VATICAN CITY — The Vatican has said media has “misinterpreted” Cardinal Robert Sarah’s address last week at the Sacra Liturgia conference in London, in which he invited all priests to celebrate the Holy Mass ad orientem.
In a communiqué issued this evening, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said Cardinal Sarah “has always been rightly concerned about the dignity of the celebration of Mass, so as to express appropriately the attitude of respect and adoration for the Eucharistic mystery.” But Fr. Lombardi added that Cardinal Sarah, who was appointed by Pope Francis as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments in 2014, was not issuing a directive to priests, and that there is no instruction for priests to celebrate Mass facing east from the beginning of Advent.
Here below is an English of the communiqué issued by the Holy See Press Office.
Holy See Press Office Communiqué:
Some clarifications on the celebration of Mass
It would appear opportune to offer clarification in the light of information circulated in the press after a conference held in London a few days ago by Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship. Cardinal Sarah has always been rightly concerned about the dignity of the celebration of Mass, so as to express appropriately the attitude of respect and adoration for the Eucharistic mystery. Some of his expressions have however been incorrectly interpreted, as if they were intended to announce new indications different to those given thus far in the liturgical norms and in the words of the Pope regarding celebration facing the people and the ordinary rite of the Mass.
Therefore it is useful to remember that in the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani (General Instruction of the Roman Missal), which contains the norms relating to the Eucharistic celebration and is still in full force, paragraph no. 299 states that: “Altare extruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit. Altare eum autem occupet locum , ut revera centrum sit ad quod totius congregationis fidelium attentio sponte convertatur” (That is: “The altar should be built separate from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. Moreover, the altar should occupy a place where it is truly the centre toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns.”)
Pope Francis, for his part, on the occasion of his visit to the Dicastery for Divine Worship, expressly mentioned that the “ordinary” form of the celebration of the Mass is that expressed in the Missal promulgated by Paul VI, while the “extraordinary” form, which was permitted by Pope Benedict XVI for the purposes and in the ways explained in his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, must not take the place of the “ordinary” one.
Therefore, new liturgical directives are not expected from next Advent, as some have incorrectly inferred from some of Cardinal Sarah’s words, and it is better to avoid using the expression “reform of the reform” with reference to the liturgy, given that it has sometimes been a source of misunderstanding.
All the above was unanimously expressed during a recent audience granted by the Pope to the same Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.
Questions over translations
As noted in the Vatican press statement above, the Latin text of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, n. 299 states: “Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.”
Many Latin scholars hold this passage ought to be translated: “The main altar should be built separated from the wall, which is useful wherever it is possible, so that it can be easily walked around and a celebration toward the people can be carried out.” They maintain that n. 299 was erroneously translated into English to suggest that the celebration of the Mass versus populum was to be the preferred form: “The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.”
Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ sent out several tweets earlier this week quoting from the General Instruction of the Roman Missal emphasizing Mass celebrated “facing the people,” while Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster sent a letter to all the priests of his diocese discouraging them from celebrating the Holy Mass facing east.
Cardinal Sarah issued no official response as of Monday evening. Read the official text of the Opening Address of His Eminence to Sacra Liturgia UK here.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.