If you've been around this blog for any length of time, you know that I am of the opinion that Mass said versus populum makes the baby Jesus cry.
That being said, one of my goals is to see Mass said ad orientem as the norm once again. Here is the beginning of a fantastic 5 part series by Father Scott Newman, pastor of St Mary's in Greenville on ad orientem worship.
Dear Friends in Christ,
From Christian antiquity, priests and people have celebrated the Holy Eucharist by facing together towards the LORD. This simple and obvious theological precept has been somewhat obscured in the last generation by the novel practice of the priest standing across the altar from the people during the Eucharistic Prayer, a custom almost never before found in the sacred liturgy except for rare instances of architectural necessity, and in the last few years, theologians and pastors have begun to review this novelty in light of the best scholarship and the experience of the past 40 years.
Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger was one of the most thoughtful and respected critics of the unintended consequences which flow from the priest and people facing each other across the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer. Ratzinger argued that this arrangement, in addition to being a radical novelty in Christian practice, has the effect of creating a circle of congregation and celebrant closed in upon itself rather than allowing the congregation and celebrant to be a pilgrim people together turned towards the LORD. And this closed circle, in turn, too easily renders the Eucharist more of a horizontal celebration of the congregation gathered than a vertical offering of the sacrifice of Christ to the Father. This flattening of divine worship into a self-referential celebration is, in part, what leads many Catholics to experience Mass as much less than the source and summit of the Church’s life, and the remedy for this malady is to open the closed circle and experience the power of turning together towards the LORD.
This can be done primarily in two ways: 1) return to the ancient and universal practice of the priest standing with the people on one side of the altar as they together face liturgical East, the place from which the glory of the LORD shines upon us, or 2) even when the priest and people remain separated on opposite sides of the altar, place a cross at the center of the altar to allow both celebrant and congregation to face the LORD. Pope Benedict, through his writing and by his example, is encouraging priests everywhere to work towards these goals to enrich the experience of divine worship and free us from the danger of solipsism which is contained in self-referential ways of praying.
This is why you see today in the sanctuary a new crucifix standing at the center of the altar. In the weeks ahead, as we grow accustomed to this gentle modification of the way we pray together, I will review with you the meaning and practical consequences of the priest and people turning together towards the LORD. For those of you who would like to read about these matters in some depth, I recommend two books. The Spirit of the Liturgy by Joseph Ratzinger and Turning Towards the Lord by Uwe Michael Lang are both excellent places to learn about the nature and purpose of divine worship and the ways in which the Church’s ritual must reflect the reality of the sacred in liturgical prayer.