HICH WAY should the priest face during Holy Mass? The long tradition of the Church has been that we—priest and people together—face eastward during the celebration of the liturgy. Many people erroneously think that this practice was changed by the Second Vatican Council; in reality, not a word of Sacrosanctum Concilium addresses the issue. As such, celebration ad orientem is still perfectly legitimate and is, in fact, the presumption of the GIRM.
Bishop Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, NE has drawn recent attention for directing that all Masses celebrated during Advent at his Cathedral of the Risen Christ be celebrated with the priest facing east. I have heard from a few other priests in the diocese who intend to follow their bishop’s example in their own parishes. I encourage you to read his brief pastoral column for yourself so that you can see the very pastoral language he uses to introduce this initiative.
This will, without a doubt, upset some people. But would those same people be equally upset to see photos of Pope Francis celebrating Mass ad orientem (see HERE and HERE)? We need to get beyond the stage where this manner of celebration is (or is at least perceived to be) the odd penchant of a few agenda-driven clergy. As anyone who is a student of the liturgy or of church history will know, there is nothing “new” about celebrating Mass facing east.
For more background information on celebrating Mass ad orientem, check out the various posts on the topic available HERE. Having celebrated Mass with both postures, I can attest that there is tremendous beauty to be discovered in the act of priest & people together turning toward the Lord. The logic, normality, & naturality of ad orientem worship makes me question if the true “agenda” lies not so much with those in favor of facing east as it does with those who insist that “the spirit of Vatican II” must not be undone.
Time has marched along since the tumultuous days of the post-conciliar period. Since that era, the Church has witnessed the rise of multiple generations who have none of the hang-ups about Latin & ad orientem & chant that so defined their parents’ or grandparents’ upbringing. Is it possible to hope that a new day might be dawning?