Beautiful: A Ten-Year Old’s Impression of Ad Orientum Mass

Posted at Catholic Insight

ad orientum massOn the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, my ten-year old daughter went to church with me. The priest at the church regularly celebrates Mass ad orientum, whether he is offering the Novus Ordo Mass in Latin or English. Afterwards, I asked my daughter what she thought of the Mass. Her short but certain answer was “beautiful.”

In Spirit of the Liturgy, Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Ratzinger, writes about the ad orientum Mass this way: “praying towards the East is a tradition that goes back to the beginning. Moreover, it is a fundamental expression of the Christian synthesis of cosmos and history, of being rooted in the once-for-all events of salvation history while going out to meet the Lord who is to come again. Here both the fidelity to the gift already bestowed and the dynamism of going forward are given equal expression.” Facing “to the east” or to the liturgical east is what it means to be ad orientum. So all of us, priests and congregation turn towards the Risen Christ represented by the rising sun.

There’s a sense of awe and attention at an ad orientum Mass that can’t be duplicated at Mass celebrated versus populum where the priest faces the people. When the priest faces the tabernacle (which should be front centre in all churches) and the crucifix (which should be hanging above the tabernacle), just by his physical orientation he leads us to Jesus. We aren’t sitting back and watching him, we are following him to the altar where the Eucharistic sacrifice takes place. There’s a sense of profound mystery surrounding his actions and by the direction he faces, we acknowledge that the Mass is about Jesus –  His body, blood, soul and divinity  – and not about the community gathered together to break the “communion bread”, to quote a regrettable line from a current church hymn.

All these many years after Vatican II, issues regarding the Liturgy remain divisive. With the implementation of Pope Benedict’s Summorum Pontificum, it seems that divisions have become deeper.

The issue isn’t so much about the Extraordinary Form Mass vs Novus Ordo Mass; the issue is about reverence and approaching Holy Mass with an attitude that befits the solemness of being present at the Eucharistic sacrifice.The priest, when turned around, automatically commands the proper demeanour, whether the Mass is in Latin, English or another language.

Pope Benedict continues: “a common turning to the East during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of something accidental, but of what is essential. 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 towards 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.”

The reasons for ad orientum Mass are all very sound and it’s hard to understand why many clergy and lay people still show so much resistance to it. Perhaps we need to look at the issue in a more simple light. If a ten-year old girl can see the beauty of celebrating Mass in this more traditional orientation, then maybe that’s all the reason we need.

Deo Gratias

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15 Responses to Beautiful: A Ten-Year Old’s Impression of Ad Orientum Mass

  1. waywardson23 says:

    That’s strange. The one time I went to an ad orientam mass, I found the experience to be more of an overly formalized “liturgical production” than about worshiping Jesus. I felt no sense of awe or attention, but instead felt like I was in a very stuffy, very “high”, Episcopal Church.

    But this may have been this particular priest, who felt it was his place to give St. Paul theological pointers in the homily. While Pope Benedict XVI said that “looking at the priest has no importance”, this particular priest carried himself in a way that made himself the center of attention during the entire mass, despite his back being turned toward us.

    I believe the resistance to ad orientam is not a resistance to ad orientam itself, but to a lot of the formalism and clericalism that often goes along with it.

  2. I’ve been to many ad orientum Masses, both novus ordo and EF and haven’t had the experience you describe. Perhaps, as you say, it was that particular priest.

  3. Ryan M. says:

    Yes! This! Very well-said, Terry!

  4. liturgy guy says:

    Great post Terry! Your ten your old recognizes the obvious beauty of liturgy offered in a sacred and traditional manner. Out of the mouths of babes… 🙂

    In my humble opinion, more priests offering the Novus Ordo ad orientem would go a long way to recalibrating proper worship in many parishes. Not only does it help retain continuity with our liturgical heritage, but it also serves as catechesis for the faithful, demonstrating that the Mass is offered to God the Father, and that the priest is speaking to Him (and not us) for most of the Mass.

    God bless!

    • Thanks. I was surprised but very happy with her answer. I agree with priests offering Novus Ordo ad orientum. I think that with the proper explanation, most of the congregation wouldn’t have a problem with it.

  5. dgcree says:

    I concur with “liturgy guy” comments, your little girl is obviously blessed with spiritual insight.

    “Ad orientum”, whilst the desired norm, is not possible in a number of churches because of their orientation caused mainly by evironmental factors.
    In the case of the three parishes I frequent: St. Andrew’s Cathedral has the main altar facing South, St. Mary’s, Our Lady of Victories, has the altar facing West, and St Patrick’s has the altar facing North, we are quite universal in our orientation, perhaps the term used should be “Ad caelos ” – which incidentally was the motto of my old school, St. John’s. 🙂

    • That’s true, Don. It’s been explained to me that while having an actual east-facing altar is the ideal, ad orientum can still be implemented since the priest will still be directing us to Jesus instead of having the focus on him. And, thanks, I really didn’t expect that answer from my daughter. Out of the mouths of babes, indeed.

  6. genericmum says:

    When the priest celebrates standing on a dais at the foot of the tabernacle, the effect is even more obvious – we are facing upwards as well as east. I like it..and any priest who makes the choice to celebrate ad orientum probably won’t be making jokes about football 😦

    • dgcree says:

      ” and any priest who makes the choice to celebrate ad orientum probably won’t be making jokes about football 😦 ” I am totally empathetic, genericmum, Nothing clouds my participation at Mass than a priest commenting on the local football scores etc before the final blessing.
      A really good priest friend of mine, has this affinity to Manchester United. He knows my feelings on the matter and so on one occasion I sent him a birthday card with the Chelsea FoobalI Club coat of arms on the front and underpinned the greeting inside with the words “forgive your enemies” –
      I hope the Lord approved 🙂

  7. dgcree says:

    Argh ! Another Man U supporter, heaven will be flushed with red. 🙂 Coincidentally the Reverend Father, has just recently returned from Toronto having visited his extended family there he mentioned nothing about evangelising 🙂
    He’s now on the pilgrim way, with his Canadian sister and some family, to Santiago de Compostella, with his gregarious personality I would not be surprised to hear the Real Madrid supporters chanting “Viva Man. U.” 🙂
    But we digress, Glory be to God!

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