One of the chief antidotes to a world “marked by the blight of Godless terrorism, of an increasingly aggressive secularism” and an “advancing culture of death” is to restore primacy to God in the Catholic liturgy, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, said Thursday.
The cardinal was speaking to an international gathering of cardinals, priests, religious and laity at the Fifth Roman Colloquium on Summorum Pontificum, held at the Pontifical University of St. Thomas (Angelicum).
The date marks the 10th anniversary of the coming into force of Pope Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, which gave priests broad permission to celebrate the ancient form of the Roman liturgy.
In his address, Cardinal Sarah asked:
If the Church’s missionary vitality has diminished in our time, if the witness of Christians in an increasingly godless world has become weaker, if our world has forgotten about God, is this perhaps because we who are supposed to be “the light of the world” (Mt 5:14) are not approaching the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed as we should, or not drawing sufficiently deeply from the font from which all her power flows so as to bring all to enjoy that “spring of water welling up to eternal life?” (Jn 4:14).
Restoring the primacy of God
In his address, entitled “Silence and the Primacy of God in the Sacred Liturgy,” Cardinal Sarah delivered a powerful message of continuity with Pope Benedict XVI’s program of liturgical renewal and ressourcement, including a prominent role for the ancient Roman liturgy.
He lamented the prevalence of man-centered liturgies, which “reduce something which is of its very essence supernatural to the level of merely the natural.”
“God must come first in every element of our liturgical celebration,” he said.
His Eminence also recommended the restoration of the priest and people facing East, or ad orientem, saying:
This ancient and beautiful practice, which speaks so eloquently of the primacy of Almighty God at the very heart of the Mass, is not restricted to the usus antiquior. This venerable practice is permitted, is perfectly appropriate and, I would insist, is pastorally advantageous in celebrations of the usus recentior—the more modern form of the Roman rite—as well.
Cultivating silence of the heart
If the liturgy is to be “a time of personal encounter and intimacy with God” that enables us to draw others to Christ, we must also learn stillness and silence, Cardinal Sarah said.
“Noise kills the liturgy, [it] kills prayer … the importance of silence for the sacred celebration cannot be underestimated,” he said.
The church and sacristy should not be a “place of chatter,” he said, adding that socializing should be done “elsewhere.”
The very silence of a church or sacristy, the cardinal explained, should be a school, “drawing all who enter it into that silence of heart, mind and soul which is so necessary if we are to receive all that Almighty God wishes to give us through the Sacred Liturgy.”
Rejuvenating the Church
Reflecting on the 10th anniversary of Summorum Pontificum, Cardinal Sarah spoke of the attraction the traditional rite carries for young people, a ‘sign of the times’ that the Church must take with utmost seriousness.
He rejoiced in numerous and good vocations to the priesthood and the religious life that arise from communities who celebrate the usus antiquior, and appealed to priests and bishops who might have doubts about this, saying:
Visit these communities and come to know them, most especially their young people. Open your hearts and minds to the faith of these young brothers and sisters of ours, and to the good that they do. They are neither nostalgic nor embittered nor encumbered by the ecclesiastical battles of recent decades; they are full of the joy of living the life of Christ amidst the challenges of the modern world.
“The usus antiquior should be seen as a normal part of the life of the Church of the twenty-first century,” Cardinal Sarah concluded. “Christ calls us to unity, not division! We are brothers and sisters in the same faith no matter which form of the Roman rite we celebrate!”
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