Q: Cardinal Robert Sarah recently encouraged priests to use the ad orientem Mass. I think this was a mistake and will end up confusing lots of folks.
What’s your take on (a) the Mass itself; and (b) the cardinal’s statement?
I think the idea of facing away from the congregation violates the very spirit, if not the rule and intent, of Vatican II. My case is severely weakened by the confusing rubrics in the Roman Missal which certainly seem to suggest facing away from the congregation, why else would there be a direction “facing the people” if the priest weren’t already doing so?
If you have the moment for a brief response, I would like to hear your thoughts. I’m considering writing my bishop about this issue.
A: The Order of Mass does indicate places when the priest should face the people, but it never asks him to turn away as the preconciliar missal did. The GIRM presumes that the priest is celebrating mass at a freestanding altar. It was clearly the mind of the council that the priest should be facing the people.
There are priests who prefer ad orientem. I am convinced that they mean well and find it a devout way to pray. But the overwhelming experience worldwide after Vatican II is that the priest faces the people for the mass, and this has contributed to the sanctification of the people.
There are some historical churches with fixed altars where the priest does not have the option of facing the people. I think the rubrics in the Order of Mass are for those situations, where he needs to be told when, at least, he should face the people.
For what it’s worth, the nuptial blessing even before the council was always said facing the couple, not facing the altar. God can be addressed when facing people.
The cardinal’s remarks were made during an interview with a French journal. They reflect his opinions and preferences, but they are not a well thought-out statement of the congregation or of the Church.
By all means, let the archbishop know your concerns. He is in a position to relay them.