His suggestion was a simple one and a logical one.
His suggestion would bring dignity back to the ordinary Mass celebrated by Catholics, dignity that has been lacking since Vatican II.
His suggestion would unify priests and worshippers in praising God.
In a recent talk, Cardinal Robert Sarah, the prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship, simply encouraged priests and clergy to celebrate the ordinary form of the Mass ad orientem, or facing east.
From the response of some in the Church, you would think Cardinal Sarah suggested the introduction of some bizarre new practice into the Mass.
Because of Cardinal Sarah’s suggestion, Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s media spokesman, felt a need, or was instructed to clarify the clear remarks the cardinal made at a London conference on the liturgy.
Fr. Lombardi claimed that the cardinal’s remarks had been misrepresented.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, archbishop of Westminster, England, decided he would write to the priests of his diocese to discourage the celebration of the Mass ad orientem.
Part of Cardinal Nichols rationale for his suggestion was the strange comment that priests should not employ personal taste while celebrating the Mass – as if facing God in prayer during Mass is merely personal taste.
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor of Arkansas went even further in his response. He mandated that the Mass will be celebrated ad populum in his diocese.
While Cardinal Nichols surely has the authority to discourage ad orientem, it seems doubtful that Bishop Taylor has the authority to mandate ad populum.
Bishop Arthur J. Serratelli, chairman of the Committee on Divine Worship, wrote a letter that has been posted on the Internet, most prominently by Corpus Christi Watershed and Rorate Caeli. His letter attempts to clarify the confusion purportedly caused by Cardinal Sarah’s remarks.
In his letter, Bishop Seratelli underscores pastoral concerns and emphasizes that priests should be subject to a bishop’s supervision and guidance.
Yet, at the same time, he makes it clear that while there are no changes to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and that there is no mandate to celebrate the Mass ad orientem, “the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has clarified on earlier occasions that this does not prohibit the celebration of the Eucharist in the Ordinary Form ad orientem.”
Cardinal Sarah couldn’t have been clearer in his remarks. All he did was encourage priests and bishops to celebrate the Mass ad orientem in the belief that this will bring some dignity back to the ordinary Mass and will place the emphasis at Mass on God, not man.
Ad orientem is nothing new, and it has never been abrogated. Ad orientem continues to be the posture of the priest and deacon in the Eastern Catholic churches and in the Orthodox.
All Cardinal Sarah suggested is that priests return to the posture that was common before Vatican II, because the priest and the worshippers then would be unified in praising God together.
The placement of the altar supposedly matters in all this to opponents of the practice of ad orientem. The Roman Catholic Church apparently moved the altar away from the wall to facilitate the priest’s praying ad populum.
Yet Eastern Catholic and Orthodox deacons and priests pray facing east with worshippers and their altar has been away from the wall for centuries.
Progressives within the Church were so successful in suppressing the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass that Pope Benedict XVI had to issue a Motu Propio, Summorum Pontificum.
In his Motu Propio, Pope Benedict stated that celebrating the extraordinary form of the Mass always has been permitted alongside the ordinary form.
Progressives equally have been successful in suppressing ad orientem. Cardinal Sarah’s suggestion challenges that suppression. And tradition is on his side.
Opponents, who believe that their practice demonstrates care for the people, consider the priest facing east to pray in common with the worshippers as the priest’s turning his back on the people.
Cardinal Sarah notes, however, that the priest should not turn his back on God.
What is obvious is that the priest praying in common with worshippers makes it clear that the priest and worshippers are one in their prayer. When the priest faces the worshippers he is nothing more than another speaker. He might as well be giving a talk on some self-help topic or leading a pep rally.
What Cardinal Sarah has accomplished in encouraging priests and bishops to celebrate the Mass ad orientem is getting it on the record that there is no mandate for celebrating the Mass ad populum and by extension that there is no mandate against celebrating the Mass ad orientem.
Bishop Taylor and Cardinal Vincent and others can encourage ad populum and discourage the practice of celebrating the Mass ad orientem, but insisting that a priest celebrate ad populum, as did Bishop Taylor, flouts authentic Church teaching, which allows the priest to face the east with worshippers when celebrating the ordinary form of the Mass.
The attacks on Cardinal Sarah’s remarks make it clear that, unlike Cardinal Sarah, progressives care more about appealing to the people and the spirit of the times than about worshipping God.