Tuesday 14 February 2023

Thorny Issues around Ad Orientem worship

A new skirmish in the "Liturgy Wars" has broken out - at least in the United States - surrounding the practice of celebrating the New Order of Mass "ad orientem".

The novel practice of celebrating the Roman Mass "versus populum" began universally during the Second Vatican Council (1962 - 1965), but became more or less normative with the introduction of the New Order of the Roman Mass in November 1969.  With the New Mass were introduced many things which were passed off as being revivals of liturgical practices from the Early Church. But among them was also an entirely new concept, namely, the priest-celebrant as “Presider”. 

We would like to suggest that this particular break with Tradition has largely facilitated the widespread distortion where, from the very beginning of the Mass, the priest becomes more of a compere or emcee, rather than a celebrant. The principle of communication is most prominent in the New Order of Mass in what is termed The Introductory Rite. Here, the predominance of dialogue between the “presider” and the “assembly” occurs.  

It is for this reason precisely that the incorporation of ad orientem  posture is desirable from the very beginning of the Order of Mass and not simply during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  It is desirable because it would have the effect of lessening the prevailing tendency that the Mass is a dialogue (which varies from place to place in degrees of formality) between those physically present in a particular church, rather than being the worship of the entire Church, Visible and Invisible.

A Conventual Mass according to the New Missal
in the Abbey-Church of Sant'Antimo, Tuscany.
Already, some pastors through the catechesis of their flocks, have introduced the celebration of Mass ad orientem and have been doing so for some time.  But not every pastor of souls is in a position to do this.  Leaving aside the issue of prudence, the sanctuaries of some churches are not readily suited to this arrangement, namely that the celebrant offers the Liturgy of the Eucharist at the altar facing towards the apse.  For these two reasons, suppose the focus were not on the Liturgy of the Eucharist, but on a partly ad orientem Liturgy of the Word?

Whilst it may well be argued that many priests and congregations would not welcome ad orientem celebrations of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, surely fewer would object to parts of the Liturgy of the Word being celebrated ad orientem, particularly if such a practice were introduced slowly and in stages and with appropriate catechesis. 

As a principle, prayers addressed to God during the Liturgy of the Word of the "Ordinary Form" Mass might be offered ad orientem and preferably at the altar or its foot, in order to clarify that such prayers are not a dialogue between the celebrant and the Faithful present. A gradual introduction of this principle could (over a period of years) lead to the celebration of Mass being entirely (or mostly) ad orientem. Already a variant of the Roman Rite exists which puts into effect this principle, namely the Order of Mass prepared for the use of the Personal Ordinariates Anglicanorum Coetibus in the United Kingdom, the USA/Canada and Australia.

Read a much elaborated version of this article at this link on the Saint Bede Studio blog.