Friday, July 22, 2016

Ad Orientem Mass

In Catholic circles, there has been a lot of talk about Cardinal Sarah, who said that all priests should start celebrating mass ad orientem, "facing east". He thinks they should try it out, starting on Advent, with a view towards possibly doing it full-time.

The basic idea of ad orientem is that the priest faces the altar, during certain parts of the mass, like the Eucharistic prayer. That way the priest and the congregation are all facing the same direction. Some people love it, and they say it gives the sense of everyone being together, focusing on God. Some people hate it, and they say it looks like the priest is turning his back on everyone.

I've never been to an ad orientem mass myself, so I can't say which type of mass I prefer. I've certainly been to masses where everyone zones out during the Eucharistic prayer, to the point where I'm sure they couldn't care less if the priest is facing the altar or not.

Predictably, I suppose, people turned this into a political issue. The conservatives like it, while the liberals don't. In general, the liberals have responded by explaining how the Cardinal's remarks are just suggestions, not mandatory orders. They also referred to General Instructions of the Roman Missal paragraph 299, which has something to say about altars. The conservatives have responded by saying that paragraph was mistranslated into English, probably on purpose. They also note that the Missal contains the instruction "the priest, facing the people," in several places. That indicates he was previously facing the altar, and now turns around at that point.

So...I dunno. It looks like both sides can read the instructional manual and find support for their position.

Me, I'm just happy that Cardinal Sarah is doing something as part of his job as Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (Boy, is that job title a mouthful!). The last time I heard anything from this group, it was when they studied the Sign of Peace at mass, with a view towards improving it and moving it to a different part of mass. Their study took nine years, and the result was...nothing. They recommended doing nothing at all, and sticking with the status quo. Did they REALLY need nine years to conclude that everything is fine? That seems like a ridiculous waste of time to me. It's longer than a US Presidency! So I'm just glad that the new guy in charge is moving at a rate faster than "one thing per decade". (He's "the new guy", because Pope Francis put him in charge of that department two years ago.)

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