Sarah sowing division

In an arena where, arguably, the most important thing he could do is to encourage charity and an irenic spirit toward various forms of Eucharistic piety, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has once again demonstrated that what he really does best is sow division.

Mar 08, 2018

By Rita Ferrone
In an arena where, arguably, the most important thing he could do is to encourage charity and an irenic spirit toward various forms of Eucharistic piety, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has once again demonstrated that what he really does best is sow division.

He did it by delaying for more than a year Pope Francis’ request concerning the washing of women’s feet on Holy Thursday. He did it again by urging that altars be turned around so that Mass would be celebrated with the priest’s back to the people (for which he was reprimanded). Again he did it by minimizing and misinterpreting the Pope’s initiative on liturgical translation (prompting a public correction from the Pope). Now, he is sowing division concerning how communion is received.

In a preface to a new book, The Power of Silence, the cardinal rages about offenses against the Eucharist. He fulminates over Satanism and black masses, and then links these phenomena with receiving communion in the hand. He evaluates this liturgical practice as pure evil, a tool in the hand of Satan, promoting unbelief. Those who take communion in the hand are on the side of Lucifer in the great cosmic struggle of good against evil, Sarah claims. They are opposed to Michael and all the angels.

All this leaves us in a quandary, however. Why did Pope Francis appoint Sarah — not to a niche position, but to a mainstream post in a field about which he knows little? And why does he let him go on blundering in this way? Francis himself has never said why he appointed him, though informed sources say that Benedict wanted Sarah in the job and Francis went along. And we can only speculate as to Francis’ intentions for the future.

But we do know some things. Having corrected Sarah publicly now, more than once, Pope Francis surely understands that his prefect for divine worship is not in sync with his own priorities — and so does everyone else. Possibly, he is simply waiting for Sarah’s term to expire and will then let him go. Maybe he finds Sarah sympathetic in person, and his personal qualities seem more important than the things he says. Francis has always treated Sarah with kindness and respect.

Time and again, Sarah has detracted from the work of the Congregation and caused confusion concerning Pope Francis’ genuine priorities and intentions. His pronouncements, far from benign, promote distrust and resistance to the mainstream liturgical reform in practical ways. Every one of his talking points is taken from the reform-of-the-reform movement, even when he does not use the term (because he was told explicitly not to use it). This movement is clearly shaping his agenda.

Francis says that the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council are “irreversible.” He knows that there is a movement abroad to reverse them, and he has said ‘No’. At the same time, he keeps Sarah in power. As I see it, this has led to an incoherent situation.

Sarah’s term may not have expired, but with this latest diatribe, it’s clear that his time is up. The reason is simple. He’s not serving the Church. He’s speaking for the preoccupations and priorities of one small portion of the Church, and working against the interests of the majority. The curia is the Pope’s cabinet. They are not appointed to pursue their own agenda, or to cater to a minority. They are charged with a diaconia of service to the churches around the world, on behalf of the Petrine ministry. Tell me how whipping up fury and fear concerning diabolical intentions in our communion practices is a service. It isn’t. Francis should recognise that Cardinal Sarah has failed the most basic test of service. --Commonweal Magazine (used with permission)

(Rita Ferrone is the author of several books about liturgy, including Liturgy: Sacrosanctum Concilium (Paulist Press). She is a contributing writer to Commonweal)

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