As autumn approaches as well as the start of the new school year, I hope and pray that the summer has been good to you, each in accord with your needs and the Lord’s Providence.
The summer (though too short, of course) has finished with a great flourish of late, as I’ve been able to bless or consecrate a number of new altars around the diocese.
In the first place, a few parishes have recently completed renovation projects — some minor but beautiful, some more involved — in order to enhance their sanctuaries and especially to have a fitting place for the tabernacle in the middle of the sanctuary.
Thank you to all the pastors and people who have worked hard on these projects to date. (And thanks to all those who are working on projects for the future.)
In addition, two weeks ago I blessed the lovely chapel built into the tremendous new development at the Catholic Charities’ All Saints Community. It is a fitting centerpiece for that growing retirement community and assisted living facility. Jackson Fonder and his team, along with the All Saints Board, should be proud.
To top it all off, I had the tremendous joy of dedicating the brand new St. Cecilia’s Church in Wisconsin Dells. It was a moment (albeit a three hour moment) that I’ll long cherish and for which I give thanks to God, but also rightful congratulations to Fr. Eric Sternberg, his predecessors, and the whole community of St. Cecilia’s Parish.
The work being done and the resources being devoted to these projects are fitting and provide for all people — without distinction — a place of beauty, of peace, and of rest, a concrete location to enter into the “house of God.”
God lives and dwells among us
In and through our churches, we have the opportunity to create testament to the reality of God-with-us, living and dwelling among us.
These are places where the community can gather (whether as a whole on Sunday, or individually through the week) to worship, to adore, to offer thanks, and to proclaim to the world that we have faith in a God who loves us and remains with us, and hope that we shall dwell with Him in the glory of Heaven.
We recognize that we are not in heaven yet, and that we must be compelled by the love of the One who loved us to go out from His house and to bring Him to each and every person we encounter.
We encounter heaven in the glory of the sacrifice on the altar and then we are sent to work and toil here on earth, to make God’s Kingdom present and to draw others forward in our pilgrimage to the Heavenly Jerusalem.
The Mass ad orientem
And it is for these reasons that I recently announced to the parishioners at St. Patrick’s Church, (where I offer my “Stational” Sunday Mass when I am not scheduled to be in other parishes around the diocese, or elsewhere) that I would, beginning in October, on Sundays when I am at St. Patrick’s, offer the Mass ad orientem.
I am planning for us, in accord with the mind of God. A number of prelates, including Pope Benedict XVI; Cardinal Robert Sarah, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments; and Wisconsin’s own Cardinal Raymond Burke, have in recent years made the point repeatedly that the Lord has made clear that at the end of history, that He will come from the East, like the rising sun.
We see this in the “Magnificat,” as we see in the Psalms, and we hear it throughout Scripture. God’s plan is, at the end of history, to come from the East, and that we await Him like the rising sun.
It is thus, that when the priest faces ad orientem he is standing with the people facing — symbolically at least — the East, looking and watching for the Risen Lord who will come in glory.
The priest is not turning his back to the people, he is turning to face with the people. He is taking his place at the lead of a mighty pilgrim army (the “Church militant”) marching toward the Heavenly Jerusalem, toward the location of the rising sun, to meet the Lord.
Marching together toward the East to meet the Lord
That’s who we really are. As we offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice, we march together toward the East, looking, hoping, almost running to meet the Lord who comes from the East at the end of history. No general ever led his troops by facing them and walking backwards. He would trip. No, we face together as we march during our time in this world. We march together to meet the Lord.
And, it’s what was intended really by the Second Vatican Council in the documents.
If you read the instructions in the documents of Vatican II for the priest as he celebrates Mass, when the priest says, “The Lord be with you!” the instruction reads, “Then the priest turns toward the people and says, ‘The Lord be with you!’” If the priest “turns toward the people,” he mustn’t already have been turned toward them! It is clear in the documents that the Council had this very much in mind when the documents were written.
However, other ideas took hold with a vengeance in the years following the Council in an effort to emphasize that at the Mass we are primarily banqueters at a sacred meal.
Indeed, we are banqueters at a sacred meal during the Mass, but we are firstly present at Christ’s Sacrifice at Calvary. If we forget the sacrificial nature of the Mass and if we forget to whom we are directing our every prayer, then being banqueters quickly becomes being picnickers at the barbeque. And in so many instances that is what the behavior at the liturgy looks like.
Focusing on God at Mass
There are a number of things that we can do to help keep our focus and to aid us in our proper understanding, and the orientation of our bodies is one of them.
And so, given that I believe the people who attend my Stational Mass at the Cathedral parish are ready to “get” what I’m doing, I will celebrate in this way when I am there. I’m not going to mandate that any other priest do this.
But at the Cathedral parish we are going to begin, because that will make our worship more reverent and make it clear that we are focused on God and His mind and His ways, His absolute mystery, and not on ourselves. And that is so important a witness to give in this day and age.
Praised be Jesus Christ!