Friday, March 23, 2012

Solemn Mass, ordinary orientem

At the request of several parishioners, when I offer Mass this Monday, for the Solemnity of the Annunciation, I will exercise the option available in the Missal--which Pope Benedict himself does on occasion--and offer Mass "ad orientem."

I might remind you that this Mass will likewise feature our schola, with lots of beautiful music, incense and chant.

But back to "ad orientem." What does that mean?

It means, literally, "toward the East"--meaning not so much geographical east, but what the East symbolizes for us as Christians: the rising of the sun/the rising of the Son. The East has always been a potent symbol for Christians, drawing on what it meant for our spiritual cousins, the Jewish people. Thus, for most of Christian history, the orientation of Catholic worship has been "ad orientem"--toward the East. Even if it wasn't necessary to be oriented toward geographical east, nevertheless it often was.

So how does this affect Mass?

Very simply, it means the priest and the people will, at various points, face the same way. It expresses the idea that we are all turning toward the Lord at those moments.

So for part of the Mass, the priest faces the people because he's addressing them: in the prayers at the beginning of Mass, in the readings and the homily, when he asks the people to offer a prayer or a response, or when--toward the end of Mass, he shows them the Lord, and then brings the Lord to them in holy communion. These are all times when the priest naturally faces the people.

However, there are times when the priest's actions are directed toward the Lord; and while the Church has, in recent decades, grown used to the priest facing the people at these moments, the reality is, the priest is not addressing them, but addressing the Lord.

So celebrating Mass "ad orientem" simply means the physical posture of the priest expresses that at those moments.

Of course, I know not everyone likes Mass offered this way; but some do, and many have never experienced it, so they can't really say whether they like it or not.

I'm choosing to do this, on Monday evening, for these reasons:

1. Folks have asked for it and it's a legitimate option, so why refuse?
2. I see value in it myself, both for me and for others participating in Mass--so why not explore it and experience it?
3. How can anyone even try it, if no opportunity is offered? This is a chance to give it a try.
4. Many think that "ad orientem" is only associated with the older form of Mass. But this is not correct. The current, ordinary form of the Mass can be offered "ad orientem." I, personally, think this gives a "best of both worlds" experience.
5. The Mass on Monday evening is not a regularly scheduled Mass--so no one can reasonably claim to be inconvenienced. Those who don't care for it, need not come.
6. The Holy Father has urged the Faithful to explore this part of our tradition, because he believes there is something powerful in experiencing the liturgy this way. Even if I didn't share that view (which I do), would not his request deserve some consideration? Really, shouldn't we be willing to "set out into the deep"?

I'm letting you know both for the benefit of those who don't prefer this, but also for the benefit of those who would like to experience it.

Mass for the Solemnity of the Annunciation, in beautiful Saint Boniface Church, 310 South Downing Street, Piqua, Ohio...7 pm.

Come and see!


GauLion said...

Dear Fr,
if you were to say the Mass ad orietem, and still use English for the Mass, which parts will you turn towards the people i.e. versus populus.
Like will you turn ad orientem during the confiteor, the gospel, the agnus dei etc?

Fr Martin Fox said...

The priest faces the people when he greets them at the beginning and of course when he proclaims the Gospel and gives the homily.

Then when he goes to the altar for the offertory, he and people turn to the Lord together principally from the offertory until communion. During that time, the priest turns to say, "pray brothers and sisters"...then turns again when for the "Behold the Lamb of God." Of course he comes to the people with holy communion; then returns to the altar after communion as he puts the altar in order and returns the remaining Eucharist to the tabernacle.

Then he faces the people again for the blessing.

Several other places in theory the priest could be oriented exactly like the people--for the penitential rite and the collects--but in practice, I think you will find he is often at a 90 degree angle, because he's "at the chair" and if the chair isn't turned toward the people, it's usually turned toward the altar. Even in the most "traditionally" oriented churches, sometimes the chair is at the head of the apse, facing the people (if the Eucharist is reserved in a separate place, as in many of the major basilicae in Rome).

Does this help?