September 8, 2013

September 8, 2013 Column Father De Celles

Mass Ad Orientem. Beginning next Sunday, the priests at St. Raymond’s will celebrate all 8:45 Masses (and only those Masses) in the manner called “ad orientem,” or “facing East.” This means that after the Prayer of the Faithful (“The Intercessions”) the priest will go to the altar and stand on the opposite side of where he usually stands, facing the same direction as the people sitting in the nave. Although at St. Raymond’s this means we actually face Northeast, the symbolic turning together in the same direction harkens back to the Early Christians who often prayed facing East, waiting for the second coming of the Son of God, like the rising of the Sun. This practice of praying “ad orientem” was incorporated into the Mass of the early Church and was the norm for Masses up until the 1960s. Moreover, it is fully consistent with the requirements of Vatican II, and the post-Vatican II official liturgical rules. Even so, I re-introduce the practice not out of a sense of nostalgia or archaism, but because I think it will help us to deepen our understanding of the Mass as a profound and multifaceted prayer to the Lord.

In offering Mass facing toward the people I have often thought how strange it is that I would be praying to God while I was facing you. Think of that: you all face in the same direction together (toward the altar, the cross and the Eucharistic), as you pray to God. So then why would I face you while I’m praying to God, and leading you in prayer and presenting your sacrifice to God? Facing with you always seems more natural, more prayerful, more uniting.

Moreover, as you face the altar, etc., you also face my face. Because of this, it is not uncommon for the priest to become the focal point, or at least a distraction, for many in the congregation. Mind you, not on purpose; this just seems to be is the natural effect of two people facing each other.

One of the effects of this is to lessen the people’s focus on the Lord and the Eucharist. Another effect is to tend to exaggerate the role of the priest, even though he is supposed to be merely a bridge, a mediator, so that the congregation should look past him to see Who he is looking toward and leading them toward, i.e., the Lord.

Another side effect of this is on the priest himself: he can develop an exaggerated sense of his own importance, as all these people seem to be looking at him. This can lead to several negative results. In particular, the priest can unwittingly tend to see himself as somehow central to the Mass, “sharing the stage” with Christ. He can also tend to be overly concerned about the effect he has on the people, which leads many priests to feel the need to entertain the people, rather than simply anonymously lead them to God. Pope Benedict XVI summarized the effect by calling it, “an unprecedented clericalization,” that is, an exaggerated exaltation of the priest. The same clericalization so often condemned by Pope Francis.

So far, a lot of parishioners have been very supportive of my decision, with only a very few voicing objections. One of the objections centers on the idea of the priest “turning his back to the people,” that this sends the wrong signal. But think of this: almost everyone in the church turns their back on the people sitting behind them. Should we all face each other—a physical impossibility? The symbolic meaning that you have accepted is not that you are turning your back on each other, but that you are all turning together to pray to God as one body of Christ.

So why is the priest so different than all of you? The only major difference is that the priest stands “in persona Christi Capitis”—in the person of Christ the Head of the Body. So I rightly stand at the “head” of the body (in front of you), but as “the head” my face should be facing with you—think of the grotesque image of a body with its head facing backward! Let “the head” face with the body and lead it in worship, prayer and adoration of the Lord .

It is truly my sincerest hope that this change will help all of us experience a more profoundly prayerful encounter with the Lord, including those who only occasionally attend the 8:45 Mass. I hope you all will approach this change with an open heart and mind, and that this will be a wonderful addition to our parish life.

Youth Director. Last week Kristin Smith informed me that she will be stepping down from her position as Youth Director at St. Raymonds, effective September 14. Being a youth director is very demanding work, and as great as Kristin is at doing it, she feels it is time to lay it down and pursue other goals that the Lord has in mind for her. I can’t tell you how sad I am to see her go, as I know so many of our parents and young people are. Over two years ago we did a long, careful and prayerful search for a director, and our efforts and prayers were clearly answered by the Lord by sending us Kristin. The Lord was very generous in allowing her to serve our parish for these two years, and we thank Him for that. And we thank Kristin for all she’s done. I can’t say how much I’ve appreciated her help and hard work, all the love she’s poured out on our “children.” May the Lord bless her in her new endeavors. She will remain in our prayers and our hearts, a true sister in Christ.

But be assured, the Youth Apostolate will go forward, albeit with a significantly reduced schedule, until we find a new director. During this interim I ask those parents who are able to volunteer to keep the Youth program going. And I ask all of you to pray that the Lord help us find someone to take over this important position.

Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles