Business as usual.
So, Cardinal Sarah, whom we like, said something the other day like, “Gee, wasn’t it great when priests faced God to lead the people to Him in the Mass…” I mostly ignored it. I realize that people in the Vatican are a few years behind everyone else, and thought, “Heh…That’s funny. He still thinks the Reform of the Reform is a thing.”
As I said on Twitter the other day, Dude… I mean… Your Eminence! The deck chairs are fine! GET IN THE BOAT!
Now the odious Cardinal Nichols of Westminster has issued a
veiled threat guidance to his priests saying – and this was hilarious – that the Mass isn’t the time to be introducing their own personal preferences… Naturally the conservative novusordoists have had a good laugh over the irony of this, and some of them have gone into the incredibly tedious history of the new rite, and how we got versus populum, to explain the joke to death.
Now the Vatican has come out and announced that the statements of its own prelates are meaningless… just noise… not magisterial… pay no attention…
the Vatican released a statement on Monday saying no new rules along those lines are in the works.
A Vatican spokesman also rejected the vocabulary of a “reform of the reform” in liturgical practice, saying that phrase is “at times the source of misunderstandings.”
Father Federico Lombardi said the decision to release a statement clarifying comments made by Cardinal Robert Sarah, of Guinea, came after the prelate met with Pope Francis on Saturday.
“Cardinal Sarah has always been rightly concerned about the dignity of the celebration of the Mass, in order to adequately express an attitude of respect and adoration of the Eucharistic mystery,” Lombardi said.
The papal spokesman added that some of Sarah’s expressions had been misinterpreted by the press, as a signal that changes in liturgical norms were imminent.
“It is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction – eastwards, or at least towards the apse – to the Lord who comes,” Sarah had said July 5, opening a conference in London called Sacra Liturgia.
Apparently, the understanding that the rest of us out here who are paying attention that the “reform of the reform” is a dead issue – as dead as Pope Benedict isn’t – has failed to get to the ears of the competent authority in the Curia.
But even more, this statement is a confirmation of the rumours about how things are in the Vatican right now. The journalistic phrase “the Vatican” has always been meaningless. It’s just used by lazy journalists with deadlines who want to get to their lunch and can’t be bothered to learn anything. In fact, there is no such things as “the Vatican”. And this is true even more now. In the past, you could get away with saying, “the Vatican says…” because there was a system of functional governance in place whereby if a curial cardinal issued a formal statement (which, remember, this wasn’t) it could be understood to be endorsed by the pope, which is what makes the whole thing official. But that system is gone. The Curia are, these days, mostly talking to themselves.
See, what people don’t get about the current situation is that the Vatican – that is, the Curia, the people in the offices doing the work of governing and organizing the affairs of the Church – doesn’t function any more. The way it used to work was that these Curial cardinals had a kind of ministerial portfolio. So, Cardinal Sarah, for example, is in charge of the office that is supposed to oversee and organise the way we worship in church. Liturgy. So, he studies things, gets information from all over, and issues corrections and answers questions that bishops ask about the details, and all that stuff. Then, the heads of these curial offices, called dicasteries, used to have a regular meeting with the pope to talk about the important stuff and get decisions and direction on the bigger stuff.
But now, apparently, all that’s over. The rumours around the Old Town are that there are simply no more meetings, the pope isn’t taking anyone’s calls and doesn’t care at all about anything they do. This is why he has been declaring canonizations without the dicastery whose job it is to implement (what’s left of) the process. We have a pope now who understands only one thing: his own power. So now when Bergoglio wants to make someone a saint, he figures it’s easier just to wave his magic pope-wand and get it done. To heck with all this futzing about with lengthy examinations and miracles and whatnot, amirite?
Putative Pope Francis does not govern the Church. What he does is have lunch. He sits in a cordoned off area (marked by a row of potted plants, reportedly) with his cronies, and has five hour lunches, and all the “governing” of the Church that’s happening is happening from there. That, and the meetings with the Cabal of Eight. The actual body that is supposed to, you know, do things and make things happen, is completely cut off. If you’re not one of Putative Pope Francis’ lunch buddies, you don’t get to talk to him.
So, the dicasteries are more or less isolated by the chief decision-maker and are just carrying on as best they can. They are the last to hear about decisions made for their respective areas of competence, even in some cases finding out the way everybody else does, from the front page of Corriere della Sera. The chaos and confusion spewing like a poisoned fountain from this pope is affecting everybody, from the pewistters in Nebraska to the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Imagine something like this ad orientem debacle happening in John Paul II’s time. Or, more pertinently, imagine CDF issuing a statement like, “No, the German bishops aren’t allowed to go into schism so they can offer Holy Communion to cohabiting gay men,” and being ignored. Just think about that one for a minute. Imagine the pope officially distancing himself from his own curia.
And why are these official statements from the few remaining competent grownups Inside being ignored? Because the people to whom they are being addressed are the ones sitting in that little circle of happy chaps behind the cordon of potted plants in Santa Martha.
It is confusing, I suppose, to see a thing like this denial of Cardinal Sarah’s decree coming from the Vatican. Isn’t Cardinal Sarah “the Vatican” on these issues? We are used to the idea of “the Vatican” doing and saying things in a more or less unified voice. But for the foreseeable future, the current reality is that there is no longer “the Vatican.” There is no longer a functioning governance happening in the Church. Bishops everywhere are reportedly freaking out because they have no idea what to expect next. There are no more formal channels to the pope and the old paths of functionality – that every government needs to work – are no longer there. The pope just says stuff, and that’s supposed to be it.
It used to be the function of the Curia to interpret and implement what the pope said (as it was the pope’s job to never say or do anything that was contrary to the deposit of the Faith, that treasure he was charged with guarding.) What we have now is a Curia cut off from the pope and unable to function, and the job of interpreting the pope given to the Press Office.
The Empire replaced the Republic, and while it was being governed by Augustus, things ran pretty well. The forms were observed, the system laid down by the Republic still mostly functioned, and Augustus was respectful of the old ways. Then we had a few more emperors upon whom it slowly started to dawn that there were no really necessary restraints on their behaviour at all. A bit at a time, the old moral understanding, the cultural rules and foundational ideas the Republic was based on and that had held the Empire together started to corrode, and by the time of Nero were gone. All that was left was raw power, in the hands of a narcissistic child driven to madness by limitless power.