As 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.
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), www.sacraliturgia.org/2016/07/robert-cardinal-sarah-towards-authentic.html?m=1]
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,