Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a peaceful, joyful, reverent Mass, celebrated in English. During the Elevation (and of course, the whole Eucharistic prayer) the priest prayed like this:
Thanks be to God, this is actually my experience every Sunday at Mass now. And what a difference it makes to me to go to a Mass in my native language with the priest praying this way!
I love how soon after the moment in this picture, our priest has to turn to us, all the way around, to say, “Behold, the Lamb of God…” Somewhat shocking to see his face suddenly, it underscores the incredible, incomprehensible reality of the Blessed Sacrament being the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord and Savior. I dearly love the solemnity and sacredness he thus brings to the celebration of the Liturgy, although our priest is not at all a sour and dour man. He is a holy, joyful man! But since the Liturgy is our priest’s vocation and calling, the point of his life, his number one job, the ad orientem posture spiritually and visually makes sense of the relation of the priest to God, to us, and to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Turning back to the altar and the crucifix, Father prays to God with us and for us, in a way that only he can.
The priest praying ad orientem (“toward the East”) also makes the church building make sense. One of the oldest Catholic churches in the diocese, our church building has in place all those parts of the sanctuary that were used throughout Church history before the 1970s: marble steps, Communion Rail, centrally-placed tabernacle, etc. There is such a great divide in the layout and decoration of old churches compared to new churches (post-1970s). Stemming from the way priests traditionally celebrated the Mass, I believe that in all the old churches we NEED to have ad orientem prayer and celebration of the Mass once more. Again, this literally makes the architecture make sense. Even very young children know that that solid marble, intricately-sculpted high altar can’t be just a backdrop to look pretty behind the priest as he talks to us. There really is meaning in everything inside a Catholic church built in the old style: the very stones speak, rising up to the ceiling and silently praising God.
Consequently, I praise our priest for recognizing that the integrity of the Mass and the integrity of the building go hand in hand. Yes, I believe that the Novus Ordo is a valid Mass—and it’s so much better when the priest faces the same direction we do as we pray, facing God by facing East, from whence we will one day see Our Lord and Savior coming again.