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He’s not “turning his back to the people”

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Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, caused a rumpus earlier this summer by proposing to a meeting of liturgists in London that the Catholic Church return to the practice of priest and people praying in the same direction during the Liturgy of the Eucharist: a change in liturgical “orientation” the cardinal described as the entire congregation looking together toward the Lord who is to come. Cardinal Sarah further proposed that bishops and priests consider implementing this change on the First Sunday of Advent this year, during the liturgical season in which expectations of the Lord’s return in glory are prominent.

As readers of Evangelical Catholicismmy book on deep reform in the 21st-century Church, will remember, I proposed just such a change in the orientation of celebrant and congregation during the Liturgy of the Eucharist: Priest and people would face each other during the Liturgy of the Word; celebrant and congregation would then pray together, facing the same direction, throughout the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This seemed a good “reform of the liturgical reform” to me on three counts.

First, it would underscore that the liturgy is not about us. The common orientation of priest and people during the Liturgy of the Eucharist symbolizes—or perhaps better, lives out—the Church’s conviction that the Mass is an act of worship offered to the Thrice-Holy God, in which we the baptized are privileged to participate. Yes, the liturgy builds the Christian community and its solidarity. But that is one of its effects, not its primary purpose. Priest and people praying together “toward the Lord” can thus be a helpful antidote to the temptation to think of Mass as a ritual of communal self-affirmation—a temptation all too common in the contemporary Culture of Me.

Read more at First Things.

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