CNS article about ad orientem worship:

Here is a piece from Catholic News Service about ad orientem celebration of Mass. 

Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments.

Not exactly ‘ad orientem

Some media are reporting that Pope Benedict celebrated Mass “ad orientem” — facing toward the east — last Sunday when he used the Sistine Chapel’s historic main altar for the first time in decades.

That’s not literally correct. In fact, it’s off by 180 degrees. Because the chapel’s altar is built on the western wall, the change meant the pope was facing west during much of the liturgy.  [This is geographically accurate.  But that is decidedly not the point.  The theological point is that when the congregation and priest face the same directions, no matter what the compass point is, they are facing the liturgical East.  That is what ad orientem means.]

On the contrary, “ad orientem” was the direction popes faced when they used the free-standing portable altar in the Sistine: the celebrant faced east when he faced the people.  [Again, the compass point is really not the point.]

I spoke the other day to Msgr. Enrico Vigano, who has worked many years in the Vatican’s liturgical office, and he agreed that the term “ad orientem” doesn’t make sense in the Sistine Chapel.  [Maybe literally.]

Instead, he said, his office made reference to the cross, which stood on the main altar, framed by Michelangelo’s fresco of the Last Judgment. The idea here — and it’s one Pope Benedict has made in the past — is that when the pope and the people face the cross together, it emphasizes that the Mass is a common act of worship.  [Well... maybe.  However, Papa Ratzinger is very carefull in pointing out in his writings that ad orientem worship is extremely important and that if one cannot have ad orientem worship, one can at least have the Cross in a position between the celebrant and the altar so that it becomes the point of focus.  So, for Pope Benedict, it is best to have ad orientem worship with the congregation and priest facing the Cross together, but as second best one could have the Cross between the people and priest in a prominent way.  This is explained by Papa Ratzginer in one of my PODCAzTs.]

In early Christian churches, facing the cross coincided with facing east, the direction of the rising sun and, in a figurative sense, of the resurrection and the second coming.

But the Christian tradition of worshipping “ad orientem” faded, and over the last 500 years many churches have been built facing different directions, including one not far from the Sistine Chapel — St. Peter’s Basilica, which also faces west.  [That's right.  Mostly because people had the flexibility of mind to understand that facing the liturgical east was the point, not necessarily facing the eastern compass point.  Also, St. Peter's had to be built in the way it was, because of the shape of the Vatican Hill.]

Whatever a church’s compass orientation, some have wondered whether the papal Mass last Sunday marked the beginning of a trend. Are we going to see a Vatican effort to turn all the altars back to the pre-Vatican II position?  [Well... the point of a "trend" is that there are more than one instance, right?]

Probably not. Pope Benedict weighed in on this when he was a cardinal. He said he agreed with theological arguments for the priest and the people facing the same direction, but thought it would leave Catholics more confused than ever if the altars were turned around again.  [This is not entirely accurate.  He said that it would not be good to confusion through abrupt changes.  When it would be not possible to implement a shift to ad orientem celebration quickly or without confusion, then it would be better to place the Cross in the center.  The point is that he wanted to avoid the sort of confusion that abrupt changes caused decades ago.]

“Therefore, I’m not aiming at a practical application at this time,” he said.

That was in 1993, however, and one big thing has changed: he’s now pope. 

 

While this article was not entirely negative, I think it tugs the readers understanding in the wrong direction. 

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9 Responses to CNS article about ad orientem worship:

  1. J Basil Damukaitis says:

    The important point about this publicly celebrated Mass televised by the Vatican is that the pope himself celebrated “ad orientem” (ad Deum….whatever). Now the whole world will understand that it is quite legitimate and “normal” because well….the pope does it!!!

  2. Tom says:

    [This is not entirely accurate. He said that it would not be good to confusion through abrupt changes. When it would be not possible to implement a shift to ad orientem celebration quickly or without confusion, then it would be better to place the Cross in the center. The point is that he wanted to avoid the sort of confusion that abrupt changes caused decades ago.]

    I don’t believe that the Faithful would be thrown into confusion should Latin Church priests offer Mass ad orientem. I am surprised that the Pope (Cardinal Ratzinger) believed (believes) such a thing.

    Let us recall the “experts” who warned for years that confusion and division would erupt at parishes should the restoration of the Traditional Latin Mass transpire.

    Pope Benedict XVI dismissed that notion.

    I am surprised that His Holiness believes or believed that the restoration of Mass offered ad orientem would throw the Faithful into confusion.

  3. Jordan Potter says:

    Tom said: I don’t believe that the Faithful would be thrown into confusion should Latin Church priests offer Mass ad orientem. I am surprised that the Pope (Cardinal Ratzinger) believed (believes) such a thing.

    It’s not the change to “ad orientem” in itself that would be confusing, but the sudden change back. It’s unhealthy to be constantly screwing around with the liturgy. The Church was knocked off its balance when the liturgy was so drastically, and without due cause or adequate or accurate explanation. It is understandable that the Holy Father would not wish to create further disorientation (no pun intended).

