Pray Tell has received this letter, sent to the Presbyterate of the Diocese of LaCrosse, WI, by Bishop William Callahan, on March 8th referring to celebrating Mass ad orientem. Although the letter mentions Cardinal Sarah’s support of ad orientem, it does not mention Pope Francis’s response to Cardinal Sarah. The letter admirably emphasizes respect for people’s sensitivities and avoidance of division. But it seems to express some favor for the ad orientem posture.
8 March 2017
My Dear Brothers in Christ,
May the Lord give you peace.
One of the most iconic moments in American musical theater is offered by Zero Mostel in “Fiddler on the Roof.” His character, Tevye the milkman, sings “If I Were a Rich Man,” and it is a showstopper. Tevye sings, “If I were rich I’d have the time that I like to sit in the synagogue and pray; and maybe have a seat on the Eastern wall…” The Eastern wall, even in secular theater is recognized as a special—even sacred place. So, my message to you today concerns itself with sacred things, “ad orientem.”
Asking that the grace of this blessed season of Lent be with you all, I particularly pray with you and for you during the celebration of the Mass, the source and summit of our faith. This treasure has been entrusted to the Church to be guarded and celebrated. It is not ours as priests to control and define the Mass, but to celebrate it as it has been handed down to us. I am grateful for you, brother priests of our Diocese who with great care and reverence celebrate this great Sacrament for the People of God.
The worthy and proper celebration of the Holy Mass has legitimate options; one that has become more prominent in the last year is the posture of Ad Orientem. This was begun by a statement of Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, who encouraged the practice beginning in Advent of 2016. This has led a number of our brothers to start using this option. In some places, with proper consultation and education, it has been a blessing and has even helped to draw a parish together. In other places, where the same care to have proper consultation and education was not observed, it has become an issue of divisiveness.
Because of the new prominence of this practice the topic has been discussed with the College of Deans in addition to the Presbyteral Council. During both discussions, I have shown my support for this practice as well as a deep concern that it be implemented appropriately and after proper consultation with the leadership of a parish, after truly hearing and respecting the People of God and after good education of what is being expressed in the change of posture.
Between the two meetings of priestly leadership, I somehow managed to confuse the ideas of permissions, approvals, etc. I write this letter to clarify the procedures I desire to be in place when considering the implementation of the posture of Ad Orientem as a regular practice in a parish.
1. It is my desire to be informed before any such practice is undertaken so I might ensure through the Office of Sacred Worship that Holy Mass is celebrated in a consistent manner throughout the entire Diocese, with proper consultation and support of the People of God and after an appropriate period of education and discussion.
2. It is my hope that where consensus of the People of God is split over this practice and multiple Masses are offered on any given weekend that both approved postures would be offered.
I hope we will all enjoy a seat “by the Eastern wall” in our churches and that we will understand the significance of such a thought. In the meantime, know that I pray with you and our dear Priestly and Holy People. Have a blessed Lent and never tire of celebrating the Eucharist anticipating the coming of the Lord.
Dear brothers, you are close to my heart and always in my prayers.