Wednesday, January 28, 2015


As some of you may know, the Bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska gave the okay for priests and parishes in his diocese to celebrate the Mass toward the liturgical east or apse during the Advent Season. He's my kind of bishop!

Fr. David Friel in his blog, "Views from the Choir Loft" writes about it and confirms what most of us priests who celebrate both the EF and OF Mass ad orientem already know! Kudos to Fr. Friel!

Bishop Conley & Advent “Ad Orientem”
published 25 January 2015 by Fr. David Friel 
T THE END of November, I reported on Bishop Conley of Lincoln, NE and his directive that all Advent Masses in his Cathedral of the Risen Christ should be celebrated ad orientem. So, what happened? How did this initiative go, and what was the response?
I was curious to know, myself, inasmuch as I wholeheartedly supported the experiment. So I did a bit of investigative research. The information that follows was obtained from several priests working within the Diocese of Lincoln, and (with their permission) I am pleased now to offer you the results.

First, the photo above was taken at a parish Mass on Christmas Eve. The parish is St. Wenceslaus in Milligan, NE, and you can see here the celebrant facing East. Thus, we see that the initiative extended beyond just the Cathedral parish.
A number of other parishes in the Diocese—probably on the order of 15 to 20—adopted the same practice of facing East during Advent. This was accompanied by explanation & catechesis, and the practice was met with considerable welcome. Multiple priests confirmed that the response was largely positive. Numerous parishioners apparently requested that the practice be continued beyond Advent.
One pastor enumerated some of the reasons his parishioners gave for their appreciation:

1. The posture seems “logical”
2. It makes sense to face the Person to Whom you are speaking
3. Facing East gives the high altar a purpose beyond simple wall decoration
4. It feels very sacred

These are interesting observations on the part of the actively participating faithful.
Another priest told me that his parish seriously considered adopting the initiative in their Advent Masses. Because Bishop Conley’s letter came out only two weeks before Advent, though, they felt there was not sufficient time to offer proper catechesis. Thus, they ultimately chose not to adopt the ad orientem posture. Nevertheless, there was a great openness among the priests.

These results are certainly not exhaustive, but they are directly from priests engaged in ministry within the Diocese. Thus, they are not made up or merely theoretical. They are the practical reflections and unfiltered sentiments of real Catholics.

The bishop’s column introducing the initiative is well done and worth another look. Perhaps this experiment was just a means of testing the waters, with the potential to blossom into fuller use of the ad orientem posture. This would demonstrate remarkable continuity with our liturgical heritage.

Here is Bishop Conley's article in his diocesan newspaper on ad orientem, whic is linked in the last paragraph above:

Bishop's Column

Looking to the east

Jesus Christ will return in glory to the earth.

We do not know when he will return. But Christ promised us that he would return in glory, “as light comes from the east” to bring God’s plan of redemption to its fulfillment.

In 2009, Bishop Edward Slattery, of Tulsa, Okla., wrote that “the dawn of redemption has already broken, but the sun —Christ Himself—has not yet risen in the sky.”

In the early Church, Christians expected that Christ would come soon—any day.  There was hopeful expectation. They were watchful—they looked to the sky in the east to wait for Christ. And because they did not know when he would return, they proclaimed the Gospel with urgency and enthusiasm, hoping to bring the world to salvation before Christ returned.

It has been nearly two thousand years now since Christ ascended into heaven. It has become easier to forget that he will come again to earth. It has become easier to forget that we must be waiting, we must be watching, and we must be ready.

In the season of Advent, as we recall Christ’s Incarnation at Christmas, we are reminded to be prepared for Christ’s coming. In the Gospel for the First Sunday of Advent this year, Nov. 30, Christ tells us his disciples “to be on the watch.”

“You do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,” Jesus says. “May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”

We remember that Christ is coming whenever we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In the Holy Mass we are made present to the sacrifice at Calvary, and to the joy of Christ’s glory in heaven. But we also remember that Christ will return, and we remember to watch, to be vigilant, to wait for him, and to be prepared.

The Mass is rich with symbolism. The vestments of the priest remind us of the dignity of Christ the King. We strike our breasts, and bow our heads, and bend our knees to remember our sinfulness, God’s mercy, and his glory. In the Mass, the ways we stand, and sit, and kneel, remind us of God’s eternal plan for us.  

