Facing East? REALLY?

Ad orientem, or facing away from the people.  When I first read facing East, I actually thought, “I already face East”… took a second for this image to appear in my mind

ad orientem
Facing East

Stunned and then figured I was dreaming.  I figured I would just have my people turn around and we would all be covered.  I already have a Mass in the extraordinary form, I didn’t need that for everyone else too!

But as seems par for the course with this Pope, the ship was quickly righted and normalcy restored.

But It got me thinking.  Instantly, I had a bad reaction to that statement. I heard the remarks just after preaching about the universal Church.  I think a huge issue for the Western Church especially in the US, is that we forget that we are just one part of the Church of over a billion members.  We have less than 75,000,000 Catholics in this country, a fraction of the whole.  Our force is great in the world, but in a Church of Mercy and universality, we have to remember it isn’t just us, we are catholic.  Our very title means universal, we can’t lose sight of the richness of that gift.


I like how the Pope is reaching out to the smaller countries and naming Cardinals where there have never been Cardinals before.  But when we look to facing East, that is a cultural things for us.  We have in only about 40 years yet to totally embraced the dialogue of the Eucharist.  It isn’t what the priest does for the people, it is what we do together as one people on a journey together.

I always have thought that when there were multiple priests that we were co-confecting.  The assembled faithful are the true concelebrants or those that celebrate with.  That is a topic for another blog.

14 thoughts on “Facing East? REALLY?”

      1. That seems like kind of a divisive statement, Fr. Pat. We say that our clergy face east because they are, like us, seeking the face of Christ, worshiping together. The modern Roman practice seems much more like the priest at the altar is the object of worship, sort of lording himself over the people. Here’s a pretty good explanation of the Eastern approach to orientation. http://www.orthodox.net/journal/2009-05-16.html

        1. That is a good article, my comment from the Latin Rite is that the priest is not the focus, it is the Altar and the sacrifice on the altar as in the reading today, the memorial of Mary Mother and Queen. We gather around the table of the Lord, the priest in the person of Christ leading the community in prayer. It isn’t my secret offering, but all of our lives together on that table of sacrifice.

  1. Too bad the Latin church so recently decided to depart from the rest of the Church’s practice on that particular aspect of the divine liturgy. It may be a small detail, but it was at least a unifying one. 🙁

  2. The Western church is not the main part of the Church, it is numerically the largest part of the Church, big difference. “[W]hat really unifies us is our faith.” This statement conveys the lack of awareness on the part of so many Romans. Do you know that in many languages, the saints who spread the faith East translated “orthodox” not as “right believing” but rather “right worshipping”? You speak of unity, but you disrespect your own heritage, in it’s most important aspects, namely the worship of the Thrice-holy God. It is extremely hard for an Orthodox person to take seriously so much of what Romans say regarding unity in faith, because the innovations in their worship scream, “We don’t believe any of the stuff we’re saying!” You systematically got rid of almost every external sign of your faith that was present for millennia in the liturgy. Faith in the Real Presence? This most holy Mystery used to be received kneeling at the altar rail in the West, now everybody tramps up into the sanctuary and you give it to them in their hands, that is unless non-consecrated hands are the ones distributing it here there and everywhere. Receiving worthily? The discipline of the Universal Church was to fast from midnight the night before and receive the mystery of confession before communing with the Divine. Now in most Roman churches, you’re lucky if there’s confession offered at regular times, besides maybe half and hour on Saturday. As for fasting, HA! Even the Great Fast to prepare your soul for the Feast of feasts has been reduced to 8 days without meat and skipping 2 meals, so fat chance, the Divine Liturgy receive something more severe. Music? Architecture? Sacred ministers? Dress? Liturgical orientation? Those who look upon the modern Western liturgy with Eastern eyes, if they do not dismiss the faith of those who create it outright, are left uttering the challenge of St. James, “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”

    1. First off, I am just a priest, I had nothing to do with the reforms. I am entrusted with the Church’s liturgy, I didn’t systematically do anything but pray the liturgy as it was given to me for God’s people. I see very few people tramp up to communion, I see the faithful approach the altar, bow and receive their Lord. I too would be upset if people “tramped” up to communion. There are many discipline that have changed as our understanding of the world and our lives have changed. We condemned Galileo and recently just forgave him for saying the Earth was not the center of the universe/solar system. There is a problem with people believing in the real presence but much to my shock and working with my Mass in the Extraordinary Form people is isn’t just for the Novus Ordo Western Church. I think if anything from your comments strike me the most is the contract to that of Jesus and especially Jesus in the Gospel of John. There are many ways to God. Jesus picked Peter and now we have Francis. There are other parts, but it is hard for me to say that the part of the Catholic Church, with the rite that I celebrate isn’t the main when not only is it the biggest by numbers, at its head is the Pope. Yes he is the head for all, but we have no separate hierarchy. Just because people do see the beauty in a liturgy, doesn’t mean it isn’t there for others.

