Monday 2 March 2015

Ad Orientem this Easter?

Mass - ad orientem - at the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.
Unite your Easter Mass with that at the tomb of the Risen Lord.

It struck me that the Easter Vigil is a great time - even if it is just that once in the year - that the offering of the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass might be very fittingly celebrated ad orientem. In a liturgy that is unique in the year, where so much else is different from the regular Sunday Mass, this could be an ideal opportunity to try out ad oreintem celebration for clergy who might like to introduce it or experience it in a parish setting where particular catechesis could be given to give added emphasis to the special nature of this annual liturgy.  I do know of priests that would like to try it but might be unsure of how it could most easily and helpfully be re-introduced to the pastoral experience of the people.  Certainly, once I tried it - and many others tell  me the same - it transforms the priest's praying of the Mass and if the priest is praying the Mass more comprehensively and in a more focused way, that can only be to the good of the whole community.

In the Exultet we will have been singing of Our Lord returning to us as the shinning Sun, the breaking dawn from the East. We would truly be standing together - priests and people - in that holy light, walking together towards that Pillar of Fire, which is Christ himself, revealed on the Easter altar:
The risen Saviour shines upon you!Let this place resound with joy,echoing the mighty song of all God's people!
Let it mingle with the lights of heavenand continue bravely burningto dispel the darkness of this night! May the Morning Star which never setsfind this flame still burning:Christ, that Morning Star,who came back from the dead,and shed his peaceful light on all mankind.
It also struck me that this could chime in with some of what Pope Francis said recently to the Roman clergy and how to say Mass in a way that recovers the wonder and beauty that should inspire awe.  Ad orientem celebration makes people think about what is going on precisely because it is different from the usual way we interact with someone "centre stage" at a performance or presentation. The Pope said:
People should feel the wonder and allure “that the apostles felt when they were called, invited. It attracts – wonder attracts – and it lets you reflect”.
For me the key of ‘ars celebrandi’ takes the path of recovering the allure of beauty, the wonder both of the person celebrating and the people...  and that way you recover a bit of the wonder.
While the idea is simple, “it is not easy” to elicit this sense of wonder and mystery. But nonetheless, the celebration of Mass is about entering into and letting others enter into this mystery.
The celebrant “must pray before God, with the community."

Pope Francis occasionally celebrates ad orientem.

Pope Benedict at the High Altar in St Peter's 
celebrating (as at all Masses there) facing East.

Pope St John Paul at the High Altar in the Sistine Chapel.

 Pope St John XXIII, 
offering Mass in his private rooms - ad orientem.

The Venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen - the great communicator - 
offering Mass ad orientem.

A contemporary English Bishop - Mark Davies - 
offering Mass ad orientem (in the Extraordinary Form)

A reminder of some of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's writings on the subject:
Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together  at the Lord. It is not now a question of dialogue but of common worship, of setting off toward the One who is to come. What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle but the common movement forward, expressed in a common direction for prayer. 
Wherever possible, we should definitely take up again the apostolic tradition of facing the east, both in the building of churches and in the celebration of the liturgy. It must be plainly evident that the oratio [the Eucharistic Prayer] is the heart of the matter, but that it is important precisely because it provides a space for the actio of God. Anyone who grasps this will easily see that it is not now a matter of looking at or toward the priest, but of looking together toward the Lord and going out to meet him. 


Fr Ray Blake said...

Good Friday too, makes much more sense if the Liturgy i celebrated ad orientem, if the intercessions are addressed towards the altar, if the Cross is placed there and the Communion Rite done facing the Cross.

Fr Simon Henry said...

Well, yes indeed, Fr Ray, that's another good way in. And for some of us, it makes much more sense at every Mass!

Fr Ray Blake said...

Indeed, as we do here.

Before making the decision to do so, GF was the first thing we did facing east. What was so surprising was how supportive people were of the change, it made sense to them.

Jacobi said...

The quicker the Church gets back to "ad orientem", after its uncomfortable and rather unfortunate little diversion, the better!

torchofthefaith said...

Ad Orientem - it's the way forward.


Fr Dickson said...

I did this (at Easter) when I arrived here ten years ago, explaining the rationale (theological significance, historical custom and the continuing rubric in the Novus Ordo). It received a good response from many. I then put a consultation note in the Bulletin asking if people preferred Mass facing the altar, facing the people or were no preference. The response was one third to each, so i have celebrated ad orientem for the last ten years. Those who dislike it grow hostile though, so be warned any who try it!