Friday, April 17, 2009

"People Look East" - A great article by an MFVA (EWTN) Brother.

For one moment, imagine that you are riding in a huge tour bus; everything seems to be going smoothly, when you notice that the driver is facing the wrong direction. To your surprise, you ask the driver what he is doing driving facing the people. Something is not right with this picture. The driver is not facing the direction that he should be facing while leading the people to their destination. Several people be-gin to notice and with one voice as it were begin to cry out, “Turn around and face the direction we are driving!” The driver had been using a mirror to guide his course of action while facing the passengers. This seemed perfectly acceptable by passengers for most of the trip until some of them intuitively realized that something did not seem just right. The direction of the driver became very important to the passengers once they became aware of the significance of the matter. Practically speaking, direction matters. This can be seen and proven in the most mundane situations in the natural order.

If you grew up in the generation before the Second Vatican Council and if you were asked what are two distinct things that you remember happening afterward, what would they be? The two most common answers would be that the Holy Mass is no longer in Latin and the priest no longer has his back to the people while celebrating Holy Mass. You would think that they were the primary “fruits” of Vatican II. However, the Council itself never discouraged either of the two. Upon reading the Council documents, we see the Church encouraged the faithful to learn basic Gregorian chants in Latin for a full, active, and conscious participation in the Sacred Liturgy. The position or direction of the priest facing the people while celebrating the Sacred Liturgy was something that came into effect after Vatican II. The Council documents never mentioned the priest facing the congregation during the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass. This was done with the best intentions of trying to direct people’s minds and hearts into the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy and the Reality that is being made present on the Altar in the Holy Eucharist.

The question now has to legitimately be asked, “Has this been done?” or better stated, “Has the priest facing the people during the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass actually drawn the faithful into a more full, active, and conscious participation?” or “Has it had drastic effects on how the faithful view and understand the Sacred Liturgy?” Most of our Catholic faithful do not even know that the Novus Ordo or Mass of Paul VI can still be celebrated with the priest facing the same direction as the people during the Eucharistic Prayer. If most of the Catholic faithful saw a priest facing the Altar during the Eucharistic Prayer they might be tempted to think that they are at an Extraordinary Form Mass or Tridentine Mass. The question must be raised, “Why did the priest face in that direction (toward the Altar) for centuries?”

There is a growing realization in the Roman Rite of the importance of liturgical orientation and direction during prayer, most especially during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The terms the Church uses for the posture or direction of the priest during the Eucharistic Prayer are called ad orientem (toward the east) or ad Dominum (toward the Lord). It must be said that the direction of the priest “facing away” from the people was never looked at by the Church as the priest “turning his back” on the people. Rather, from the time of the early Church, the understanding has always been that the priest is facing “with” the rest of the faithful in unison as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is being offered. The direction of this liturgical action was seen as not just something symbolic, but as an entering into (and facing a reality) far greater than ourselves. The Church when she celebrates the Sacred Liturgy is literally facing God and oriented toward the Lord. The Holy Mass is always directed toward the Eternal Father, in the Son, through the Holy Spirit.

This Trinitarian action is shown in the Holy Mass as the priest, standing in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), offers the once and for all perfect Sacrifice of the Son of God to the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit. The direction of the priest facing with the faithful toward the Lord as He raises the Holy Body and Blood of Christ has not only a practical, common sense dimension, but more importantly, an eschatological dimension. Simply put, this means our final end or end times when the Son of God and Son of Man will come again from the East.

Facing east during liturgical prayers is much more than an external gesture. It involves the whole of man’s purpose of striving to be a Christian. The external gesture of facing east has to also have an internal orientation of the heart toward the Lord. This internal orientation during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass was precisely what Vatican II intended when it spoke of full, conscious, and active participation. When all of us face the Lord together, both priest and lay faithful, all creation comes together to worship the Father in the Son through the Holy Spirit.

Br. John Paul Mary, MFVA
(From the MFVA "Fishers of Men" Newsletter. Reprinted with permission of the MFVAs.)
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