Ad orientem

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A HORNETS nest was stirred among liturgists after Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, delivered his talk at a conference in London called Sacra Liturgia last July 5. The Cardinal Sarah said, “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 has triggered a wide debate and reaction because the chief liturgist was perceived to be recommending that priests celebrate Mass ad orientem, meaning facing the East with their backs to the people, commencing this Advent. The Cardinal exhorted that priests’ “pastoral judgment will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year…may be a very good time to do this.” Some liturgists called this direction “a reform of the reform.”

But the Vatican press office immediately released a clarification. According to acommuniqué issued by the retiring Vatican spokesperson, Fr. Federico Lombardi,“Cardinal Sarah has always been rightly concerned about the dignity of the celebration of the Mass, so as to express appropriately the attitude of respect and adoration for the Eucharistic mystery. Some of his expressions have, however, been incorrectly interpreted, as if they were intended to announce new indications different to those given so far in the liturgical rules…”



The same communiqué sited paragraph 299 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal that the altar should be built “in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. Moreover, the altar should occupy a place where it is truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns.”This is clearly not suggestive of “ad orientem.”

The Cardinal’s talk was not, after all, an edict but merely “a talk—exhortative, perhaps, but certainly far-fetched from the perception that he was dragging liturgy back to the older Latin Mass in use prior to the Second Vatican Council.”

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