Recently the UK’s Catholic Herald reported on Cardinal Sarah’s article in the French publication La Nef wherein he describes his desire for a “reform of the reform” with an emphasis on reconciliation between the two liturgical forms of the Latin rite. It came on the heels of the tenth anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s moto proprio Summorum Pontificum which liberated the traditional Latin Mass across the globe. The fact Cardinal Sarah is discussing this is great, it’s wonderful to have cardinals discussing the merits of the Extraordinary Form (EF) in positive ways. However, I don’t believe what he proposes would work. Let’s look at what His Eminence said from the article above and then some of the reasons, as laid out by Joseph Shaw also of the Catholic Herald, why it isn’t likely to work.
Quoting from the Herald with my own abridgment and emphasis:
Cardinal Sarah wrote in favour of the “mutual enrichment” of the two forms of the Roman Rite, a phrase of Benedict XVI’s arguing that both forms have riches that would enhance the other if incorporated [in his moto proprio].
…this has been interpreted in EF circles in a mostly unilateral way: the OF ought to adapt the practices of the EF. Cardinal Sarah is certainly in favour of this – he has argued in the past for ad orientem celebration of the OF, greater use of Latin, and more periods of silence, including some of the priestly prayers. In La Nef, he goes further, recommending that Holy Communion be received kneeling and on the tongue; that the Prayers at the Foot of the Altar be restored at the beginning of Mass; and that the priests keep united after the consecration those fingers which have touched the sacred species.
In order to faithfully apply Benedict’s direction of “mutual enrichment” between the two forms, the cardinal suggests the possibility of the following:
Sarah proposes that efforts be made to have a shared calendar and a shared lectionary, so that both the EF and OF would celebrate more feasts together and have the same Scripture readings at Mass.
…EF devotees often speak about the simplified OF calendar as being too banal – “Ordinary Time” instead of Sundays after Pentecost – and consider it a mistake to have abandoned Passiontide and the octave of Pentecost.
For the 10 years since Summorum Pontificum, those who prefer the EF have expected such an attitude from the OF. Cardinal Sarah now suggests that it is required of both clans, united in one Church, around one altar.
When I was considering making the switch from a very good OF parish (which included chant, Latin ordinaries, communion at the altar rail, and even ad orientem) to the EF parish just down the road, one of the biggest hurdles to me, at the time, was the fact the calendar and lectionary were different. I didn’t like that if I went to the EF parish one Sunday and then had to go to the OF parish much closer to my home (not the aforementioned one) the following Sunday, there would be a feeling of discontinuity. I thought the gap in feasts, calendar, and readings erected a wall between Catholics who should be united. I started thinking the two forms should be reconciled somehow without having an opinion on how or being terribly familiar with the EF lectionary or calendar.
After becoming quite familiar, now, with how the EF works, I still do think reconciliation would be in the best interest of the Church. However, I am convinced this can best be done, contrary to what Cardinal Sarah posits, in one direction back to the EF. It has become clear that the cycles and lectionary of the EF are simply superior for a number of reasons. Most of these reasons coincidentally are laid out in the next Catholic Herald article from which I will quote from below (abridged and with my emphasis):
Why Cardinal Sarah’s liturgical ‘reconciliation’ plan won’t work
The new lectionary is sometimes held up as obviously superior to the old, but not everyone committed to the reformed Mass agrees. The Toronto Oratorian Fr Jonathan Robinson wrote (The Mass and Modernity, 2005, p332):
I think the diversity, rather than enriching people, tends to confuse them… This may be because the selections, as has been noted by others, were drawn up more to satisfy the sensibilities of liturgical scholars than on traditional liturgical principles.
…can the lectionaries of the two Forms simply by swapped over?
The short answer is ‘no’. To take the most obvious problem, the 1969 Lectionary has no readings for the season of Septuagesima, because that season does not exist in the 1969 calendar.
Variations on this problem arise throughout the Church’s year. Many of the EF’s proper texts of feast days, and a good many Sundays, refer to the readings. The choice of readings in the Ordinary Form is so different from those in the Extraordinary Form that the discordance would be particularly jarring.
Thus, on Corpus Christi, the ancient Mass gives us a reading from on the danger of the unworthy reception of Holy Communion (1 Corinthians 11:27-9). St Paul’s message was excluded completely from the new Lectionary: it is not found even on a weekday…
…Something else they might like to consider is the very different role of feastdays in the Extraordinary Form. Moving some to the same date as the OF might sound innocuous enough, but a wholesale revision would endanger the distinctive character of this Form, whose weekday celebrations are not distinguished by a daily Scripture-reading cycle, but by large numbers of often very ancient feast days. Many of the saints commemorated are invoked in the liturgy itself, in the Canon or in the Litany of the Saints. Removing them from the calendar, but not from the liturgical texts, would not strengthen the Extraordinary Form, but simply make its message—about the communion of saints, intercession, and continuity—harder to discern.
These are all important points which most people who become familiar with the EF by and large recognize. Typically, anyone who considers the OF lectionary superior only does so because of the sheer amount of scripture contained within the cycle. There are two readings plus a Gospel reading. Of course more scripture is never bad, but the Mass isn’t supposed to be the only place a Catholic encounters sacred scripture. The EF uses scripture as a beautiful frame to the day’s respective liturgy instead of the other way around. The other purpose of scripture is is to instruct the faithful, so what better than the epistles which are essentially teaching documents. That is why in the EF there is an epistle reading and a Gospel reading. The epistle reading is typically concise, impactful, and offers a great springboard for a sermon. Furthermore, the new lectionary comes after the unfortunate removal of many important readings which were deemed to be inconvenient, demanding, or politically incorrect as pointed out by removing any reference to the damnation of receiving Holy Communion in an unworthy state.
The new calendar is problematic too, it’s severely lacking. Not only is Septuagesima replaced with a snippet of “ordinary time”, but the entire concept of ordinary time is odd and lackluster. Much more rich are the traditional seasons of the Nativity, Easter, and Pentecost. Better does the traditional calendar reflect times of penance and feasts too. The feast days are more than just times on the old calendar to celebrate, the entire daily Mass revolves around the nature of the respective saint’s character.
Nonetheless, it it is important to heed the call of Benedict suggesting for a “mutual enrichment”. Perhaps there are some things which the EF could better incorporate which might help a culture so far removed from these rituals to come to appreciate it more. For instance, and these are just off the top of my head, there is no ban on singing with the choir at an EF Mass…something our pastor reminds us of often…whether that be the Asperges Me or Salve Regina. Or perhaps this means holding hands during the Pater Noster. Okay JUST KIDDING ON THAT ONE, just seeing if you’re still reading. It could be enriching to somehow incorporate newer saints into the traditional calendar such as St. Gianna Molla, St. John Paul II, St. Maximilian Kolbe, or St. Mother Teresa.
It would be lovely if something could be done to merge the two forms and I thank God for Cardinal Sarah and his public thoughts on this matter. It’s just that in order to do this, the OF has much more to be “enriched” than the EF before reconciliation happens. ☩
UPDATE: Here is Fr. Z’s take on the two articles referenced above. which reminds me of a point I forgot to make in my original post. Even if the suggestions of tweaking the EF calendar and lectionary have merit, given all the chaos going on in Rome right now, with all the unfaithful, heinous bishops and cardinals who wish to mold the Church into the likeness of prevailing culture, perhaps we should hold off on even considering opening up the EF right now to be tampered with. Cardinal Sarah may caution the faithful not to treat the EF liturgy as a “museum object” but I think it is far more likely the faithful consider it a treasure. ☩☩