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Bishop Robert Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin

MADISON, Wis., September 7, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — A U.S. bishop turned heads toward the “east” last weekend in his diocese and around the world with his announcement that he would be celebrating Mass ad orientem.

Bishop Robert Morlino told parishioners at St. Patrick Church during his homily on Sunday that he would begin in October to offer Novus Ordo Masses facing the altar when he is town. The Diocese of Madison uses St. Patrick and two other parishes as a substitute for the cathedral that burned down 10 years ago. “I'm planning for us in accord to the mind of God,” he said.

The local ordinary is one of the first bishops in the Church to respond after a call by Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect for the Congregation for the Divine Worship in Rome, for Masses celebrated in the ancient tradition of facing toward God along with the congregation to become the norm beginning in Advent. That form of worship had been the “common orientation” in Catholic liturgy for more than 1,500 years until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, when many priests took it upon themselves to turn around to face the people.

“The bishop's announcement at the Cathedral Parish was well received by the congregation there (his intended audience),” diocesan spokesman Brent King told LifeSiteNews in an email. “And with others finding out about it, we have received numerous notes of encouragement both from within and outside the diocese.

“As for now, the bishop is not going have any other public comments about this, as he wishes to speak with his priests about his decision, in person, very soon.”

Bishop Morlino interjected humor into his homily while revealing his intentions, saying he knew the parishioners in attendance would be supportive, but “I say this a few other places I’ll  have to take both my hats off and duck” referring to other churches in his own diocese.

But that will not stop him from encouraging the priests of his diocese to consider an ad orientem posture, and he hopes his example will prompt other bishops around the world to do the same.

Bishop Morlino already requires seminarians in formation in his diocese to learn to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. In January, he ordered all of the diocese’s parishes to put the tabernacle back in the center of the Church, affecting nearly half of the parishes that had moved it to a side altar or separate room.  

“Please lead your priests and people towards the Lord in this way,” Cardinal Sarah asked. “Please form your seminarians in the reality that we are not called to the priesthood to be at the center of liturgical worship ourselves but to lead Christ's faithful to him as fellow worshippers. Please facilitate this simple but profound reform in your dioceses, your cathedrals, your parishes and your seminaries.”

Reaction from prelates to Cardinal Sarah’s preference for ad orientem has been mixed. Cardinal Sarah initially said Pope Francis had offered his support, but then the Vatican walked back that go ahead by making a “clarification.” In a statement, the Vatican press office said, “New liturgical directives are not expected from next Advent, as some have incorrectly inferred from some of Cardinal Sarah’s words, and it is better to avoid using the expression ‘reform of the reform’ with reference to the liturgy, given that it may at times give rise to error.”

Some prelates immediately announced that they had no intention of adopting an ad orientem posture. Among them were English Cardinal Vincent Nichols and American Bishop Anthony Taylor of Little Rock, Arkansas.

Meanwhile, Bishop Dominique Rey of the Diocese of Frejus-Toulon in France announced that he would adopt the ad orientem position by Advent. Bishop James Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, Neb., already is offering Mass facing the altar.

“Cardinal Sarah and Cardinal (Raymond) Burke for years, and Pope Benedict XVI have made the point over and over again that according to God's mind that His plan is that at the end of history He will come from the East like the rising sun, as we see in the Magnificat, as we see in the Psalms, as we see in the scriptures,” Bishop Morlino said in his homily. “God's plan is at the end of history He will come from the East from the rising sun. And when the priest stands together with the congregation, not with his back toward them, that's not the point. The point is that the priest stands together with the congregation and he faces symbolically at least the East. We become a mighty army marching toward the place of the rising sun to meet the Lord lead by the priest.  That's who we really are.”