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Cardinal Robert Sarah at Sacra Liturgia (Photo: Sacra Liturgia)

Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has this evening delivered the opening address of the 2016 Sacra Liturgia conference in London. His Eminence made many important and significant points concerning the celebration of the sacred liturgy, and indeed the particular reforms and liturgical renewal that took place at, and following, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council. He also made a number of practical suggestions – what he described as “possible ways of moving towards ‘the right way of celebrating the liturgy inwardly and outwardly,’ which was of course the desire expressed by Cardinal Ratzinger at the beginning of his great work, The Spirit of the Liturgy.

In the course of his paper, His Eminence also referred to Divine Worship, the liturgical provision for the personal ordinariates erected under the auspices of the apostolic constitution Anglicanorum cœtibus by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009. Concerning the question of legitimate inculturation, he said:

I am an African. Let me say clearly: the liturgy is not the place to promote my culture. Rather, it is the place where my culture is baptised, where my culture is taken up into the divine. Through the Church’s liturgy (which missionaries have carried throughout the world) God speaks to us, He changes us and enables us to partake in His divine life. When someone becomes a Christian, when someone enters into full communion with the Catholic Church, they receive something more, something which changes them. Certainly, cultures and other Christians bring gifts with them into the Church—the liturgy of the Ordinariates of Anglicans now in full communion with the Church is a beautiful example of this. But they bring these gifts with humility, and the Church in her maternal wisdom makes use of them as she judges appropriate.

First, let me say that I am very seriously encouraged by the fact that Divine Worship is being held up as an example in any conversation concerning the current liturgical situation in the Church, still more one led by the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship in a forum such as this. Divine Worship: The Missal came into effect on the First Sunday of Advent only last year, and the appreciation of the liturgical rites contained within it, outside those faithful of the personal ordinariates for whom it is primarily given, is a sign of the success of Anglicanorum cœtibus has already had. In the apostolic constitution we read of the liturgical provision for the personal ordinariates as “a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared.” In short, Cardinal Sarah has confirmed that, in Divine Worship, this is the case.

Secondly, the success of Divine Worship as “a beautiful example” of true liturgical inculturation has an importance beyond that directly expressed by His Eminence. It is indeed a good thing to see that the missal has a use and purpose external to the direct mission of the personal ordinariates (“a treasure to be shared”), but its success as an example of inculturation is also vital to its internal life (“a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members”), and thus to the inherent mission of the personal ordinariates to be means of providing a lasting canonical provision “for those Anglican faithful who desire to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.”

If Divine Worship is, a Cardinal Sarah has said, “a beautiful example” of inculturation, then it follows that it can be understood by us as a sound and significant expression of the Anglican tradition in the Catholic Church. This further means that its importance as one of the principal tools of evangelization at the disposal of the communities of the personal ordinariates, cannot be sidelined or underestimated. It also means that, for Anglicans looking at the personal ordinariates with a genuine interest in how they develop, the liturgical life of Divine Worship is a significant indicator of how the Church sees this project now and in the future.

My brief reflection does not perhaps do justice to the depth of what is beneath Cardinal Sarah’s words, yet perhaps the simplicity of this message will suffice: Divine Worship is an example of something good and beautiful in the Church; it is a “beautiful example” of the appropriation of a foreign liturgical culture with the native liturgical life of the Catholic Church, and in this it is something to be promoted and appreciated by members of the personal ordinariates, and by all concerned with proper celebration of the Church’s worship, and by Anglicans who remain faithful to a vision for reunion with the Holy See.