Saturday, June 13, 2015

Cardin Sarah, CDW Prefect, commenting on ad orientem posture, and active participation

This was really refreshing to read at Catholic Culture today.

Paying tribute to the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy as a liturgical “Magna Carta,” Cardinal Robert Sarah called for a more faithful implementation of its text, lamented misin
terpretations of its teaching on “active participation,” and suggested an appendix to the Roman Missal that might better manifest the continuity of the extraordinary and ordinary forms of the celebration of the Mass. 
“The liturgy is essentially the action of Christ,” the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship wrote in the June 12 edition of L’Osservatore Romano. “If this vital principle is not received in faith, it is likely to make the liturgy a human work, a self-celebration of the community.” He continued: To speak of a ‘celebrating community’ is not without ambiguity and requires real caution. The participatio actuosa [active participation] should not therefore be understood as the need to do something. On this point the teaching of the Council has often been distorted. It is instead to let Christ take us and associate us with his sacrifice. Citing the teaching of Pope Francis, Cardinal Sarah criticized the attitude of priests who make themselves the focal point of the liturgy. 
“It is entirely consistent with the conciliar constitution, it is indeed opportune that, during the rite of penance, the singing of the Gloria, the orations, and the Eucharistic prayer, everyone, priest and faithful, should turn together towards the East, to express their will to participate in the work of worship and of redemption accomplished by Christ,” he continued. “This manner of doing things could opportunely be put into place in cathedrals, where liturgical life must be exemplary.”

I know, when I first encountered it on May 15, 2005 at Assumption Grotto, my first reaction was, "Oh, No! The priest has his back to us."   All through Mass I found myself shifting around in my pew, as if to try to find his face.  On the way home it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I was seeking the face of the priest in the Mass when it is the Face of God I should be seeking in my worship.  Worship has a contemplative dimension. I'll share, in a moment something beautiful that Pope John Paul II said about that, but first more of what Cardinal Sarah said.

Continuing his discussion of “active participation,” Cardinal Sarah criticized the “contemporary Western mentality” in which the faithful are to be “constantly busy” and in which the Mass is to be rendered “convivial.” On the contrary, “sacred awe” and “joyful fear require our silence in the presence of the divine majesty. It is often forgotten that sacred silence is one of the means set forth by the Council to encourage participation.”
Read the rest at Catholic Culture.

Now, on active participation, Saint John Paul II had this to say in an ad limina address to US bishops the late 1990's.  Here is the first part of section 3, using the text at the Adoremus site (emphasis mine in bold):

3. Only by being radically faithful to this doctrinal foundation can we avoid one-dimensional and unilateral interpretations of the Council's teaching. The sharing of all the baptized in the one priesthood of Jesus Christ is the key to understanding the Council's call for full, conscious and active participation in the liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 14). Full participation certainly means that every member of the community has a part to play in the liturgy; and in this respect a great deal has been achieved in parishes and communities across your land. But full participation does not mean that everyone does everything, since this would lead to a clericalizing of the laity and a laicizing of the priesthood; and this was not what the Council had in mind. The liturgy, like the Church, is intended to be hierarchical and polyphonic, respecting the different roles assigned by Christ and allowing all the different voices to blend in one great hymn of praise.

Active participation certainly means that, in gesture, word, song and service, all the members of the community take part in an act of worship, which is anything but inert or passive. Yet active participation does not preclude the active passivity of silence, stillness and listening: indeed, it demands it. Worshippers are not passive, for instance, when listening to the readings or the homily, or following the prayers of the celebrant, and the chants and music of the liturgy. These are experiences of silence and stillness, but they are in their own way profoundly active. In a culture which neither favors nor fosters meditative quiet, the art of interior listening is learned only with difficulty. Here we see how the liturgy, though it must always be properly inculturated, must also be counter-cultural.

Photo Attributions

Cardinal Sarah: By François-Régis Salefran (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Pope John Paul II: By Hernan Valencias (Colombian journalist) ( [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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