Sunday, August 2, 2009

'ad orientem' vs 'versus populum'; why do we need to vote?

As I sit watching the sun rise on this glorious Sunday morning, I am reminded of another Sunday morning where the Son rose and it brings to light ever more the argument for "ad orientem". 'Ad orientem' is Latin for 'toward the east' and this was a subject brought up by our pastor yesterday at Mass. I found this to be a teachable moment because...well he didn't.
As I have mentioned in previous posts our Mass is founded on rich tradition and Sacred Scripture. Historically the earliest Christian practices was to have the entire congregation face the east, the natural and cosmological symbol of the rising sun which is the perfect expression of our Risen Savior. Churches are built to face geographical East, or as Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, points out the position called "liturgical east". The priest is in the position of leadership guiding the congregation toward their eternal salvation and the Second Coming of Christ. The priest now leads the congregation in prayer and worship, offering our sacrifice to God. The priest is leading, not turning his back to the people as so many are want to phrase it.
Cardinal Ratzinger states in his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy, that with the advent of 'versus populum' the 'turned to the people' posture would lose sight of the worship to be given to the Lord and make the priest, the man, more of the focus. Unfortunately in many instances this has been the case. A priest I spoke with claims that now with the priest facing the people the worship space is closed and God is left out of the circle. There is no leading, we become closed in and self-centered, to use Cardinal Ratzinger's words. When this posture changed after Vatican Council II it was never meant to be about facing the people or centered around the priest. The discussion was brought about because of the construction in new churches that had free standing altars. Something was terribly lost in the translation of the general instruction and unfortunately God has suffered for it. Never was the priest encouraged to put his back to the Cross, he was to face the congregation at times of prayer to encourage participation, i.e. ..."now pray my brothers and sisters...".
Ironically our pastor's homily was about our reflection of the sacraments after we leave Mass. Do we convey what we believe in our everyday lives? And after attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion do we reflect the graces received in our actions toward others? All good points and something we can all ponder, but I found myself apologizing to Jesus again for our denial of Him during the Liturgy. Heaven forbid the priest should face Him instead of us, heaven forbid we miss out and not be able to see or hear what is going on. The priest reminds us of our actions after we leave the Liturgy, but what about the time spent in the presence of the Lord. Is that little head bob enough of a sign of worship or receiving Jesus on the hand and popping Him in the mouth enough to show Jesus He is really and truly present? Being dressed in our most casual attire is that another action to show Him we believe? Where is the sacrifice we are willing to make all for the glory of God?
The subject of 'ad orientem' is not debatable as far as I'm concerned, nor should we be voting on the position the priest takes at Mass. It is all about the glory and honor given to God. Until we realize it is not about us, sadly our lives will reflect our behavior toward God and all mankind for that matter.

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