Since ancient times, Christians have faced the east during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to remember to keep watch for Christ. Together, the priest and the people faced the east, waiting and watching for Christ. Even in Churches that did not face the east, the priest and people stood together in the Mass, gazing at Christ on the crucifix, on the altar, and in the tabernacle, to recall the importance of watching for his return. The symbolism of the priest and people facing ad orientem—to the east—is an ancient reminder of the coming of Christ.

More recently, it has become common for the priest and the people to face one another during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest stands behind the altar as he consecrates the Eucharist, facing the people.  The people see the face of the priest as he prays, and he sees their faces. These positions can have important symbolism too.  They can remind us that we are a community—one body in Christ. And they can remind us that the Eucharist, at the center of the assembly, should also be at the center of our families, and our lives.

But the symbolism of facing together, and awaiting Christ, is rich, time-honored and important. Especially during Advent, as we await the coming of the Lord, facing the east together—even symbolically facing Christ together at the altar and on the crucifix—is a powerful witness to Christ’s imminent return. Today, at a time when it is easy to forget that Christ is coming—and easy to be complacent in our spiritual lives and in the work of evangelization—we need reminders that Christ will come.

During the Sundays of Advent, the priests in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ will celebrate the Mass ad orientem. With the People of God, the priest will stand facing the altar, and facing the crucifix.  When I celebrate midnight Mass on Christmas, I will celebrate ad orientem as well.  This may take place in other parishes across the Diocese of Lincoln as well.

In the ad orientem posture at Mass, the priest will not be facing away from the people.  He will be with them—among them, and leading them—facing Christ, and waiting for his return.

“Be watchful!” says Jesus. “Be alert!  You do not know when the time will come.”  We do not know when the time will come for Christ’s to return.  But we know that we must watch for him. May we “face the east,” together, watching for Christ in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in our lives.


Gene said...

"…and will the Son of Man find faith on earth when He returns?"

Православный физик said...

Ad Orientem, just do it, it's a step towards Orthodoxy and Catholicism re-uniting, just do it.

Anonymous said...

When the Son of Man returns, I wonder whether He will be more concerned with the direction a Christian is facing or more concerned that a "Christian" refers to his brother as the HNIC?

Gene said...

Anonymous, your's is a meaningless question given the context of the discussion. However, name-calling is not, specifically, a sin. Just because a certain egalitarian cultural phase deems certain names impermissible and other names permissible means absolutely nothing theologically or morally. I would rate your mocking of tradition and other things Catholic at least equal to calling the HNIC the HNIC.

Marc said...

Joe, regarding liturgical ethos as a roadblock to reunion, you might find this article interesting:

Anonymous said...

It's no doubt great that the bishop supports this, but lest anyone become unsure, let it be said that a bishop's permission is not required for Mass to be said ad orientem. :)

Daniel said...

When the priest faces the congregation at St. Joseph's, he is facing east. During our morning Masses, the sun rises over East Macon on the City Hall side. When the priest faces away from the congregation, he is facing west. The sun sets during the afternoon Masses on the Mount de Sales-Mercer side of town. Just sayin'. I'm surprised nobody's noticed.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Of course Daniel, we are speaking about the "liturgical east or the symbolic east" of a church building, not the geographical east in the literal sense. Hope this helps your confusion.

Gene said...

Daniel doesn't know his North from his South…but he certainly has his North up his South...

Daniel said...

Thank you, Father. Since I an not a canonical scholar like most of your posters here, I did not realize there was such a thing as "liturgical east" or "symbolic east." For me, like Kipling, east is east and west is west. I also did not realize that any portions of the Mass were "symbolic." The point seems to be that the lofty descriptions of facing the sunrise to await the return of Christ are not relevant. The actual point is that the priest should have his back to the congregation, whatever direction they may be facing. That's what I thought.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

But Daniel, But Daniel, when the priest appears to have his back to you, is that really the case. At Mass do the people in front of you have their back to you or are they joining you in facing the same direction in prayer????
Yes, having the priest face in a direction opposite of the laity, that is facing them rather than the priest facing the same direction as the laity at Mass is clericalism and gives a status to the priest that is not present when he joins them in facing the same direction.