The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass celebrated “ad orientem”
Dear Parishioners of St. Mary and St. Anthony the Hermit,
Many of you have inquired about my openness to praying the mass ad orientem, that is, the priest and the congregation facing toward “the east”, from where the Lord will come at the end of time. The posture of the priest and the people turning toward the east is our mutual journey to encounter the God who continues to call out to us despite our own unworthiness. In this church, as a community of believers, we truly encounter Christ, especially in the Eucharistic Sacrifice, until His return in glory.
After the Second Vatican Council, the reform of the Rite of the Mass did not, in fact, offer any sweeping declaration that Mass was to be offered versus populum (facing the people). Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments explains:
“Contrary to what is sometimes affirmed, it is completely in agreement with the conciliar constitution and indeed fitting that, during the Rite of Penance, the singing of the Gloria, the orations and the Eucharistic Prayer, all, priest and faithful, should turn together towards the east, to express their desire to participate in the work of worship and of redemption accomplished by Christ.” (L’Osservatore Romano, 12 June 2015)
He goes on to articulate that celebration towards the east and the Cross helps the priest come to a deeper understanding of his role as the shepherd who walks in front of his sheep. This mirrors the language adopted by our Holy Father, Pope Francis, in describing the mode of pastoral leadership. He continues that in this way, “…the liturgy allows us to return to the world with a new impetus and a truly missionary strength, so as to bring to it, not our poor, hollow, noisy experience, but the one Word [Jesus], heard in silence.” (The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, no. 256).
One of the Doctors of the Church, St. John Damascene, offers three explanations for the eastward stance of Christians at prayer. In his exposition on the faith, St. John Damascene contends that Christ is both the “Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2) and the “Dayspring from on high” (Luke 1:78). Facing the light dawning from the east, Christians affirm their faith in Christ as the Light of the world. Secondly, God planted the Garden of Eden in the east (cf. Genesis 2:8). With the first sin of Adam and Eve, they were exiled from the garden moving westward. Facing east, therefore, reminds Christians of their need to long for and strive for the paradise intended for them. Finally, Jesus said, “For just as lightning comes from the east and is seen as far as the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be” (Matthew 24:27). In this regard, facing the east echoes the prayer of Christians for the coming of Jesus.
Earlier this year, having spoken with Archbishop Listecki about growing interest at our parishes in making the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass available in this regard, he was open to this endeavor, offering the caveat that we not impose this upon the parishes but simply, “add a mass” to the schedule. As such, my plan is to offer a Saturday morning Mass at 8:00am at St. Mary Parish for the months of August and September. In this way, there remains a balanced number of Masses between the parishes. Following that, as a shared parish community, we will evaluate the experience and best decide how to move forward.
As in all things, I place my trust in the Lord Jesus Christ and in you, these two communities of believers who live Christ in the world. By bearing witness to the truth, goodness, and beauty of the Gospel message, may we all inculcate a greater sense of the Gospel exhortation to preach the name of Jesus Christ. Let us continue to grow together on this journey of faith; as the Body of Christ may we all turn to Him, may we all look to Him, the “Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2).
Msgr. Ross Shecterle