Traditional Mass

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Mass Ad Orientem


Bishop of Tulsa Abandons

"Mass Facing the People"

Bishop Slattery on Mass Ad Orientem

 The September 2009 issue of Eastern Oklahoma Catholic featured a
brief article by Bishop Edward J. Slattery, Ordinary of the Diocese
of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Bishop explains why he has ceased the
practice of Mass facing the people, and now celebrates Mass facing
the altar (ad orientem).

 Though the article does not specify whether the Bishop will
celebrate Old Latin Mass or the Novus Ordo ad orientem, it is said
Bishop Slattery is well disposed toward the Tridentine Mass. The fact
that a United States Bishop displays a clear understanding of why Mass
should be celebrated ad orientem is one of the few rays of hope in the
Church in America. His words deserve to be widely known.

 Bishop Slattery opens by explaining the Mass as "Christ's sacrifice
under the sacramental signs of bread and wine", and goes on to
explain that the people share in this offering, which is done through
the priest.

 "From ancient times, the position of the priest and the people
reflected this understanding of the Mass," writes Bishop Slattery,
"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."

 He points out that when we study the most ancient liturgical
practices of the Church, "we find that the priest and the people
faced in the same direction, 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'."

 He then speaks of the multiple advantages of Mass ad orientem:

 The Bishop says, "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. And there were! First of all, the Catholic
liturgy has always maintained a marvelous adherence to the Apostolic
Tradition. 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 Bishop continues, "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."

 He then makes the point: "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. 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."

 Bishop Slattery never refers to Mass facing the people as some sort
of recovery of an ancient tradition, but clearly speaks of it as an
"innovation" that took place after Vatican II -- an innovation with
negative consequences.

 The introduction of this novelty, he says, was "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."

 He then sums up in three quick points the negative consequences of
this innovation: "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."

 The Bishop goes on to note that Pope Benedict, even as Cardinal
Ratzinger, urged a recovery of more authentic Catholic worship based
on the ancient liturgical practice, "For that reason," says Bishop
Slattery, "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."

 We may hope the Bishop's words and example help to lead not simply
to a "reform of the reform" of the Novus Ordo, but ultimately to
greater numbers of priests abandoning the New Rite, and celebrating
exclusively the Latin Tridentine Mass. May more priests and prelates
come to realize what Cardinal Ottaviani recognized, and what he wrote
to Pope Paul VI on September 25, 1969: "The Novus Ordo Missae &
represents, both as a whole and in its details, a striking departure
from the Catholic theology of the Mass as it was formulated in
Session 22 of the Council of Trent."


The above article is from "Catholic Family News"