Cardinal Raymond Burke has given a strong endorsement of Cardinal Robert Sarah’s recent encouragement for priests to begin celebrating Mass in accord with the ancient posture that recognizes God as the center of the liturgy.
Cardinal Burke said he is in total agreement with Cardinal Sarah’s recent request for priests to celebrate Mass ad orientem, or facing the Lord, because when a priest celebrates Mass, he is acting in the person of Christ and the focus should be on God.
Ad orientem, Latin for “to the East,” refers in liturgy to when the priest and the people in the congregation face the Lord in the tabernacle. It is how all Masses used to be celebrated before Vatican II.
Cardinal Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, made the request at an international sacred liturgy conference last month in London for the priests to celebrate Mass ad orientem whenever possible, beginning this Advent. The Vatican liturgy chief’s remarks had subsequently stirred some pushback.
“I agree with him completely,” Cardinal Burke said in an international teleconference Monday.
The former prefect of the Vatican’s Apostolic Signatura went on to say he could not agree more with Cardinal Sarah and that much of the negative reaction to his request was baseless, unfair, and uninformed. “And I believe that many of the comments which were made afterward are not well informed and are not fair.”
The fundamental point of Cardinal Sarah’s request, and the question of the position of the priest in the congregation is key, Cardinal Burke told the journalists on the call, because the priest being at the head of the congregation is acting “in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, offering this worship to God,” and so all are facing the Lord.
“It’s not that he’s turning his back on anybody,” Cardinal Burke clarified. “This is often times what people say, ‘Well now the priest turned his back on us.’”
“Not at all,” the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta said. “The priest as our spiritual father is leading us in this worship to lift our minds and hearts to God.”
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Cardinal Sarah had also asked all Catholics to receive Holy Communion kneeling on the tongue, which is the Church’s norm, despite the allowances many western dioceses have to administer Communion in the hand.
While supporters of traditional and reverent liturgy applauded the request by Cardinal Sarah, the Vatican’s top liturgist since his appointment by Pope Francis in November 2014, response from both the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and then Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi played down the cardinal’s request. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, in effect told priests in his diocese to disregard the request after he and others incorrectly implied that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal holds that Mass should be celebrated with the priests facing the people.
Cardinal Sarah reaffirmed that Mass had become overly focused on the priest and the congregation earlier this month in an address to the clergy of the Archdiocese of Colombo.
The Guinean cardinal echoed Cardinal Burke’s assessment that his encouragement last month for a return to more sacred liturgy was misinterpreted, according to a Catholic Herald report, with Cardinal Sarah saying, “This talk received a lot of attention — some of it not always very accurate!”
Cardinal Burke also made clear in his international press conference on Monday, when he addressed the many issues brought up in his new book Hope for the World, that there is nothing in the documents of the Second Vatican Council that demands or even suggests that Mass should now be celebrated with the priest facing the people.
“This is a discipline which was introduced afterwards and I think was part of the false liturgical reforms,” he stated.
“There’s the great temptation when the priest is facing the people to see him as some kind of a performer,” the former St. Louis archbishop said, “and now instead of the priest together with the people relating to God, somehow it becomes an interaction between the priest and the people.”
“The priest is the protagonist, it’s no longer our Lord Jesus Christ,” he said, “and this is a very fundamental gross error that has to be addressed.”
“And so Cardinal Sarah, I couldn’t agree more with him,” Cardinal Burke continued. “And I trust that with time people will recognize that the criticism which was lodged against him is completely unjustified.”
The criticism toward Cardinal Sarah is also not very sincere, Cardinal Burke went on to say, because Cardinal Sarah wrote the same thing about a return to ad orientem liturgy in June 2015 in L’Osservatore Romano, and there was no such backlash.
“He expressed the same strong convictions and nobody reacted then, and this is the official newspaper of the Holy See,” Cardinal Burke said. “And now suddenly in this context there’s this reaction, I don’t understand it.”
The sacred liturgy is the highest and most perfect expression of the Catholic faith, Cardinal Burke told the press conference, and when it’s celebrated correctly, with great dignity, we approach God himself. He objects to the contention that ad orientem liturgy means a priest is turning his back on the people, rather, it is a more God-centered expression of Holy Mass.
“No, it’s a greatest act of love for the people to be at their head, and to offer for them the Holy Mass,” Cardinal Burke said. “Because the Eucharist can only be offered by Christ himself, and it’s the priest who sacramentally is Christ offering the Holy Mass. So let’s all just face the Lord, as we should.”