So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter (2 Thess. 2:15). Guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards faith (1 Tim. 6:21-22).

Friday, July 11, 2014

Reason #5027 for Ad Orientem Worship

Are you distracted by a priest who, not knowing where to direct his gaze during the Liturgy of the Eucharist, looks like he's performing eye exercises from the altar? Eye rolling aside, ours and/or his, we should have sympathy for priests who, lacking a single direction in which to focus their gaze, do their best to pray to God while subject to unnecessary distractions from the pews.

When there's a crucifix on the altar during a versus populum liturgy, in the manner of the Benedictine arrangement, the priest has a physical focus to which he can direct his attention and remain somewhat recollected on the reality to which the crucifix points him. The worst case scenario, which is to say a common one, is when a priest is saying prayers that should be directed to God but appear to be directed to the congregation. By contrast, when the Mass is celebrated ad orientem, which is presupposed in the rubrics found in the Missal, the priest faces with us toward God and, during the Liturgy of the Eucharist for example, turns at specific points to invite or enlist the congregation to pray, thus preserving his role and the authentic "direction" in which the prayers should be offered, i.e., toward God (ad Deum).

In addition to the subtle changes in the priest's voice level in the Liturgy, the Mass of the Latin Rite contains subtle changes in direction and vital gestural nuances that articulate the inexpressible and tease the senses and the mind into a willing submission to the Holy Spirit. The changes in the direction that the priest faces create necessary contrasts that engage the attention, elicit participation and form in us a right orientation. The gestures of the priest (and movements of the servers) punctuate the liturgical rites and move the congregation in a gentle and dignified manner toward the supreme moment in the Liturgy—the making present of Jesus, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, and communion with Him.

Ad orientem worship guides us to the One Who really is or should be the focus of our attention—Jesus Christ the Lord, He Who is the principal actor in the Liturgy. When we worship toward each other we tend to be focussed on the goings on in the pews, which can and usually does impede the development of the self forgetfulness required in order for one to be fully attentive to the Lord.

Ad orientem worship preserves the depth of the Mystery and an awareness of the  relationship between time and eternity. Versus populum worship is popular, or "peopular", which is to say it elevates the improvement of self esteem above holy selflessness, a setting aside of selfish preoccupations that is necessary for communion with Jesus.


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