The Vatican has downplayed Cardinal Robert Sarah’s calls for ad orientem worship.
Cardinal Sarah, the Vatican’s liturgy chief, had invited priests to celebrate ad orientem, that is, facing eastwards rather than towards the congregation. The cardinal suggested priests begin doing so from the first Sunday in Advent. But after Cardinal Sarah had an audience with the Pope, a Vatican statement said that the cardinal’s remarks did not signify any “new, different indications” on liturgy.
What the liturgists said
In the statement, the Vatican referred to the norms set down in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), quoting it as saying: “The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated as facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.”
But several bloggers argued that this was a mistranslation of the Latin text – in which the words “wherever possible” refer to the position of the altar, not the celebration of Mass. A contributor to ccwatwershed.org noted that at the time the GIRM was published, the Vatican’s then liturgy chief, Cardinal Medina Estévez, had said on this subject: “Legislation may not be invoked to claim that one position or the other accords more closely with the mind of the Church.”
What the blogosphere said
Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register said the Vatican had “dismissed what many understood to be an unequivocal invitation” from Cardinal Sarah. Pentin said that the invitation was important because “The east has significance as the place where the sun rises, symbolising the Resurrection of Christ and his Second Coming.” But Pentin identified “a concerted attempt by some to reject Cardinal Sarah’s invitation”.
Fr Ray Blake said on his blog, marymagdalen.blogspot.co.uk, that Cardinal Sarah was not the first prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship to be concerned with this point: his three predecessors had said similar things. For the cardinal, Fr Blake suggested, ad orientem is “about heightening the sense of an encounter with Christ in mystery”.
The most overlooked story of the week
✣ ‘Francis bishop’ given major Vatican post
Archbishop Blase Cupich of Chicago was appointed by Pope Francis to an important and influential new role. He will serve on the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops, a body of about 25 bishops and cardinals which oversees the appointment of new bishops in North America, Latin America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
Why was it under-reported?
Archbishop Cupich is not yet a household name – although among Catholics he has become well known. He was himself a surprise choice as Archbishop of Chicago, and was seen as a model “Francis bishop” for his emphasis on dialogue and showing mercy. However, critics say that as Bishop of Spokane he needlessly pursued a lawsuit against a law firm which had served the diocese, and discouraged priests from taking part in prayer vigils outside abortion clinics. Some held him partially responsible for the decline of a local seminary.
What will happen next?
The Archbishop is only one voice on a large congregation – but it is a highly significant congregation, which helps to set the direction of the Church.
The archbishop’s priorities can perhaps be judged from his actions in Chicago and Spokane. He once prevented a group from celebrating the traditional liturgy during the Easter Triduum. He has also been sceptical about denying Communion to pro-choice politicians, saying he would not “use the Eucharist… as the place to have those discussions”.
✣ The week ahead
A worship service in Washington DC, organised by an Evangelical preacher and endorsed by Pope Francis, is expecting a crowd of a million. Together 2016, an interdenominational Christian celebration, takes place on Saturday at the National Mall. It includes speakers, music and “opportunities for worship”. The Pope has recorded a video message for the event.
A grandparents’ pilgrimage day takes place tomorrow, organised by Family Life workers in Wales’s three dioceses. The day at Belmont Abbey (right) includes activities such as face painting, as well as Adoration, Confession and Mass.
The Catholic Women’s League (CWL) also holds its national pilgrimage this Saturday with a 2pm Mass at Westminster Cathedral celebrated by Cardinal Vincent Nichols. CWL is represented in more than 200 parishes in England and Wales, and is closely involved with work for social justice. It also supports distance-learning catechetical courses.