Brick by “ad orientem” brick in Seattle

For your "brick by brick" file… from a reader:

Dear father, with all the negative publicity that the Archdiocese of Seattle has received lately with Fr. Ryan’s public dissent and Fr. Jan Larsen’s column, it is refreshing to know that at least one parish is taking the "reform of the reform" and Pope Benedict’s liturgical vision seriously. Here is a beautiful letter from the pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish, Fr. Daniel Syverstad  explaining the tradition of ad orientem worship. Perhaps you’ll consider this for posting on your blog? God bless, father!

A Letter from the Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Church

On the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, 2010

Blessed Sacrament Parish will celebrate its feast day on Sunday, June 6, on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood of Christ. To commemorate this great day in the life of the parish and the universal Church, we are celebrating a special Mass at noon that will include the procession of the Blessed Sacrament around the grounds of our parish, both to signify the importance of the Eucharist and to celebrate the body of Christ, the people. The procession will be followed by a catered luncheon in appreciation for the entire parish.

I have also decided, after conferring with my associate, Jesson Mata, Director of Liturgy and Music, to celebrate the noon Mass “ad orientem” in the vernacular, that is, English. The phrase “ad orientem” means “to the east.” It is a way of celebrating Mass in which the priest faces the same direction as the people. At Blessed Sacrament, this would mean the priest, in effect, prays towards the crucifix in the same direction as the people. We call this form of prayer “ad orientem” because the east is where the sun rises. Christ himself is the rising sun. For early Christians, praying towards the east, towards the dawn, towards Christ himself, would have been a common liturgical posture. The practice of facing east in Catholic liturgy is not a literal directional issue, however; in fact, facing the crucifix at Blessed Sacrament Church is facing directional west. The orientation is primarily towards Christ, who is effectively symbolized by the crucifix.

Why are we doing this now?

The practice of facing the east is an age-old custom that has been kept in the treasury of Catholic worship and a practice we can use today in the Mass. I have decided to resurrect this custom because I believe it is important in the prayer life of the parish. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?]

I have been at Blessed Sacrament Church for seven years now. Five years ago, I invited Jesson Mata to join the staff as my associate for liturgy. Throughout the course of these five years, Jesson and I have labored together to enhance the prayer life of the church through the diverse offerings of Catholic liturgy. While diversity in liturgical practice can sometimes be counterproductive to the goal of deepening our prayer lives, what we have accomplished thus far has produced remarkable effects. I have seen us pray for and support the sick, the elderly, and the poor in our community. I have seen our young people engaged in their faith. I have witnessed our people care for the sick and dying in the hospitals. We have invited and welcomed the stranger amidst us. I have even observed strong disagreements among our people that have been resolved with respect for one another. These effects can be attributed to our life of prayer. While there are many forms of prayer, there is only one God, only one Christ; and one Spirit who breathes life into our Church. It is that same Spirit that continues to guide this parish.

My intention, as your pastor, is to continue to build our Dominican community by employing the rich traditions of Catholic worship and Catholic theology. I want to build a church dedicated to the pursuit of truth. I strongly believe that Blessed Sacrament has a great potential to become a true Dominican center for faith formation and evangelization. I envision a church with many rooms, where its members engage each other in the faith; where wisdom and knowledge are shared and spoken; where authentic dialogue happens naturally, amidst the diversity of minds and backgrounds; where peace and justice meet; and where each of us may find a place to pray.

The Mass is the ultimate expression of thanksgiving and my hope is for you to join your prayers to mine in that perfect prayer to God. The prayer that I say during the Mass is not simply my own. In fact, the prayers are of and for the entire Church, both yours and mine. I wonder sometimes if people believe that the Mass belongs to the priest. We often think (because of variants that occur with each presider) that the Mass is centrally about the priest. It is not. It is not about me. The Mass is Christ’s, and my function, as a priest, is to lead our prayer to God. Facing “ad orientem,” that is, east, facing Christ, is a noble way of praying with the congregation. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?] I wish for all of us to understand that this is not about exploring ways of prayer that are “better” than another form of prayer; rather, we must see this as an expression of the same prayer. Our Holy Father expressed the same sentiment about the new and the old rites, i.e., the ordinary and extraordinary forms of the Roman Rite. Both belong to the same family. Likewise, praying “ad orientem” belongs to the same family. We belong to one Church with various expressions of prayer.