  4. Tom says:

    Jordan Potter wrote: “The Church was knocked off its balance when the liturgy was so drastically, and without due cause or adequate or accurate explanation. It is understandable that the Holy Father would not wish to create further disorientation (no pun intended).”

    The same argument regarding “disorientation” was advanced by opponents of Summorum Pontificum. Bishops from around the world had flown to Rome to warn the Holy Father that promoting the Traditional Latin Mass would disorient the Church and Faithful.

    Priests and various “experts” declared that the Faithful would be thrown into chaos should the TLM be “freed.”

    Parishes that offered the TLM suddenly would be thrown into chaos and experience disunity.

    The Pope made the “radical” decision to ignore warnings from bishops, priests and “experts” and “restored” the TLM to the heart of the Church.

    For better or worse, a parish takes on the personality of its leader…its pastor.

    There are priests who introduced ad orientem and additional traditional practices to their people…at Novus Ordo Masses…and parishioners accepted said changes.

    The majority of Faithful support their pastors and would accept Mass ad orientem.

  5. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    Tom and Jordan Potter,

    Any comments then, about this:

    http://wdtprs.com/blog/2008/01/phil-lawler-on-ad-orientem-worship/#comment-45228

  6. Tom says:

    Jordan Potter wrote: “The Church was knocked off its balance when the liturgy was so drastically, and without due cause or adequate or accurate explanation. It is understandable that the Holy Father would not wish to create further disorientation (no pun intended).”

    I believe that the Faithful hunger for Holy Tradition. The hunger for beauty and solemnity at Mass. The Faithful would welcome Mass ad orientem. The only sudden change that would upset the majority of Catholics would involve language. To wake up tomorrow to all-Latin Masses (impossible, of course, as many priests don’t understand Latin) would shock the Faithful.

    However, parishes which have introduced Latin into the liturgy in prepared fashion have fared well.

    But the introduction of ad orientem to a parish wouldn’t upset anybody…except the handful of liberals at various parishes who believe that they own the Mass via their lay “ministries.” Other than that, the majority of Catholics would “follow their leader” should a pastor introduce ad orientem to a parish.

    In fact, I don’t believe that ad orientem is an issue in the following sense: The majority of post-Vatican II Catholics couldn’t care less as to the direction in which their priest faces during Mass.

    That said, should the Pope explain to the Faithful the great and important tradition that is ad orientem and the theological importance attached to ad orientem, then the Faithful would care about Mass ad orientem.

    The same applies to a bishop and priest who would explain and introduce ad orientem to his diocese/parish.

    The problem is that during the past 40 or so years, the Popes have refused to hand down to the Latin Church Faithful the ancient, important and theologically rich tradition that is Mass ad orientem.

    Following Rome’s lead in this matter, bishops and priests have all but remained silent regarding on the issue at hand.

    However, the majority of Catholics would accept virtually anything that their priests do during Mass (that can be good or bad).

    Each parish tends to “follow the leader” — its pastor — and falls into place with that which its pastor undertakes.

    Therefore, the second that a Pope (bishop and priest) explained and promoted ad orientem to the Latin Church Faithful, is the second that the Faithful would fall into line with their leaders.

  7. Publius says:

    None of the Patriarchal Basilicas in Rome (St. John Lateran, St. Peter, St. Mary Major, St. Paul Outside the Walls) is “oriented” except St. Paul, and that probably only incidentally, as the tomb of St. Paul was just beside the Ostian Way on the west side, and Constantine wanted the altar over the tomb. And all four as originally configured and as configured today do not allow for the celebrant to face the apse. The popes never said Mass in their main basilicas with their backs to the congregation in the nave. (Any photo you find of pre-Vatican II masses in these churches will show this. See also the video of John XXIII’s coronation Mass on YouTube.) The same was clearly the case in many other ancient Roman churches. In St. John and St. Peter, since the apse is to the west, the popes did and do face east at the altar, but not at the other two, as St. Paul’s apse is to the east and St. Mary’s is to the north. In general, the churches in Rome are built without regard to the compass.

  8. Jordan Potter says:

    Tom said: Priests and various “experts” declared that the Faithful would be thrown into chaos should the TLM be “freed.”

    Parishes that offered the TLM suddenly would be thrown into chaos and experience disunity.

    The Pope made the “radical” decision to ignore warnings from bishops, priests and “experts” and “restored” the TLM to the heart of the Church.

    Yes, he made that decision, but not until he had primed the pump for it by taking about two years to build expectation for it, and apparently doing several edits and rewrites of Summorum Pontificum. He didn’t ignore the bishops, priests, and experts, but listened to them and tried to help them understand what he was doing and why. So, before any mandate that ad orientem be brought back or versus populum be suppressed (something I hope for), we should expect plenty of measures to prepare the Church for it. Thus, any upheaval should be minimal or nonexistent.