we would all be in big trouble.
But if I were (please indulge me while a cold shiver runs up your spine), I would institute one change to the Mass: I would require that it be celebrated ad orientum, which is a fancy way of saying, “towards the East,” which means that the priest would be facing the same direction as the people, instead of in opposite directions (i.e. facing each other).
I don’t think such a change would solve every problem with how the Mass is currently celebrated, but I think that one minor change would go a long way. By turning the priest around, the people would be reminded that he is leading us towards something (God) and that the Mass is not a conversation between the priest and the people, but worship of the All-Mighty Triune God. I think it would also greatly reduce “performancitis” – the disease which afflicts many priests during the Mass in which they feel they must turn the Mass into a performance which entertains the people.
Well, I may not be pope (again, thank God for that!), but the Bishop of Tulsa has decided to implement ad orientum at his cathedral church. He gives some of his reasons for favoring this form of worship, which show a deep appreciation for the importance of proper worship in the Church:
Having the priest and people celebrate Mass ad orientem was the liturgical norm for nearly 18 centuries. There must have been solid reasons for the Church to have held on to this posture for so long. And there were!
First of all, the Catholic liturgy has always maintained a marvelous adherence to the Apostolic Tradition. We see the Mass, indeed the whole liturgical expression of the Church’s life, as something which we have received from the Apostles and which we, in turn, are expected to hand on intact. (1 Corinthians 11:23)
Secondly, the Church held on to this single eastward position because of the sublime way it reveals the nature of the Mass. Even someone unfamiliar with the Mass who reflected upon the celebrant and the faithful being oriented in the same direction would recognize that the priest stands at the head of the people, sharing in one and the same action, which was – he would note with a moment’s longer reflection – an act of worship.
And note that there is no church regulation which states that the Mass cannot be celebrated ad orientum. In fact, it is simply an option to celebrate it “facing the people,” an option which quickly became the de facto norm.
Please pray for Bishop Slattery and pray that more of our shepherds will take the celebration of the Mass as seriously as he does.