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Ordained in 2011, Father Friel served for five years as Parochial Vicar at St. Anselm Parish in Northeast Philly. He is currently studying toward a doctorate in liturgical theology at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
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“If I could only make the faithful sing the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Credo, the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei…that would be to me the finest triumph sacred music could have, for it is in really taking part in the liturgy that the faithful will preserve their devotion. I would take the Tantum Ergo, the Te Deum, and the Litanies sung by the people over any piece of polyphony.”
— Giuseppe Cardinal Sarto, Letter to Msgr. Callegari (1897)

Bishop Conley & Advent “Ad Orientem”
published 25 January 2015 by Fr. David Friel

T THE END of November, I reported on Bishop Conley of Lincoln, NE and his directive that all Advent Masses in his Cathedral of the Risen Christ should be celebrated ad orientem. So, what happened? How did this initiative go, and what was the response?

I was curious to know, myself, inasmuch as I wholeheartedly supported the experiment. So I did a bit of investigative research. The information that follows was obtained from several priests working within the Diocese of Lincoln, and (with their permission) I am pleased now to offer you the results.

First, the photo above was taken at a parish Mass on Christmas Eve. The parish is St. Wenceslaus in Milligan, NE, and you can see here the celebrant facing East. Thus, we see that the initiative extended beyond just the Cathedral parish.

A number of other parishes in the Diocese—probably on the order of 15 to 20—adopted the same practice of facing East during Advent. This was accompanied by explanation & catechesis, and the practice was met with considerable welcome. Multiple priests confirmed that the response was largely positive. Numerous parishioners apparently requested that the practice be continued beyond Advent.

One pastor enumerated some of the reasons his parishioners gave for their appreciation:

1. The posture seems “logical”
2. It makes sense to face the Person to Whom you are speaking
3. Facing East gives the high altar a purpose beyond simple wall decoration
4. It feels very sacred

These are interesting observations on the part of the actively participating faithful.

Another priest told me that his parish seriously considered adopting the initiative in their Advent Masses. Because Bishop Conley’s letter came out only two weeks before Advent, though, they felt there was not sufficient time to offer proper catechesis. Thus, they ultimately chose not to adopt the ad orientem posture. Nevertheless, there was a great openness among the priests.

These results are certainly not exhaustive, but they are directly from priests engaged in ministry within the Diocese. Thus, they are not made up or merely theoretical. They are the practical reflections and unfiltered sentiments of real Catholics.

The bishop’s column introducing the initiative is well done and worth another look. Perhaps this experiment was just a means of testing the waters, with the potential to blossom into fuller use of the ad orientem posture. This would demonstrate remarkable continuity with our liturgical heritage.