Turning Toward the Lord: Ad Orientem. It’s been almost 3 years since we instituted the practice of the priest praying in the same direction as the congregation, or turning toward the East (“ad Orientem”), at the 8:45 Mass on Sundays. As I’ve explained before, this ancient practice was highly encouraged by Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis’ top liturgical spokesman has continued this. Last summer Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, published an article in L’Osservatore Romano explaining and promoting this practice, and just last month he strongly reiterated his arguments in an interview in the French magazine Famille Chretienne.
For some time now I have been considering expanding the practice of offering Mass ad Orientem to other Masses, and this recent interview with the chief liturgist of the Church has caused me to consider it even more seriously. But I would welcome your feedback and advice. I look forward to hearing thoughtful and practical advice that carefully considers the Church’s teaching about this ancient practice.
With that in mind I offer you an extended excerpt from Card. Sarah’s interview last month:
Cardinal Sarah: To convert is to turn towards God. I am profoundly convinced that our bodies must participate in this conversion. The best way is certainly to celebrate — priests and faithful — turned together in the same direction: toward the Lord who comes. It isn’t, as one hears sometimes, to celebrate with the back turned toward the faithful or facing them. That isn’t the problem. It’s to turn together toward the apse, which symbolizes the East, where the cross of the risen Lord is enthroned.
By this manner of celebrating, we experience, even in our bodies, the primacy of God and of adoration. We understand that the liturgy is first our participation at the perfect sacrifice of the cross. I have personally had this experience: In celebrating thus, with the priest at its head, the assembly is almost physically drawn up by the mystery of the cross at the moment of the elevation.
[Question: But is this way of celebrating the Mass authorized?] It is legitimate and conforms to the letter and the spirit of the Council. In my capacity as the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, I continue to remind all that the celebration toward the East (versus orientem) is authorized by the rubrics of the missal, which specify the moments when the celebrant must turn toward the people. A particular authorization is, therefore, not needed to celebrate Mass facing the Lord. Thus…I proposed that the priests and the faithful turn toward the East at least during the Penitential Rite, during the singing of the Gloria, during the Propers and during the Eucharistic Prayer.
[Question: In the minds of many, the change of the orientation of the altar is tied to Vatican II. Is this accurate?] More than 50 years after the closure of Vatican II, it becomes urgent that we read these texts! The Council never required the celebration facing the people! This question is not even brought up by the Constitution [on Sacred Liturgy], Sacrosanctum Concilium. … What’s more, the Council Fathers wanted to emphasize the necessity for all to enter into participation of the celebrated mystery. In the years that have followed Vatican II, the Church has searched for the means of putting this intuition into practice.
Thus, to celebrate facing the people became a possibility, but not an obligation. The Liturgy of the Word justifies the face-to-face [orientation] of the lector and the listeners, the dialogue and the teaching between the priest and his people. But from the moment that we begin to address God — starting with the Offertory — it is essential that the priest and the faithful turn together toward the East. This corresponds completely with that which was willed by the Council Fathers….
[Question: What significance does the Church give to this question of orientation?] To begin with, we are not the only ones to pray “oriented,” that is, facing the East. The Jewish Temple and the synagogues were always facing East. In regaining this orientation, we can return to our origins.…
For us, the light is Jesus Christ. All the Church is oriented, facing East, toward Christ: ad Dominum. A Church closed in on herself in a circle will have lost her reason for being. For to be herself, the Church must live facing God. Our point of reference is the Lord! We know that he has been with us and that he returned to the Father from the Mount of Olives, situated to the East of Jerusalem, and that he will return in the same way. To stay turned toward the Lord, it is to wait for him every day. One must not allow God reason to complain constantly against us: “They turn their backs toward me, instead of turning their faces!” (Jeremiah 2:27).
Save the Dates. The Fifth Annual “Fortnight for Freedom” will run from June 21 through July 4. As in the past, it will include Eucharistic Holy Hours in the church every day, and individual and family prayers as well. We’re also considering how we might facilitate a pilgrimage to venerate the relics of St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher (great martyrs who died defending the freedom of the Church) when they come to Washington, DC on July 4-5. Details are still a bit sketchy, so we’ll try to have more information in the coming days.
Religious Education and Vacation Bible School. A few summers back I asked the Religious Education staff to start a Vacation Bible School (VBS) for our little children during the Summer. I have been very pleased with the success and popularity of the program. However, I’ve decided that this summer we will not run a VBS, in order that our RE staff can focus their energy 100% on developing improvements to our CCD/RE program for the 2016-17 academic year. We have a fine CCD program—but I am convinced it can be even better. There are few things as critical to our parish mission as educating our children in the faith, so I think this is more than worth the extra investment of time this summer. But be assured that VBS will return next summer!
Thanks. Let me take a moment to publicly thank Sheri Burns and Tania Slaton for their work as co-leaders of our parish Home School Group for the last 6 years. Soon after I arrived in the parish I asked them to form the homeschoolers into an official parish “group.” Under their truly excellent leadership the HSG has become one of the most active and dynamic groups in the parish. I cannot thank Sheri and Tania enough, but have accepted their request to pass their leadership responsibilities to their successors, Katherine Bogacki and Malia Cameron, effective today. I look forward to working with them and all the homeschoolers as we continue to strive to bring our children, our families and our whole parish closer to the Lord Jesus.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles