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f r o m t h e b i s h o p

ecause the Mass
is so necessary
and fundamental
to our Catholic
experience, the liturgy is a
constant topic in our con-
versation. That is why when
we get together, we so often
reflect upon the prayers and
readings, discuss the homily,
and – likely as not – argue
about the music. The critical
element in these conversa-
tions is an understanding
that we Catholics worship
the way we do because of
what the Mass is: Christ’s
sacrifice, offered under the
sacramental signs of bread
and wine.

If our conversation about the Mass

is going to “make any sense,” then we
have to grasp this essential truth: At
Mass, Christ joins us to Himself as He
offers Himself in sacrifice to the Father
for the world’s redemption. We can

offer ourselves like this in Him because
we have become members of His Body
by Baptism.
We also want to remember that all
of the faithful offer the Eucharistic Sac-
rifice as members of Christ’s body. It’s

incorrect to think that only the priest
offers Mass. All the faithful share in the
offering, even though the priest has a
unique role. He stands “in the person of
Christ,” the historic Head of the Mysti-
cal Body, so that, at Mass, it is the whole
body of Christ – Head and members
together that make the offering.

Revival of ancient rite Facing the same direction

From ancient times, the position of
brings multiple advantages, the priest and the people reflected this
understanding of the Mass, since the

some misperceptions people prayed, standing or kneeling,

in the place that visibly corresponded

Eastern Oklahoma Catholic 2 September 2009 | www.dioceseoftulsa.org Liturgical Calendar: St. Gregory the Great, pope and doctor of the Church Sept. 3 | Feast of th
to Our Lord’s Body, while the priest at ebrant and the faithful being oriented celebrant by placing him on a kind of
the altar stood at the head as the Head. in the same direction would recognize liturgical stage.
We formed the whole Christ – Head that the priest stands at the head of the
and members – both sacramentally people, sharing in one and the same Recovering the sacred
by Baptism and visibly by our posi- action, which was – he would note Even before his election as the
tion and posture. Just as importantly, with a moment’s longer reflection – an successor to St. Peter, Pope Benedict
everyone – celebrant and congregation act of worship. has been urging us to draw upon
– faced the same direction, since they the ancient liturgical practice of the
were united with Christ in offering to An innovation with unforeseen Church to recover a more authentic
the Father Christ’s unique, unrepeat- consequences Catholic worship. For that reason, I
able and acceptable sacrifice. In the last 40 years, however, this have restored the venerable ad orientem
When we study the most ancient shared orientation was lost; now the position when I celebrate Mass at the
priest and the Cathedral.
When we study the most ancient litur- people have be- This change ought not to be miscon-
come accustomed strued as the Bishop “turning his back
gical practices of the Church, we find to facing in opposite on the faithful,” as if I am being incon-
that the priest and the people faced in directions. The priest siderate or hostile. Such an interpreta-
the same direction, usually toward the faces the people while tion misses the point that, by facing in
the people face the the same direction, the posture of the
in the expectation that when
east, priest, even though celebrant and the congregation
Christ returns, He will return the Eucharistic make explicit the fact that
“from the east.” Prayer is directed we journey together to God.
to the Father and Priest and people are on
not to the people. this pilgrimage together.
This innova- It would also be a mis-
liturgical practices of the Church, we tion was introduced after taken notion to look at
find that the priest and the people faced the Vatican Council, the recovery of this
in the same direction, usually toward partly to help the people ancient tradition
the east, in the expectation that when understand the liturgi- as a mere “turn-
Christ returns, He will return “from the cal action of the Mass ing back of the
east.” At Mass, the Church keeps vigil, by allowing them to clock.” Pope
waiting for that return. This single posi- see what was going Benedict has
tion is called ad orientem, which simply on, and partly as an spoken re-
means “toward the east.” accommodation to peatedly of the
contemporary culture importance of
Multiple advantages where people who exer- celebrating Mass
Having the priest and people cel- cise authority are expected ad orientem, but his
ebrate Mass ad orientem was the liturgi- to face directly the people intention is not to
cal norm for nearly 18 centuries. There they serve, like a teacher encourage celebrants
must have been solid reasons for the sitting behind her desk. to become “liturgical
Church to have held on to this posture Unfortunately this antiquarians.” Rather,
for so long. And there were! First of all, change had a number of His Holiness wants
the Catholic liturgy has always main- unforeseen and largely us to discover what
tained a marvelous adherence to the negative effects. First of underlies this ancient
Apostolic Tradition. We see the Mass, all, it was a serious rup- tradition and made
indeed the whole liturgical expression ture with the Church’s an- it viable for so many
of the Church’s life, as something which cient tradition. Secondly, centuries, namely,
we have received from the Apostles and it can give the appearance the Church’s under-
which we, in turn, are expected to hand that the priest and the standing that the
on intact. (1 Corinthians 11:23) people were engaged in a worship of the Mass
Secondly, the Church held on to this conversation about God, is primarily and es-
single eastward position because of the rather than the worship sentially the worship
sublime way it reveals the nature of the of God. Thirdly, it places which Christ offers to
Mass. Even someone unfamiliar with an inordinate importance His Father.
the Mass who reflected upon the cel- on the personality of the
– Bishop Edward J. Slattery

of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sept. 8 | St. Peter Claver, priest Sept. 9 | Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary Sept.12 | Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross Sept. 14