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Vatican liturgy chief urges priests to celebrate Mass facing east

Cardinal Robert Sarah made the comments in an exclusive interview with Famille Chrétienne

The Vatican’s liturgy chief has called on priests to celebrate Mass facing east.

In an interview with the French Catholic magazine Famille Chrétienne, Cardinal Robert Sarah said that the Second Vatican Council did not require priests to celebrate Mass facing the people.

This way of celebrating Mass, he said, was “a possibility, but not an obligation”.

Readers and listeners should face each other during the Liturgy of the Word, he said.

“But as soon as we reach the moment when one addresses God – from the Offertory onwards – it is essential that the priest and faithful look together towards the east. This corresponds exactly to what the Council Fathers wanted.”

Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, rejected the argument that priests celebrating Mass facing east are turning their backs on the faithful “or against them”.

Rather, he said, all are “turned in the same direction: towards the Lord who comes”.

“It is legitimate and complies with the letter and spirit of the Council,” he said. “As prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, I wish to recall that the celebration versus orientem is authorised by the rubrics, which specify the times when the celebrant must turn to the people. It is therefore not necessary to have special permission to celebrate facing the Lord.

Cardinal Sarah’s remarks echo an article he wrote a year ago for L’Osservatore Romano, in which he said it was “altogether appropriate, during the penitential rite, the singing of the Gloria, the orations and the Eucharistic prayer, that everyone, priest and faithful, turn together toward the East, so as to express their intention to participate in the work of worship and redemption accomplished by Christ.”

The cardinal added in the article that Mass facing east could be “implemented in cathedrals, where the liturgical life must be exemplary”.



  1. Patrick Gannon Reply

    Yes indeed – face east – towards Allah, and Buddha, Shiva and all the other eastern gods. I’m, sure they will appreciate it.
    What does a god who lives outside of time and space care about such arbitrary directions as east and west? Once you get off the planet, such distinctions evaporate. This is yet another example of how silly religion can be. It almost sounds like the Vatican still thinks the world is flat.

  2. Matevz Reply

    The geographical east has nothing to do with it, the vesus orientum means that priest and the people face in the same direction (if that is towords south, that is ok). It is just the case, that majority of churches have east-west orientation, and main altar and tabernalce are on the east (in the direction of Jerusalem, where Jesus died, that is important direction for christians). New churches which have altar turned in different geographical orientation, perform versus orientum mass being turned toword main altar and tabernacle (if altar has one) and cross, that is called liturgical east.

  3. Sylver Nyarsuk Reply

    Facing to the East was done during Vatican council one, Vatican council 2 had instructed priests to face the congregation
    what is now contradicting the canon law?

  4. matthewsmith0 Reply

    As the Sun rises we remember the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus. It’s a natural symbol we hold dear.

      1. matthewsmith0 Reply

        Yes, pagans probably remembered Christ. Thanks for your comment.

        1. Patrick Gannon Reply

          Pagans preceded Christ. The “Christians” wiped them out for the most part. It’s another interesting similarity between the pagan religions of the time and Christianity. There are many such similarities having to do with things of nature such as the solstice and sun (Son) worship. Pagan gods were also born of virgins, died and rose again, were great teachers or rulers, and so on. It’s interesting to me that the pagans obtained the same spiritual experiences, the same enlightenment, the same messages from the symbols of nature, as do other religions practicing similar rituals. That would seem to rule against any particular religion or group having a monopoly on spirituality.

          1. matthewsmith0

            Tell me about this wiping out. The first 3 century of Christianity had no military power.
            There is one thing that has preceded Christianity more than pagans. That is Judaism. And the prohpecies of the Jews were fullfilled in Jesus Christ, who was a living person unlike pagan gods.
            The pagan religions just tried to express their spiritual experiences until they found a solid truth.

          2. Patrick Gannon

            Gnosticism was the most important “heresy” that the early Church faced. It was quite common in the east, though not so much as you moved west. It was deemed a threat to “orthodox” or literalist Christians, and by the beginning of the 4th century, the Church decided to put an end to it. By the end of the 5th century, it was dead, despite the many contributions that it made to the early growth of Christianity. You can look this up.
            The Jews would not agree that their prophecies were fulfilled by Jesus – and after all, it’s their prophecies! Yes Jesus was a living person; the key word being “person.” Like the pagans and every other religion, that search for solid truth continues. If that truth existed, we wouldn’t be arguing about it here.

  5. Francis Batholomew Reply

    We should not get him wrong, no one who understands the nature of religion argue that religion is not arbitrary, but even in that arbitrariness there is so much order, coherence and above all logic. True, God transcends space and time but we shall not forget that we are still subjected under time and space in so far as we are in this canopy called earth. hence gestures are not off the line. Moreover, we are in constant need of being reminded of things we know both in our mind and heart as well as in our bodies. Any body can give any interpretation whatsoever even to the best of your actions. The big question to ask here is whether it lifts worshippers to experience the object of religious beliefs, the ultimate receiver of all worship, God the almighty.

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