Oh, the Priest is Being Rude!

Yes, that is the war-cry of some who insist that Mass ad orientem is a terrible thing, and it makes the congregation excluded, and it feels like a show, and it kills the spiritual life with its detachment, and…

Excuse me?

File:Missa tridentina 002.jpg
Rude? It’s Beautiful! – by the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter, available from http://fssp.org

If you think it’s rude, well, first of all, the current Holy Father would disagree (I suggest you read his book, The Spirit of the Liturgy; it really is something). The Pope’s opinion cast aside, however, I’d like to call your attention to a statement made early on in the Mass: “Brethren, let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries“. That last little phrase is very telling, and it’s worth observing in isolation:

Sacred Mysteries…

Definition of a mystery: something which can not be completely understood or known. Sacred is synonymous with “holy”. Thus, in the phrase “Sacred Mysteries” we have “holy things which can not be completely understood or known”. What could such a thing be? I’ll offer my view: the Holy Eucharist. The Eucharist is certainly sacred and certainly a mystery, since what appear to be mundane bread and wine are the flesh and blood of the Lord.

Mass wherein the priest is not looking toward the congregation, but toward God, better conveys the idea of the Mass as a “Sacred Mystery”. It brings with it a sense that the priest is not here to simply mingle with church-goers, but to do something great, magnanimous, and indeed, sacred. It also takes the focus of the Mass off the congregation, which should not be the focal point anyway. Christ on the altar should be the focal point, and when everyone, priest and congregation alike, faces Him, it is far more God-glorifying and God-centered.

Furthermore, it can’t be said that the priest ad orientem makes the congregation excluded. They’re facing the same direction, with the priest leading the congregation in this great mystery that is Mass.

Think about it.

God bless,
Michael

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6 thoughts on “Oh, the Priest is Being Rude!”

  1. “It also takes the focus of the Mass off the congregation…”

    And off the priest as well! My attention is fully on him when he is facing me, since it appears as if he’s talking to me. I have to close my eyes or look down to be able to focus on what’s really happening up there on the altar.

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  2. This is how I think of it: if you were taking a dance class, or a yoga class, would you want the instructor to face you, so you could see their lovely face, or face the same way you’re facing, so you can follow their lefts and rights? I don’t mind the Mass either way (I mean, the Mass is the Mass), but I have noticed that when the priest is facing the same direction we are, he seems more like one of us and it’s less “The Father So-and-so Show.”

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  3. “Dominus vobiscum.” One of the few times that the priest faces the people during a Latin mass. When he turns to us, he is inviting us to join with him in the prayer and sacrifice of the mass, then he turns back and expects us to join him as he requested. There’s nothing exclusive about that — we’re ALL facing God together.
    Just another (of many, thanks for bringing this topic up, Michael) reason that the priest does not need to face us. :-)

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