Last week, Cardinal Robert Sarah who is the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (the person in the Vatican in charge of Liturgy) said that priests should celebrate Mass ‘ad orientem’ (facing East) rather than facing the congregation as they currently do, and he suggested that this start in Advent this year.
“It is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction – eastwards or at least towards the apse – to the Lord who comes.” Cardinal Sarah
As always, with any change, there will be those who are in favor of it and those who are against it. This topic has certainly sparked some debate among Catholics. The Catholic Herald reported yesterday that the Vatican has rejected Cardinal Sarah’s appeal. Here are four reasons this ‘reform of the reform’ could come to fruition.
1. It shows us what the liturgy is about
In a word, God. The liturgy is full of signs and symbols which help us to understand its meaning. The direction which the priest faces is another of these. The mass is not about the priest. It is also not about the congregation. It is about God, and about what God has done for us.
‘We carry out this command of the Lord by celebrating the memorial of his sacrifice. In doing so, we offer to the Father what he has himself given us: the gifts of his creation, bread and wine which, by the power of the Holy Spirit and by the words of Christ, have become the body and blood of Christ. Christ is thus really and mysteriously made present.’ CCC 1357.
2. It shows us what the priesthood is
Being a priest is not just a job, but it is easy to forget this. When a priest is preaching or visiting the housebound, or listening to people who are going through a hard time, he is indeed as Christ to them. But this is one side of the priest’s life and mission – he also stands with and for the people (the Church) before God and leads the people to God.
‘The ministerial priesthood has the task not only of representing Christ – Head of the Church – before the assembly of the faithful, but also of acting in the name of the whole Church when presenting to God the prayer of the Church, and above all when offering the Eucharistic sacrifice.’ CCC 1552
3. It shows us the role of the laity
Sometimes there can be an ‘us’ and ‘them’ thing when we talk about the clergy and the laity, or the priest and the people. Lay people may feel that to be more involved in their parish and grow in their faith and Christian lives is to take on the work of the priest. But we too, as lay people, have our mission (and it is epic):
‘Hence the laity, dedicated as they are to Christ and anointed by the Holy Spirit, are marvelously called and prepared so that even richer fruits of the Spirit may be produced in them. For all their works, prayers, and apostolic undertakings, family and married life, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are accomplished in the Spirit – indeed even the hardships of life if patiently born – all these become spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. In the celebration of the Eucharist these may most fittingly be offered to the Father along with the body of the Lord. And so, worshipping everywhere by their holy actions, the laity consecrate the world itself to God, everywhere offering worship by the holiness of their lives.’ CCC 901
4. It shows us what the Church is
How many ways can you complete the phrase “The Church is…”? This way of celebrating the Mass shows us many of them, as we all stand together looking towards God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Church is a Communion of Saints
‘The whole Church is united, bother those who are still alive and those who have already died. Our unity and togetherness in the liturgy reflects this mystery: ‘For if we continue to love one another and to join in praising the Most Holy Trinity – all of us who are sons of God and form one family in Christ – we will be faithful to the deepest vocation of the Church.’ CCC 959
The Church is Communion of the Sacraments
‘The fruit of all the sacraments belongs to all the faithful. All the sacraments are sacred links uniting the faithful with one another and binding them to Jesus Christ, and above all Baptism, the gate by which we enter into the Church…The name “communion” can be applied to all of them, for they unite us to God…But this name is better suited to the Eucharist than to any other because it is primarily the Eucharist that brings this communion about.’ CCC 950
Can you see how celebrating Mass ad orientem also shows other aspects of the Church – Body of Christ, People of God, One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic?