Nero fiddled … Cardinal Sarah asks priests to start celebrating Mass facing east this Advent
The Catholic Herald is reporting that ‘Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Vatican’s liturgy chief, has asked priests to begin celebrating Mass ad orientem, that is, facing east rather than towards the congregation.’    …….
‘Speaking at the Sacra Liturgia conference in London on Wednesday, the Guinean cardinal, who is Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, addressed priests who were present, saying: “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”.
The cardinal continued: “I ask you to implement this practice wherever possible.”
He said that “prudence” and catechesis would be necessary, but told pastors to have “confidence that this is something good for the Church, something good for our people”.
The report goes on to state ‘In his talk, Cardinal Sarah also said that Pope Francis had asked him to begin a study of “the reform of the reform”, that is of adapting the liturgical reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council. The cardinal said the study would seek “to enrich the two forms of the Roman rite”.
Cardinal Sarah said that much liturgical study had suggested that some post-conciliar reforms “may have been put together according to the spirit of the times” and “gone beyond” of the Fathers of Vatican II, in Sacrosanctum Concilium, the constitution on the liturgy.
He said that some “very serious misinterpretations of the liturgy” had crept in, thanks to an attitude to the liturgy which placed man rather than God at the centre.

Similar Posts


  1. “He said that some very serious misinterpretations of the liturgy had crept in …….”
    Yeah, they crept in on the First Sunday of Advent 2011.

  2. Wilfrid Harrington, OP says:

    Mass ‘ad orientem’.
    See Ezekiel 8:16
    ‘And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord; there, at the entrance of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces towards the east, prostrating themselves to the sun towards the east’.

  3. Padraig McCarthy says:

    “… priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction – eastwards or at least towards the apse – to the Lord who comes”.
    Yes, the Lord comes – the eschatological dimension is important.
    But the Lord has already come. The Lord is already among us. The gathered people are the living Body of Christ, gathered around the table of the Lord. This is what the Lord has done. This is what we celebrate.
    Ad orientem obscures this vital insight.

  4. In our parish it would mean we all turn round and face the porch with our backs to the altar. (I don’t think our people would understand this at all!)

  5. Pat Rogers says:

    If Cardinal Sarah’s apparent preferences should attain the status of liturgical law, then I fear the priest will be obliged as soon as next Advent to stand with back to the people during Mass.
    If such a ritual change is seriously mooted for imposition all over the world, one must hope that our Conference of Bishops will make some critical response, instead of meekly joining in a chorus of welcome, as they did to the revised Missal a couple of years ago.

  6. Roy Donovan says:

    I think Cardinal Sarah and his fellow Cardinals/ Bishops and many priests need to read Maria Moran’s article on ‘Empty Pews’ in this month’s Furrow and take on board why she and more and more people are going to leave the institutional Church. Turning to the East is not going to bring Maria and those who are leaving in their droves back! Reading what Sarah has said, I consider seriously that the Catholic Church is beyond reform. Martin Luther didn’t have much success either.

  7. Soline Humbert says:

    So now the deckchairs are to be re-arranged,facing eastwards….

  8. declan cooney says:

    A great move by the Cardinal.
    We should all look together towards the Risen Christ, lay and cleric alike. The present practice reminds me of a show or performance in which we do not participate with the priest. Yes we need unity in the Church, institutional or spiritual or local etc etc…it is the one Church. Let’s no longer have them looking down on us.

  9. Brother Jude says:

    I thank Cardinal Sarah for his personal opinion. Let’s leave it at that – one man’s personal opinion. Granted, it is a personal opinion which maybe given the status of a ‘teaching’ by some. Such people may cause confusion amongst decent church-goers, and use this personal opinion as a stick with which to beat others. Let us wait to see how Pope Francis will celebrate the Eucharist on the First Sunday of Advent ! Today (Thursday) the Word of God’s reference to the tenderness of God (Hosea) and the gospel injunction to ‘shake the dust off one’s feet and move on’, are in sharp contrast to the ‘hardness’ of the Cardinal’s personal opinion. With respect to the Cardinal, let us thank him for his opinion, and ‘shake the dust off our feet and move on’. Hosea’s image of God bending down and lifting us near his cheeks is a far removed from the harshness of the Cardinal’s autocratic opinion. A little, tenderness Cardinal, please!

