Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Vatican’s liturgy chief, has asked priests to begin celebrating Mass ad orientem, that is, facing east rather than towards the congregation.
The proposed reform is arguably the biggest liturgical announcement since Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio Summorum Pontificum gave greater freedom for priests to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.
Speaking at the Sacra Liturgia conference in London, the Guinean cardinal, who is Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, addressed priests who were present, saying: “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”.
The cardinal continued: “I ask you to implement this practice wherever possible.”
He said that “prudence” and catechesis would be necessary, but told pastors to have “confidence that this is something good for the Church, something good for our people”.
“Your own pastoral judgement will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year, when we attend ‘the Lord who will come’ and ‘who will not delay’.”
These words were met with prolonged applause in the conference hall.
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UPDATE: I have a few thoughts on how this kind of change might be handled in the parishes. Check this out.
UPDATE II: The text of Cardinal Sarah’s remarks has now been posted online. You can read it here. A snip:
I believe that 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, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God. This practice is permitted by current liturgical legislation. It is perfectly legitimate in the modern rite. Indeed, I think it is a very important step in ensuring that in our celebrations the Lord is truly at the centre.
And so, dear Fathers, I ask you to implement this practice wherever possible, with prudence and with the necessary catechesis, certainly, but also with a pastor’s confidence that this is something good for the Church, something good for our people. Your own pastoral judgement will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year, when we attend ‘the Lord who will come’ and ‘who will not delay’ (see: Introit, Mass of Wednesday of the first week of Advent) may be a very good time to do this. Dear Fathers, we should listen again to the lament of God proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah: “they have turned their back to me” (2:27). Let us turn again towards the Lord!
I would like to appeal also to my brother bishops: please lead your priests and people towards the Lord in this way, particularly at large celebrations in your dioceses and in your cathedral. Please form your seminarians in the reality that we are not called to the priesthood to be at the centre of liturgical worship ourselves, but to lead Christ’s faithful to him as fellow worshippers. Please facilitate this simple but profound reform in your dioceses, your cathedrals, your parishes and your seminaries.