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VATICAN (ChurchMilitant.com) - The president of the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales is discouraging priests from saying Mass ad orientem, or facing liturgical East.
At the Sacra Liturgia conference in London last week, Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), appealed to priests and bishops to say Mass ad orientem, facing Our Lord in the tabernacle rather than the people. He further asked that this practice be implemented starting on the First Sunday of Advent.
In the wake of Cdl. Sarah's appeal, Cdl. Vincent Nichols of Westminster issued a letter to his priests, writing,
[T]he General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM), approved by the highest authority in the Church, states in paragraph 299 that "The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. The altar should, moreover, be so placed as to be truly the centre toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns. The altar is usually fixed and is dedicated."
In last week's address, Cdl. Sarah had confirmed that the practice of facing East during Mass when addressing God is permissible. "This practice is permitted by current liturgical legislation. It is perfectly legitimate in the modern rite."
Cardinal Nichols agreed that this was the case, noting that the CDW ruled in 2009 that the GIRM still allows for Mass to be celebrated facing East. The cardinal added, "But it also 'reaffirms that the position towards the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier.' So Nichols says the expectation of GIRM 299 is that priests face the people — a practice he wants continued in his diocese.
Cardinal Sarah met the Pope in private audience on Saturday, soon after his return from London. Monday, the Vatican released a communiqué saying that Cdl. Sarah's appeal to priests and bishops had been misinterpreted.
Cardinal Sarah has always been rightly concerned about the dignity of the celebration of Mass. ... Some of his expressions have however been incorrectly interpreted, as if they were intended to announce new indications different to those given so far in the liturgical rules and in the words of the Pope regarding celebration facing the people and the ordinary rite of the Mass.
The communiqué went on to say new liturgical directives are not expected from next Advent, as some have incorrectly inferred from Cdl. Sarah's words.
Cardinal Sarah was clear in his address last week that his request for ad orientem liturgy was not a command but rather an appeal to "my brother bishops" and "to all priests." At no time did he suggest that new directives in this regard would be forthcoming.