Friday, October 20, 2006

liturgical east for the last 2 weeks of Ordinary Time?

An idea for liturgists and priests who might read this blog:

Since the last two weeks of Ordinary Time have a distinct eschatological tilt to them, what about using these weeks to face liturgical east at Mass? If explained to the people why it is being done, and the V2’ers can take solace in that it is only temporary, would there be much problem? And more importantly, how much could be gained?

I am thinking it would really open people’s eyes, especially to see some parts of the Mass where the celebrant faces the people and others where he doesn’t.


At Friday, October 20, 2006 7:34:00 PM, Blogger Gavin said...

At my church (built in 1917), the High altar faces North. So would "Liturgical east" be North?

Having seen an old Mass, I must say I prefer the priest facing the congregation. Actually, at most Lutheran churches I've been to, the pastor switches position whether he's addressing God or the congregation. For communion, etc. he faces the altar. For responsory prayers, he usually faces the congregation. I'm not sure if that's a Catholic practice, but I think it's good. Then again, I'm just a musician.

My priest is extremely traditional anyway. Frankly, I'm somewhat confused as to why he hasn't reverted to using the High Altar, as it's still preserved at the parish. The low altar is a large boxy wooden table. Even the congregation doesn't like it.

At Saturday, October 21, 2006 10:59:00 AM, Blogger Todd said...

No thanks. Too gimmicky for me.

I prefer the oldest orientation: Christ at the center of the community, gathered for a ritual meal and sacrifice, and praying for grace and deliverance.

Ad orientam worship isn't without its major drawbacks, too. Chief among them being the de-emphasis on the altar itself and the exaltation--ill-placed, I think--of the reredo.

At Saturday, October 21, 2006 12:40:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...


The priest facing the people for addressing them (i.e. responsory prayers, greeting, blessing, etc.) is required in the modern Mass - that, I think, should stay regardless.

What is permitted is facing the altar (i.e. away from the congregation) for the prayers addressed to God (e.g. collects, canon, ...).

Your priest can’t/shouldn’t use an old high altar if it is affixed to the wall or otherwise impossible to walk around - check GIRM.


I think it could be presented in a way that is not “gimmicky”, though yeah, the sheer novelty of it and the context through which many V2’ers would see it predisposes the situation to being perceived that way.

AFAIK, the oldest orientation *is* ad orientem. I don’t know if there is a reliable conjecture as to the actual layout of the Last Supper, but early Christian worship was, if Gamber is to be lent weight, done ad orientem a significant, even predominant, amount of the time.

De-emphasis on the altar....I hadn’t thought of that, but still, the altar is shown reverence by the priest’s bow as he crosses the sanctuary during the LotW, and I don’t know that being able to see the front of the altar during the Canon necessarily emphasizes it.

At Saturday, October 21, 2006 1:19:00 PM, Blogger Gavin said...

Thanks for the info, Cantor. That clears up a bit I was wondering about. I went to a Tridentine Mass in the area here and it was celerbrated facing east at a low altar - I found it rather strange actually. I think Todd has a point, that a "seasonal variance" risks becoming a novelty. In any case, I think it's at the cellebrant's discretion. As I said, I think my boss would (and has) jump on any chance towards a more "traditional" practice.

At Saturday, October 21, 2006 3:02:00 PM, Blogger Todd said...

The Last Supper was a Passover meal, and Jewish practice is that it is eaten sitting in one or more communal groupings within a house. Though the ritual participation of women and children imply one grouping, perhaps at a table if the family were wealthy. It is absolute speculation that Jesus would have arranged himself, his discples, and possibly their families so as to be facing liturgical east.

The Pesach, like the Eucharist, is more than just a meal; it too was a sacrifice, and commemorated God's deliverance of his people. Facing liturgical east is a wonderful image and metaphor for the Eucharist--it's not the only one.

That aspect alone makes seating in the round a sound and viable alternative to ad orientam, and likely a more ancient and traditional rendering of early Christian practice.

Just as an aside, I doubt you'd get much action on asking an ad orientam community to celebrate "in the round" for Holy Thursday or Corpus Christi.

At Saturday, October 21, 2006 5:54:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...


Seasonal variance, though, is how we do other things liturgically - whether we sing the Gloria and Alleluia, choice of music for the Ordinary, choice of garment color and decoration, ...


Is it not also speculative that Jesus and disciples were seated around a table?

The Mass is a sacrifice; it produces a meal, but it is a sacrifice. (Or at least, this is the only way I can square Pius XII’s Mediator Dei with later Vatican and Papal writings.)

I can only rely on Gamber’s scholarship and the endorsement of it from Ratzinger and other scholars; it should at least be said, though, that a strong case can be made that early Christians, near the time of Christ, did celebrate the Mass ad orientem.

