Cardinal Sarah, Part Three: on Keeping the Liturgy Sacred

Today we read the third, penultimate section of Cardinal Sarah’s wonderful article on the liturgy. 

Again he calls us to hear the true teaching of Vatican II, according to which liturgy is “above all things the worship of the divine majesty.”  What does it mean to worship?  Cardinal Sarah gives a fine encapsulation of Ratzinger’s teaching on the golden calf: the problem was not just the idol, but the people’s insistence that liturgy revolve around their interests, rather than worship of God. 

The Cardinal adds some concrete ideas on preaching (let it talk about God, not just about us), the sanctuary (let it look holy in the first place, and let its holiness be preserved by the way we approach it), and readers (let them be dressed as if they were performing a sacred function).  But always, he keeps these practical issues subject to the bigger liturgical vision of true participation in the liturgy.

Here’s Cardinal Sarah:


406-4515-cardinal-sarah-003We run the real risk of leaving no room for God in our celebrations, falling into the temptation of the Israelites in the desert. They sought to create a cult of worship limited to their own measure and reach, and let us not forget that they ended up prostrate before the idol of the golden calf.


The hour has come to listen to the Council. The liturgy is “above all things the worship of the divine majesty” (§33). It can form and teach us only insofar as it is completely ordered to divine worship and the glorification of God. The liturgy truly places us in the presence of divine transcendence. True participation means the renewal in us of that “amazement” that St. John Paul II held in such high regard (cf. Ecclesia de Eucharistia, §6). This sacred amazement, this joyous reverence, requires our silence before the divine majesty. We often forget that sacred silence is one of the means indicated by the Council to foster participation.


If the liturgy is the work of Christ, is it necessary for the celebrant to interject his own comments? We must remember that when the Missal authorizes commentary, this must not become a worldly, human discourse, a more or less subtle pronouncement on current events, or a banal greeting to those present, but rather a very brief exhortation to enter into the mystery (cf. General Introduction of the Roman Missal, §50).


As for the homily, it too is a liturgical act which has its own rules. The participatio actuosa in the work of Christ presupposes that one leaves behind the profane world in order to enter into “sacred action surpassing all others” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, §7). In fact, “we claim somewhat arrogantly to remain in the human sphere so as to enter into the divine” (Robert Sarah, God or Nothing, Ignatius Press, Chapter IV).


In this sense it is deplorable that the sanctuary in our churches is not strictly reserved for divine worship, that people enter it in worldly garb, that the sacred space is not clearly delineated by the architecture. And since, as the Council teaches, Christ is present in his word when it is proclaimed, it is equally harmful when readers are not dressed in a way that shows they are pronouncing not human words, but the Word of God.



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