SPRINGFIELD, Missouri (LifeSiteNews) –– A Catholic bishop in Missouri has issued a “request” for all priests to celebrate the Novus Ordo Mass facing the people rather than ad orientem, despite the Church’s liturgical law protecting the right to celebrate facing the tabernacle.
In a recent edition of the diocesan newspaper, Bishop Edward Rice of the Diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau outlined his provision for the traditional Mass in the diocese along with new directions pertaining to the celebration of the Novus Ordo.
Notable in the bishop’s column was his message to diocesan clergy regarding the direction they were to stand when offering Mass.
“I request at this time that all priests celebrate the liturgy facing the people,” Rice wrote. “As I write this column, I had no priest request permission to celebrate Holy Mass in any other way. And with the documents cited in this column, I have highlighted my rightful authority.”
Bishop Rice cited, with pertinence to the Novus Ordo, Vatican II’s Christus Dominus and Sacrosanctum Concilium. Drawing from Sacrosanctum Concilium, he stated how “regulation of the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church, that is, on the Apostolic See and, as laws may determine, on the bishop.”
Rice did not outline his liturgical guidance in terms of a direct order, simply with the term “request,” but his citing of liturgical documents suggested that he was presenting the “request” with the force of an order.
Vatican defense of ad orientem
However, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW) has already outlined that priests celebrating the Novus Ordo have a protected right to celebrate the Mass ad orientem and that the liturgical rubrics contain “no preference” for the priest to face toward or away from the people.
In a letter in 2000, the CDW explained the current rubrics of the Roman Missal, confirming that ad orientem worship is not forbidden, and also reminding bishops that “it would be a grave error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is toward the community.”
In a different letter (Protocol No. 564/00/L), the CDW outlined that both ad orientem and versus populum (toward the people) were permitted options, and rejected the possibility for a bishop to deny permission to celebrate ad orientem. CDW prefect Cardinal Jorge Medina and secretary Archbishop Francesco Pio Tamburrino wrote that:
Both positions are in accord with liturgical law; both are to be considered correct.
“It should be borne in mind that there is no preference expressed in the liturgical legislation for either position,” the cardinal wrote. “As both positions enjoy the favor of law, the legislation may not be invoked to say that one position or the other accords more closely with the mind of the Church.”
The CDW further noted the limits of a diocesan bishop’s authority on the matter, writing how a bishop “is unable to exclude or mandate the use of a legitimate option” – thus including ad orientem among that which cannot be excluded – but can “provide further guidance to priests in their choice of the various options of the Roman Rite.”
Cardinal Raymond Burke, who celebrates both the traditional rite of the Mass and the Novus Ordo, has also defended the use of ad orientem early last year. Speaking with EWTN’s Raymond Arroyo, the prominent American prelate stated:
Any Mass can be celebrated facing the Lord or facing the east ad orientem versus Dominum, and in fact many people tell me, and it makes perfect sense, that it’s a very beautiful thing to have the priest at the head of the congregation offering the Mass when everyone is facing Our Lord, so this makes it clear that the sacrifice is Our Lord’s sacrifice. We worship in spirit and truth in Our Lord Jesus Christ.
It’s true that that the more ancient usage was certainly to celebrate Mass facing the Lord, facing the east, but I don’t find anything in the documents of the Second Vatican Council that would lead to a banning of the traditional way, of the traditional posture or position of the priest during the celebration of the Mass; and why this is now being brought forward I don’t understand.
‘“There’s the great temptation when the priest is facing the people to see him as some kind of a performer,” the former St. Louis archbishop said in 2016, “and now instead of the priest together with the people relating to God, somehow it becomes an interaction between the priest and the people.”
In 2016, another CDW prefect – Cardinal Robert Sarah – issued a call for priests to return to offering the Mass ad orientem based on the Christo-centric nature of the Eucharist:
I want to make an appeal to all priests … 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 … I think it is a very important step in ensuring that in our celebrations the Lord is truly at the centre.
The recent uptick in certain bishops seeking to prohibit ad orientem worship comes on the back of Pope Francis’ Traditionis Custodes, by which he implemented sweeping restrictions on the traditional liturgy. Some U.S. bishops issued the ad orientem ban for the Novus Ordo at the same as their implementing of the Pope’s widespread ban on the Latin Mass.
Bishop Rice has followed suit with this recent “request,” issuing the notice at the same time as he outlined the new implementation of Traditionis Custodes in his diocese. The traditional liturgy will now only be celebrated in the Catholic Student Center on the campus of Missouri State University instead of the parish church it had formerly been located in.