Do you remember my talking about the parish in Greenville, SC, where the altar and direction of worship is being "reoriented"? During Lent the pastor Fr. Scott Newman issued in the parish bulletin a series of article explaining what worship ad orientem is all about in anticipation of … hold on …. actually doing it. I wrote about this here.
Ad orientem worship is one of the most important re-reforms we can implement because the turning around of altars after Vatican II was perhaps the single most damaging change to Catholic identity that was forced on the Church.
A follow up is due, since Fr. Newman is hard at it again. Let’s have a look at his recent bulletin with my emphases and comments.
Fifth Sunday of Easter
20 April 2008
Dear Friends in Christ,
During the five Sundays of Lent, I dedicated my bulletin columns to an explanation of the origin and purpose of the ancient custom of priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar during the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist, a practice known variously as the celebration of Mass ad orientem (towards the East) or ad Deum (towards God). All five of those columns are available on the parish website, and if you did not read them during Lent, I encourage you to do so now since they provide a thorough explanation of what you will see today and contain recommended reading for in depth study of these questions. Among the essential points in those essays is my explanation that celebrating ad Deum does not mean that the priest is turning his back on the people; rather, priest and people are joined together in turning towards the LORD.
In the last of those five columns I announced that sometime during Eastertide we would restore the custom of ad Deum celebration here at St. Mary’s to follow Pope Benedict’s lead in recovering our own authentic traditions of liturgical prayer, and we begin this practice today. During the first few weeks of this very old and (to us) totally new way of praying, there will undoubtedly be a bit of confusion [And, you can bet, resistence and griping and letter writing.] for everyone: our priests, deacons, and servers must adjust to the logistical changes which flow from the change of direction, and our congregation must adjust to an unfamiliar experience of the Eucharistic Prayer. And while we are all growing accustomed to this method of celebrating the sacred liturgy, I ask everyone to be patient and charitable.
While the celebration of Mass facing liturgical East is ancient, my decision to try this practice here is not an exercise in antiquarianism. Father Bartholomew, Father Longenecker, and I are deeply convinced that this way of praying is a more effective means of drawing everyone more deeply into the Paschal Mystery of the Lord Jesus, and that is why we are introducing this practice for a period of discernment. Having said that, the Church has made clear that both ways of celebrating the Eucharist (ad Deum and versus populum) have value and are equally legitimate, [Something I think we might reasonably dispute, but this is a parish bulletin and this is a bold project.] so no one should conclude that one practice excludes the other. For this reason, we will from time to time revert to the more familiar form of celebration (particularly, for example, at weddings or funerals when large numbers of people from other places may be present), and every priest remains free to decide in which posture to offer the Mass. [YES!]
In doubtful things, liberty; in essential things, unity; in all things, charity. This ancient maxim should guide us all in our response to what we begin today. I hope that each of you will see this development as an opportunity to retrieve an ancient and noble part of Christian tradition and enter with generosity into the celebration of the sacred mysteries of redemption.
Fr. Newman gets the highest WDTPRS kudos for this initiative. I hope to hear reports about how this is going.