About this blogger:
A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he resides with his wife and children.
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Legitimate and necessary concern for current realities in the concrete lives of people cannot make us forget the true nature of the liturgical actions. It is clear that the Mass is not the time to “celebrate” human dignity or purely terrestrial claims or hopes. It is rather the sacrifice which renders Christ really present in the sacrament.
— Pope Saint John Paul II (20 March 1990)

Showdown in Arkansas over “Ad Orientem”
published 17 July 2016 by Jeff Ostrowski

305 AD ORIENTEM EVERAL PEOPLE have sent me copies of a letter dated 14 July 2016. This shocking letter—sent to all priests and deacons in Little Rock by BISHOP ANTHONY B. TAYLOR—orders that Mass “will always be celebrated facing the people in our diocese.”

When the 2000 (2002) Missal was promulgated, the Vatican’s CDW was asked whether bishops have authority to forbid “ad orientem” celebration. Dated 10 April 2000, the CDW response was unequivocal:

HIS DICASTERY [i.e. the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship] wishes to state that Holy Mass may be celebrated versus populum or versus apsidem. Both positions are in accord with liturgical law; both are to be considered correct.

There is no preference expressed in the liturgical legislation for either position. 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.

This letter (PROTOCOL NO. 564/00/L) specifically addresses whether a bishop can forbid “ad orientem.” They stated that, while exercising his rightful role as “moderator of the Sacred Liturgy in the particular Church entrusted to his pastoral care,” the Diocesan Bishop can neither “exclude nor mandate the use of a legitimate option.” [Those italics are by the CDW.]

This letter was sent by the same congregation responsible for drafting the 2000 (2002) Missal and GIRM, which was approved by Pope St. John Paul II. The letter was signed by Cardinal Medina, CDW Prefect, and Archbishop Tamburrino, CDW Secretary. I have no idea why so many people commenting on this issue refuse to make reference to it.

BISHOP TAYLOR MADE REFERENCE to a letter dated 12 July 2016 from Most Rev’d ARTHUR J. SERRATELLI, chairman of the USCCB liturgy committee. Specifically, Bishop Serratelli said the 2000 (2002) GIRM shows “a preference for the celebrant’s facing the people.” To support this claim, Bishop Serratelli cited paragraph 299 of the GIRMbut the English translation he used was defective.

Here’s the correct translation of GIRM paragraph 299:

2000 (2002) Latin : 299. Altare exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.

Correct Translation : 299. Wherever possible, the altar should be built separated from the wall, leaving enough space for the priest to walk around it and making it possible to celebrate facing the people.

But the translation Bishop Serratelli cites in his letter is grammatically impossible. Specifically, the “QUOD” phrase cannot modify “celebratio versus populum” since “quod” is neuter while “celebratio” is feminine—as was explained by Dr. J. W. Hunwicke of Lansing College (Sussex, England) in a 2001 article. Many others agree, such as Dr. Richard Cipolla, Chair Emeritus of the Classics Department of Brunswick School, who specifically endorsed this view on 14 July 2016. Fr. Reginald Foster, formerly the Pope’s Latinist, also specifically endorsed Hunwicke’s view in April of 2006. 1

Bishop Serratelli correctly affirms that the 2000 (2002) Missal tells priests when to turn toward the people and when to turn back toward the altar. Surely instructions contradicting such rubrics would not be found in the section dedicated to building (and consecrating) new churches and altars—but that’s where paragraph 299 occurs. 2

Some will struggle to believe an approved English translation could be incorrect. Those people should examine how the rubric “quando celebratur Baptisma” was translated in the 1970 and 1998 editions of the Lectionary. The 1970 got it right, while the 1998 mangled it horribly. A more famous example was an American GIRM adaptation for paragraph 48, which was so mutilated by the USCCB it became incomprehensible, as Dr. Christoph Tietze explained in 2006.

307 Cardinal Sarah liturgy I WILL RETURN TO THE ARKANSAS SITUATION in a moment, but first let me say that Mr. Andrew Leung’s article makes a salient point. When “ad orientem” is used in the Ordinary Form, the priest only faces away from the congregation for about five minutes total.

I would also like to say that this so-called “controversy” began owing to various communications made by Cardinal Sarah, the CDW Prefect appointed in 2014 by Pope Francis. I consider these communications to be quite powerful, yet able to be understood by everyone:

    * *  “Reform of the Reform” (July 2016)

    * *  “A Letter on the Liturgy” (June 2015)

    * *  “Silent Action of the Heart” (June 2015)

Regarding Fr. Lombardi’s 11 July 2016 statement, I believe Fr. Mark Drew was probably correct to label it as “inept.” For example, Fr. Lombardi “clarifies” that no new legislation on AD ORIENTEM is coming in Advent; yet, Cardinal Sarah had said absolutely nothing—not one word—about new legislation.

SOME HAVE ALREADY ASCRIBED bad intentions to Bishop Taylor, but I disagree. I suspect he sent his letter without knowing the CDW had specifically said the diocesan bishop cannot outlaw “ad orientem.” I believe that once Bishop Taylor becomes aware of that statement, he will issue a retraction. Furthermore, I strongly suspect Bishop Serratelli will retract his letter when the correct translation of paragraph 299 is brought to his attention.

The reality is, everyone has deficiencies, no matter how brilliant they may otherwise be. Bishop Taylor has a doctorate in biblical theology, which has very little to do with liturgical items. That might help explain why he misspells “ad orientem.” To make matters worse, there has been excessive liturgical legislation since the 1960s: thousands of pages!

If bishops want their priests to be faithful to the GIRM, why do they consistently ignore certain sections? For example, the current GIRM requires approval by the local bishop for any song replacing the Introit, Offertory, or Communion antiphon. Yet, this requirement is almost always ignored. Indeed, 85% of Catholic churches replace the assigned propers with all kinds of songs lacking approval by the local bishop—and many contain lyrics written by non-Catholics!

A discussion about this post is underway.


1   From what I can tell, the other translations of the GIRM agree with the Hunwicke translation, for example:

FRENCH: (299) Il convient, partout où c’est possible, que l’autel soit érigé à une distance du mur qui permette d´en faire aisément le tour et d´y célébrer face au peuple.

GERMAN: (299) Der Altar ist von der Wand getrennt zu errichten, so dass man ihn leicht umschreiten und die Feier an ihm dem Volk zugewandt vollzogen werden kann. Das empfiehlt sich überall, wo es möglich ist.

POLISH: (299) Ołtarz winien być zbudowany w oddaleniu od ściany, aby łatwo można było obchodzić go dookoła i celebrować przy nim w stronę ludu. Wypada go tak umieścić wszędzie, gdzie to jest możliwe.
2   Indeed, the “Quod” clause was added in 2000 to stop the destruction of altars already in existence. This becomes even clearer when one examines the history of this paragraph.