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Gerard O’ConnellJuly 11, 2016
Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, speaking at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, May 17 (CNS photo/Bob Roller).

The Vatican has denied media reports, based on recent statements made by Cardinal Robert Sarah in London, claiming that there will be changes in the celebration of the Mass from next Advent with the priest facing the east, and that “a reform of the reform” of the liturgy is under way.

The Vatican statement, issued on the evening of July 11 by Federico Lombardi, S.J., director of the Holy See Press Office, said “there are no new liturgical directives starting from next Advent, as someone has improperly deduced from some words of Cardinal Sarah, and it is better to avoid using the expression ‘the reform of the reform,’ referring to the liturgy, given that this has sometimes been the source of misunderstanding.”

The Vatican statement declared that “all this was expressly agreed during a recent audience given by the pope to the said Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.” That meeting took place last Saturday, July 9, as reported in the Press Office bulletin.

The cardinal’s statements in London, made at the Sacra Liturgia conference on July 5, caused consternation and much confusion in many parts of the church across the world, and in the Vatican, too. They raised the fundamental question as to whether the cardinal was acting on his own accord or whether he had received authorization from higher levels in the Vatican for saying such things. Today’s Vatican communique makes clear that Francis never authorized any such statements and that these do not correspond to what is envisaged in the liturgical books approved by the pope.

VATICAN STATEMENT: The following is a working translation of the Vatican press statement made by America’s Vatican correspondent, in the absence of an official translation.


A clarification is opportune following news reports circulating in the media after a conference held in London some days ago by Cardinal Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.

Cardinal Sarah has always been rightly concerned for the dignity of the celebration of the Mass, in a way that expresses adequately the attitude of respect and adoration for the Eucharistic mystery.

Some expressions were nevertheless badly interpreted as if they announced new indications differing from those given to-date in the liturgical norms and in the words of the pope on the celebration (looking) towards the people and on the ordinary rite of Mass.

It is therefore good to recall that in the General Order of the Roman Missale (Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani), that contains the norms relating to the Eucharistic celebration and (which) are still fully in force, No. 299 states that “the altar is built separated from the wall, so as to be able to move around it easily and to celebrate looking towards the people, which thing is convenient to realize wherever possible. The altar is to be place in a way so as to really constitute the center towards which the attention of the people spontaneously converges.”

Pope Francis, for his part, on the occasion of his visit to the Dicastery (Congregation for Divine Worship) has expressly recalled that the “ordinary” form of the celebration of the Mass is that envisaged by the Missal promulgated by Paul VI, while that “extraordinary” (form), which was permitted by by Pope Benedict XVI for the purposes and the modalities explained by him in the Motu Proprio “Summorum Ponticium,” must not take the place of the “ordinary” (form).

There are therefore no new liturgical directives beginning from next Advent, as someone has improperly deduced from some words of Cardinal Sarah, and it is better to avoid using the expression “the reform of the reform,” in referring to the liturgy, given that this has sometimes been the source of misunderstanding.

Significantly, the Vatican communique added that “all this was expressly agreed during a recent audience given by the pope to the said Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.”

