ERY SOON, the Society for Catholic Liturgy will visit Los Angeles. This is the same group that publishes ANTIPHON (the journal). Doing research on this group, I came across an article by a former editor, Monsignor Francis Mannion, titled “Should Mass be celebrated with the priest facing away from the people?” Published by the INTERMOUNTAIN CATHOLIC on 2 September 2016, his article is a quick read:
Monsignor Mannion gives what he considers the three reasons for “versus populum” celebration:
What are the advantages with Mass facing the people?
(1) It makes for better communication between priest and people. (2) It avoids the sense that the people are an appendum to the priest’s liturgy. (3) Not least, we live in an age of democracy and respect for the individual, in which facing away from someone in any context is generally insulting.
His first reason is rather flimsy, because during an OF “ad orientem” celebration, 90% happens facing the people. Even in the Extraordinary Form, the priest turns around to face the people whenever he’s communicating with them.
His second reason also seems dubious, because it assumes the congregation would automatically think in a certain way. Besides, if everyone faces the same direction except the celebrant, that draws attention to him in an awkward way.
His third reason—which he labels “not least”—is something I never thought of:
Not least, we live in an age of democracy and respect for the individual, in which facing away from someone in any context is generally insulting.
Monsignor Mannion here asserts that Catholics in the pews in front of you are being rude, because they have their backs to you. Moreover, he is saying that you are being rude to the people in pews behind you, because you have your back to them.
I suppose if everyone were arranged in a circle, nobody would be looking at someone’s back. However, that would severely limit the number of people who could fit inside a church. More importantly, we still would not be facing the person next to us…