A reader sent the following. It is posted on the parish website as a PDF, but he took the time to send me the text, which aided me in posting what comes below.
This parish priest has made a determination for the good of his flock. Let’s read what he has to say with my emphases and comments. First comes the intro from the man who sent this piece:
Fr. Z, this is from this Sunday’s bulletin from the Sacred Heart of Jesus parish in Grand Rapids, Mich. Sacred Heart has a weekly Sunday TLM at 12:30pm. They alternate celebrants from our diocese and have a rotation of Low Mass, High Mass with (mixed sexes) choir and High Mass with schola. (The column is titled "Twin Towers" because the church has two, large bell towers.)
Last month, on the 15th of January, I celebrated a weekday Mass a bit differently. The appropriate word for what I did is described by the Latin term ad orientem. That means "towards the east". Or some would say, "the priest turning his back to the people". Why am I doing this?
To celebrate the current Mass properly, the Liturgy of the Word is done with the priest at the chair. [He is talking about the Novus Ordo, of course.] He only comes to the Altar for the preparation of the Gifts and then the Eucharistic Prayer. After Communion he normally goes back to the chair for the concluding rites. So the time at the altar is not that long. [Nor would it be for a solemn Mass with, say, orchestral music.]
I was ordained in 1979, so I always celebrated the Mass in this manner. But to be very honest with you, I’ve never understood why. What was there to see? [good] It takes Faith, belief that bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. Our human eyes cannot see that happen – only our hearts & souls do. So again, what is there to "see"?
Unfortunately, what has happened to the Mass – which has been a topic of some objections to the reforms that began in 1964 – is that at times, the Mass has become a human-priest centered event. But the human-priest is a physical stand-in for the true priest of the Mass, Jesus Christ the Eternal High Priest. The Mass is HIS; He leads us all to the Father in worship, in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The idea is for the human-priest AND the rest of the worshiping community to stand in the same direction "following Jesus" to the Father. Picture Moses leading the Hebrews to the Promised Land. [So... here is one image: the priest is leading the people toward something.]
"Ad orientem", literally "facing the East", comes from the Book of Ezekiel in which the People of God await the coming of the Lord FROM THE EAST (43:2). And St. Matthew declared the return of the Lord Jesus: "As the lightening from the east flashes to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be" (24:27).
Churches used to be built purposely facing the direction of the coming of the Lord – the East. [There is a second point: the Lord is coming from the East, so we face that direction in expectation.] The point of all this is not that we have to all face the East – although that would seem to be the most desirable direction – but that the priest and people are on a spiritual journey together. [Right! "East" in this sense is not limited to geographical East, as some enemies of ad orientem worship will at times obtusely blither.] The priest is not an entertainer that he has to face an audience, unless he is specifically talking to them: when he says "The Lord be with you", reading the Scriptures, or giving a homily or some other liturgical instruction. Otherwise, the priest is NOT TALKING TO OR LOOKING AT THE PEOPLE. The prayers of the Mass for the most part are addressed to God the Father, not the people. [This reminds me of a something that happened to me once at St. Peter's Basilica... but.. another time...]
It has taken me some time to come to an understanding, that "facing the people" as if I were doing a cooking show on TV seemed to go against what the Mass was all about. Looking at the congregation as I pray and talk to God just didn’t make sense.
The fact is however, that that’s the way Mass has been celebrated for nearly 40 years now and little old Edie Hankiewicz is not about to change things. But then something else has happened, Pope Benedict, from time to time, celebrates Mass "ad orientem"! What I believe he has been trying to do, among other changes he’s made in celebrating Mass (like insisting people kneel for Communion and receive only on the tongue) is the fulfillment of a lot he was written about Roman Catholic Liturgy for many, many years. [Yes... this priest gets it. Also, the so-called "Benedictine arrangment" of the altar is really a transitional arrangement back to true ad orientem or ad Deum worship.]
I believe I’ve made this change (once a month) for good, spiritual reasons, not whim or simply to be different. I will continue to do so, with advance notice, (with the Latin words, "ad orientem" next to the Mass time) so if anyone doesn’t like this idea, one can go to another Mass in the area. That will be the case this coming Thursday, 12 FEB at the 7:30am Mass.
Father [Edward] Hankiewicz
Big WDTPRS kudos to Fr. Hankiewicz and his fortunate flock in Grand Rapids.