Bishop of Tulsa: his choice for ad orientem worship

WDTPRS has written about H.E. Most Rev. Edward Slattery before, and very favorably indeed.  We have all the more reason to issue official WDTPRS kudos to His Excellency.

This is from the Eastern Oklahoma Catholic.

My emphases and comments.

Bp. Slattery has decided that in the Cathedral of Tulsa, he will offer Holy Mass ad orientem.

Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has returned to the practice of celebrating the Eucharistic liturgy ad orientem in his cathedral. Bishop Slattery explained in his diocesan newspaper that he recognized the advantages of the Mass celebrated with the priest facing the people, but:

Unfortunately this change had a number of unforeseen and largely negative effects. First of all, it was a serious rupture with the Church’s ancient tradition. Secondly, it can give the appearance that the priest and the people were engaged in a conversation about God, rather than the worship of God. Thirdly, it places an inordinate importance on the personality of the celebrant by placing him on a kind of liturgical stage.

Because the Mass is so necessary and fundamental to our Catholic experience, the liturgy is a constant topic in our conversation. That is why when we get together, we so often reflect upon the prayers and readings, discuss the homily, and – likely as not – argue about the music. The critical element in these conversations is an understanding that we Catholics worship the way we do because of what the Mass is: Christ’s sacrifice, offered under the sacramental signs of bread and wine.

If our conversation about the Mass is going to “make any sense,” then we have to grasp this essential truth: At Mass, Christ joins us to Himself as He offers Himself in sacrifice to the Father for the world’s redemption. We can offer ourselves like this in Him because we have become members of His Body by Baptism. [RIGHT!  Our ability to participate in the Church’s worship with full participation is our baptismal character.  It is an interior reality.]

We also want to remember that all of the faithful offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice as members of Christ’s body. It’s incorrect to think that only the priest offers Mass. All the faithful share in the offering, even though the priest has a unique role. He stands “in the person of Christ,” the historic Head of the Mystical Body, so that, at Mass, it is the whole body of Christ – Head and members together that make the offering.  [But not in the same way.]

Facing the same direction

From ancient times, the position of the priest and the people reflected this understanding of the Mass, since the people prayed, standing or kneeling, in the place that visibly corresponded to Our Lord’s Body, while the priest at the altar stood at the head as the Head. We formed the whole Christ – Head and members – both sacramentally by Baptism and visibly by our position and posture. Just as importantly, everyone – celebrant and congregation – faced the same direction, since they were united with Christ in offering to the Father Christ’s unique, unrepeatable and acceptable sacrifice.

When we study the most ancient liturgical practices of the Church, we find that the priest and the people faced in the same direction, usually toward the east, in the expectation that when Christ returns, He will return “from the east.” At Mass, the Church keeps vigil, waiting for that return. This single position is called ad orientem, which simply means “toward the east.

Multiple advantages [It is a practical practice as well.]

Having the priest and people celebrate Mass ad orientem was the liturgical norm for nearly 18 centuries. There must have been solid reasons for the Church to have held on to this posture for so long. [D’ya think?  Still, this is something that some people need to contemplate.  The Church’s liturgical worship didn’t begin in 1969.]  And there were!

First of all, the Catholic liturgy has always maintained a marvelous adherence to the Apostolic Tradition. [continuity] We see the Mass, indeed the whole liturgical expression of the Church’s life, as something which we have received from the Apostles and which we, in turn, are expected to hand on intact. (1 Corinthians 11:23)

Secondly, the Church held on to this single eastward position because of the sublime way it reveals the nature of the Mass. Even someone unfamiliar with the Mass who reflected upon the celebrant and the faithful being oriented in the same direction would recognize that the priest stands at the head of the people, sharing in one and the same action, which was – he would note with a moment’s longer reflection – an act of worship[Worship should be for worship.  It seems circular, but it bears repeating.]

An innovation with unforeseen consequences

In the last 40 years, however, this shared orientation was lost; now the priest and the people have become accustomed to facing in opposite directions. [That is a good way to put it: opposite.]  The priest faces the people while the people face the priest, even though the Eucharistic Prayer is directed to the Father and not to the people. This innovation was introduced after the Vatican Council, partly to help the people understand the liturgical action of the Mass by allowing them to see what was going on, and partly as an accommodation to contemporary culture where people who exercise authority are expected to face directly the people they serve, like a teacher sitting behind her desk.

