Now, a literal explanation of "ad Orientem" is in order here. "Ad Orientem" is Latin for "to the East". However, in the context of liturgical prayer, we don't mean this as the 90 degree mark of the compass. Otherwise, many would be really celebrating, perhaps to the south, or maybe a couple of degrees short of north-northwest. What we really mean here is the Liturgical East - to the Lord (his native land, of course, is in the Middle East).
Until the Second Vatican Council, the Mass was celebrated with the priest facing the Lord - to the Crucifix or perhaps the Tabernacle (many traditionally built churches with high altars still keep the Tabernacle in the center of the high altar, if it hasn't yet been mistakenly been torn down). Since then, there was this big craze - the claim that Mass HAD TO be said with the priest facing the people.
Until this phenomenon came up:
You see, Mass CAN be said facing the people, but it doesn't have to be. The Council DID ask for free-standing altars, preferably away from the wall, "so that one can easily walk around the altar and celebrate facing the people." (translated from "Sacra Congregatio Rituum, Instructio ad exsecutionem Constitutionis de sacra Liturgia recte ordinandam 'Inter Oecumenici'", AAS 56 (1964): 898, no. 91.)
Incidentally, my pastor has been reading then-Cardinal Ratzinger's book, "The Spirit of the Liturgy". I may pick up that book soon myself.
I'm going to call the following paragraph to the article linked above to your attention:
So, with that in mind, how's this sound for a new pattern of the "ad orientem Novus Ordo Missae"?
"The rubrics of the renewed Missale Romanum of Pope Paul VI presuppose a common direction of priest and people for the core of the Eucharistic liturgy. This is indicated by the instruction that, at the Orate, fratres, the Pax Domini, the Ecce, Agnus Dei, and the Ritus conclusionis, the priest should turn towards the people. This would seem to imply that beforehand priest and people were facing the same direction, that is, towards the altar. At the priest's communion the rubrics say "ad altare versus", which would be redundant if the celebrant stood behind the altar facing the people anyway. This reading is confirmed by the directives of the General Instruction, even if they are occasionally at variance with the Ordo Missae. The third Editio typica of the renewed Missale Romanum, approved by Pope John Paul II on April 2000 and published in spring 2002, retains these rubrics."
Sign of the Cross and Greeting: facing the people
Penitential Rite or Sprinkling Rite, Gloria (if liturgically allowed), and Opening Prayer: facing the Lord
Readings and Homily: facing the people, at the pulpit (Note: the Psalm and Alleluia should still be sung from the ambo if possible)
Credo: facing the Lord
Prayer of the Faithful: priest facing the Lord (lector/commentator may use pulpit and face people to read the intercessions)
Orate Fratres: facing the people
Everything from the Prayer over the Gifts to the Agnus Dei inclusive: facing the Lord
Ecce Agnus Dei and (of course) the distribution of Communion: facing the people
Post Communion Prayer: facing the Lord
Final Blessing and Dismissal: facing the people
I can only guess that this COULD be the turnout eventually. But this can only be decided (and I will respect such decision) by (perhaps) Rome, particularly the Holy See.
And a note to the anonymous commenter on my latest "pet peeves" article - you mentioned unity. With the priest and people all praying directly to the Lord, this is a perfect example of fostering unity, a necessity called for in the GIRM.
Except, Brian, that since the Lord is present among the people gathered in his name -- as specifically stated in the Vatican II liturgy document -- "facing the Lord" could mean facing: (1) a tabernacle with the reserved Eucharist; (2) the book of the gospels; (3) the assembled congregation; (4) possibly the altar.
If the goal is to have the priest "face the Lord," there are many options.
According to the Holy Father (Cardinal Ratzinger at the time) in his interview with Raymond Arroyo on EWTN. Facing the Lord has an even richer meaning. We are all on a journey going to the Lord - Priest and people headed in the same direction. The Priest was never facing the wall, or the tabernacle or the cross - the Priest and people were and are on a pilgrimage of faith, like the Isrealites in the desert, and all headed in the same direction. The Priest facing God with the people removes a misunderstanding that the Mass is just a banquet and we are gathered to have a good time. Toward the East or toward the Lord, we journey to calvery, through the cross and to the kingdom.
In the four possible directions RP Burke mentioned, I would aim for the altar, where the priest transforms the water and wine into the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
However, the anonymous poster (who revealed himself to me, and I swore to secrecy, btw) also makes an excellent point in his last three or four sentences.
I would like to hear what this same anonymous poster's take is on "churches in the round", like my former parish, in regards to turning "toward the Lord". It has really gotten my curiosity.
+In the Eucharistic Lord, as we prepare for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, during the Year of the Eucharist, I remain,
I wrote some about this in relation to my own parish a week or so ago --- scroll down in my blog to "Ad apsidum and Versus populum are both looking in the wrong direction."
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