06 March 2007

Come on in, the water's fine

Following the advice of my Yankee forebears, who were usually quite insistent that it is just as easy to be sick while doing something as it is to be laying about in bed, I decided to rouse myself, coughing and sniffling still intact, and have a browse around the blog community.

I have been particularly interested over the past days to see numerous articles and comments concerning the celebration of Mass ad orientem. Virtually everything I am reading on the blogs commends this form of the celebration. All the reasons are given as to why this is a good practice. Signs are searched for in the hope that it might be found more frequently. Rejoicing over the altar arrangement seen in the Vatican’s Redemptoris Mater Chapel are being expressed. Some priests are voicing the possibility that they might well try it.

Perhaps I am being naïve in asking my brother priests, “What are you waiting for?” As has been stated by more than one knowledgeable cleric, no special permission is required. The point has been made over and over again that it enhances the devotion of both priest and laity. It is a practical fact that even free-standing altars usually have sufficient room on the west side to celebrate facing east. As I said, perhaps I am being naïve (and I’m sure I’ll be told so if that is the case) but I really don’t understand the hesitation.

When we built our original church in 1987 the sanctuary was designed for an eastward facing altar. The local experts in the worship office told me I couldn’t do that, but I was more brash then, and ignored the wringing of their hands. The archbishop came to dedicate the church and consecrate the altar, and without batting an eye he did so – facing east. Over the course of the twenty years I have been saying Mass at that altar, I have celebrated nearly 15,000 times, every single time ad orientem. Our parish has an extraordinary number of visitors, and only once have I been asked why I am facing in that direction. When I explained, the response was, “that makes sense.” The students in our parish school attend Mass every day and not a single child has expressed any confusion over the position of the celebrant. In fact, visitors at the children’s Mass always marvel, wondering how it is that five hundred children are so attentive and devout.

We have had two cardinals visit the parish, a number of bishops, and innumerable priests. Not one has been anything but positive in his comments about the experience, and in fact the usual statement is, “I am amazed at how much everyone participates!”

Our music is unashamedly traditional. Only men and boys serve at the altar. Incense is used liberally. I don’t think I’ve ever told a joke while in the sanctuary or pulpit. All this means that the most common words I hear from people is, “Well, we certainly know we worshipped God!”

I heartily agree with those who extol the merits of the eastward facing celebration. I encourage those who extol it to do it.