People Look East!

14_01_12_ad_orientem_02(Pope Francis celebrating Mass ad orientem on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, 2014)

God and Mary be with you.

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, the yearly Feast that closes the Church year, and ushers in the season of Advent. This blessed season reminds us not only of the first coming of Our Savior Jesus Christ at Christmas, but our joyful anticipation of the Messiah’s Second Coming. Advent is a time for us to look for the return of Christ to earth. It is also at every Sacrifice of the Holy Mass that we are called to not only witness the Sacrifice on Calvary and the Resurrection, but also a reminder to be vigilant and prepared for the coming of Our Lord.

It has long been the tradition of Christians to build churches facing east, a symbolic reminder that when Christ returns, He will come from the East. The priest, together with the people, faced this direction to look at the Christ on the crucifix, upon the altar, and within the tabernacle. This symbolism is known as ad orientem or to the east, which many of you have experienced during Solemnities and other special Masses here at the Proto-Cathedral. In a recent letter from Bishop James Conley of Lincoln, Nebraska entitled Looking East, the bishop wrote to the Diocese regarding the practice of saying Mass ad orientem, and this tradition’s close connection to the season of Advent. The bishop and the priests of his cathedral, as well as other parishes in the diocese, will be imploring this ancient tradition in anticipation of Christ’s coming at Christmas. Bishop Conley writes that:

“More recently, it has become common for the priest and the people to face one another during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The priest stands behind the altar as he consecrates the Eucharist, facing the people.  The people see the face of the priest as he prays, and he sees their faces. These positions can have important symbolism too.  They can remind us that we are a community—one body in Christ. And they can remind us that the Eucharist, at the center of the assembly, should also be at the center of our families, and our lives. But the symbolism of facing together, and awaiting Christ, is rich, time-honored and important. Especially during Advent, as we await the coming of the Lord, facing the east together—even symbolically facing Christ together at the altar and on the crucifix—is a powerful witness to Christ’s imminent return. Today, at a time when it is easy to forget that Christ is coming—and easy to be complacent in our spiritual lives and in the work of evangelization—we need reminders that Christ will come.”

Bishop Conley also reminds us that “In the ad orientem posture at Mass, the priest will not be facing away from the people.  He will be with them—among them, and leading them—facing Christ, and waiting for His return.” The Roman Missal, the book which the priest prays the Mass from, also makes references to which prayers are to be said by the priest facing the people, and ones which imply that he is facing the liturgical east with the rest of the people. With this in mind, Masses at the Proto-Cathedral will be celebrated ad orientem during this upcoming Advent season. I hope that this tradition will symbolize for us the meaning of Advent in which we joyfully look to the liturgical east in hope of Christ’s coming.

In Jesus and Mary,

Father Harris

Bishop Conley’s entire letter can be found here.