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Reyanna Rice
7 years 9 months ago
Thank God!!
Henry George
7 years 3 months ago
I have noted that America magazine wants us to be respectful to each other in our comments. I would surmise that also goes to Cardinals. You may not approve of what Cardinal Sara said but that is no reason to demand he be removed from his position.
Lisa Weber
7 years 9 months ago
Maybe Pope Francis could fire Cardinal Robert Sarah.
William Rydberg
7 years 9 months ago
According to the Scriptures, the 2nd coming of Christ Jesus will come from the East. One would be imprudent in the extreme to minimize this fact of Revelation and also call onself "Catholic". Its Ordinary Catholic teaching that the Lord will come at an unexpected time and from the East. Liturgy has always been a form of teaching. Don't be closed minded please... Keep an open mind. Just sayin...
Tim Spalding
7 years 9 months ago
I propose that those who care so very much about this issue be sent to one of the poles, where no matter how they face, they'll be doing it right—and the rest of us can get on with it in peace.
Mike Van Vranken
7 years 9 months ago
When reading Matthew 24:27 - "For as lightning goes forth from the east and shines as far as the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be," it need not be taken in a Fundamentalist fashion. It could easily mean "that just as assuredly as the lightning which shines in the east and is seen in the west, we can be equally sure that the coming of the Son of man will certainly be." Also, it could mean that when he comes, it will be very apparent, public and everyone will know about it. People will be certain! It doesn't necessarily mean he will be coming from the East. East of what? Rome? New York? Hong Kong?
Tony Phillips
7 years 9 months ago
The problem with any official recommendation that the priest face the same direction as the rest of us is that it would be tantamount to the Vatican admitting that it got things wrong. And, thanks to 'the Spirit of Vatican One', which coats every utterance and action of a pope with an aura of infallibility, that's something they just can't bring themselves to do. Imagine if the hierarchical church were to admit that Paul VI not only showed poor judgment in promulgating the Bugnini litugy, but that he had no authority to do so! So, the valiant Cdl Sarah notwithstanding, I suspect that in >99% of Catholic dioceses the priests will continue to turn their backs on the tabernacle and to face the people, until there's no people left to face.
Michael Cobbold
7 years 9 months ago
Not admitting - what everyone can see - that the butchery of the Liturgy has brought endless trouble, is stupid. For the Vatican to behave like a child who's been caught stealing biscuits from the biscuit tin, but who won't admit he's been caught, is just silly. Nothing can hide the fact that P6 made a dog's breakfast of the Liturgy. Pretending it is not a mess, will solve nothing. I like this Pope. A lot. That paragraph is not a criticism of him, not in any way. He has a horrible, horrible job, but it has to be done. No-one in his right mind would want to be Pope. I don't see why the Vatican can't face facts, and 'fess up, just as we have to. It has nothing to lose but its self-love. It is not helping anyone, by continuing to give them stones in place of bread.
Carroll C.
7 years 9 months ago
This is the best news I can think of. How could Cardinal Sarah take it upon himself to tell priests to celebrate looking away from the people? The Vatican Clarification was extremely kind in referring to Sarah, when, in fact, he stated clearly with no input from the Pope that priests should begin celebrating facing "East" in Advent. I would expect to see news of Sarah's replacement in the very near future.
Tim O'Leary
7 years 9 months ago
It is very revealing to see demands for Cardinal Sarah's replacement in this combox. In addition to the usual intolerance of the "tolerant," I wonder if there is an added tinge of prejudice motivating these calls. Cardinal Sarah epitomizes what Pope Francis said he wanted in positions of authority in the Church - priests from the periphery, who have lived among the people, the poor and the persecuted. It would be a huge setback for Pope Francis' credibility to "fire" this obviously holy man. While I do not think it prudent or practical to introduce an across-the-board reorientation to the East at this time in history, I certainly recognize the logic and long history behind the symbolism of having priest and people all face the Eucharist in the same direction (reducing the focus on the priest as MC), and see no particular problem if some Churches want to do that. That would be the tolerant position.
M. Abbott
7 years 9 months ago
I was a convert to Catholicism when I was a teenager and embraced the beauty and solemnity of the Mass. This was in the early 50's. I later went on to the seminary for two years to study to be a diocesin priest. I discovered this was not my vocation but went on to embrace the beauty of the Mass for many years. However as the years progressed into the 60's and 70's and post Vatican II, the Church decided to embrace more of an ecumenical rite This resulted in the Mass evolving into a noisy, non-meditative rite filled with cacophony of clapping hands and distracting participation of the people mimicking the priests on the altar. The meditative aspect of the Mass is entirely lost in favor of more participation by the parishioners. The beautiful music written for the church is seldom, if ever, heard again. I rarely go to a Roman Catholic Mass any more and have found that many of the Episcopal Churches have a Mass that is solemn like the Roman Catholic Mass was in the past. I would like to see the Mass return to what it was.. The loud voices of those wanting changes unfortunately got the ear of the Church leaders which resulted in the mess that the Mass is today in the Catholic Church. There are many people of my generation that feel this way and would love to see the beauty and solemnity of the Mass return with some of the Latin prayers,along with a meditative and contemplative spirit and hear, once again,the beautiful music that was sung for centuries in the Church.
Tim O'Leary
7 years 9 months ago
I can certainly agree that some of the high culture and profound ceremonial beauty has been diminished by the casual, chatty or even theatrical way some masses are conducted (although there are still many beautiful masses around the world). But, the Real Presence is the only thing that really matters. I could never be satisfied by a more perfect form if the real was absent, and the Real Presence is only present in a Catholic (or Eastern Orthodox, etc.) Mass, and not present in any Protestant celebration (without an authentic apostolic priesthood, etc.). So, for me, a drunken vulgar priest saying the true words on a rock at the side of a dirty road with discordant sounds everywhere still would be much more satisfying than a beautiful sung ceremony in St. Paul's Cathedral in London. While Anglicans have managed to keep some of the form, unfortunately, in the end, there is no there there. While I greatly admire many orthodox Protestants for their deep love and faith in Jesus Christ, and recognize them as part of the Church (as separated Christian brethren) and hope for their salvation as part of Christ's mystical body (for no human can be saved but by Jesus Christ), the Catholic Mass is the only place on earth where I come in contact with the Eternal Most High. It is as if I take a step out of space-time and touch heaven.
Douglas Fang
7 years 9 months ago
This is very poetic. As a matter of fact, I can see myself agree very much with what you stated “personally”. However, this is not shared by most regular Catholics. I can say it confidently based on my own experience observing the members of family, my extended family, and my acquaintances. For most of them, the Mass is boring, especially with a dull homily. Faith cannot be a cure or a substitute for laziness and mediocrity.
John Bellocchio
7 years 9 months ago
I don't think that anyone is "mimicking" the participation of priests on the altar - they are joining a divine sacrificial right watching the face of their celebrant. Many large archdioceses throughout the nation are growing and flourishing with new participants in the Mass, especially new immigrant participants and yes, even young people, brought to the Church by a feeling of warmth and celebration. We often say that the Church is the body of Christ - and it is. It is the living, growing, changing, developing, reaching and teaching body of Christ himself. A good friend of mine, an SJ for more than 30 years, once told me that the power of the priest to convert bread and wine into His body and blood is derived from the faith of the people in front of him. I didn't understand it at the time, but as I listened to that phrase in my head over and over again, it began to make sense. There may be some people of your generation who feel as you do - but there are millions more in America and throughout the world of the seceding generations who feel that the Mass with the celebrant facing the people and watching the literal moment of divine sacrifice is an incredibly warm and sacramental experience. The Church needs that next generation to survive. Another commenter on this thread said that the priests will continue to face the population until there is no one left to face. I'm sorry to say - if they continually face away from the people, the next generation of Catholics will slip out the door without them noticing.
Douglas Fang
7 years 9 months ago
Charles Erlinger
7 years 9 months ago
There are probably few of us around any more who have had the privilege of participating in Mass in a bamboo hut with a mud floor, or in an open space in which any flat object would do for an altar table, or aboard ship in various and shifting configurations. But those of us still here should be smiling with amusement at the commotion caused by this issue. And after we have stopped smiling, we should be wondering whether, with all of the substantive problems that could be tackled by the staff at the Vatican, grown men would choose to make a project out of this.

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