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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Reorienting the Mass

This article from Zenit (by way of Catholic Online) helps to explain the posture of the priest facing with the people towards the altar during Holy Mass. This posture, known as "ad orientem" (to the east) is the common posture in what is now called the "Extraordinary Form" of the Holy Mass, and is allowable, although sadly not widely practiced, in the Ordinary Form.

There is something beautiful, and unitive, about the people facing with the priest during the offering of the Holy Sacrifice. It symbolizes the fact that together, as the Church, we are all a pilgrim people moving together towards the Lord through out life. One body acting in concert towards one goal. It is not impossible to express this facing the people, but more difficult and sadly, as we have seen born out, easily lost.

What has been lost in wide measure is that the Mass is a dialogue with God, and not with each other (just it is also missed that the Mass is what God does for man and not man for God) . I believe that the common posture of priest and people accentuates and supports this divine dialogue. I also believe that this posture also accentuates the role of priest as head and shepherd, standing in the person of Christ, acting as mediator between God and man. Why is their a dearth of men answering the call to priesthood? The answer is legion, and no simple answer will suffice. However, I am sure that among those answers that could be had is the "new" and false model of priest as facilitator of the community's worship instead of the true model of priest as alter Christus, standing in the person of Christ, offering the true sacrifice of Calvary for the salvation of the world. This is a mystery worth living and dying for.

Questions and comments are welcome.

God love you!

Reorienting the Mass
Father Lang Comments on “Ad Orientem"

LONDON, SEPT. 26, 2007 (Zenit) - The statement asserting that the priest celebrating the older form of the Mass has "his back to the people" misses the point, says Father Uwe Michael Lang.

The posture "ad orientem," or "facing east," is about having a common direction of liturgical prayer, he adds.

Father Lang of the London Oratory, and recently appointed to work for the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church, is the author of "Turning Toward the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer." The book was first published in German by Johannes Verlag and then in English by Ignatius Press. The book has also appeared in Italian, French, Hungarian and Spanish.

In this interview with us, Father Lang speaks about the "ad orientem" posture and the possibilities for a rediscovery of the ancient liturgical practice.

Q: How did the practice of celebrating the liturgy "ad orientem," or "facing east," develop in the early Church? What is its theological significance?

Father Lang: In most major religions, the position taken in prayer and the layout of holy places is determined by a "sacred direction." The sacred direction in Judaism is toward Jerusalem or, more precisely, toward the presence of the transcendent God -- "shekinah" -- in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, as seen in Daniel 6:10.

Even after the destruction of the Temple, the custom of turning toward Jerusalem was kept in the liturgy of the synagogue. This is how the Jews have expressed their eschatological hope for the coming of the Messiah, the rebuilding of the Temple, and the gathering of God's people from the diaspora.

The early Christians no longer turned toward the earthly Jerusalem, but toward the new, heavenly Jerusalem. It was their firm belief that when the Risen Christ would come again in glory, he would gather his faithful to make up this heavenly city.

They saw in the rising sun a symbol of the Resurrection and of the Second Coming, and it was a matter of course for them to pray facing this direction. There is strong evidence of eastward prayer in most parts of the Christian world from the second century onward.

In the New Testament, the special significance of the eastward direction for worship is not explicit.

Even so, tradition has found many biblical references for this symbolism, for instance: the "sun of righteousness" in Malachi 4:2; the "day dawning from on high" in Luke 1:78; the angel ascending from the rising of the sun with the seal of the living God in Revelation 7:2; and the imagery of light in St John's Gospel.

In Matthew 24:27-30, the sign of the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory, which appears as the lightning from the east and shines as far as the west, is the cross.

There is a close connection between eastward prayer and the cross; this is evident by the fourth century, if not earlier. In synagogues of this period, the corner with the receptacle for the Torah scrolls indicated the direction of prayer -- "qibla" -- toward Jerusalem.

