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Ad Orientem Masses - Part 2 - February 23, 2020

Photo of Fr. Don EvertsPhoto of Fr. Kyle Sladek
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Praised be Jesus Christ!  Lent begins this Wednesday. Hard to believe, isn’t it?  Be sure to read this Bulletin and the insert to see all the opportunities available for growing in your spirituality. Last week we wrote to introduce an exciting opportunity to experience Mass “ad orientem.” Today we would like to address some common questions about this style of worship.

  1. What is “ad orientem”? What does it mean?
  2. A. “Ad orientem” is a Latin phrase that means “facing the East.” “East” refers to “Liturgical East,” not geographical East. Liturgical East is the direction from which we will first glimpse the return of the Risen and Coming Christ, so it is the direction of Catholic worship.
  3. Why have I never seen Mass celebrated this way? I thought it stopped a long time ago.
  4. A. Mass celebrated ad orientem goes back to the earliest days of the Church. In fact, scholars believe that at the first Mass – the Last Supper – our Lord and His Apostles were all seated on the same side of a C-shaped table, thus facing the same direction! (See DaVinci’s Last Supper, for example.)  Mass celebrated ad orientem was typical throughout the ages, in both Roman and Eastern Catholic rites.   

Permission was granted around 1969 to celebrate Mass facing the people (“versus populum”).  As bishops and priests began to experiment with the new permission, the practice of the priest facing the congregation at the altar became common, to the point where it became almost impossible to experience Mass ad orientem in the decades following the 2nd Vatican Council.

  1. Is this even allowed? I thought it was banned.
  2. A. Mass ad orientem enjoys full favor of universal liturgical law. It has never been banned and, because of the status it enjoys in law, diocesan bishops may not prohibit Masses celebrated this way, just as they may not prohibit Masses facing the people.
  3. Why does the priest have his back to us? Why can’t I see anything?
  4. A. The priest doesn’t have his back to you. He has his face toward God in the Liturgical East. The ordained priest leads the baptized priests up God’s mountain He stands in the person of Christ, the Head of His Body, the Church. When the words of the Mass and orientation of worship are physically directed toward God, something essential about prayer, liturgy,   and worship is expressed.  While it may seem like you can’t see what’s happening at the altar, it’s important to remember that you – and the priest – never truly see what’s happening. Even after the Consecration, the Eucharist remains veiled under the species of bread and wine. We know Jesus is there; we believe He’s there; but we can’t see Him. The ad orientem posture is simply another symbolic veil over the Eucharist. And, even in this posture, our Eucharistic Lord can be seen at the Elevation, the Doxology, the “Behold the Lamb of God” and, of course, at Communion.
  5. This seems like we are going backwards. What are the advantages to doing this?
  6. A. Mass ad orientem is not a movement backward, to some imagined “halcyon days” in Church history. Rather, it is a movement deeper into the rich treasures of our liturgical tradition. Call it “liturgical diversity.” This style of worship has been available to the faithful at all points of Catholic history, and it has been the posture of prayer for century upon century of saints, martyrs, and ordinary faithful.  Many who experience this style of worship, especially young people, testify that it helps them to pray and to focus on God. Indeed, many children have found this orientation to be prayerful and logical, thus helping them to learn the Mass.

This is a worthy option to offer, not simply because it connects liturgy to tradition, or because it represents a deep fidelity to the principles and rubrics of Divine worship, but because it nourishes people spiritually. It helps them encounter Jesus Christ and become His friends and disciples.

  1. This is only offered during Lent, so it’s penitential?
  2. A. No. There is nothing inherently penitential about Mass ad orientem. It’s just another way to offer Mass. “Same Mass. Same Eucharist.  Same Direction.”

We hope you will take advantage of this powerful opportunity to turn toward the Lord and experience Christ’s love, mercy, and grace this Lent! Check the Bulletin for Mass dates and locations.

In Christ,

Fr. Kyle and Fr. Don

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