‘Carefully outspoken’ is the best description of the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), Cardinal Robert Sarah.

Throughout his tenure in the department of the Roman Curia responsible for overseeing the Church’s liturgical life, the 72-year-old Guinean has made headlines with his parrhesia – his frank talk – about matters ranging from the posture of priests celebrating Mass, to the powers of his office when it comes to curating liturgical translations.

Most recently, he wrote the preface to a book on The distribution of Communion on the hand: a historical, juridical and pastoral survey, by Fr Federico Bortoli, which constructs in laborious detail the process by which what began as an abuse ­– ie, receiving Holy Communion standing and in the hand ­– gained increasing measures of tolerance and legal protection.

Cardinal Sarah’s outspokenness has made headlines, not least because his positions are apparently often at odds with Pope Francis’s own. If Sarah is not on board with the “Franciscan” view of things, why is he still in the job?

For one thing, he is willing to toe the line, even if he dances a little on one side of it.

It helps, too, that Pope Francis is not very sensitive to questions of liturgical form. He has kept Benedict XVI’s Master of Ceremonies, Mgr Guido Marini, and mostly let him work freely when it comes to papal liturgies. Francis occasionally celebrates in Cardinal Sarah’s preferred ad orientem posture ­– ie, facing the same direction as the congregation – most notably in the Sistine Chapel, at the high altar Benedict had restored to use in 2008.

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