Major Maneuvers at the Congregation for Divine Worship

March 24, 2021
Cardinal Robert Sarah

While looking for a successor to the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Pope Francis has ordered an audit of the dicastery which Cardinal Sarah headed for six years, until February 2021.

As bright sunshine poured over the Eternal City on the morning of March 15, 2021, the atmosphere was surprisingly heavy at No.10, Pius XII Place.

An unprecedented “apostolic visit” had just started at the headquarters of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, a dicastery that is headless, since Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Robert Sarah on February 20.

Archbishop Arthur Roche, the current secretary of the Congregation, takes care to reassure the press: “this is not a canonical visit, but rather a consultative visit that the superiors of religious institutes sometimes use to evaluate the communities for which they have responsibility.”

But in an internal email sent on March 12 to the employees of the dicastery - and revealed by Vatican Insider, one of the parallel channels of the Argentine Pope’s communication, Archbishop Roche is more specific: “the Holy Father has decided, before making appointments to the Congregation, that there would be a visit to the dicastery by one of his representatives,” explains the British Archbishop.

“During the visit, His Excellency will want to know the work of the Congregation and to meet each one individually. I have already expressed to the Holy Father our openness to this visit and our sure and sincere welcome to Msgr. Maniago. There is nothing alarming about this.”

So many language precautions are cause for concern. All the more so as Salvatore Cernuzio, one of the Vatican Insider writers, is taking care to stress that “in reality, no internal consultation of this type has ever been launched in recent years for the choice of a dicastery head.”

And he mentions “curial sources” who whisper that “evidently there was something to put in order inside.”

In case the message does not seem clear enough, the Vaticanist explains that the Congregation for Divine Worship, in the past “often published official documents which did not reflect the will of the Sovereign Pontiff, to the point that Francis himself had to intervene in order to make public corrections.” In particular, the request made to priests to celebrate ad orientem from the first Sunday of Advent in 2016.

They are far from the words of Cardinal Sarah—published in Il Foglio and then taken up by L’homme nouveau on March 10, 2021—who was delighted to have had, during his mandate, the “support” and “encouragement” of the current Pope.

An ad usum delphini interpretation which allows the emeritus prefect to leave office with his head held high, while tackling his opponents in passing, wherever they are: “When the liturgy starts to ramble, it forgets that the cross is its center, it is organized around the microphone….All  these questions are crucial but unfortunately they have been transformed into ideological questions.”

The “visitor” in charge of auditing the Congregation for Divine Worship is none other than Msgr. Claudio Maniago, Bishop of Castellaneta, and president of the Liturgical Commission of the Conference of Italian Bishops.