Among Christians, it became a general custom to mark the direction of prayer with a cross on the east wall in the apses of basilicas as well as in private rooms, for example, of monks and solitaries.

Toward the end of the first millennium, we find theologians of different traditions noting that prayer facing east is one of the practices distinguishing Christianity from the other religions of the Near East: Jews pray toward Jerusalem, Muslims pray toward Mecca, but Christians pray toward the east.

Q: Do any of the other rites of the Catholic Church employ the "ad orientem" liturgical posture?

Father Lang: "Facing east" in liturgical prayer is part of the Byzantine, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian traditions. It is still the custom in most of the Eastern rites, at least during the Eucharistic prayer.

A few Eastern Catholic Churches -- for example, the Maronite and the Syro-Malabar -- have lately adopted "Mass facing the people," but this is owing to modern Western influence and not in keeping with their authentic traditions.

For this reason, the Vatican Congregation for Eastern Churches declared in 1996 that the ancient tradition of praying toward the east has a profound liturgical and spiritual value and must be preserved in the Eastern rites.

Q: We often hear that "facing east" means the priest is celebrating "with his back to the people." What is really going on when the priest celebrates Mass "ad orientem"?

Father Lang: That catchphrase often heard nowadays, that the priest "is turning his back on the people," misses the crucial point that the Mass is a common act of worship in which priest and people together -- representing the pilgrim Church -- reach out for the transcendent God.

What is at issue here is not the celebration "toward the people" or "away from the people," but rather the common direction of liturgical prayer. This is maintained whether or not the altar is literally facing east; in the West, many churches built since the 16th century are no longer "oriented" in the strict sense.

By facing the same direction as the faithful when he stands at the altar, the priest leads the people of God on their journey of faith. This movement toward the Lord has found sublime expression in the sanctuaries of many churches of the first millennium, where representations of the cross or of the glorified Christ illustrate the goal of the assembly's earthly pilgrimage.

Looking out for the Lord keeps the eschatological character of the Eucharist alive and reminds us that the celebration of the sacrament is a participation in the heavenly liturgy and a pledge of future glory in the presence of the living God.

This gives the Eucharist its greatness, saving the individual community from closing in upon itself and opening it toward the assembly of the angels and saints in the heavenly city.

Q: In what ways does "facing east" during the liturgy foster a dialogue with the Lord?

Father Lang: The paramount principle of Christian worship is the dialogue between the people of God as a whole, including the celebrant, and God, to whom their prayer is addressed.

This is why the French liturgist Marcel Metzger argues that the phrases "facing the people" and "back to the people" exclude the one to whom all prayer is directed, namely God.

The priest does not celebrate the Eucharist "facing the people," whatever direction he faces; rather, the whole congregation celebrates facing God, through Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit.

Q: In the foreword to your book, then Cardinal Ratzinger notes that none of the documents of the Second Vatican Council asked for the altar to be turned toward the people. How did this change come about? What was the basis for such a major reorientation of the liturgy?

Father Lang: Two main arguments in favor of the celebrant's position facing the people are usually presented.

First, it is often said that this was the practice of the early Church, which should be the norm for our age; however, a close study of the sources shows that this claim does not hold.

Second, it is maintained that the "active participation" of the faithful, a principle that was introduced by Pope Pius X and is central to "Sacrosanctum Concilium," demanded celebration toward the people.

Recent critical reflection on the concept of "active participation" has revealed the need for a theological reappraisal of this important principle.

In his book "The Spirit of the Liturgy," then Cardinal Ratzinger draws a useful distinction between participation in the Liturgy of the Word, which includes external actions, and participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where external actions are quite secondary, since the interior participation of prayer is the heart of the matter.

The Holy Father's recent postsynodal apostolic exhortation "Sacramentum Caritatis" has an important discussion of this topic in Paragraph 52.

Q: Is a priest forbidden from "facing east" in the new order of the Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970? Is there any juridical obstacle prohibiting wider use of this ancient practice?