Unfortunately this change had a number of unforeseen and largely negative effects. First of all, it was a serious rupture with the Church’s ancient tradition. Secondly, it can give the appearance that the priest and the people were engaged in a conversation about God, rather than the worship of God. Thirdly, it places an inordinate importance on the personality of the celebrant by placing him on a kind of liturgical stage.

Recovering the sacred

Even before his election as the successor to St. Peter, Pope Benedict has been urging us to draw upon the ancient liturgical practice of the Church to recover a more authentic Catholic worship. For that reason, [HERE IT IS…] I have restored the venerable ad orientem position when I celebrate Mass at the Cathedral.

This change ought not to be misconstrued as the Bishop “turning his back on the faithful,” as if I am being inconsiderate or hostile. Such an interpretation misses the point that, by facing in the same direction, the posture of the celebrant and the congregation make explicit the fact that we journey together to God. Priest and people are on this pilgrimage together.

It would also be a mistaken notion to look at the recovery of this ancient tradition as a mere “turning back of the clock.” Pope Benedict has spoken repeatedly of the importance of celebrating Mass ad orientem, but his intention is not to encourage celebrants to become “liturgical antiquarians.” Rather, His Holiness wants us to discover what underlies this ancient tradition and made it viable for so many centuries, namely, the Church’s understanding that the worship of the Mass is primarily and essentially the worship which Christ offers to His Father.

Well done, Your Excellency.

May all diocesan bishops do this as well.

Think about this: with proper catechesis and a little diplomacy, no priest of the diocese can be criticized for introducing ad orientem worship.  If he is a little careful, he will have the support of the bishop.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. RichR says:

    I’m not sure what to say. I’m still a little speechless after reading this post. I will pray my rosary for this bishop tonight. He is one to be admired and emulated for seeking continuity with the liturgical heritage of our forefathers. If doctrinal traditions feed the faithful, why not liturgical?

  2. priest up north says:

    Thank you Bishop Slattery.
    I can not help but be selfish in light of such wonderful news and ask that as we here in the Diocese of Duluth wait for the appointment of a new bishop, I pray that whomever God already knows to be the 9th Bishop of Duluth will think in like ways to Bishop Slattery on the truth of the liturgy.

  3. Well, this is pretty good. Let’s call it a briquette!

  4. TJM says:

    I wrote Bishop Slattery a nice note of congratulations. Now, Bishops of the World Unite! Tom

  5. Ceile De says:

    Wondering how many tumbleweeds will blow past as we wait in Los Angeles – is an ‘ad orientem’ ordinary form Mass in fullcomplaince with the requirements of the Magisterium really too much to ask of a Prince of the Church?

  6. The-Monk says:

    Be careful of jumping too fast into the wrong boat!

  7. ssoldie says:

    Oh! Let’s not be turning back of the clock, after all it is only, what did the article say, the “norm for 18 centuries”, one wonders what else will come out as to what ‘tradition’ and the ‘norm’ and maybe ‘organic development’is in continuity. Keep praying our Lady’s rosary.

  8. Deo Gratias, may more bishops follow this wonderful example

  9. For the Gospel of Life says:

    I lived in Tulsa for four years. Liturgically I loved being in Bishop Slattery’s Diocese. He’s been celebrating the 10 am Sunday Mass at Holy Family Cathedral ad orientem during I believe Advent and Lent. He and others also brought the practice of celebrating Solemn Second Vespers at the cathedral, which often includes the excellent preaching of Fr. Mark Kirby of Vultus Christi!

  10. thomas tucker says:

    Maybe I’ll move to Tulsa…..

  11. Ef-lover says:

    Let’s hope that others will follow his example

  12. Hidden One says:

    The priests of the diocese of Tulsa must truly appreciate him.

    May his example create (or continue?) a cascade of Masses ad orientem in the US and the world!

  13. Bernard Leitrim says:

    I hope my bishop is paying attention.

  14. Tom Ryan says:

    Cardinal Slattery has a nice ring to it

  15. Hidden One says:

    Need to start with Abp. Slattery for that.

  16. moon1234 says:

    Ad Orientem today TLM tomorrow. Honestly, when a priest (Bishops are also priests after all) begins celebrating Ad Orientem he will them begin to look into the TLM and think to himself “I wonder WHY this was changed and WHY that was changed.” This may be the spark that ignites the greater availability of the TLM.

