Cardinal Sarah: In facing liturgical East, we experience "the primacy of God and of adoration" | Carl E. Olson | The Dispatch at Catholic World Report
In a recent interview with a French publication, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, explains how God can put "back at the center" of the liturgy.
The most recent edition (June 3) of the French publication Famille Chrétienne has a lengthy interview with Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, part of which is available online (in French only). While touching on several topics, the focus of the interview is liturgy and worship. As usual, Cardinal Sarah is both eloquent and direct, qualities that will be familiar to those who have read God or Nothing (Ignatius Press, 2015), the Cardinal's autobiographical interview with French journalist Nicholas Diat.
Asked how we, as Catholics, can put God "back at the center" of the liturgy, Cardinal Sarah emphasizes that the liturgy "is the door to our union with God. If Eucharistic celebrations turn into human self-celebrations, there is a great danger, because God disappears. We have to start by placing God back at the center of the liturgy. If the man is the center, the church becomes a merely human society, a simple NGO, as Pope Francis said."
What is the remedy? Cardinal Sarah first emphasizes the necessity of "a true conversion of the heart." He then states: "Vatican II insisted on a major point: in this area, the important thing is not what we do, but what God does. No human work will ever be able to accomplish what is found at the heart of the Mass: the sacrifice of the cross." The liturgy, the Prefect notes, "allows us to go outside the walls of this world. Rediscovering the sacredness and beauty of the liturgy therefore requires a work of formation for the laity, the priests and the bishops. I am talking about an interior conversion." As he has done before, notably in a detailed reflection published earlier this year, Cardinal Sarah emphasizes the importance of silence: "In order to put God back at the center of the liturgy, silence is necessary too: the ability to be quiet so as to listen to God and his word. I maintain that we only meet God in silence and by pondering his word in the depths of our heart."
This insistence on conversion—which is "to turn toward God"—and contemplative silence leads to the recognition "that our bodies must participate in this conversion." And the best way to realize this bodily participation is by facing liturgical East (ad orientem) in worship:
The best way is certainly to celebrate with the priests and the faithful all turned in the same direction: towards the Lord who comes. It is not a matter of celebrating with one’s back to the faithful or facing them, as you sometimes hear. That is not where the problem lies. It is about turning together towards the apse, which symbolizes the East, where the cross of the risen Lord is enthroned. By this way of celebrating, we will experience, even in our bodies, the primacy of God and of adoration. We will understand that the liturgy is first of all our participation in the perfect sacrifice of the cross. I have experienced it personally; by celebrating in this way, the assembly, headed by the priest, is as though drawn in by the mystery of the Cross at the moment of the elevation.
Cardinal Sarah is asked if this way of celebrating is allowed. Yes, he responds, it is indeed "lawful and in keeping with the letter and the spirit of the Council." He notes that in a June 2015 article that he wrote for L’Osservatore Romano, "I proposed that the priests and the faithful turn toward the East at least during the Penitential Rite, during the singing of the Gloria, the Prayers of the Faithful and the Eucharistic Prayer."
Naturally, Cardinal Sarah is asked about Vatican II and the "change in orientation of the altar".