the Position of the President at the Eucharist
By Father Neil Xavier O'Donoghue
Excerpt: This Study tells how from early times the Roman Catholic mass was generally celebrated with the priest facing East across the altar. The people thus saw the back view of a vested minister performing a ritual largely hidden from them; and any consequent sense of the solemnity and even the secrecy of that ritual was viewed as integral to the nature of the sacrament, to be honoured and preserved.
The above excerpt is from a very long paper by Fr. O’Donoghue. Press the title for it.
But from this brief excerpt, I have a couple of observations as it concerns the priest facing west or facing the congregation.
Because the Ordinary Form’s ritual has been so stripped of its ritual, what is there to see????
If the Extraordinary Form was celebrated facing the congregation, which is not illicit by the way, there would be plenty of ritual to see. Not so in the Ordinary Form.
When I was a teenager, the first Sunday the priest faced the congregation in my home parish, I was amazed at all the ritual. It was the 1965 Missal, but all the rubrics were the Tridentine rubrics and the only difference was the priest faced the congregation.
Thus I saw the dramatic gesture with arms for the Gloria. I saw the dramatic gesture with the arms at the start of the Roman Canon as well as all the kissings of the altar. I saw all the signs of the Cross and other gestures in the Roman Canon which I never saw the priest do. I also saw the pious looks of the priest as he prayed. I am not sure that was a good thing as immediately with that first Mass facing the congregation, the priest’s pious or indifferent looks came into play as did the general looks of the priest and his personality for better or for worse.
I saw the priest consume the Holocaust in front of us. Most shocking in the mid 60’s was the fact that the priest chewed the Host. My mom and many others did not like watching the priest consume the Holocaust in front of everyone as we watched. We thought it gosh and impolite.
Apart from the priest’s pious or impious looks at Mass, the 1970 Missal stripped all the ritual from the Mass that was able to be seen in the Tridentine Mass facing the congregation.
Thus, I would suggest, in the Ordinary Form there is no reason whatsoever to have the priest face the congregation. Why? Because there is noting to be seen in terms of ritual!