      1. I think you’re not being honest about how much the individual priest is responsible for many of the things done in the name of “reform”. The reforms called for by Vatican II were very tame in comparison to what is actually done in practice. The documents of Vatican II and the GIRM say nothing about not facing east, or receiving communion on the tongue or doing away with communion rails or doing away with Latin or constructing ugly church buildings or removing high altars or taking out tabernacles or, or, or… Within a single diocese, a Roman can go to one parish in which only the modern Liturgy is offered where the priest faces east, the most important parts of the liturgy are in the rite’s sacred language, the liturgical hymns are chanted, incense is used, only consecrated hands touch the Body and Blood of the Lord, paternal leadership is reinforced through male-only acolytes, the sacred ministers are dressed in noble vestments. (All of these things are held in common with the way the Divine Liturgy is offered in the East, by the way.) Yet the next parish over has a priest that faces the people, uses a mixture of vernacular languages, has a band with a snare drum set, no incense, an army of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, altar boys, altar girls, altar men and/or altar women, and the priest is dressed in polyester rags (or worse). In both cases, the priests could legitimately say, “I don’t do anything but pray the liturgy as it was given to me for God’s people.” Do you really not see anything wrong with this? The Divine Liturgy, no longer is governed by the Roman church in a meaningful way, but rather by the personality of the celebrant or his liturgical committee or the third grade class of Mrs. Cleaver, whose turn it is to lead the children’s liturgy. It’s no wonder, there are so many “cafeteria catholics” and “church hoppers”. If you don’t like your neighborhood parish, just drive down the road and there’s one that suits your tastes.

        1. There have been abuses by some priests, but the documents are all clear that we are entrusted with the liturgy to accomplish/pray it as instructed. And technically you are correct that it was not in Vat II docs, but it was the documents like Sacram Liturgiam and Pope Paul VI’s Inter Oecumenici that were based in the directions from Vat II enabling the reform. So it is still the reform based in and called for by Vat II. The Mass is also an offering of the local people and needs to represent the community gathered. Not everyone can afford $1000 vestments and in a poor parish struggling to pay their electric bill, would that be appropriate? That said, the basic form of the liturgy is the same. The words prayed are the same for each parish, yet the music representing those gathered might be very different. This has to be to foster the full and active participation of the faithful in the liturgy which was called for numerous times in Vat II Documents.

  3. As I read through your post and then through these comments, Father, I’ve been struck by how strongly you place emphasis on the people in a specific community and their “needs” or desires, sometimes, it seems, even over the needs of our Lord. You also seem to embrace the idea that the laity is no different than a priest, that the sacrament of holy orders does not convey any great gifts of grace or command any extra respect for an alter Christi. If that is the case, then why even have priests? You don’t *actually* believe that the laity concelebrate the Mass, right? Was that just a figure of speech?

    Next, if the emphasis on worship is rightly ordered to God and not the wants of a specific community, then we must acknowledge that there is a “highest good” that we can offer to our Lord, no matter which community is present at the sacrifice of the Mass. As Mr. Ferguson mentioned above, a priest facing East (our Lord), using the language of the Church (Latin) for certain parts of the Mass, and using Gregorian chant (which is to be given “pride of place”) seems to be the highest good for our Lord, as it is more in unity with the universal Church, in continuity with the Mass for centuries prior to Vatican II, and as called for in Vatican II and in many documents since then. Each priest has the duty to make their Mass as glorious and respectful of our Lord as possible. The community’s highest need is the salvation of their souls; therefore, even if they enjoy a priest changing the rubrics of the Mass or choosing Protestant worship hymns to fit their specific personalities, they need a priest who will say no in service of their souls instead.

    Also, in a church with a very poor community, yes, $1000 vestments can and should be a very good thing. I know that many people believe in the social justice doctrine, that our parishes should all be poor and ugly so we can do more for poor people, but it is for our priests to remind us that our duty is to first save souls. And what saves souls? Beauty. Truth. Sacrifice. Beyond that, we always are called to give our very best to God. Extremely poor communities find pride and joy in giving all their money to build beautiful and beautifully adorned churches (practically every gorgeous Church in history was built by the offerings of extremely poor people) and in dressing their “alter Christi” in splendid vestments. Our Lord reminded us that “the poor will always be with us.” So our main goal is to give our very best to our Lord, not to have our Church or our priest use the laity as an excuse not to give our Lord their best. As a member of the laity with a very young, growing family who sacrifices much of our income to give in service of the Church, I find an ugly church with less than glorious sacred vessels or vestments insulting. That Name which is above all other names deserves better.

