Card. Pell: sympathetic to obligatory ad orientem worship

The best of the UK’s Catholic weeklies, The Catholic Herald interviews the great Cardinal Pell, of Sydney, Australia.

He spoke about the issue of Holy Mass ad orientem.  My emphases and comments.

Where do you think the liturgical development is heading?

I don’t know. I’m not a professional liturgist. [And therefore probably more qualified to answer the question.] I am keen that we strengthen the vertical dimension of the liturgy, if we can, in the popular understanding, so that it’s very obviously not just community-centred, it’s God-centred, it’s an act of worship. [RIGHT] I’m very sympathetic to that. I’m even sympathetic for the Canon of the Mass that the priest has his back to the people[WDTPRSers love Cardinal Pell.]

As something obligatory?

Yes. [Hear him! Hear him!] Now there’s nothing like a consensus in favour of that at the moment. I think I would be in favour of it because it makes it patently clear that the priest is not the centre of the show, that this an act of worship of the one true God, and the people are joining with the priest for that.

Another way of acknowledging that: I’m very much in favour of having a crucifix in front of the celebrant during the Mass when we’re facing the people["The Benedictine Arrangment"]

Between the priest and the people, in front of the altar?

Yes, sometimes it might be flat, sometimes it might be vertical. But that distracts attention away to some little extent from the main celebrant. I think also I find the figure of Christ is a great aid to recollection and prayer while you’re saying the Eucharistic Prayer.

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  1. Bos Mutissimus says:


  2. MargoB says:

    YES! There should be a balance of emphasis split between the communal and transcendent elements of the Mass, but as we’ve had too much of the vertical/communal lately, we certainly do need a re-balance; more focus on God and more that directs our gaze His way. :)

  3. Adam DeVille says:

    I know an Eastern Catholic priest with bi-ritual faculties who has told me that in his experience (20-odd years celebrating the Byzantine Rite before beginning to celebrate the Roman about 5 years ago) that absolutely nothing is so deeply disorienting to him, and, in his judgment, so destructive of proper focus in the liturgy (for both priest and people), as having to “face the people” during a Roman Mass. The first few times he celebrated, he scarcely knew what to do, so great was the disorientation for him. Now he tries to keep his focus on the crucifix on the altar, but still finds this posture debilitating.

  4. Michael says:

    The “versus populum” is a great obstacle to the reunion of the East.

  5. Our priests celebrate ad orientam, but are at least partially obscured (depending on whether the Royal Doors are open) by the iconostasis. A crucifix doesn’t seem to be a distraction, at least comparatively.

  6. I’d love to turn the priest around for all Masses…Ad Orientem mandated would be great, all of my priest friends i know would be for it.

  7. Tom says:

    Encouraging, but didn’t someone recently publish a photo here showing how the Sydney cathedral had recently been renovated to make ad-orientem more difficult?

  8. Aaron Sanders says:

    I understand what Cdl. Pell meant by “professional liturgist” – liturgiology is not his scholarly field of expertise, so he’ll punt the question of what the Church should mandate to those who are most informed on the matter. At the same time, I hate the idea that he might give the impression that “I’m just a bishop – liturgy’s not really my thing.” On the contrary, as bishop, he is _the_ chief liturgist for his diocese – something I am sure he knows, but which in the absence of explicit affirmation the dreaded shadow-lurking “liturgists” can pounce on to say “See, even he admits we ought to know more about liturgy than him. Bring on the clowns!”

  9. RichR says:

    People may get impatient about the slow progress toward ad orientem worship, but keep things in perspective: 20 years ago, a bishops and priests would have been ostracized for making such public comments. Now it is becoming a more regular occurrence to hear remarks like this emanating from the Episcopacy.

    It’s no longer a taboo topic, so it can be judged according to its merits in an objective manner.

  10. Daniel says:

    “Now there’s nothing like a consensus in favour of that at the moment.”

    That is true only among Churchmen (Rome and our bishops) who have discarded Holy Tradition in favor of liturgical novelties.

    Mass ad orientem is the 2,000-year-old consensus of the Catholic Church.

