Cardinal Sarah’s Call to Rebellion

Cardinal Sarah asks priests to start celebrating Mass facing east this Advent:

“It is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction – eastwards or at least towards the apse – to the Lord who comes”.

Cardinal Sarah is Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. So you might think he has the authority and proper role to request this change of priests throughout the world. But his proposal was not set forth in a document of the Holy See, approved by the Roman Pontiff. It is a personal request, not a decision of proper Church authority.

Each priest is under the authority of his local Bishop, and each Bishop (as well as each priest and each member of the faithful) is under the authority of the Roman Pontiff. Cardinal Sarah is suggesting that each priest ignore their Bishop and the Pope, and act based on the traditionalist preference for liturgical form, rather than the currently approved form in each diocese. And that is a call to rebellion.

If the Latin Mass is approved in a particular diocese, and the particular priest follows that form as permitted by his Bishop, then all is well. But Cardinal Sarah would have no reason to make such a request if it were limited to the aforementioned case. Instead, the Cardinal is proposing that all priests use the ‘ad Orientem’ liturgical form, as if it were an inflexible dogma, rather than a flexible and dispensable point of liturgical form.

Essentially, what Cardinal Sarah is saying is that “ad Orientem” (to the East) celebration of Mass is not merely good or best, but required, as if every other choice were entirely unacceptable. He asks priests to use that form without regard to episcopal or pontifical authority. And this is an expression of the more general argument made by traditionalists: that their understanding of doctrine and discipline is dogma, therefore it should be followed without regard to Church authority. And if proper authority in the Church decides differently on discipline or doctrine, many traditionalists automatically assume that the decision is erroneous.

Certainly, there is nothing inherently wrong with ad Orientem celebration of Mass. The Church used this element of liturgical form for centuries. But there is growing support, among traditionalists, for the claim that whatever elements of liturgical form are preferred by the traditionalist subculture should be treated like dogma: unchanging and unchangeable truth. They see the traditionalist position on every point of doctrine and discipline as if it were above the authority of Popes and Councils and the body of Bishops dispersed in the world.

But consider this: the Council of Florence infallibly taught that all Old Testament disciplines have been dispensed by Christ and His Church. Those disciplines were imposed by God through Divine Revelation — which is a greater way to decide discipline than the way that liturgical form is decided in the Church. And yet those divinely-imposed disciplines were all taken away by Christ. Therefore, discipline is not dogma; discipline can be changed or dispensed by proper authority in the Church.

A priest who ignores his Bishop, the local Bishops’ Conference, and the current liturgical form approved by the Holy See, to follow the private suggestion of Cardinal Sarah, is rebelling against Church authority. This is the path to schism. I am convinced that when Pope Francis eventually decides some question of discipline or doctrine contrary to the understanding of Cardinal Sarah, that he will rebel against the Roman Pontiff, and lead a schism against the one true Church.

Pride goeth before a fall. Those Catholics who assume that their understanding of the Faith cannot err will eventually fall away.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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6 Responses to Cardinal Sarah’s Call to Rebellion

  1. missy681 says:

    The entire ad orientem discussion is very confusing to me. Most traditionalists think it means “facing with your back toward the congregation.” It was pointed out in a great discussion that the words “ad orientem” actually mean “toward the east.” In my parish, the priest does happen to face east, and that is also with him facing the congregation. The sun is in his eyes at 7am Mass. I was recently told that my “church is built wrong because the entrance to the church must be from the west.” I’d like to know where these people got their instructions. I try very hard to not worry about these things, but the traditionalists who incessantly talk about how we’re all going to hell because our priest face the congregation make it very difficult to not lose faith. I have had my comment “if the direction your priest faces at Mass is the biggest of your worries, you should consider yourself extremely blessed” pulled from the comboxes more than a handful of times. The only thing that really keeps me from losing my mind in this discussion is imagining St. Peter at the pearly gates interviewing people waiting to get in and his main question is NOT going to be “so, which way did your priest face when you went to Mass?”

    • Ron Conte says:

      The supposedly perfect situation is that the priest faces away from the congregation AND to the east. But most churches are not built so that the altar is east-west, so then they say that at least the priest should face away from the congregation. But all this is mere discipline. It is not wrong, per se — until it is proposed as if it were dogma, or as if the Church Herself had no right to make changes to this discipline. Not all traditionalists make these types of errors. But the errors are Pharisaical — exalting every little point of discipline as if it were dogma. And emphasizing all these points of discipline and liturgical form, while giving little attention to more important matters on faith, morals, and salvation.

  2. Joe says:

    Ron, I disagree strongly. I see a little bit of Peter / Paul going on but no duplicity. Surely the Cardinal has the right to recommend such things, was it not Francis who appointed the Cardinal as the Prefect of Divine Worship.
    I get this impression that you think Francis is a liberal Pope. I truly don’t think he is at all. Nor is he conservative. He is a lover of souls just like his/our Master. He knows the need to reach out to the sinner and not weigh them down but he also recognizes the awe and holiness of the Eucharistic Christ and the great responsibility that we the laity and the priesthood have towards honoring and reverencing properly our Lord in the Eucharist.

  3. Joe says:

    Ron, to further support my previous post. As stated by Cardinal Sarah [“This practice is permitted by current liturgical legislation. It is perfectly legitimate. Indeed, I think that it is a very important step, to make sure God is truly at the center of our celebration.

    “And so, dear fathers, I ask you to implement this practice whenever possible, with prudence and the necessary catechesis and pastoral competence, knowing that this is something good for the Church and the people of God.]

    The key words being:
    Is Permitted
    Perfectly Legitimate
    (and) Whenever Possible, With Prudence

    [Excerpts From The National Catholic Reporter – Cardinal Sarah’s Mass comments encourage what canon law permits.

    Several liturgical experts said the cardinal does not have the authority to impose a change but is simply encouraging a practice that liturgical law already permits.

    “I think he’s just encouraging as anyone can encourage, but because of his position, his encouragement carries more weight. He’s not changing the legislation at all; he’s just giving his opinion that he thinks this would help people to pray better,” Fr. Andrew Menke, associate director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ divine worship office, told Catholic News Service on Wednesday.]

    I think (could be wrong) that Pope Francis for the moment will be silent on the matter. I think Pope Francis is carrying two jugs of water. He leads with one Jug but he understands well the need for the other.
    God bless.

  4. domzerchi says:

    “It should be borne in mind that there is no preference expressed in the liturgical legislation for either position. As both positions enjoy the favor of law, legislation may not be invoked to say that one position or the other accords more closely with the mind of the Church.”

    By saying that the liturgical norm was not going to be changed, the recent press release was effectively saying that it remains the official Vatican position that there is no preference in the rubrics for either ad orientem or ad orientem. Cardinal Sarah also said that and clearly indicated that he was talking about his personal preference.

  5. Ron Conte says:

    Pope Francis issues directive contradicting advice of Cardinal Sarah
    12 July 2016 | by Catholic News Service

    “Pope Francis has made it clear no changes are planned to the Ordinary or Extraordinary Mass Forms, contrary to the speech delivered by Cardinal Sarah last week.”

    “However, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, issued a statement yesterday clarifying the situation and indicating Pope Francis met with Cardinal Sarah on 9 July to indicate no liturgical directives will begin in Advent.”

    Cardinal Sarah’s comments were rebellious because he suggested using ad orientem regardless of the form of the Mass (Latin or Novus Ordo). But we will see the effect of this suggestion once Advent arrives.

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