Montana diocese becomes latest to restrict ad orientem Novus Ordo Masses – LifeSite

(LifeSiteNews) –– Another U.S. bishop has issued directives against the ad orientem manner of offering the Mass, with the now retired Bishop Michael Warfel issuing a lengthy pastoral letter on the liturgy in Montana’s Diocese of Great Falls-Billings earlier this year.

Released in April, but recently the subject of renewed attention, the bishop’s letter was co-signed by his co-adjutor (now ordinary of the diocese), Bishop Jeffrey Fleming. 

The two bishops noted that “unfortunately, some Novus Ordo liturgical experiences are not all that inspiring or in touch with the liturgy envisioned and expected by the Church, i.e., liturgies that truly celebrate faith and hope and the joy of the Gospel.”

While outlining many of the instructions found in the rubrics of the Novus Ordo for the proper celebration of Mass, the bishops nevertheless argued against the ad orientem position of the priest – facing toward the tabernacle, or facing East. They argued that the introduction of “free standing altars” after Vatican II made it seem “logical that the priest should face the people, the emphasis of Sancrosanctum Concilium [SC] being full, active, and conscious, engagement (mentioned 16 times) of those assembled for worship.”

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Acknowledging that “either orientation is permitted,” Warfel and Fleming argued that “the celebration of the liturgy with the priest facing the people is pastorally and theologically more consistent with the Novus Ordo by which both priest and people may focus on the altar and the sacrifice taking place on it.” 

Consequently, the two bishops issued a request for their clergy to only face the people, not the tabernacle: 

When celebrating the Novus Ordo, we ask all priest [sic] to face the people when at the altar and that the altar be so arranged so that ‘the faithful may not be impeded from a clear view of what takes place at the altar or what is placed on it’ (GIRM #307).

Use of Latin and traditional elements of the Mass

The bishops additionally weighed in on the use of Latin as a liturgical language. As they wrote, the Second Vatican Council highlighted the use of Latin in the liturgy was to be “preserved.” (SC 36)

However, they added that what the Council Fathers did “not anticipate was the enthusiasm, even passion, with which so many of the faithful, clergy and laity alike, would embrace the use of the vernacular.”

Consequently, Warfel and Fleming stipulated that “while Latin retains a special place in the liturgy, especially with acclamations and notable traditional devotional hymns, the normative language for the Novus Ordo Eucharistic Liturgy is the vernacular. The Church’s magisterium in the persons of Pope St. Paul VI and Pope St. John Paul II affirmed this development.”

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The two bishops expressed similar concerns about the use of the traditional Mass in the diocese. Citing Pope Francis’ 2021 restrictions on the ancient liturgy found in Traditionis Custodes, they outlined that four priests and four parishes “have temporary permission, with restrictions” to offer the traditional Mass, including the Transalpine Redemptorists.

“Pope Francis is very clear that the normative rite for the Eucharistic Liturgy is the Novus Ordo,” they added, paraphrasing Traditionis Custodes. “There is to be no convergence or commingling of elements of either ritual with the other. Implementation of diocesan policy regarding the TLM [traditional Latin Mass] is to be followed strictly.”

Vatican defense of ad orientem

The diocese’s implementation of the restrictions on the traditional liturgy is perhaps not surprising, given that Pope Francis and Cardinal Arthur Roche have repeatedly issued documents with such an end in mind. 

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However, the restricting of ad orientem worship in the Novus Ordo is a phenomenon that appears to be currently sweeping across a number of dioceses in the country. 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. Others have issued fresh directives particularly pertaining to the Novus Ordo.

Indeed, to date, the dioceses restricting the Novus Ordo from being celebrated ad orientem in the past three years include:

Yet 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.”

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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.”

READ: Vatican Liturgy Chief asks all priests and bishops to face east for Mass, faithful to kneel for Communion

In 2016, another CDW prefect – Cardinal Robert Sarah – issued a call for priests to return to offering the Mass ad orientem based on the Christocentric 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 [center].