial document. 

What can be done about this shameful episode?  Nothing much except prayer.  Prayer, yes. And a lot of it.  But as for me and my flock, we will go on worshiping God at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass not facing each other over a table but rather together facing the Lord.