SPECIAL REPORT AT 4:30 PM ET
ORLANDO, Fla. (ChurchMilitant.com) - Catholics in Florida are petitioning to get ad orientem restored in their parish after their bishop ordered the priest to stop offering Mass facing liturgical east.
Parishioners at Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Ocala want the Novus Ordo Mass to be offered ad orientem ("to the East," meaning the priest faces God in the Tabernacle during Mass, as opposed to versus populum, or "facing the people"). The priest had begun offering Mass this way a few years ago, but the bishop stepped in and ordered him to stop.
"I believe that the bishop sent a letter requesting our priests change several traditional practices at our parish," said David Coffey, organizer of a petition to restore ad orientem worship. The parish is in the diocese of Orlando, under Bp. John Noonan.
"Before Mass, on July 15, our priest explained that although they (both our priests) were celebrating Mass as was authorized by the Universal Church (ad orientem), he had been instructed by the bishop to face versus populum and he was required to be obedient to the bishop," Coffey explained.
In 2000, an official letter from the Vatican's liturgy congregation declared that priests are free to celebrate Mass facing liturgical east. Specifically, the document said that the liturgical guidelines allow for ad orientem in the Ordinary Form.
"It appears that the ancient tradition, though not without exception, was that the celebrant and the praying community were turned versus orientem [facing East], the direction from which the Light which is Christ comes," the Vatican letter states. "It would be a grave error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is [toward] the community."
The letter called for allowing both ad orientem and versus populum, arguing, "Taking a rigid position and absolutizing it could become a rejection of some aspect of the truth which merits respect and acceptance."
Meanwhile, Coffey has been speaking with parishioners to get signatures for a petition to the bishop asking for restoration of such worship.
He told Church Militant on July 26, "I intend on circulating the petition for two more Sundays before requesting an audience with the bishop."
In addition to getting signatures from parishioners, Coffey recently created an online petition for the general public to add their own names.
Local Catholic Thomas Dykstra told Church Militant, "Prayer before petition. I would ask readers to offer a prayer before signing the petition. This may not be on the same level as the Battle of Lepanto, but prayer is more likely to move mountains than a written petition. The petition only adds weight to the prayers."
Although my preference is for Masses said ad orientem, both ad orientem and versus populum are allowed, therefore both are important. I want priests to be able to celebrate both as they see fit. Father O'Doherty has celebrated Mass for many years versum populum and for the past five years or so has decided to switch to ad orientem, Certainly the Church allows for this. This ruling by imposition, especially one that is not supported by Church teaching, suggests of a motive not driven by Canon Law. I would feel similarly if all priests were forced to celebrate ad orientem without compromise. Also, since Cardinal Sarah has urged for a return to Masses said ad orientem, it becomes a simple act of obedience for bishops to follow this suggestion, or to at least allow their diocesan priests to follow a suggestion made by the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship.
Church Militant contacted the Orlando diocese for comment but did not receive a response as of press time.
In July 2016, Cdl. Sarah encouraged priests to offer Mass ad orientem, saying, "And so, dear Fathers, I ask you to implement this practice wherever possible, with prudence and with the necessary catechesis, certainly, but also with a pastor's confidence that this is something good for the Church, something good for our people."
About a year later, Cdl. Burke supported Cdl. Sarah's call for ad orientem, arguing, "This will help so much to restore the sense of worship and to show that the Mass is not some kind of social event between the priest and parishioners or the parishioners among themselves."