Over the weekend, the liturgical website Corpus Christi Watershed posted the following letter from the USCCB's Committee on Divine Worship regarding the recent discussions on the celebration of the Novus Ordo ad orientem.
So far, there have been few posts and discussions online about this letter. (Perhaps this will change in the coming days.) Discussions touching on this letter have focused on 1) the continued misinterpretation of GIRM 299, based on the misleading official English translation; 2) the letter's acknowledgment of the rubrical status quo as far as the Novus Ordo is concerned, which means that ad orientem will not be mandated but definitely remains an option, many would even say the norm; and 3) Bishop Anthony Taylor's letter that de facto forbids the celebration of the Novus Ordo ad orientem, citing this same letter from the USCCB.
We understand that many liturgy bloggers (many of whom we consider as friends, even if we sometimes vehemently disagree with them) are intent on presenting this letter in a way that can be spun positively. Nevertheless it seems strange to us that little to no direct reference seems to have been made so far to the biggest problem in this letter, contained in its last two sentences (with our emphases):
Although permitted, the decision whether or not to preside ad orientem should take into consideration the physical configuration of the altar and sanctuary space, and most especially, the pastoral welfare of the faith community being served. Such an important decision should always be made with the supervision and guidance of the local bishop.
There are many problems with just these two sentences, but the main one has to be the very strong suggestion that priests who want to go ahead and begin celebrating ad orientem should do so "with the supervision and guidance of the local bishop". While not formally, officially, a command, can it be denied that this amounts in practice to imposing an "indult" regime on the celebration of the Novus Ordo ad orientem in most dioceses? Indeed, Bishop Taylor's letter invokes this last sentence as the justification for his letter "expecting" that this rite will always be celebrated facing the people. There is no reason to suppose that he will be the only bishop in the USA to do the same thing.
Traditionalists had an overwhelmingly dismal experience with the Ecclesia Dei "indult" system established in 1988. Therefore we can only sympathize with the predicament that now faces parish priests (or their vicars) who truly want to celebrate the Novus Ordo ad orientem but will, in practice, now have to seek their bishop's approval first.
At the same time we have the happy duty of pointing out that the easiest way right now to celebrate Mass ad orientem is by celebrating the Traditional Latin Mass.