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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Orienting ourselves during the Year of Faith...and beyond

We are now four months into the Year of Faith.  While many dioceses throughout the United States have launched several initiatives to mark this important occasion, I believe that perhaps the most integral part of this sacred and privileged time involves learning more about the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

If we are to truly understand the meaning of the documents of the Second Vatican Council, we need to first examine the liturgy.  The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy calls the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass the "source and summit" of our life as the Church.  If we do not ground our activities in this sacred act, then whatever good we do loses its meaning and its orientation.

I have written much on the issue of liturgical orientation, mainly the posture that the celebrant takes when offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.  Others, more learned than myself, have written extensively on the matter.  Nonetheless, whether it comes from famed liturgical scholars or simple bloggers such as myself, the matter certainly bears repeating as there remains much misunderstanding and misconstruing whenever a priest chooses to celebrate Mass in this matter. 

Fr. Z, in his excellent blog, "What Does that Prayer Really Say", relates with filial joy (an expression that I wholeheartedly share) that the Bishop of the Diocese of Madison (Wisconsin), the Most Rev. Robert Morlino, is actively promoting the posture of ad orientem for priests celebrating the Mass in his territory.  Not only is the good bishop fostering this posture, he is taking it upon himself by leading by example.  Of course, the one who has shown us the ultimate example of celebrating Mass ad orientem is no less than the Holy Father, himself, Pope Benedict XVI, as seen in the above photograph.

If we are to understand the Mass and live the Sacred Mystery that we celebrate, it is certainly important that we have the proper orientation. When the celebrant and the faithful turn towards the Lord during the Mass, we renew the prayer of Ancient Israel that is so beautifully expressed in the Psalms, when David beseeches God to turn His face towards us.  As Pope Benedict XVI observed, Moses turned towards the Lord when making supplications on behalf of the Hebrews.  Through this posture, Moses was leading the people in prayer towards God.

Even though there are parts of the Mass wherein the Roman Missal and its General Instruction call for the celebrant to face the faithful, it is not assumed that he will take this posture throughout the entire Mass.  There are certainly words that are directed towards the gathered assembly; however, there are more orations that point directly to God.  In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, for example, the orientation of these prayers, from the Offertory through the recitation of the Pater Noster, are all directed towards the Father.  Only a few times does the Roman Missal mention that the celebrant faces the people.  He explicitly faces the faithful when he prays, "Orate fratres" and "Dominus Vobiscum", and then when he shows the Sacred Species after the consecration of each.  He then faces them once again when he invites the people to pray the "Pater Noster", imparts the Sign of Peace and then at the "Ecce Agnus Dei".

While some may argue that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is a community prayer, there seems to be more of a focus on the horizontal than on the vertical dimension of our worship.  Remember, though, that the cross is made up of horizontal and vertical beams.  The vertical dimension is longer than the horizontal one. 

And so it is with our Faith.  Through Baptism, we are incorporated into Christ's Body, the Church.  We are invited into a communal relationship with one another as sons and daughters of the one God.  But, we are, first and foremost, in a relationship with Christ, Himself.  When we pray as a community, we do not focus on ourselves, but on the One who unites us.  Our prayer is directed towards Him.  Our spiritual compass should orient itself to Him.

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