Fr Andrew Wise PP concludes a reflection upon Mass celebrated ad orientem:
Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, whose work in this area of liturgy has been translated into many languages, links this specifically to the celebration of the Mass when he writes –
Mass is a common act of worship in which priest and people together – representing the pilgrim Church – reach out for the transcendent God. What is at issue here is not the celebration “towards the people” or “away from the people,” but rather the common direction of liturgical prayer. This is maintained whether or not the altar is literally facing east; in the West, many churches built since the 16th century are no longer “oriented” in the strict sense. By facing the same direction as the faithful when he stands at the altar, the priest leads the people of God on their journey of faith. This movement towards the Lord has found sublime expression in the sanctuaries of many churches of the first millennium, where representations of the cross or of the glorified Christ illustrate the goal of the assembly’s earthly pilgrimage. Looking out for the Lord keeps the eschatological character of the Eucharist alive and reminds us that the celebration of the sacrament is a participation in the heavenly liturgy and a pledge of future glory in the presence of the living God.
Interestingly, nowhere in the documents of the second Vatican Council do we find a call to change the Mass by having the Priest face the people. Even today the newly translated Roman Missal contains instructions for the priest to be turned towards the people for the “Pray Brethren that my Sacrifice and yours…”, the sign of peace and the “Behold the Lamb God…”. This is based on the understanding in the origin Missal of the new Mass, that the Priest and people are facing the same direction from the offertory prayers onwards until the concluding rites. This having been said, it is clear that Mass with the Priest facing the people became almost the universal practice in the Roman rite from the late 1960’s. Mass celebrated like this is what people are now accustomed to and what they tend to expect. When the priest faces the people for Mass it emphasises the presence of the Lord among us and with us as a community. Pope emeritus Benedict however, in his book ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy P80-81 points out a concern that we need to be aware of: He writes:
The turning of the priest towards the people has turned the community into a self enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself. The common turning towards the east was not a “celebration towards the wall”; it did not mean that the priest “had his back to the people”: the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together towards Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together “toward the Lord” …. They did not close themselves into a circle; they did not gaze at one another; but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us….A common turning to the east during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of something accidental, but of what is essential. Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord.
Virtually all of our weekday Masses and two of our weekend Masses at Mary Immaculate church are now celebrated Ad Orientem; Some of these are the ‘EF’ extraordinary form traditional Latin Mass, others the OF+ Ordinary form modern Mass. I hope this reflection assists parishioners to understand this legitimate liturgical option for the celebration of the Mass, and why it is a characteristic of the liturgy of many Oratorian communities around the world.