I invite you attend the noon Mass on Corpus Christi not because something unique is happening, but because you want to join me in prayer for the parish. It is, indeed, my prayer for all of us to continue to seek to become closer to God. Join me and the parish in giving thanks to God for the many blessings He bestows upon us.

If you would like more information or have any questions about the liturgy at Blessed Sacrament Church, please contact my associate Jesson Mata at 206-732-7343 or

Fr. Daniel Syverstad, O.P.

Official WDTPRS kudos to Fr. Syverstad!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mitch_wa says:

    They do great stuff at Blessed Sacrament. Back in 08 I drove over to Seattle to go to the Dominican High Mass they had on the Feast of St. Dominic during the 100 year anniversary of their Church. It is a wonderful parish, and right by the Campus of the University of Washington. The Dominicans also run the Newman Center at UW. All and all it is a class act over there.

  2. doanli says:

    I don’t have an IQ of 150, a PH.D, nor much time to study Church History, Liturgy, and/ or Theology to comment on this post.

    Add sarcastic to your commenter types, Father.

  3. Good for him! Now that I have been able to attend the EF Mass (though not as often as I’d like), I can see that there is all the difference in the world between ad orientem and versus populum. When the priest celebrates ad orientem, he is not turning his back on the people; he is facing God. Where the tabernacle is located behind the free-standing altar, it is actually grating to see the priest face AWAY from the One toward Whom the Mass is directed.

    Even if it is true, as I have heard it said, that versus populum is actually the more ancient posture, I can see why the Church decided to go with ad orientem instead. I’d like to see it completely displace the priest facing the people.

  4. What a fantastic and truly pastoral letter. Fr. Syverstad explained clearly and succinctly the intent of ad orientem worship, teaching his flock (many of whom may never have been taught this), while also gently reminding them that the Mass is properly about the worship of God.

    I also like that he didn’t feel the need to jump right on the defensive and bring up “turning his back on the people”. His explanation nicely avoided even bringing up that image in readers’ minds, and instead evoked images of the priest joining with the congregation in prayer and worship.

  5. ar_danziger says:

    Good to know! My husband, daughter and I just moved to Seattle recently and it’s encouraging to know that good things are happening here. We’re lucky enough to be able to go to the FSSP EF Mass at North American Martyr’s parish right in our neighborhood:

  6. Martial Artist says:

    Father Z.,

    You will definitely get (at least) two Amens from me on this article (and, for any readers who think I alerted Fr. Z., it was not me). This is the parish through which my wife and I were received into the Catholic Church last Sunday. And the Fr. Daniel you see through this pastoral letter is the Fr. Daniel who is, for us, the epitome of a priest who pours himself out to others for the Lord’s sake. In my almost 64 years, I have never experienced a pastor who was his equal. And I don’t think it is just because he is a Domincan, although that obviously doesn’t detract.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  7. Random Friar says:

    Dear Mr. Töpfer:

    Welcome home! I am heartened to hear that one of my brethren is such a good servant of Christ and His flock! That inspires me all the more.

  8. basenji says:

    I am humbled and very grateful to be able to visit this parish on a regular basis. This is most wonderous news.

  9. irishgirl says:

    What a great son of St. Dominic is this priest! He’s got it right!

  10. Good for Fr.!
    May he be given every grace and blessing!
    “Brick by brick”…we just have to persevere…God is good!
    He is inspiring many bishops and priests to “restore the Sacred”…our Lady, Mother of the Church, pray for them!

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