The esteemed scholar and liturgist Klaus Gamber said that the single most damaging thing that happened in the wake of the Council was the shifting around of orientation at the altar. In The Spirit of the Liturgy, Joseph Ratzinger picked up on Gamber’s work and wrote his own exceptional explanation of the significance of ad orientem worship. He advocated a return to ad orientem worship, but in a way that was peaceful, not like a abrupt way that changes had been imposed on the people of God – changes never called for by the Council Fathers – virtual overnight and without explanations. As a transitional phase, Ratzinger suggested what has come to be known as the “Benedictine Arrangement” of candles and crucifix on the altar. My friend Fr. Lang has a helpful book about Turning Towards the Lord. Over the last few year a growing number of priests (sometimes with the help of, sometimes with the interference of bishops) have been taking their parishes to ad orientem worship. I know one parish where this was implemented, along with the installation of an altar rail. Now, there, virtually everyone kneels to receive Communion on the tongue, parish registrations are up, and the average age of the congregation is plummeting.
Our re-orientation of our liturgical worship of God is of central importance for the revitalization of our Catholic identity.
The revitalization of our Catholic identity – and therefore our ability to influence the world around us – is only possible through a renewal of our liturgical worship. No great undertaking we enter into as a Church (macro or micro) will succeed without it being rooted in proper sacred liturgy, whence comes what we need to initiate and sustain all our good efforts which are pleasing to God.
Recently His Eminence Robert Card. Sarah drew attention to ad orientem worship in aninterview with French Catholic magazine Famille Chrétienne.
Picking up on that interview, and the fact in Providence, RI there is a parish where Mass is said ad orientem, the diocesan newspaper of the same Providence has an article that features comments of my friend Fr. Jay Finelli. HERE
“We’re worshipping with the people in a common orientation,” he said. “We’re going toward the Lord.”
Initial reactions to the changes at Holy Ghost were mixed, but Father Finelli said parishioners have come to enjoy the practice. More importantly, he said, returning to their liturgical roots has benefitted the parish spiritually.
“In the beginning a few people had difficulties,” he said. “But now it seems to have led to a — how can I express this — a deep spirituality. There’s more of a reverence, there’s more of a prayerfulness on behalf of the whole congregation.”
Father Finelli said the practice is also beneficial for priests, who are reminded of their role in the liturgy by facing God as the people do.
“It shows us that we, the priests, aren’t the focus,” he said. “We’re not important. We’re just a vessel of the Lord being used by him for the people.”
Though he said he thinks the celebration of the liturgy ad orientem could be practiced in any parish, Father Finelli advised priests considering it to thoroughly teach the meaning behind the practice before instituting any changes. He believes that much of the discomfort with changes following the Second Vatican Council as well as discomfort with the return of pre-Vatican II practices in recent years stem from a lack of education.
“After the Second Vatican Council, there was no discussion and it caused a lot of anger, pain and hurt,” he said. “But if we teach the people as we should — why are we doing this, why is this important — of course some might not like it in the beginning, but eventually I think it really sinks in.”
Fathers! Get on this!