MADISON, Wis. (ChurchMilitant.com) - A Catholic bishop is now facing the tabernacle for all his Masses at the cathedral.
On September 4, Bp. Robert Morlino of the diocese of Madison, Wisconsin, announced the change at his Sunday Pontifical Mass. During the homily he declared that all his Novus Ordo Masses at St. Patrick parish are to be said facing the same direction as the people. Since the cathedral burned down nearly 10 years ago, Bp. Morlino has been using St. Patrick's and two other parishes as his cathedral.
"Planning according to the mind of God," he announced. "And I'm doing that right now in what I'm about to say. I'm planning for us in accord to the mind of God."
He continued, "In October I will start to offer this Mass here at St. Patrick's on Sunday morning, when I am here, ad orientem."
He mentioned that St. Patrick's parishioners know what he means by "ad orientem" and that they were smiling and nodding in approval, noting that if he made the announcement in other parishes in the diocese, he would have to "take both my hats off and duck."
The traditional liturgical orientation ad orientem means "towards the east," with both the priest celebrating the Mass and the people facing the same direction. It was the norm in the Roman Catholic Church for at least 1,500 years until the mid-1960s.
After Pope Paul VI announced a new text for the Mass at the Second Vatican Council in Rome in the early 1960s, parishes began to experiment with the liturgy. One of the experimentations was having the priest facing the people for the duration of the Mass. As the old Latin Mass gave way to the new Mass, called the "Novus Ordo" in 1970, priests adopted the new posture of facing the people without any mandate or directive from the Pope or the Vatican.
Fast forward nearly 50 years and the priest facing the people has become the normal experience for nearly three generations of Catholics.
Bishop Morlino, however, is not alone in his desire for ad orientem worship. He is merely agreeing with none other than the Vatican's chief liturgist, Cdl. Robert Sarah. In July, Sarah appealed for all priests to return 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, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God."
He appealed to bishops as well, asking them,
Please lead your priests and people towards the Lord in this way. ... Please form your seminarians in the reality that we are not called to the priesthood to be at the center of liturgical worship ourselves, but to lead Christ's faithful to him as fellow worshippers. Please facilitate this simple but profound reform in your dioceses, your cathedrals, your parishes and your seminaries.
Despite the fact that Cdl. Sarah noted that he got his direction from Pope Francis himself in a private audience, many bishops are choosing to ignore him, citing the Vatican itself.
Soon after Cdl. Sarah made his comments, a Vatican spokesman asserted,
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.
Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas told his priests, "I expect that Mass will always be celebrated facing the people in our diocese." Head of the Church in England, Cdl. Vincent Nichols, similarly said he wants his priests to continue saying Mass facing the people, claiming the position towards the assembly seems more "convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier."
Despite the example of his brother bishops, Bp. Morlino will continue to follow centuries of Catholic tradition and the direction of the Vatican's head liturgy expert.
In January 2016, Bp. Morlino announced all churches in his diocese must have their tabernacles moved to the center of the sanctuary, affecting nearly 134 diocesan parishes (about half) whose tabernacles are currently off to the side or in separate side chapels.