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Vatican deflates 'ad orientem' suggestion

July 11, 2016

The Vatican has moved quickly to counteract a suggestion by Cardinal Robert Sarah that priests should celebrate Mass ad orientem.

Father Federico Lombardi, the director of the Vatican press office, issued a statement on July 11 saying that Cardinal Sarah's address to a London conference had been "misinterpreted," and emphasizing that there were no new official directives regarding the ad orientem posture.

Speaking last week at a conference in London, Cardinal Sarah—the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Liturgy—had asked priests to begin celebrating the ad orientem liturgy on the first week of Advent. He had also urged bishops to encourage their priests to do so.

But Father Lombardi stressed that Cardinal Sarah had been speaking for himself, rather than issuing a Vatican instruction, and "there are no new liturgical directives starting from next Advent." He went on to cite the General Instruction for the Roman Missal, which suggests that Mass should ordinarily be celebrated facing the people.

The Vatican spokesman said that these matters had been confirmed at a meeting between Cardinal Sarah and Pope Francis. The Pontiff had met with Cardinal Sarah on Saturday, July 9. The statement appeared to be a direct rebuke to the cardinal, who had twice mentioned during his London address that he had the full support of Pope Francis in his quest to reform the liturgy along the lines suggested by Pope Benedict XVI.

Father Lombardi also said that "it is better to avoid using the expression 'the reform of the reform,' referring to the liturgy, given that this has sometimes been the source of misunderstanding." That expression has been commonly used by Catholics who, like Cardinal Sarah, seek to restore a greater sense of reverence and dignity to the liturgy. 


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  • Posted by: bruno.cicconi7491 - Jul. 12, 2016 9:14 AM ET USA

    Now you're quick to correct, aren't you Lombardi? It was clear already that it was not official instruction. Yet it wouldn't hurt if Lombardi had also told, in his clarification, that Bishops remain free to implement the suggestions of Cdl. Sarah on account of them being fraternal recommendations.

  • Posted by: hartwood01 - Jul. 12, 2016 12:38 AM ET USA

    The Catholic Church looks foolish when it takes two steps backward into the 50's,attempting to erase any of the reforms of Vatican II. There are more pressing issues to be addressed than which direction the celebrant faces or location of the tabernacle.

  • Posted by: Mike in Toronto - Jul. 11, 2016 11:43 PM ET USA

    "That expression has been commonly used by Catholics who, like Cardinal Sarah, seek to restore a greater sense of reverence and dignity to the liturgy." Hm. A bit of editorializing here, no? Supposed to be a news item...

  • Posted by: stpetric - Jul. 11, 2016 11:34 PM ET USA

    Sorry, Father Lombardi, but "reform of the reform" continues to be exactly what we need. And Cardinal Sarah "speaking for himself" as Prefect of the CDW still carries a lot of weight.

  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Jul. 11, 2016 9:41 PM ET USA

    Perhaps we who are disappointed by this should take a leaf from the book of the liberals. Just introduce ad orientem anyway, parish by parish. Then, demand that this "abuse" be accepted by the Vatican as an irrepressible popular practice, as was done with communion in the hand.

  • Posted by: fenton1015153 - Jul. 11, 2016 9:22 PM ET USA

    This doesn't surprise me at all. The old saying, "If it sounds too good to be true then it probably is." Keep praying.

  • Posted by: lak321 - Jul. 11, 2016 8:37 PM ET USA

    i think your headline is misleadingly negative. erroneous misconceptions of things the cardinal never said are being corrected. that is all.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jul. 11, 2016 8:09 PM ET USA

    Leon Trotsky allegedly said: "You may not be interested in war but war is interested in you." In a certain sense this might be said of the Christian vocation. In recent times this appears to have a new relevance even within the Church. There is a growing contrast even at the highest levels with regard to direction. Almost weekly we are seeing even prelates opposing one another publicly. There is a contest, and sides are being taken. Just this weekend a new petition adds to the evidence.

  • Posted by: jacquebquique5708 - Jul. 11, 2016 7:26 PM ET USA

    Cardinal Sarah is trying to bring "order out of chaos". The Latin Mass was linked to the liturgy of the Jewish tradition of worshiping God. The Ark of the Covenant evolved into the tabernacle. I recently was at a liturgy where it was explained that the meeting hall was just as holy as the sanctuary which is being dismantled. I think not and Francis continues to make judgments for which he will be held accountable when he enters eternity.

  • Posted by: Travelling - Jul. 11, 2016 7:20 PM ET USA

    God help us!