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A Template Letter to Your Bishop Requesting Ad Orientem Liturgy

adorientemAs most internet-connected Catholics are now aware, Cardinal Robert Sarah recently encouraged priets and bishops to begin celebrating Mass ad orientem. He also specifically suggested that they begin this Advent.

This is an excellent proposal. And judging from the backlash it has already inspired, I think it’s important that we communicate to our bishops our support for Cardinal Sarah’s ad orientem proposal. Below is the letter I wrote my bishop. (For purposes of this post, I’ve removed the names of my parish and parish priest.) You are welcome to use this as a template for your own letters.

And let’s all continue to pray for the Church, the Holy Father, Cardinal Sarah, and our bishops.


Your Excellency,

Last week, at the Sacra Liturgia Conference in London, Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, encouraged priests and bishops to begin celebrating Mass ad orientem and suggested that they begin this Advent. Since Cardinal Sarah specifically included an appeal to his brother bishops, I wanted to ensure that you saw it. While Cardinal Sarah’s whole address is worth reading, here I will quote his specific appeal to priests and bishops:

I want to make an appeal to all priests. You may have read my article in L’Osservatore Romano one year ago (12 June 2015) or my interview with the journal Famille Chrétienne in May of this year. On both occasions I said that 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 center.

And so, dear Fathers, I humbly and fraternally 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 backs to me and not their faces” (2:27). Let us turn again towards the Lord! Since the day of his Baptism, the Christian knows only one direction: the Orient. “You entered to confront your enemy, for you intended to renounce him to his face. You turned toward the East (ad Orientem), for one who renounces the devil turns towards Christ and fixes his gaze directly on Him” (From the beginning of the Treatise on the Mysteries by Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan).

I very humbly and fraternally 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 united in the one same act of adoration. Please facilitate this simple but profound reform in your dioceses, your cathedrals, your parishes and your seminaries.

We bishops have a great responsibility, and one day we shall have to answer to the Lord for our stewardship. We are the owners of nothing! Nothing belongs to us! As St Paul teaches, we are merely “the servants of Christ and the stewards of the mysteries of God. Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy” (1 Cor. 4:1-2). We are responsible to ensure that the sacred realities of the liturgy are respected in our dioceses and that our priests and deacons not only observe the liturgical laws, but know the spirit and power of the liturgy from which they emerge. I was very encouraged to read the presentation on “The Bishop: Governor, Promoter and Guardian of the Liturgical Life of the Diocese” made to the 2013 Sacra Liturgia conference in Rome by Archbishop Alexander Sample of Portland in Oregon in the USA, and I fraternally encourage my brother bishops to study his considerations carefully. [Cardinal Sarah, Sacra Liturgia Address, July 2016 (emphasis mine),]

Since Advent 2014, my own pastor has been celebrating all of the parish’s Masses ad orientem. It has been a welcome change and, I believe, a smooth transition. Now, at my parish, both priest and congregation are united in a common orientation as the priest, in persona Christi, re-presents Jesus’ sacrifical death on the Cross as an offering to God the Father.

From my perspective in the pew, this is helpful as my attention is no longer drawn to the person–or the personality–of the priest, but to the sacrifice of Christ offered upon the altar. This common orientation also helps me to remember that the words of the priest are not directed to me as a member of the congregation, but are directed in prayer to God the Father. This, in turn, reminds me to converse with God the Father and to offer Him my own spiritual sacrifice in union with the sacrifice offered by the priest.

I am most grateful to my pastor’s leadership in instituting ad orientem worship–and many other excellent liturgical and pastoral practices–at my parish. I also am especially appreciative of this liturgical renewal for the sake of my five children who will grow up knowing a beautiful and reverent (and frequently sung) ad orientem liturgy. I am convinced that this will help my children to understand the true nature of the Mass and help them to actively participate at the Mass. Ultimately, I hope it will aid them to become saints.

Thank you again for your stewardship of this Diocese. Please prayerfully consider the appeal of Cardinal Sarah to institute ad orientem Masses throughout the Diocese beginning this Advent.