    In 1996, Rome issued the following document: “Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches.”

    Rome insisted in that document that Eastern Catholics should safeguard said practice and not follow the Latin Church’s “recent” liturgical novelty, namely…Mass vs. populum. Why does Rome call upon Eastern Catholics, rather than Western Catholics, to uphold universal Catholic liturgical tradition?

    From the document in question:

    107. Prayer facing the east
    Ever since ancient times, it has been customary in the prayer of the Eastern Churches to prostrate oneself to the ground, turning toward the east; the buildings themselves were constructed such that the altar would face the east. Saint John of Damascus explains the meaning of this tradition:

    “It is not for simplicity nor by chance that we pray turned toward the regions of the east (…). Since God is intelligible light (1 Jn. 1:5), and in the Scripture, Christ is called the Sun of justice (Mal. 3:20) and the East (Zec. 3:8 of the LXX), it is necessary to dedicate the east to him in order to render him worship.

    The Scripture says: ‘Then the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and he placed there the man whom he had formed’ (Gen. 2:8). (…) In search of the ancient homeland and tending toward it, we worship God. Even the tent of Moses had its curtain veil and propitiatory facing the east.

    And the tribe of Judah, in as much as it was the most notable, encamped on the east side (cf. Nm. 2:3). In the temple of Solomon, the Lord’s gate was facing the east (cf. Ez. 44:1). Finally, the Lord placed on the cross looked toward the west, and so we prostrate ourselves in his direction, facing him.

    When he ascended to heaven, he was raised toward the east, and thus his disciples adored him, and thus he will return, in the same way as they saw him go to heaven (cf. Acts 1:11), as the Lord himself said: ‘For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be’ (Mt. 24:27). Waiting for him, we prostrate ourselves toward the east. It is an unwritten tradition, deriving from the Apostles.”[85]

    This rich and fascinating interpretation also explains the reason for which the celebrant who presides in the liturgical celebration prays facing the east, just as the people who participate. It is not a question, as is often claimed, of presiding the celebration with the back turned to the people, but rather of guiding the people in pilgrimage toward the Kingdom, invoked in prayer until the return of the Lord.

    Such practice, threatened in numerous Eastern Catholic Churches by a new and recent Latin influence, is thus of profound value and should be safeguarded as truly coherent with the Eastern liturgical spirituality.

  11. Tony from Oz says:

    Tom: “Encouraging, but didn’t someone recently publish a photo here showing how the Sydney cathedral had recently been renovated to make ad-orientem more difficult?”

    Tom – yes, Cardinal Pell has indeed had installed – and had consecrated by Pope Benedict during WYD!! – a forward altar which makes it very difficult to celebrate an ad orientem Mass. And an altar which depicts an image of Christ in the tomb!

    I am pleased to hear the Cardinal voice these sentiments – but blowed if I know what that says about the consistency of his actions in installing a forward altar – let alone the insult that was to the scholarship of the reigning pontiff. In truth, this fella is all over the place…although may be it denotes a ‘sniffing of the wind’.

  12. Victoria says:

    Cardinal Pell also said in an interview in Oxford that he is in favour of some sort of legal recognition for long-term homosexual unions.

    The new altar at St Mary’s Cathedral Sydney with the ‘surfboard Jesus’ is ugly.

  13. Fr K says:

    Cardinal Pell’s welcome and refreshing comment about ad orientem worship is somewhat marred by the tired old sixties cliche ‘back to the people.’ Until we stop using that sort of terminology, like ‘the Tridentine Mass’ it is going to be difficult to move forward as such phrases are a means of closing peoples’ minds and thus rendering objective discussion almost impossible

  14. MenTaLguY says:

    Sometimes I wonder whether it might not be appropriate to describe ad orientem as the priest facing forward in solidarity with the people. It would certainly be an antidote to the “back to the people” complaint.

