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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Turning Eastward

A priest friend of mine borrowed a book from me called "Turning Towrds the Lord", written by Fr. Uwe Michael Lang and heavily endorsed by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. Ever since reading the book, he has begun, at least in a chapel, turining towards the crucifix during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

I can't tell you how proud I am of him for doing so. He explained to the faithful that he is not giving his back to them; rather, he is joining them in their posture towards the Lord. Then-Carindal Ratzinger made the same point in his foreword to the book. Furthermore, the former prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith made a strong argument that nothing in the documents ever prohibited this posture. In fact, carefully reading of the GIRM assumes that this posture was to be maintained, as per our current Holy Father. Ratzinger further argues that this takes away the focus on the priest and returns it to the Eucharist. "He must increase, while I must decrease."

From the earliest Church documents, the posture of priest and people was facing the East because they believed that when the Lord returned, he would come from the East like the rising sun. In this case, this rising sun was the Sun of Justice. In fact, the beautiful hymn, "The King Shall Come" makes reference to Christ coming from the East ("when beauty guilds the Eastern hills and life to joy awakes).

Many of the ancient churches up to those constructed prior to1962 maintained that Eastern orientation. Our cathedral has it.

In his books A New Song for the Lord and The Spirit of the Liturgy, then-Cardinal Ratzinger noted that when the priest faces the altar, the attention is focused on him, rather than on the Eucharistic sacrifice. Unfortunately, that is the case in many of our parishes where we focus on the priest rather than on Christ.

While it is true that Christ is present in his Body, the Church and in the faithful who gather for the Mass, we must remember that the Liturgy is not a celebration of the community. We do not celebrate ourselves. When we put undue emphasis on the people rather than on the Divine Majesty of God, we are, as Benedict puts it, "barking up the wrong tree." I realize that this quote isn't original to him, but he uses those exact same words in "The Spirit of the Liturgy."

The documents never said anything about to the effect that we could not face the Tabernacle. In fact, there is a move now to restore the Tabernacle to its place front and center. Cardinal Arinze has made several statements regarding that, as has Benedict, pre and post conclave.   When then-Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the foreword to the book, he hoped that the ideas represented in 'Turning Towards the Lord" would foster deep discussion on revisiting this ancient posture. I believe that it is something that is important for us to discuss.

My friend's actions have definitely helped to increase the reverence at Mass. Mind you. He is fairly young (just a tad bit under 50) and he's not into novelty. But, the book really made an impact on him.


  1. Ya hoo! Yay for him! We need more priests like this... Maybe I should slip this book into my priest's sacristy...

    I assume by "Turing toward the crucifix" you mean the ad orientem posture?