Yours in Christ,

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43 thoughts on “A Template Letter to Your Bishop Requesting Ad Orientem Liturgy”

  1. Well done. And here is a short version…

    Dear Bishop,
    Please help all the parishes in your diocese to be truly Catholic–in every way, shape, and form.
    A Catholic

  2. Here’s my take on what Cardinal Sarah has requested: To my knowledge, I don’t know of a single Novus Ordo attending Catholic who has expressed a desire for the ad orientem posture of the priest. Those who are applauding it tend to be those already attending a TLM, for whom it should make little difference either way as they already have their ad orientem. Some have suggested that I’m too negative and should be more open (to the ‘spirit of surprises’ I assume) to such initiatives by good bishops. Now if there are in fact many Novus Ordo attendees who have realised that the priest should be facing God during the sacrifice, to them I would (charitably) say “well done, but keep looking because when you find one cockroach (versus populum), it almost always means that there are plenty more, and plenty more you shall find. Welcome to timeless Catholicism.”
    If seems that some Catholics are jumping up and down to still have the Novus Ordo rite but with bolt-on traditional options, making it some sort of new/old hybrid.

    • Exactly: so why not cut to the chase and just get to the restoration (or should I say Restoration) of the Mass of all ages? The great service that His Eminence has done is to get a bunch more people comfortable – lay and cleric – with the idea of being the little boy who exclaims the NO emperor has no clothes. They see this cockroach (as you say), this fraud that the early Church worshiped facing the people (I will not do it the honor of rendering it in Latin) which stems from the desire to increase so-called “participation” and if they’re observant they will notice at least a couple others hanging around are other fraudulent excuses for the NO: intelligibility and ecumenism.

      • I believe this is the first step in that Restoration. Unfortunately, as much as we here in the comboxes would love it, we aren’t going to see a sudden restoration of the 1962 missal for use everywhere. It’s going to take time and getting people used to the more traditional practices paves the way for that eventual full restoration.

    • WRONG!!! Now you don’t know me personally, but I have even talked with a few priests about offering Mass Ad Orientum. I mostly go to N.O. Masses as the closest parish that offers the TLM is quite a distance from me. I think you just may be surprised at the number of N.O. people who would appreciate this GREATLY!

      • Just curious, apart from ad oriemtem, what other changes would you like to see happen in the Novus Ordo? (it’s a genuine question, I’m not being a smart Alec)

    • I would like to note here that just last night I was speaking with two young people at a nearby parish summer festival about ad orientum worship and latin in the mass. As I began speaking about it both mentioned they’d heard about it before and would like that. As I continued to speak with them, one asked “how many people would have to request it for [them] to have a latin mass?” Knowing the demographics of the parish (I used to work there and am quite familiar) I said it would have to be a lot. They both said “Well we should go talk to Father!” Many others I’ve talked to have expressed this desire as well. This is a VERY, shall we say, “contemporary” parish. “Worship band,” no high altar, jazz stops in the Gloria, occasional heterodoxy (usually from lack of formation) spewed from the pulpit. And people in this parish, if under 45 years of age, want ad orientum worship, at least some times. It’s out there. It’s just hard to see.

      Regarding your last sentence, a lot of people don’t even realize there was or know anything about the change in the Mass as of c. 1970. You may find that, quite often, people, once informed, actually want to see and often prefer what was as opposed to what is when it comes to the liturgy. They need to be educated. As a slight aside on this topic, if you have people slowing bolting on traditional options, eventually (give this many decades) people are going to just say “Well why don’t we just go back to the TLM?” Or, slightly more likely, you’re going to actually end up with an organic evolution in the liturgy as opposed to this strange monstrosity that is the Novus Ordo… once the novus ordo part is basically gone.

    • Here is “one Novos Ordo attending Catholic who has expressed a desire for the ad oriented posture of the priest”. We knew we would never get it where we were attending, so we MOVED two states away at great expense at the end of last year to a place where ad orientum is followed for the majority of the Masses, including all weekday Masses. The 3 Sunday Masses that have the other orientation will be changing to ad orientum this Advent.

  3. They can write to their bishop to encourage him to celebrate ad orientem in the cathedral of their diocese, or for him to encourage the priests of his diocese to celebrate ad orientem, but if they want to see ad orientem Masses in their parishes, they should be writing to their parish pastor instead. It is the parish pastor who is the chief liturgist for the parish. It is the parish priests who are the ones who will decide to celebrate ad orientem or not. A priest does not need permission or consent from a bishop to celebrate ad orientem.