  10. Mícheál says:

    This is just pathetic. Talk about widening the gulf between the vatican mandarins and those faithful who are still in the pews. It is probably important to remember that Sarah was speaking to the Sacra Liturgica conference, not exactly a random sample of the still-church-attending faithful.
    That said, my greatest disappointment is that Francis has not repudiated this call. Mind you, given Chaput’s nonsense letter in Philly, one can imagine that the battle lines are still being drawn. If Bob and Charlie get their way, they won’t have too much to worry about as their church will be crumbling about their ears. And if their view is to prevail, the sooner the better.

  11. O pleeeeese!
    The cardinal worries about which way the priest should face when he should be worrying about the reality of having a priest at all.
    As vocations crumble, we ignore the problem, won’t even discuss options that might be available and castigate those who ask the significant questions.
    The voice of the laity is ignored. But it will be alright without the celebrant provided we are facing East.
    A reality check is urgently needed.

  12. Only Declan has touched on the truth here, missed by everyone else. Yes, it looks like a small thing, even an irrelevancy, but, if looked at with a real spiritual sense, the turning of our backs, symbolically, on God, following a directive Vatican II never gave, has done more harm to the Church post-Vatican II than anything else, and it’s not just me that has said that. I’m convinced of it. It’s why we Catholics have lost our sense of sacrifice, God’s and ours in union with His.

    1. Sean O Brien says:

      Diarmaid, You obviously missed Padraig McCarthy #4

  13. That insight is fine, but it is missing the bigger picture. Looking at each other achieves little. The priest looking at me, and me looking at the priest is missing the point. As I said, that sense of sacrifice is lost when we just look at each other, but when we all, priest and people, look towards the Lord, there is a real sense of sacrifice clearly illustrated. Maybe it only makes to sense to me because I have certain struggles of my own – mental illness – but I don’t think it is only me since we all have our crosses to bear, and so if this insight, this value of real sacrifice in action, had been taught to me, and ad orientem is a big part of that, I would be in a better way of being. To ‘offer up’ is a popular saying in Irish faith and ad orientem worship really facilitates that, in my view. That’s why it’s so valuable. Versus populum is a damaging distraction.

  14. I think this debate shows up the problem within our Church; while growing numbers of people leave because of its seeming irrelevance to their lives we are debating which way the celebrant should face during Mass!
    Eucharist is based on what Jesus said and did during the Last Supper. Is anyone seriously suggesting that Jesus turned ‘ad orientem’ and, with His back to the apostles, said “Do this in memory of me”!
    I understand now why growing numbers of Catholics are beginning to despair of Pope Francis. He appoints ultra conservative senior clerics to high positions in the Vatican who write and speak and act publically against him and against the reforms of Vatican 2. From their power base they then travel the world, like Cardinal Sarah, trying desperately to return the Church to its pre-Vatican 2 theology and liturgy. First we have a latinised, awkward translation of the Mass imposed on us by the Vatican, ignoring local bishops and the much better translation undertaken by the official body, and then we are asked to return to celebrating Eucharist with our backs to the people (a consequence of ‘ad orientem’). Next we will be asked to return to using Latin, a movement which is already under way in many parishes.
    Pope Francis seems to ignore the old dictum that ‘a house divided cannot bring about change’ (reform), so why does he continue to appoint bishops and cardinals who strongly disagree with him and his vision of the way ahead?

  15. Brendan Peters says:

    Pope Francis has also warned of the danger that by trying to hold onto old priorities of Church life we are preserving adulterated forms of Christianity. History has moved on and with it certain types of language and liturgical practice have outlived their purpose. Faith calls us to a more creative response to new situations, not to a taking refuge in the past.

  16. AJR@17, A return to Latin might very well be preferable to the ghastly pastiche of English which is our present text.