  15. Tony from Oz says:

    As I said above, this is a hopeful utterance from the Cardinal…but it is at variance with his vandalistic and retro action in installing a forward altar in his Cathedral Church which makes ad orientem worship nigh impossible – and by which he demonstrated scant regard for any practical understanding of lex orandi lex credendi. To have installed a forward altar despite being well aware of the Pope’s own scholarship on the liturgy and expressed preferences, and yet to ask him to consecrate such an edifice verges on the astonishing (if not sadistic!). His reference to ‘back to the people’ would seem to betray an engrained mindset from his 1960s formation. He is either having a metanoia..or a Vicar of Bray moment. I pray it is the former!

  16. Tomas says:

    Sorry, I don’t share Father’s admiration for Cardinal Pell (cf. comments above about homosexual unions and his new altar). The entire interview, rather than just this small excerpt, showed him to be a very cagey individual, and certainly no friend of tradition. He appears to be supportive of the Pope on some things, but he also appears to be quite committed to covering his own behind…and not just with Rome…

  17. Daniel says:

    What has prevented Cardinal Pell from having taken the lead regarding Mass ad orientem? The Cardinal (and his priests) should simply offer Mass ad orientem.

  18. Warren says:

    The priest celebrating “toward the people” does tend to close the circle and create a static worship. The missionary zeal of the Church might be aided when we all turn to the Lord, i.e., when we turn in the same direction and invite the whole world (one person at a time perhaps) to do the same. The ad orientem posture should be observed – it is our heritage (for many good reasons, well noted on this site). A mere 40 or so years of diversion can be overcome in no time if people are catechized in a consistent and thorough manner.

  19. Limbo says:

    A few prominent Church figures have recently been called ‘great’

    As an Australian I can vouch that Cardinal Pell is a Liberal

  20. Maureen says:

    Re: Christ in the tomb picture on altar

    So, you also object to altars containing relics? Too much death symbolism in Christianity for you? Don’t like those Good Friday/Holy Saturday tomb things they build in European churches? Hate the Stations of the Cross and the crucifix?

    Also, we’ve already had Australians explain that they’ve seen the new altar used for ad orientem quite handily. This is a non-topic, unless you just want to complain about the art style. Which you could.

  21. Limbo says:

    …I can also vouch that the altar looks like a work of modern art in a gothic Cathedral and therefore just looks out of place … silly.

    I cannot vouch that the Cardinal alone chose it though but if he did bad taste has nothing to do with the topic.

  22. Daniel says:

    “As an Australian I can vouch that Cardinal Pell is a Liberal”

    Liberal Churchmen…conservative Churchmen…is there truly a difference?

    Rome and our bishops support ecumenism, interreligious “dialogue,” prayer and/or worship with schismatics, heretics…prayer conducted inside synagogues and mosques…

    …distribution of Holy Communion by laymen, altar girls, Communion in the hand, novel Eucharistic prayers…guitars, pianos, and drums as liturgical musical instruments…Mass vs. populum.

    The Vatican’s Ecumenical Directory supports joint Catholic-Protestant parishes…allows non-Catholics to perform readings at Mass…

    The list of shocking Church-approved novelties goes on and on.

    Incredibly, many conservative practices associate the above practices with “liberal” Masses and liberal Churchmen. However, the above novelties are, of course, Vatican-approved.

    I guess that even Bishop Rifan, who is a “traditionalist” in “full communion” with Rome, is expected to support the above novelties as they are official Church teacings.

    The same would apply to the SSPX bishops when they someday are granted “full communion” status.

    Therefore, is there truly a “conservative” (in the traditional sense) remaining within the “full communion” Church?

    After all, conservatives don’t reject official Church-approved teachings and novelties.

  23. Matthew says:

    Daniel, I think it is worth clarifying that many of things you mentioned are not church “teachings.” This betrays a fundamental failure to distinguish between discipline and teaching. The vast majority if not all the things listed can not be discussed in terms of a “teaching” that is either true or false to which a Catholic must adhere.

    Now having said that while Pell has made some welcome comments I must agree with those other Australian posters who have pointed out Pell’s liberalism which covers other matters not mentioned here. The idea of Pell being some staunch conservative is an American myth as they only get filtered the good news stories.

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