Ten years ago Benedict XVI released one of the most momentous texts of his pontificate. Summorum Pontificum lifted restrictions on the so-called Tridentine Mass. The motu proprio decreed that there are two legitimate forms of the Roman Rite: the Ordinary Form (post-Vatican II) and the Extraordinary Form (pre-Vatican II). The two forms should be “mutually enriching”, rather than antagonistic. This was the German pope’s blueprint for ending the “liturgy wars”: the bad-tempered debates that have consumed so much energy since the 1960s.
How has Benedict’s vision fared in the past decade? That was the question Cardinal Robert Sarah grappled with in an address to a liturgical conference in Germany last weekend. The cardinal did not deliver his speech in person, however, seemingly because of arcane Vatican politics.
The Guinean cardinal may be prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, but he has been discouraged from speaking freely since he urged priests to celebrate Mass facing east at a talk in London last summer. He received a rare public rebuke, delivered via the Vatican press office, and was ordered not to use the term “reform of the reform”. His congregation was packed with new members who rejected his liturgical vision and he appears to have no part in a new commission on liturgical translation.
The cardinal had reportedly confirmed his attendance at the German liturgical conference three times. But after the ad orientem controversy, he withdrew. So last weekend his text was read out by a representative. The address revealed that the cardinal has refined, but not in any way diluted, his thinking. He believes that the “liturgical movement” launched by Pope St Pius X is continuing, uninterrupted, to this day. Two high points so far are the Vatican II constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium and Summorum Pontificum.
But reckless liturgical innovation has, he said, resulted in “disaster, devastation and schism”. This can only be corrected by “the mutual enrichment of the rites” – a term from Benedict XVI’s magisterium that is more precise than “the reform of the reform”.
Cardinal Sarah’s address earned both instant acclaim and condemnation online (as his speeches tend to). Some commentators accused him of attacking Vatican II, when it was clear that he was only criticising its faulty implementation.
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