  17. God comes from the East? That reminds me of Newgrange and Sun worship, not of the Lord always in our midst, or of the tongues of fire that descended at Pentecost. (To anyone there the coming of God cannot have been unidirectional.)
    And what of the Christ we are to see in everyone we meet? Must we now make sure to detour to approach everyone always from the West?
    As for the beautiful church my Uncle Tom helped to bring into being in Drumquin, Co. Tyrone – with seating semi-circling the altar and facing (I believe) mostly southerly: what must its regular congregation think of this proposal? Must they take a vote on changes that will destroy this building?
    There is liturgical sense on the one hand – and liturgical fetishism on the other. I cannot put Cardinal Sarah’s proposal in the first category, so will put him in prayer instead.

  18. Louie Macari says:

    The most recent General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM) 2003 has at 299.
    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..
    This is a slight departure from the 1973 GIRM which states at 262
    The main altar should be free standing, away from any wall, so that the priest can walk all round it and can celebrate facing the people. It should be in a position such that the entire congregation will naturally focus their attention on it.
    The “desirable wherever possible” addition to the 2003 GIRM may have been introduced to cover for the situation where mass is celebrated at a side chapel in churches where the altar is against the wall as in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.
    As an example I occasionally attend a morning Eucharist at the local Scottish Episcopal church. This is held in the Lady Chapel where the altar is against the wall and the celebrant has his back to the people for the Eucharistic prayer. While this is quite strange it is not inappropriate given the location. The Sunday Eucharist in the main church is celebrated facing the people.
    A general return to priest and people facing the same way would be a retrograde step and would be quite difficult in some modern churches like Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King which is built in the round.

  19. John Bane says:

    299. The altar should be built separate 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. Moreover, the altar should occupy a place where it is truly the centre toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns.
    How the above instruction in the GIRM of the 2011 Roman Missal escaped the attention of Vox Clara beggars belief!

  20. Brian Eyre says:

    Cardinal Sarah has asked priests as from Advent to clebrate Mass facing East – “to the Lord who comes”, but Our Lord is already among us. Our Lord is already present in each and every person. The story of the conversion of Saint Paul makes this very clear: “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me? Who are you Lord? he asked. I am Jesus whom you persecute”.
    There is no need to look for Our Lord somewhere else, there is no need to look towards the East, He is right here with us.
    He Himself has said: ” I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was naked and you clothed me, I was in prison and you visited me”.
    I cannot understand how Cardinal Sarah would want us to return to pre-Vatican 11 forms of celebrating Mass where the congregation’s role was that of spectator and not that of an assembly.

  21. I became emotional when I heard this news. What a great blessing! I honeymooned in Egypt and went to a Coptic Liturgy (2hrs long) of beautiful singing and I think this move will bring us closer to our Eastern sisters and brothers. I don’t like the analogy linking Cardinal Sarah to Nero fiddling as people burned in Rome. Maybe the author is subcontiously thinking of souls burning, which isn’t nice. Cardinal Sarah is actually doing something! Communion on the tongue, kneeling after a consecration ad orientum, in English, a heavenly banquet, a beautiful sacrifice. Finally, I believe our reception of communion with reverence will help the faith of the children in our pews, either by having an ablution area (helped by servers..more active participation)and bowing before receiving in the hand or kneeling and receiving on your tongue.

Join the Discussion

Keep the following in mind when writing a comment

  • Your comment must include your full name, and email. (email will not be published). You may be contacted by email, and it is possible you might be requested to supply your postal address to verify your identity.
  • Be respectful. Do not attack the writer. Take on the idea, not the messenger. Comments containing vulgarities, personalised insults, slanders or accusations shall be deleted.
  • Keep to the point. Deliberate digressions don't aid the discussion.
  • Including multiple links or coding in your comment will increase the chances of it being automati cally marked as spam.
  • Posts that are merely links to other sites or lengthy quotes may not be published.
  • Brevity. Like homilies keep you comments as short as possible; continued repetitions of a point over various threads will not be published.
  • The decision to publish or not publish a comment is made by the site editor. It will not be possible to reply individually to those whose comments are not published.