Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Vatican's liturgy chief, has asked priests to begin celebrating Mass ad orientem, that is, facing east rather than towards the congregation, reports The Catholic Herald.
And he wants the change to start this coming Advent.
Cardinal Sarah said priests should view the proposed change as "something good for the Church, something good for our people."
The proposed reform is arguably the biggest liturgical announcement since Benedict XVI's 2007 motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum gave greater freedom for priests to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass.
Speaking at the Sacra Liturgia conference in London this week, the Guinean Cardinal, who is Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, addressed priests who were present, saying: "It is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction – eastwards or at least towards the apse – to the Lord who comes".
The Cardinal continued: "I ask you to implement this practice wherever possible."
He said that "prudence" and catechesis would be necessary, but told pastors to have confidence.
"Your own pastoral judgement will determine how and when this is possible, but perhaps beginning this on the first Sunday of Advent this year, when we attend 'the Lord who will come' and 'who will not delay'."
These words were met with prolonged applause in the conference hall.
Cardinal Sarah had spoken on previous occasions about the merits of ad orientem worship, saying that from the Offertory onwards it was "essential that the priest and faithful look together towards the east".
But his specifying of the first Sunday of Advent – which falls this year on November 27 – gives a new urgency to his calls for this form of worship.
Speaking after Cardinal Sarah, Bishop Dominique Rey of Fréjus-Toulon said that, although he was "only one bishop of one diocese," he would celebrate Mass ad orientem at his cathedral, and would address a letter to his diocese encouraging his priests to do the same.
In his talk, Cardinal Sarah also said that Pope Francis had asked him to begin a study of "the reform of the reform", that is, of adapting the liturgical reforms that followed Vatican II. The Cardinal said the study would seek "to enrich the two forms of the Roman rite."
In remarks which he did not have time to deliver, but which were later published on Sacra Liturgia's Facebook page, the Cardinal also encouraged kneeling at the consecration and for the reception of Communion. "Where kneeling and genuflection have disappeared from the liturgy, they need to be restored, in particular for our reception of our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion."
Cardinal Sarah asks priests to start celebrating Mass facing east this Advent (The Catholic Herald)