The cardinal’s speech, which he did not deliver in person due to other commitments, addressed various debates about the liturgy and the direction of the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council.
After the council, Blessed Paul VI issued a new Roman Missal, now known as the ordinary form, which was widely translated from Latin into local languages.
Cardinal Sarah said both the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the liturgy should bring to the faithful “the beauty of the liturgy, its sacredness, the silence, the recollection, the mystical dimension, and adoration.”
“The liturgy must put us face to face with God in a personal relationship of intense intimacy. It must plunge us into the intimacy of the Most Holy Trinity,” he said, adding “the liturgy should allow us to attain all together to the unity of faith and to the true knowledge of the Son of God.”
He rejected any efforts to oppose one Roman Missal to the other, or to oppose the Roman liturgy to those of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
“We ought rather to enter into the great silence of the liturgy, allowing ourselves to be enriched by all the liturgical forms, whether they be, incidentally, Latin or Eastern,” he said.
Without mystical silence and a contemplative spirit, the liturgy will remain “ an occasion for hateful divisions, for ideological confrontations, and for public humiliations of the weak by those who claim to hold authority, instead of being a place of our unity and our communion in the Lord.”
Cardinal Sarah spoke of the importance of liturgical formation, which must begin with a proclamation of the faith and a catechesis based in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This formation “protects us from the risk of the more or less learned deviations of certain theologians in need of ‘novelties’.”
For Cardinal Sarah, the heart of all authentic Christian liturgy includes efforts to improve and esteem its beauty and sacredness as well as “maintaining the right balance between fidelity to the Tradition and legitimate evolution.” This last point means “absolutely and radically” rejecting any interpretation that sees liturgical history as a break with the past.
The cardinal spoke at length of divisions over the liturgy, delivering some strong criticism for some abuses.
While the sense of the sacred is inseparable from the liturgy, some of the faithful have been so mistreated or deeply troubled by superficial celebrations of the liturgy that they have become “liturgically homeless.”
Cardinal Sarah criticized a vision of liturgical reform that failed to fulfill the authentic restoration envisioned by the Second Vatican Council. This vision was carried out with “a superficial spirit” and wrongly aimed “to eliminate at all cost a heritage perceived to be totally negative and outdated in order to dig an abyss between before and after the council.”
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For Cardinal Sarah, the Second Vatican Council was not intended to be “a rupture with the Tradition,” but rather a rediscovery and confirmation of tradition “in its deepest significance.”
“In fact, what is called ‘the reform of the reform,’ and which should perhaps be called with greater precision ‘the mutual enrichment of the rites,’ to adopt an expression of the magisterium of Benedict XVI, is above all a spiritual necessity,” he said.
“Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger tirelessly repeated that the crisis that has been shaking the Church for the past fifty years, principally since the Second Vatican Council, is linked to the crisis of the liturgy, and thus to the disrespect, desacralization, and horizontalization of the essential elements of divine worship.”
As Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in his memoirs, he is convinced that “the crisis in the Church that we are experiencing today is to a large extent due to the disintegration of the liturgy.”
Cardinal Sarah added: “we cannot close our eyes to the disaster, the devastation, and the schism that the modern promoters of a living liturgy have provoked by remodeling the liturgy of the Church according to their ideas.”
He contended that those who enacted negative changes in the liturgy forgot that it is not only a prayer, but is especially a mystery “that we cannot understand entirely, but which we must accept and receive in faith, love, obedience, and an adoring silence.”