Standing out as one of the most popular myths about the Second Vatican Council is the claim that it called for the priest to face the people during Mass, instead of the traditional East. The truth is that the priest was never ordered to abandon the rich tradition of facing East. And yet, it has been almost universally abandoned in the new Mass. Those interested in learning more about the importance of the East in prayer, especially liturgy, should check out an excellent book, Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgy by the renown Oratorian liturgist, Uwe Michael Lang.
The good news is that high profile voices are speaking out in favor of restoring ad orientem worship to its rightful place in liturgy. A recent example of this is the pope’s chief liturgist, Cardinal Robert Sarah, who heads up the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. He recently gave strong support in an interview for the widespread return to ad orientem worship. Cardinal Sarah specifically took aim at the frustratingly popular myth that the Second Vatican Council authorized the abolition of this ancient practice.
As prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, I wish to recall that the celebration versus orientem is authorised by the rubrics, which specify the times when the celebrant must turn to the people. It is therefore not necessary to have special permission to celebrate facing the Lord.
Cardinal Sarah commented that it is “essential” that Catholics rediscover this liturgical tradition, especially at the Offertory of the Mass. He also reiterates that facing East is completely in line with the intention of the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.
But as soon as we reach the moment when one addresses God – from the Offertory onwards – it is essential that the priest and faithful look together towards the east. This corresponds exactly to what the Council Fathers wanted.