  4. I did as you said to HE Archbishop Smith of the Diocese of Southwark in London. Got this reply which was issued by Cardinal Nichols:-

    Note on the Celebration of Mass from Cardinal Vincent Nichols

    “In response to a number of enquiries, in the light of Cardinal Sarah’s recent personal

    comments, I take this opportunity of reminding all priests of the importance of ensuring that

    every celebration of the Liturgy is carried out with all possible dignity. Whether the celebration

    of the Mass is simple or elaborate, it should always be characterised by that dignity which helps

    to raise our minds and hearts to God and which avoids distracting confusion or inappropriate


    I also remind our priests that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, approved by the

    highest authority in the Church, states in paragraph 299 that ‘The altar should be built apart

    from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be

    celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. The altar should,

    moreover, be so placed as to be truly the centre toward which the attention of the whole

    congregation of the faithful naturally turns. The altar is usually fixed and is dedicated.’

    A clarification from the CDW in September 2000 addressed the question as to whether GIRM

    299 excludes the possibility of celebrating Mass ‘versus absidem’ (ie ‘eastward’ facing), and

    confirmed that it does not. But it also ‘reaffirms that the position towards the assembly seems

    more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier’. Thus the expectations expressed

    in GIRM 299 remain in force whenever the Ordinary Form of Mass is celebrated.

    Finally, may I emphasise that the celebration of the Church’s Liturgy is not a place in which

    priests are to exercise personal preference or taste. As the last paragraph of the GIRM states so

    clearly, ‘The Roman Missal, though in a diversity of languages and with some variety of customs,

    must in the future be safeguarded as an instrument and an outstanding sign of the integrity and

    unity of the Roman Rite’ (399).”

    • Not surprising, really.

      It’s probably the sort of thing where you can only hope for a positive reply from, say, Davies, Egan or Hopes.

      But it cannot hurt to try.

  5. We don’t even kneel in our diocese except during the consecration. After communion everyone is expected to remain standing. I am not sure any Priest in this diocese except the retired could celebrate mass ad orientem

    • Same here on the standing after communion…it is such a mess as half stand and half kneel and the guests aren’t sure what to do.

      • That is exactly what happens in our Parish – half stand, some kneel and the seniors just sit. We have asked our new Bishop to clean up this mess, but he refuses to over turn any decisions made by the retired Bishop.

        • Now that’s handing on the received! I think I read somewhere about lots of attention being paid to the wrong variety of cup cleaning.

  6. I emailed my Archbishop with the template and this is the reponse I got, mind you it was a very quick response indicating Cardinal Sarah made an “utterance” but the Pope has made it very clear… Cardinal Prefects only utter and mutter but the Pope makes things clear….well at least our Archbishop lets us have our own personal TLM parish so I have no problem for myself but I feel for our brothers in NO parishes who dont really know what is going on


      • Answer: More than likely the Bishop (decision maker) you would be writing the letter to…that’s who. Question? Who do you think the Bishops take their cues from? Cdl Sarah or PF? Then again I am sure you knew that.
        Only one Bishop (Athananius) publicly responded timely to pure heresy of AL. You actually believe they will respond to requests for Ad Orientum & Latin even in the NO mass? The chances are somewhere between none and zero. It is of no interest to 99.5% of Bishops. Why? The Pope detest the Latin Mass. Heck, he doesn’t even genuflect at the consecration of his own NO masses. Been there, done that. Written a lot of letters over the years. The resistance was hard enough during the SP era of PB16 after 2007. Much, much more difficult now. You have to try but you will need a lot more than writing letters…..

  7. A response from my Parish Priest after I sent him a copy of the Archbisops reply to the template I sent

    Thank you, James. 

    I was at the Sacra Liturgia Conference and heard Cardinal Sarah’s speech, so have a particular interest in this matter.

    A disappointing – if predictable – response from our own Archbishop….

    May I encourage you to pass this correspondence back to the Onepeterfive people? Just be sure there’s no reference to the xxxx Parish, for obvious reasons. 

    Are you intending to pursue the matter via further correspondence with His Grace? 

    This is just one more proof that the modernists are calling the shots in Mxxxxx nowadays….

    God bless you for your fidelity & initiative.

    In Xto,

    Fr. T


  8. It is an act of futility to write to Bishops who applaud the people-centered Novus Ordo Masses asking for Ad Orientam Sacred Liturgy. Vote with your envelopes and pocketbook, and seek out the closest Traditional Latin Mass. When those parishes are the only ones vibrant and growing, the Bishop will take note.


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