Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has asked all priests to return “as soon as possible” to celebrating Mass ad orientem, that is, facing east rather than towards the congregation.

The cardinal, making what many consider to be an historic announcement at this year’s Sacra Liturgia conference in London yesterday evening, said it is “very important" to reintroduce the practice universally, and suggested Advent this year would be a good time to do so.

He called on priests to “implement this practice wherever possible, with prudence and with the necessary catechesis”, but also with “confidence that this is something good for the Church, something good for our people.”

Up until the liturgical changes that followed the Second Vatican Council, priests in the Latin rite would only celebrate Mass ad orientem.

Cardinal Sarah also revealed in his talk that Pope Francis asked him in April to begin a study of the reform of the liturgical reform that followed the Council, and to investigate the possibilities of mutual enrichment between the older and newer forms of the Roman rite, first spoken of by Pope Benedict XVI.

“This will be a delicate work and I ask for your patience and prayers,” Cardinal Sarah said. “But if we are to implement Sacrosanctum Concilium more faithfully, if we are to achieve what the Council desired, this is a serious question which must be carefully studied and acted on with the necessary clarity and prudence.”

Here below are the words from Cardinal Sarah's talk regarding his wish that all priests begin celebrating Mass ad orientem:

“I want to make an appeal to all priests. You may have read my article in L’Osservatore Romano one year ago (12 June 2015) or my interview with the journal Famille Chrétienne in May of this year. On both occasions I said that I believe that 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, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God. This practice is permitted by current liturgical legislation. It is perfectly legitimate in the modern rite. Indeed, I think it is a very important step in ensuring that in our celebrations the Lord is truly at the centre.

…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. Your own pastoral judgement will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year, when we attend ‘the Lord who will come’ and ‘who will not delay’ (see: Introit, Mass of Wednesday of the first week of Advent) may be a very good time to do this. Dear Fathers, we should listen again to the lament of God proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah: “they have turned their back to me” (2:27). Let us turn again towards the Lord!

…I would like to appeal also to my brother bishops: please lead your priests and people towards the Lord in this way, particularly at large celebrations in your dioceses and in your cathedral. Please form your seminarians in the reality that we are not called to the priesthood to be at the centre 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.”

For more excerpts from Cardinal Sarah’s talk, see Sacra Liturgia’s facebook page here.