Father Lang: A combination of priest and people facing each other during the Liturgy of the Word and turning jointly toward the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, especially for the Canon, is a legitimate option in the Missal of Pope Paul VI.

The revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal, which was first published for study purposes in 2000, addresses the altar question in Paragraph 299; it seems to declare the position of the celebrant "ad orientem" undesirable or even prohibited.

However, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments rejected this interpretation in a response to a question submitted by Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, archbishop of Vienna. Obviously, the relevant paragraph of the General Instruction must be read in light of this response, which was dated Sept. 25, 2000.

Q: Will Pope Benedict's recent apostolic letter liberalizing the use of the Missal of John XXIII, "Summorum Pontificum," foster a deeper appreciation for "turning toward the Lord" during the Mass?

Father Lang: I think many reservations or even fears about Mass "ad orientem" come from lack of familiarity with it, and the spread of the "extraordinary use" of the Roman rite will help many people to discover and appreciate this form of celebration.

Contact: Catholic Online CA, USCatholic Online - Publisher, 661-869-1000


Anonymous said...

In his The Spirit of the Liturgy Ratzinger all but demands the return of the ad orientem. I am a little bit astonished not that he is Pope, Papa Ratzi has not outlawed versus populo by now. Of course, he has not done that because it would be too much of a disorienting shock. People need to be prepared first just like they were prepared for the guitar masses in really bad English. Oh, wait...

Anonymous said...

In his The Spirit of the Liturgy Ratzinger all but demands the return of the ad orientem. I am a little bit astonished now that he is Pope, Papa Ratzi has not outlawed versus populo by now. Of course, he has not done that because it would be too much of a disorienting shock. People need to be prepared first just like they were prepared for the guitar masses in really bad English. Oh, wait...

Anonymous said...

I also believe that this posture also accentuates the role of priest as head and shepherd, standing in the person of Christ, acting as mediator between God and man.

I think that this could be part of the problem; many priests today are uncomfortable with being seen as other than 'one of the boys'. A couple of Sundays ago our priest, who had a cold, said to the congregation "If I can't finish this Mass one of you will have to take over!"


Sister Mary Martha said...

Please feel free to post my "What Brown Can Do for You" here on your blog. I would be honored.

Benedict Newman said...

The priest facing the people has also created a real and ugly form of CLERICALIsM! It's now "Father so-and-so's Mass." He's the center, all eyes on him. The stupidest thing I have seen in my life is the priest making eye contact with the people when he's saying the prayers to God.

SYA said...

Before the Syond Order In Syro Malabar Church,the dioceses like Changanacherry, Pala, Tellicherry, Kanjirapally etc have been celebrating the Qurbana in the most ideal way completely facing the east. Diocese of Ernakulam Angamaly and Thrissur were celebrating the Qurbana completly facing the people.

To overcome the factional dispute the Holy Syond of Syro Malabar stipulate that Qurbana need to be celebrated half and half facing the people and facing the altar. The Synod order also direct Facing the East is the most ideal way where ever possible it should be followed ideally.

After the Syond decision diocese of Pala, Tellicherry, Kanjirapally etc have been celebrating the Qurbana half and half honoring the Synod order. Diocese of Ernakulam Angamaly and Thrissur are still celebrating the Qurbana completely facing the people dishonoring the decision of Holy Syond.

The only exception is Changanasherry where Qurbana is celebrated in the most oriental way.

Now the Latin rite is moving toward Holy Mass facing East and it’s a pity that the Syro Malabar Bishops and priests are happy with left over’s of western influence forgetting the authentic traditions of Church.

Thomas said...

The main point should be whether the Divine Liturgy should be God facing of priest facing, Now, it is a performance staged by the priest, to please the people, himself and then God, with improvised signs and symbols, punctuated with humor. Whether it is in the Eastern rite or the West, let us all start marching, together towards God, led by the celebrating priest. There are any number of verses in the holy Bible showing the East as the symbolic direction from where the almighty arrive.