    In the end, it seems that what actually happens within each modern parish is that, instead of a priest considering the true needs (salvation) of his parishioners or the true needs (right worship) of our Heavenly Father, what ends up happening is that each priest’s personal preferences for what they desire become what is offered at their parish. Yes, there are a myriad of Eucharistic prayers and hymns and languages to choose from, so instead of universality, we have become a fractured church of personal choices. I think you would be hard pressed to find a priest with a great affection for guitar Masses and altar girls to also be, themselves, offering and promulgating the Extraordinary Form of the Mass or even a Mass not versus populi. This overabundance of arbitrary variety, even in reverent forms of worship, is what leads people to church hop. Why not when each church is different and each Mass is offered differently? You may not understand or believe in the beauty of ad orientem worship, personally, but will you offer that option for your parishioners despite your personal preference?

    1. In the sense the a priest concelebrates or co-confects Eucharist no, but we are all there together and by each persons presence it is a different sacrifice, the priest is the only one there “in persona Christi”. The dicastries don’t even all use Latin anymore. I had some dealings with the Congregation for the Clergy, all of my correspondence was in English. In a time past Latin was the Language of the Church, even most classes in Rome are taught in Italian. Social justice doesn’t mean we have to have ugly churches, I have never seen that as part of the teaching of the Church, but a simple and reverent church with the attention focused on God is a good thing and extra funding for the poor is even better.
      I am not sure what you meet by promulgating, but if you had been reading everything, at 1210 every Sunday and 800 every Saturday, we have the Mass in the extraordinary form. When I arrived at my new parish, I had all the music ministers read the document “Sing to the Lord”, we discuss what is good music and what isn’t.
      We are fractured, a Church council moved us forward and some are not ready to move. We however still need to minister to them and be present to them. We are all God’s people, none of us are perfect and our flaws affect the CHurch in different ways. Jesus never would have selected Peter as first Pope if that isn’t what was intended.

  4. I did not know or think that you, yourself, celebrate the Latin Mass. Do you? Forgive any misunderstanding on my part there. I did not expect a priest with your outlook, even on a simple matter such as facing East, to be too keen on celebrating Mass in the extraordinary form at your parish.

    I do see you still approaching any discussion of liturgy through the lens of personal preference and what you, personally, have been exposed to instead of approaching the liturgy looking to what would be most unifying and edifying for the souls of the laity. You, yourself, were not much exposed to Latin or Tradition, and so it seems you feel that it is not only unimportant to the faith but also old fashioned. You state that the fracturing in our present Church is because of some people holding on to (preserving?) traditions and practices which were part of the Church for centuries. You seem to be implying that people need to “get with the times.” As you know, what eventually emerged from the second Vatican council is very unlike what was called for by that council (never mind any previous councils and supposed organic growth). So, perhaps those who ran rampant with innovations to the liturgy and practices after that council are more to blame for a fracturing of the Church than those who lovingly seek to preserve what all our forefathers handed on to us (2 Thessalonians 2:15). I know that priests are spread thin after the vocations crisis after Vatican II, but maybe you should take the time to get to know these extraordinary form parishioners personally. It’s something to consider, the fact that you could be wrong on that very divisive view of your own parishioners. Poor them, to be so looked down upon as the divisive ones. Do you think that, as you pastorally administer the sacraments in the traditional form to them or go bless their homes? Yikes. I hope none of them have the misfortune to read your blog.

    My guess is that if you look out at the congregation during your ordinary form Masses and your 1 extraordinary form Mass on Sunday (much harder in the extraordinary form, as you’ll be facing our Lord), you’ll see a difference in average family size and modesty in dress. There’s the future of our Church. That’s something to consider as you further laud where “progress” in the Church has gotten us…

    1. ” lens of personal preference and what you, personally, have been exposed to instead of approaching the liturgy” It isn’t about what I see personally, it is about what the Church gives us as our liturgy. I don’t like everything, but it isn’t up to me.

      “You, yourself, were not much exposed to Latin or Tradition, and so it seems you feel that it is not only unimportant to the faith but also old fashioned. ” I should stop reading at this point, how can yo judge me that way? I had a father that stopped going to Mass with the 2nd Vatican Council and have lived for 6 years in Europe and have and continue to study the history of our faith. Just because I believe it has evolved from the Council of Trent or even the 1962 Missal, does not in any way mean that I don’t respect our tradition! My dad was a server and to the day he died could do all the parts of the mass in Latin.

      This is the last comment I approve if you continue with your judgments about me and my parish. I preached at all the masses my first two weekends here and told everyone that I would show up at all events I was invited to to the best of my ability and Time, I have done that. Many of my MEF parishioners home school and I’ve opened up that parish center to them. Many live quite a distance away and only come for Mass. Finally, Just because I don’t understand something, which I have told them, doesn’t mean they don’t get respect and the space they need.

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