The Catholic Herald is reporting that Cardinal Robert Sarah, the pope’s point man on liturgy and Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, has asked priests around the world to begin offering Mass ad orientem, starting on November 27 (Advent). This is the second time in recent months that the eloquent Guinean prelate has raised the issue of ad orientem worship. Speaking at the annual Sacra Liturgia conference in London, Cardinal Sarah made an impassioned defense of the ancient practice of ad orientem worship, as well as kneeling for the reception of Holy Communion.
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. . . . I ask you to implement this practice wherever possible.
Cardinal Sarah elaborated,
The liturgy is not about you and I. It is not where we celebrate our own identity or achievements or exalt or promote our own culture and local religious customs. The liturgy is first and foremost about God and what He has done for us.
Read the rest of Cardinal Sarah’s remarks on kneeling for Commuion here (Facebook page for Sacra Liturgia).
Of course, this is excellent news. In his address, Cardinal Sarah also stressed the need for proper formation of the faithful regarding this change. The rationale for facing east with the priest is very simple, and does not require abstract or heavy theological arguments. It can be done, if the will is there. The reason is actually quite beautiful, as the Cardinal himself points out in his talk. For more explanation on the history of ad orientem worship, read Pope Benedict XVI’s The Spirit of the Liturgy and Father Michael Lang’s Turning towards the Lord. Embracing ad orientem worship in the novus ordo, in the name of the Second Vatican Council, is a practical, concrete step that will move us beyond the old liturgical debates of the ’70s.
Hopefully, for the sake of clarity, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments will issue a document/motu proprio from the pope on this matter soon. Out of a sense of humility, and in deference to Cardinal Sarah’s position as accorded to him by the Successor of Saint Peter, it would be wonderful to see this request carried out with joy and enthusiasm in all Catholic parishes.
To adore facing east is fitting, first because the movement of the heavens which manifest the divine majesty is from the east. Secondly, paradise was situated in the east according to the Septuagint version of Genesis, and we seek to return to paradise. Thirdly, because of Christ, who is the light of the world and is called the Orient, who mounteth above the heaven of heaven to the east, and is expected to come from the east according to Matthew, as lightening comes out of the east, and shines even to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be. ~Saint Thomas Aquinas