In a sense, if Jesus *did* celebrate the Last Supper seated around a table, and if the early Christians instead prayed the Mass ad orientem, then the case is all the stronger for ad orientem, since to do otherwise challenges the prudence of those who were closest to the Pasch as Christ celebrated it.

I would agree with your speculation on an ad orientem community celebrating in the round; however, a place that celebrates ad orientem generally knows why they do that, both laity and people, since versus populum is overwhelmingly the status quo. Very few places celebrating versus populum have decided to do that, so much as just that they’re doing what everyone else does. I’ve talked to priests who, honest to God, don’t know that they can celebrate ad orientem.

At Sunday, October 22, 2006 4:38:00 AM, Blogger Todd said...

I think you need more than Gamber--do you have a reference on that scholar, by the way? To pin all the Roman Rite hopes on one orientation seems an unreasonably heavy burden to me. If there's a case for ad orientam in house churches, I've yet to see that case be made. There's just no data for it.

The circumstantial evidence among Jewish Christians would be adopting the posture of the Passover meal, and the Scriptures are quite clear that's what Jesus was doing at the Last Supper.

And lastly, I'd say that people know why we've given up on ad orientam: visibility, audibility, and the understanding that goes with it. We know that God is not confined to a tabernacle behind a small metal door on a reredo. Vatican II's challenge was to invigorate the life of the faithful, inspiring those who have consumed the Body to live that faith in the world.

At Sunday, October 22, 2006 7:57:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Novo Ordo mass at Holy Family is celebrated facing the Altar and the congregation. The altar, I think I attached to the wall, the tabernacle is above the altar, and the priest doesn't go around the altar he just turns around.

BTW, the priest (An Oratorian) said facing Liturgical East in facing the Tabernacle, where the Lord is, not just turning your back to the people.

Cantor, it's a nice idea if the tabernacle is behind the altar, but if the tabernacle is in a "Chapel" in the transept then facing Lit. East would be awkward.

At Sunday, October 22, 2006 12:27:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...


I’m not sure what your priest is saying; from what I am told, liturgical east predates tabernacles by a long shot. In most churches I have seen, it would be facing the crucifix, even if there is no tabernacle there.

Tabernacles generally have little, even nothing, to do with the Mass, since what makes the Mass what it is is the consecration. If they had something to do with the Mass, ISTM there would be a definite role for them in the action of the liturgy, which there is not.

At Sunday, October 22, 2006 12:39:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...


Ok, you got me; I have read Ratzinger, who quotes Gamber. I should probably pick up a copy of the book Ratzinger references, which was just recently republished. I am not sure if others have made Gamber’s assertion.

A lot of the 60+-year-olds I know think Vatican II mandated versus populum and all the other stuff. It comes as a shock to many that it actually explicitly mandated use of Latin. It doesn’t really “click” in most people’s minds that the priest would still face the people for much of the Mass.

I question the visibility advantage of versus populum; there is nothing to see for most of the EP, and when there is, the priest has to turn around anyway. Audibility, perhaps, but the words are not directed at the people there. Understanding.....there are different things to be understood from different signs. I really think there would be a lot gained by even occasional use of ad orientem, not the least of which being a clearer delineation of the differences between the words addressed to God and those addressed to the people - and, the understanding that goes along with that.

At Sunday, October 22, 2006 1:22:00 PM, Blogger Gavin said...

Well, I asked my priest today, he said that Cantor was correct in that an altar may not be used which does not allow walking around it. He did point out that, obviously, this rule has BARELY EVER been followed traditionally (I don't know that I've ever seen a high altar without a reredos) and he said that he will consider Liturgical East "at some point". Right now, he's introducing snippets of Latin into Mass, with the whole Eucharistic Prayer in Latin on All Souls' Day. Objectively, I do have to concede to Todd that there are some great advantages to facing the people. I never got confused and thought the priest was having a conversation with me at the E.P. I guess a part of it is that we want to make sure what's being done is being done. If the priest has his back to you, for all we know he may be drawing pictures of cows and singing nursery rhymes in pig latin. On the other hand, if you have a high altar, it looks nice! Use it!

At Sunday, October 22, 2006 2:08:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Gavin - wow, I would advocate for liturgical east before an all-Latin EP. I agree with Todd in that our culture places a premium on comprehension; I hope there are translations handy, and hopefully the parish understands why All Souls would be an occasion to use (more) Latin.

I believe the rule about needing to be able to walk around the altar only dates, in recent times, since the drive for versus populum. I am not aware of high altars built against a wall at all since V2.

“Making sure what’s being done is done” doesn’t strike me as a liturgical virtue. Here’s a question - what would be wrong with the priest drawing pictures of cows while saying the EP? (He can’t really rhyme in piglatin as long as modern technology gives us amplification!)


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