Saturday, September 06, 2008

ad orientem


Another aspect of our human life is the work we do in sacred worship. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is also called the Sacred Liturgy. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has set the stage for a renewal and renaissance of Catholic worship. This was the intention and objective of the Council Fathers at Vatican II. As mentioned before, we will be learning and using some Latin for common parts of the Mass on one weekend a month. The first Sunday (and evening before) in Marysville and the last Sunday (and evening before) in Duncannon, we will be using the Kyrie (Greek: Lord Have Mercy), Gloria (Latin: Glory to God), Sanctus (Latin: Holy, Holy), Pater Noster (Latin: Our Father), and Agnus Dei (Latin: Lamb of God). They are found in #862-869 of the large Music Issue of Today’s Missal. 'Catholic' comes from the Greek word katholikos which means 'universal' One obvious and poignant way to demonstrate the universality of our church is to use a universal language as well as our own vernacular.

If you watch the TV Mass on EWTN, you will be familiar with these. Even though only once a month, we will become more comfortable and familiar with our rich patrimony. Eastern Orthodox Americans speak fluent English yet use plenty of Greek in their weekly worship just as Jewish Americans use Hebrew in theirs. Latin is the official and traditional language of the Roman Catholic Church and coexists with the vernacular.

Once a month we will also utilize one of the options afforded the celebrant. Every priest is allowed to celebrate Mass facing the people (versus populum) or facing the Tabernacle (versus apsidem). I will do the latter once a month so you can appreciate and experience one of our beautiful customs going back to antiquity. Originally, all priests had to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy AD ORIENTEM, i.e., facing east. Churches were literally built so that the priest AND congregation both faced EAST during public worship. The reason was that the sun rose each day in the east. The Son of God rose from the dead on Easter morning, when the sun rose in the East. Hence, Christians were keen to respect that by facing east when they worshipped their Lord and Savior. Churches were built from Ancient to Mediaeval times facing east. The priest was not seen as ‘turning his back’ on the congregation, rather, BOTH priest and congregation were facing east TOGETHER. Does the bus driver or airplane pilot have his/her back toward the passengers OR rather is he/she facing the same direction of the destination everyone hopes to arrive at?

One of the dangers of exclusivlely celebrating Mass versus populum (facing the people) is that the Celebrant may be tempted to see himself as performing for the congregation. He is not on stage as an actor nor is a director or conductor guiding those in the audience. He is a LEADER of prayer and leaders POINT in the right direction. Great Generals led their armies in battle and both faced the same direction to victory. When the priest and the people both face the same direction, they are also doing the same thing, i.e., worshipping God.

The Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, the Byzantine Catholic Churches, and many Lutheran and Anglican churches have worship services where the celebrant faces east with the congregation. Where it is geographically impossible to face east (ad orientem), the custom arose for the priest and people to face the Tabernacle (versus apsidem) since that is where the Body & Blood, Soul & Divinity of Christ was always present. Facing the Blessed Sacrament was in essence facing east since the east symbolized the Rising SON (and not just the rising SUN). Therefore, once a month, I shall celebrate Mass facing the Tabernacle, just as you do every time you sit in the pews. WE will be facing the same direction TOGETHER and not me turning my back on you as some would erroneously claim. It is only once a month but I think it important to do since it is part of our legacy, it is done all the time in the Extraordinary form of the Roman Rite (Tridentine Mass) and it is a valid and licit option in the Ordinary form (Novus Ordo or Vatican II Mass). The Scripture readings and homily will still be given facing the people since they are directed toward you. The prayers of worship directed toward God, however, will be facing Him as He IS present in the Tabernacle. Just as we have a diversity of music and language, we have a diversity of proper liturgical forms as part of our Catholic heritage. We should embrace the fullness of whom we are and how we worship.


Joe of St. Thérèse said...

Father, Thank you for leading your parish in the Liturgical Tradition of the Latin Rite.

It is much easier to pray the Mass when we are facing the Lord together (the NO) since the TLM is always offered Ad Orientem.

Continue the fine work.

Diane Korzeniewski said...

Truly, it is a whole new experience when the priest faces with the congregation. My pastor implemented it slowly about 5 years ago, along with some other things like latin in the liturgy, gregorian chant, and more.

We've been at it for 5 years now and I'll tell you that parishioners wouldn't have it any other way.

It is just one element that removes the person of the priest as he puts on Christ.

After I experienced it for about a month (daily Mass), I found myself back at another parish for a funeral. I found it highly distracting for the priest to be looking around at the congregation and at me. It pulled me out of the meditative quiet I had gone into. Several things pulled me out, but I can tell you that when someone looks at you, the human response is to look back.

A kind message to any of your parishioners who may be apprehensive or against this...

Seek not the face of the priest in the Mass, but the face of Almighty God.

This is easier done when he is not looking at you.

Adulio said...


Do you manage to celebrate the extraordinary form for your parishioners?

Black Biretta said...

I celebrate the Extraordinary form once a week on a weekday so I can become more proficient. I am not polished enough to go beyond a Low Mass and do not have the choir needed for a Solemn High.

Joe of St. Thérèse said...

I'm curious to know what was the response to the OF being celebrated Ad Orientem

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