Turning Together Towards the LORD – Part V

Turning Together Towards the LORD – Part V
“O Radiant Dawn, splendor of eternal light, sun of justice: Come, shine on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.” - O Antiphon for December 20th
In the last four weeks, we’ve seen that:
until the 1960’s the vast majority of Christians in every time and place offered the sacrifice of
the Most Holy Eucharist with the priest and people standing together turned towards the Lord as
symbolized in the Crucifix and sacred art.
this ancient and universal practice of offering the Eucharistic Prayer ad orientem, or facing East
(whether geographical or liturgical East), is rooted in Judaism and the practice of the first
Christians. It emphasizes the vertical dimension of worship by opening the circle of priest and
people to the presence of God among us in the sacred liturgy. For this reason, the custom of
facing the liturgical East is also described as praying ad Deum or towards God.
this form of prayer, properly understood and celebrated, many believe enhances full, active and
conscious participation by removing the priest from the center of the action and allows him to
be once again merely a steward of the Sacred Mysteries rather than a host charged with
entertaining his guests.
the II Vatican Council is silent about the direction in which the priest should face at the altar;
and even now the rubrics of the modern Roman Missal are written with the assumption that the
priest is facing together with the people towards the liturgical east. Moreover, the Congregation
for Divine Worship has clarified that facing towards the liturgical east and facing the
congregation are both equally lawful. Both are legitimate options of celebration of the Mass.
Pope Benedict’s public celebration ad orientem before Michelangelo's fresco of the Last
Judgment in the Sistine Chapel offers inspiration to rediscovering this beautiful treasure of this
ancient posture of prayer. In fact the Pope celebrates the Mass using this direction of prayer
everyday in his chapel.
For all of these reasons, we will begin to celebrate Mass ad Deum at St. Benedict's at the start of
the Advent season. We will celebrate the Mass in this fashion for some time until the priest, deacons
and assembly of the lay faithful have had the opportunity to grow accustomed to a practice that is
unfamiliar to us, despite being the traditional direction of Christian worship for nearly all of our history.
After a suitable period of acclimation, I will evaluate our progress and review the best practices for our
parish. During this time of rediscovery, I ask only that everyone (no matter whether you support
this decision, oppose it, or have no opinion) have an open mind and exercise patience, prudence,
and charity. This return to our own tradition is not an exercise of change for the sake of change; it is,
rather, an effort to respond to the leadership of our Holy Father, who reminds us that what has been
held sacred by all generations of Christians is to be held sacred by us. Let’s work together in this
retrieval of an ancient and noble part of Christian prayer to see how it might strengthen our union with
the Lord Jesus and deepen our capacity to worship the Father in Spirit and truth.
Recently a priest in Massachusetts restored the Mass in a common direction. He writes, “After
Mass, an elderly parishioner came into the sacristy and thanked me for saying Mass facing the altar,
'like it used to be'. Nostalgia, perhaps. But then one has to consider the observations of my 13-year-old
altar boy: 'That was so different, Father. I think I would like Mass that way all the time. It just seemed - well -- better focused.' Better focused. That pretty well sums it up. This from a boy blissfully
oblivious to post-Vatican II liturgical squabbles, whose parents can recall only dimly the pre-conciliar
Heavenly Father, please bless our parish that as we worship you through your Son that we may
be led by the Holy Spirit into your presence focused on your love, beauty and goodness. Amen.
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