Cdl. Sarah Urges Priests to Face East

News: Investigations
by Bradley Eli, M.Div., Ma.Th.  •  •  May 31, 2016   

"The Council never required celebrating Mass facing the people!"

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VATICAN ( - The Vatican's top liturgist is saying priests don't need special permission to celebrate Mass facing east because the rubrics of Vatican II presuppose that orientation.

Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW), attests that saying Mass this way is not only lawful, but also is "in keeping with the letter and the spirit of the [Second Vatican] Council."

The cardinal made these comments in a recent interview with the French publication Famille Chrétienne. In the interview Sarah states that priests leading the people in prayer while facing the apse, or "liturgical east," is essential for restoring the primacy of God and returning Him to the center of the liturgy.

Sarah emphasized this same theme last year in his article titled, "Silence of the Heart," that was published June 2015 by the Vatican's official paper, L'Osservatore Romano.

Recalling this article during the interview, Cdl. Sarah noted, "I proposed that the priests and the faithful turn toward the East at least during the Penitential Rite, during the singing of the Gloria, the Prayers of the Faithful and the Eucharistic Prayer."

When questioned whether Vatican II ordered priests to face the people, the cardinal affirmed, "More than fifty years after the close of Vatican II, it becomes urgent for us to read its documents! The Council never required celebrating Mass facing the people! This question was not even addressed by the Constitution Sacrosanctum Concilium."

The constitution, "Sacrosanctum Concilium," was the first of sixteen documents generated by Vatican II and the only one to deal with liturgical issues.

Sarah explained that during the readings the priest and people should face each other. He then added, "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."

Rejecting the argument made after the Council by some liturgical innovators namely, that priests celebrating Mass facing east are turning their backs on the faithful, Sarah, responded, all are "turned in the same direction: towards the Lord who comes."

The cardinal, speaking as head of the CDW, emphasized that saying Mass facing "liturgical east," or the apse, "is authorized by the rubrics." The rubrics assume the priest is not facing the people as His Eminence noted, saying they indicate to priests when they must turn toward the people. He confirmed, "It is therefore not necessary to have special permission to celebrate facing the Lord."

Cardinal Sarah was appointed head liturgist in November 2014 by Pope Francis.


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