  17. Sandra_in_Severn says:

    Also on page 26 of the Tulsa Diocese Magazine is a story about Bill Murray’s (of movie and SNL fame) sister, Sister Nancy Murray, O.P.

    St. Dominic was my late father’s patron saint, and he died on his feast day. I was raised with a cultivated fondness for the Dominicans. (He had several relatives that had vocations to the religious life and entered into Dominican communities).

    It is a joy to read these stories about dioceses and parishes returns to tradition that are occurring, with so much news is disheartening this summer, we need some good news.

  18. Rachel says:

    I think that’s the single best explanation of the ad orientem position that I’ve ever read. Simple and clear.

  19. C.L. says:

    OK, so here’s my question: why on earth does not the pope simply issue a motu proprio restoring ad orientum?

  20. Central Valley says:

    Fresno, Ca. Bishop John T. Steinbock and his inner circle are you listening? are you reading? I doubt it. Oh, how we in the Central Valley yearn for orthodoxy and obedience to Rome.

  21. Navarricano says:

    Wow … just WOW. My only response to this is to head down to the Perpetual Adoration chapel at the church just down the street later this afternoon with the promise to offer prayers of thanksgiving for this marvellous bishop and his flock. And for the continued restoration of the liturgy in all our dioceses.

  22. Gus says:

    This is great news. IMO ad orientem is one of the most important elements in restoring solemn liturgical worship.

    Pax et Bonum

  23. Henry Edwards says:

    After 40 years, it seems obvious that versus populum celebration has been disastrous for the faith of Catholics. There must be other bishops who agree what ought to be done. So why has only one taken such a forthright step in this direction?

  24. Tina in Ashburn says:

    There’s also a practical aspect to the Ad Orientem posture. Facing the congregation creates all kinds of distractions for the priest. After all, the Mass is a conversation between the priest/Jesus and God the Father. Why create a situation of interruptions to this sacred conversation?

    If the congregation is a distraction, turn around!

  25. irishgirl says:

    Yay for Bishop Slattery!

    Now if some of our other bishops would follow suit….

  26. Fr. Z said, May all diocesan bishops do this as well

    Brick by brick…

    You’ll be glad to know that Archbishop Vigneron just celebrated a Latin Novus Ordo at Assumption Grotto on Assumption at the 7:00pm Mass.

    I sent you a link before I knew your computers were down. Here are the pics from the Mass. Feel free to post some if you want.

    God bless His Excellency for celebrating the Mass in all of the ways to which we at Assumption Grotto have come to love. I must add that his Latin flowed with eloquence and grace. I am hopeful that he will celebrate a Pontifical High Mass in EF. There are at least a dozen parishes in the archdiocese offering the usus antiquior.

  27. frkevin says:

    Shortly after Pope Benedict’s Motu Propio regarding the liturgy I enrolled in the Latin Mass Society training for priests and seminarians at Merton College in Oxford. How delighted I was to see Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa there also. In fact, he celebrated the closing Mass, a Pontifical High Mass (in the Extraordinary Form). Certainly we thank God for such courageous bishops as Bishop Slattery of the Tulsa Diocese!

  28. Rouxfus says:

    The monks at Our Lady of the Annunciation of Clear Creek, located in Oklahoma east of Tulsa, was invited to found there in 1999 by Bishop Slattery. High masses and Hours are sung in Latin chant according to the 1962 missal, with some approved Benedictine modifications to the Office. Low masses, where there are perhaps 12 priest-monks celebrating simultaneously, are completely silent. All masses are celebrated ad orientem.

    Here’s a photo of Bishop Slattery celebrating an ordination mass in the crypt of the monastery in June of this year:

  29. Sandy says:

    Echoing other comments – may other bishops follow suit! What a beautiful example from this wonderful bishop. California commenters, I hear you, especially Ceile in Los Angeles. We out here need rescuing!

  30. Dr. Eric says:

    I called the Chancery to voice my support in Bishop Slattery’s choice.

  31. Great idea Dr. Eric. Perhaps it might be fitting to send support to Bishop Slattery via snail mail and cc their own bishop.

  32. Therese says:

    To “priest up north” from a (somewhat) local layman, I will certainly add my prayers to yours. Catholic Minnesota has suffered long enough!

  33. Kimberly says:

    I think that it stands to reason, that when going into battle, that the Commander would NOT be facing in the direction of his troups.

    Priest up North and Therese
    Being in your area, I also join in your prayers!

Comments are closed.