In this modern era, lots of things have slipped out of order. Slowly, and piece by piece, many aspects of the faith experience have gone a little off the rails. Disorder happens slowly, after all. It happens when we lose correct orientation—which is one of the reasons I constantly emphasize balance, and an unfailing, unquestioning humility and submission to the Magisterium. When we lose orientation, we lose order. Restoring order beings with restoring right orientation. Well, here we go!
(By the way you’ll find an After-Show on this subject embedded at the end of this post)
Reported by CNA, this past Tuesday Cardinal Robert Sarah asked priests throughout the Church to start saying Mass ad orientem—the priest facing east, the same direction as the people in the pews. This isn’t actually new, the Cardinal was encouraging this some time ago. But the “news” part was the verbal address to priests at a conference on the Liturgy in London where he drilled down a little deeper on the issue, and went as far as requesting that priests church-wide begin making this “change” starting this Advent.
“I believe that it is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction – Eastwards or at least towards the apse – to the Lord who comes, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God,”
Falling short of a full-fledged mandate, this request for “common orientation” is about as authoritative as it gets. Though, it is a request, as I understand it, rather than a official order. Whether or not the Bishops and parish priests will follow it is anybody’s guess. But I still think that this is a positive sign. The Cardinal not only spoke about this common orientation, but he also encouraged kneeling during reception of Holy Communion.
“Kneeling at the consecration (unless I am sick) is essential. In the West this is an act of bodily adoration that humbles us before our Lord and God. It is itself an act of prayer. Where kneeling and genuflection have disappeared from the liturgy, they need to be restored, in particular for our reception of our Blessed Lord in Holy Communion.”
Again, I see this as a positive sign. Whether the priest faces the tabernacle or not, it’s the same mass. Whether people receive communion reverently while standing, or they receive it kneeling, it’s the same reception. But the reason why this address gives me hope is because there are a lot of “mini abuses” going on during the mass, all over the Church. Not just by the celebrant but by the people in attendance. They’re usually minor “infractions” rather than full-on abuses (although sometimes full-on abuses too). But my point is there is such an array of liturgical abnormality going on that the only way to correct all of it at once is to return to the mass as the Council Fathers ordered it. Return with strict adherence to precisely what the Church has ordered, because order is important, and order is the only thing that corrects disorder—and there is a lot of things that are out of order these days.
“this is something good for the Church, something good for our people”
I prefer, and encourage people to receive communion on the tongue, and kneeling down. But I don’t tell them that it’s wrong to receive standing up, or in their hands, because even the Church doesn’t say that. However, I prefer kneeling because it orders us both mentally and physically to a disposition of humility, submission, and due-respect to God, an order is that important. That order begins with right orientation. I feel the same away about ad orientem worship. While it makes no difference to me, personally, which direction the priest faces, I think there is a real value in sending a clear message to the faithful about the seriousness and dignity of what’s going on during the Liturgy—especially during the consecration. Unfortunately people need that demonstration today. They can’t just be told “This is serious” they have to be shown, through actions, that “this is serious”.
For me this is a positive sign because Cardinal Sarah’s address can be boiled down to this: Right orientation. Not just the orientation of the priest while celebrating mass, but the orientation of the Church with regard to the Liturgy, and with regard to the faith. It’s not just about which direction the priest is facing, and it’s not just about how the faithful receive communion. For me it’s a much bigger picture. The Church (through Cardinal Sarah) is encouraging a return to right orientation. In this case, that right orientation is centered around the mass. But I believe this call to a return of “right orientation” will broaden to include the whole faith experience. The Church on some level recognizes that things are out of order, and the Church is starting to return things to order, starting with the most important thing first, the Sacred Liturgy.
Here’s a little bonus for you. Wilson and I did an After-Show on the subject of Ad Orientem worship. Hope you enjoy it.
“Ad Orientem Worship”
VERICAST After-Show #164