“In October, I will start to offer this Mass here at St. Patrick’s, on Sunday morning, when I am here, ad orientem,” he told the congregation. The Diocese of Madison uses St. Patrick’s parish church as their cathedral, since their cathedral church burned down in 2005.
Ad orientem means that the Mass is celebrated mostly facing liturgical East, or with the priest facing the altar rather than the people. It was the norm for the Latin rite liturgy for centuries until post-Vatican II reforms when versus populum, or “towards the people,” became the norm.
“Cardinal Robert Sarah, who was appointed by Pope Francis in 2014 as the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, has publicly encouraged priests and bishops to revive the practice. “It is very important,” he told the attendees of the Sacra Liturgia conference in London earlier this year, “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 Vatican, however, has clarified that no new official directives are in the works.
To explain his decision, Bishop Morlino cited encouragement from Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Edmund Burke, and Cardinal Sarah, as well as the fact Scripture says Jesus will appear at the end of the world “from the east.” (Matthew 24.27)
“God’s plan is, at the end of history, he will come from the East from the rising sun,” Bishop Morlino explained. “And when the priest stands together with the congregation – not with his back toward them, that’s not the point – the point is the priest stands together with the congregation and he faces, symbolically at least, the East.”
“We become a mighty army marching toward the place of the rising sun to meet the Lord led by the priest. That’s who we really are. As we offer the Eucharistic sacrifice, we march together toward the East to go run and meet the Lord who comes from the East at the end of history.”
“Now, no general ever led his troops by facing them and walking backwards. He would trip pretty soon. And if he’s built like me, it would be particularly not pretty.”
Bishop Morlino also made it clear he would not be forcing any of his priests to celebrate ad orientem.
“I’m not going to force any priest to do anything. I don’t want them angry saying Mass. ‘That darn bishop.’ They shouldn’t be thinking of that when they’re saying Mass, if I can help it.”
Rather, he wants to lead by example. “But we’re gonna begin, because that will make our worship more reverent and make it clear we’re focused on God and his mind and his ways and absolute mystery, and not on our opinions.
“And that’s so important a witness to give in this day and age.”
You can listen to the homily where he made the announcement below (starting around 8:00):
If the embed doesn’t work for you, listen to the homily at this link.