PPP Loan Income. During the pandemic we took advantage of the Federal government’s Paycheck Protection
Program (PPP), borrowing $158,200. Thanks be to God, last week we were notified that the entire loan amount
was forgiven—so we don’t have to pay it back. I normally don’t like the idea of taking money from the
government, but in the end I figured it was your money anyway (from your taxes) so I’ll accept it in your
name, so to speak.
Brown Scapular. Friday, July 16, was the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. I’m out of town this
weekend, so next weekend (July 24-25) I’ll be enrolling folks in the Confraternity and investing them with the
Brown Scapular after the Saturday Vigil Mass and the 9 and 11 Sunday Masses.
St. Raymond’s “Different” Liturgy—Part II. As I wrote last week, I’ve decided to dedicate the next few
columns to answering the question many of our newer parishioners have about our liturgies: “Why do you do it
that way?” This week I’ll be talking about why we celebrate some Masses facing “ad orientem”—i.e., the priest
not facing the people.
The practice of celebrating Mass “ad orientem” (“facing East”) with the priest facing the same
direction as the people 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 does 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, as Pope Benedict XVI would often explain, when the priest faces the people there is
a natural tendency for the people 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? But that’s a physical impossibility, so we can’t and don’t.
Then why must the priest and people face each other? In reality, if you were all facing each other you’d
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 you’ve attended where he celebrates facing
you, so 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 sight 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. Ad orientem celebration serves this purpose, as 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 hiding 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 Masses is to help enhance the sense of
prayerfulness and focus on God. And isn’t that what we want at Mass?
Finally, let me quote Cardinal Robert Sarah, who was the Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for
Worship until his recent retirement:
“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).”
Oremus pro invicem. Fr. De Celles