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Letter 58

In early March 2015 Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, made a long stay in the Paris area to present a book-length interview put together by journalist Nicolas Diat and published by Fayard. Its title is God Or Nothing [Dieu ou Rien] and it presents an intimate and striking portrait of one of the most discreet, but also most important prelates of the current pontificate.

During what resembled a promotional tour, Cardinal Sarah wished to spend some time with the faithful rather than only with the press. In each of the parishes he visited he broached a specific theme of his book. He did not neglect the liturgy, a theme he discussed in a lecture at the parish of Saint Eugène-Sainte Cécile where both forms of the Roman rite have been celebrated for the past thirty years.

We offer you a preview of the Guinean Cardinal’s views on Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum as Nicolas Diat’s book reports them. These views confirm what we wrote in our letter 55 on the Cardinal’s nomination: with Cardinal Sarah, “[t]he Holy Father chose peace, continuity, and competence.”

Excerpted from God Or Nothing, interview with Nicolas Diat (Paris: Fayard, 2015), 400-402.
(Paix liturgique translation)

Personally, I welcomed Summorum Pontificum with trust, joy, and thanksgiving. It is so to speak the sign and proof that the Church, Mater et Magistra, remains attentive to all of her children and takes their sensitivities into account. Benedict XVI wanted to promote the richness of diverse spiritual expressions, so long as they lead to a real and true ecclesial communion and to a more luminous outpouring of the Church's holiness.

I believe that this beautiful motu proprio falls into line with what the Council Fathers wanted. Indeed, let us not pretend to forget that Sacrosanctum concilium declared: “[T]he liturgy is made up of immutable elements divinely instituted, and of elements subject to change. These not only may but ought to be changed with the passage of time if they have suffered from the intrusion of anything out of harmony with the inner nature of the liturgy or have become unsuited to it.”

In the letter that accompanied Summorum Pontificum, Benedict XVI wrote: “For that matter, the two Forms of the usage of the Roman Rite can be mutually enriching: new Saints and some of the new Prefaces can and should be inserted in the old Missal. The Ecclesia Dei Commission, in contact with various bodies devoted to the usus antiquior, will study the practical possibilities in this regard. The celebration of the Mass according to the Missal of Paul VI will be able to demonstrate, more powerfully than has been the case hitherto, the sacrality which attracts many people to the former usage. The most sure guarantee that the Missal of Paul VI can unite parish communities and be loved by them consists in its being celebrated with great reverence in harmony with the liturgical directives. This will bring out the spiritual richness and the theological depth of this Missal.”

In the celebration of the Mass according to the older Missal, we probably better understand that the Mass is an act of Christ and not of men. Likewise, its mysterious and mystagogical character is more immediately perceptible. Even when we participate actively in the Mass, it is not ours, it is Christ’s. In his Apostolic Letter Vicesimus Quintus Annus, John Paul II asked in what this active participation consists and what is to be done. Unfortunately this expression has often been insufficiently understood and reduced to its external meaning, in other words to the need for a common act, as if the principle were to bring as many people as possible, as fast as possible, into a concrete action. The word participation refers to a central action in which all must participate. If, therefore, we wish to discover what this action is, we must first specify what this central ‘actio,’ in which all the members of the community are to have a share, is. . . . The term ‘actio,’ when it refers to the liturgy, brings us to the sources of the Eucharistic Canon. True liturgical action is ‘oratio.’ This solemn liturgical oratio-prayer, the ‘Canon,’ is far more than a speech, it is an ‘actio’ in the highest meaning of the term. Indeed, it is in it that human action passes into the background and makes way for the divine actio, i.e., the action of God.[1]

The Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum seeks to reconcile the two forms of the Roman rite and seeks especially to help us rediscover the sacrality of the Holy Mass as actio Dei, not of men. This is an extremely important point: the problem of widespread indiscipline, the lack of respect and faithfulness for the rite. This can even affect the very validity of the sacraments.

[1] These considerations seem to be from Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI), The Spirit of the Liturgy, rather than from John Paul II,Vicesimus Quintus Annus.