Friday, September 12, 2008

Parish Bulletin Article on Ad Orientem

I published this brief article about ad orientem in my parish bulletin this past weekend:

Ad Orientem – Turning Towards the Lord

In order that the parish can see our newly restored altar in its full beauty, and used as it was intended when it was built by our forefathers, during this weekend and next I am celebrating the Masses at the high altar ad orientem, that is, facing the high altar rather than “facing the people” at the small altar as most of us are accustomed. The phrase “ad orientem” means “toward the East”, and this phrase is used to describe this posture because, in the early Church, most churches were built so that the altar faced the East. The East, being the direction of the rising sun, was seen as symbolic of Christ, as He is our Sun of Righteousness, the Light of the World, and the Daystar of the new dawn. Sometimes people refer to the posture of ad orientem as the priest celebrating Mass “with his back to the people”, but this is a mistaken way of looking at it. The idea isn’t that the priest “has his back to the people”, but that he and the people are facing the same direction, that is, united in facing the Lord at the altar. Our holy father Pope Benedict has encouraged the re-appropriation of this ancient custom, urging us to “turn toward the Lord”, and has used it himself in public celebrations of the Eucharist. As I have mentioned before, contrary to what many people have been led to believe, the Second Vatican Council did not mandate that Mass must be celebrated “facing the people”, and indeed, the rubrics and instructions of the Roman Missal, in several places, clearly presume that Mass will be celebrated according to the immemorial custom of ad orientem. Thus, to use this posture is perfectly legitimate, even in the “new Mass”. There is a great richness and depth in celebrating the Mass so that people and priest are facing the same direction, united in prayer. I hope that we all may have our faith enriched and gain a new perspective on the liturgy by making use of this ancient tradition over the next two weeks.