Monday, January 14, 2008


The Pope does "ad orientem" in a televised public Mass.

I certainly hope this will encourage priests to use this traditional posture when celebrating the Ordinary Form of the Mass and attract them to look at it more deeply than just a Mass "with priest's back to the people".

When I was something like 9 or 10 years old, I've often wondered why the priest had his back to the cross or the tabernacle. Even at a young age, it was unsettling for me to see the priest facing us, the congregation, rather than the God supposedly being worshipped and prayed to as he utters his prayers. Of course, like the rest in the Church, I merely consoled myself that this is the ancient practice since altars back then were ordinary tables.

Years later, I read John Evangelist Walsh's "The Bones of St. Peter", a book recounting the discovery of the Apostle Peter's bones under the main altar of the basilica in Rome which bears his name. I found there mention of the Tropaion which was erected over the supposed hallow grave where the Apostle's remains were interred. Among the various theories Walsh disclosed regarding the Tropaion's purpose, the most compelling for me was that it was an altar. But if that was the case, then the Mass celebrated on that altar would have necessitated the ad orientem posture as the priest facing the people during its most important part would've been highly unlikely. So here we have a very ancient and powerful evidence for ad orientem.

I would prefer that priests celebrated the liturgy in this manner. It would be a return to a more ancient pratice as the Tropaion demonstrates.

Also, for a more practical reason, it would allow the use of older altars attached to the apse. Such altars, in my opinion, are more rational in the use of space in sanctuaries. A free-standing altar creates two spaces in the sanctuary, the one in front of it and the one behind it. Ritual Masses (like weddings and ordinations) would neccessitate the use of the space in front of the altar so that the congregation would be able to witness the wedding or ordination. When the ceremony is over, the space in front is largely abandoned and the space behind is used. The economist in me is shouting that this is a misuse of scarce resource (in this case, space). Ad orientem and the use of altars attached to walls would solve this economic problem.

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