I was on vacation much of last week, so I apologize if the following might seem to be hastily put together. I had a very restful vacation, by the way, visiting family in the Midwest. Thanks for your prayers for my safe travel.
CHANGES AT MASSES (continued). Three weeks ago, I announced some changes in the way we offer Sunday Mass at St. Raymond’s. Last week I explained in greater detail some of the changes we’re making at the 8:45 Mass. Today I want to explain my reasons for a change I’m making at the 10:30 Mass.
Once-a-Month Ad Orientem at 10:30 Mass. Beginning October 1, and on every 1st Sunday of every Month (and only on the 1st Sunday) after that, the 10:30am Mass will be celebrated “Ad Orientem,” or “facing East,” facing the same direction as the people sitting in the nave, just as we already do at every 8:45 Mass.
This goes back to the early Christians’ practice of facing East when they prayed, symbolically waiting for the second coming of the Son of God, like the rising of the Sun in the East. This was soon incorporated into the Mass of the early Church and became the norm for most of Christian history, until the 1960s. Note, it is completely consistent with the norms of Vatican II and the current liturgical rules.
The most important reason for facing “ad orientem” is not, however, that the priest faces East, but rather that he turns with the people to face toward and pray to God together with them. As the second half of the Mass begins, the “Liturgy of the Eucharist,” the priest is no longer talking to the people, as he when he proclaims the Gospel and homily, but rather now he turns with them and leads them in prayer toward God. All this emphasizes the prayerful nature—the adoration and reverence—of the Mass, especially during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
In contrast to this, when the priest faces the people there is a natural tendency for them to focus on the priest, and so for him to become the focal point of the celebration. This leads to an overemphasis on the role and importance of the priest, rather than focusing our full attention on God, and, especially, Our Lord in the Eucharist.
Still, some people will insist on seeing this as the priest “turning his back to the people.” Physically, that is accurate. But isn’t it also accurate that almost everyone in the church turns their back on the people sitting behind them? Should we all face each other—a physical impossibility? We can’t and don’t, so why must the priest and people face each other? In reality, if you were all facing each other you would constantly be distracted by each other. But more importantly, if you faced each other with your eyes and bodies during Mass you would have a very hard time praying to God with your hearts and minds. Yes, we are there together, but facing each other naturally draws us first to each other, rather than first to God. When we all turn together our eyes help us to look together at the Lord.
And the same can be said of the priest. If he is facing you during the prayers, it is easy for him to look at you, and 1) be distracted by you and what you’re doing (or not doing), and 2) not to look at the Lord with his heart and mind. But don’t you want him looking at the Lord at the most holy parts of the Mass—don’t you want him to pray for you to Him?
Some would argue that by seeing every little thing that the priest is doing they are able to draw closer to what he’s doing, and to understand it better. There is something to that. But I would make two points in response. First, you see what the priest does at all the many Masses he celebrates facing you, so that once a month when he is not facing you, you still know what he’s doing. But more importantly, I would suggest that sometimes when we watch every little thing the priest is doing we can be distracted from seeing the COLOSSAL thing Christ is doing: by focusing on the minutia of the priest’s movements we can lose site of the enormity of Christ’s movements.
In this regard, as I mentioned last week when I discussed the use of Latin at Mass, some things at Mass can be understood as a “veil that sets these sacred actions and prayers apart from the mundane things of this world.” Latin can serve as this veil, and so can the fact that you cannot see all the minute actions of the priest as he turns toward the Lord. This veil (in effect, his body) “serves not to hide the Eucharist from us but to set it apart as sacred.” Rather than hide the actions of the priest it can draw our attention to the hidden actions of Christ, and enable us to see and hear something beyond what we would normally. “So that through faith, we can pierce the veils of appearances…and truly see…the Lord.”
So, my main reason of introducing “ad orientem” at 10:30 once a month is to help enhance the sense of prayerfulness and focus on God. And isn’t that what we want at Mass? It’s only once a month, but I think it that can help us at all the other Masses we attend.
Finally, I remind you that this practice is strongly encouraged by the man Pope Francis has put in charge of the liturgy of the whole Church, Cardinal Robert Sarah. Consider what Cardinal Sarah has had to say:
“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…. The Liturgy of the Word justifies the face-to-face…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….
“…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… 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).”
Parish Pictorial Directory. Don’t forget to sign up to have your picture and information in the Directory. You can do so on our parish website or in the narthex after Mass today.
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles