On the Feast of St. Andrew I began celebrating the Sacrifice of the Mass “ad orientem” or “toward the East” – facing the tabernacle. I wrote extensively about this in my “Pastor’s Corner” column in our church bulletin. If you missed those articles, I share them with you here.
Sunday November 8, 2020
Over the last several weeks, in the midst of such a contentious political atmosphere, I have been trying to outline or bring to light a Catholic’s first and highest priority. What must a faithful Catholic be the most concerned about in his or her life? Namely, our eternal salvation. Everything that we do as Catholics, as human beings, how we live our lives, engage in public debate, exercise our duties as members of society and families, how we love our neighbor flows from this primary and first obligation to the salvation of our souls and to want for the salvation of the souls of others. This is love. Yet, this obligation., this directive must be fueled in some way. We must find a source of strength in order to pursue this primary obligation. Of course, this is why the sacraments play such a vital role in our lives as Catholics. Chief among them is the Sacrifice of the Mass.
Why is the Mass so important? Does God pay attention to whether or not we miss Mass on Sunday? Well, “keep holy the Sabbath” is one of the 10 Commandments and a direct violation of the Commandments is a mortal sin – eternally damaging to our souls .. so yes, God is paying attention! But there is more than just a “duty based” motivation here. The Mass is the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ made present to us. It is where time and eternity meet on the altar of the Lord. God makes Himself present under the form of bread and wine … and how do we know this? Because He plainly and clearly said so Himself in the Scriptures. In particular in John’s Gospel: “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” This is our fuel, this is our source of strength. It is where we get a glimpse, albeit veiled, of our eternal destination and the necessary motivation, courage and moral strength to pursue Him, to pursue God and the eternal salvation of our souls even on this side of heaven. Our attendance at Mass then stems beyond mere duty … it is where we meet God.
Sunday November 15, 2020
As we contemplate the mystery of the Mass it is also important for us to understand the role of the priest. What is the function of a priest, what role does he play in the administration of the Sacraments? Perhaps we think of the priest as a mere “presider” over the rites of the Church. Yet, that would make the priest a mere functionary. The nature of the priesthood is much more than that … He is not merely a functionary but rather an intermediary between God and man. At ordination, the effect of the Sacrament of Holy Orders he receives touches his soul, he receives an “ontological change” – meaning the nature of his being changed. Into what? To be conformed to Christ in whose name and being he operates. A priest is ordained to be conformed to Christ, or as in Latin it says: In persona Christi; In the person of Christ. A priest, therefore is changed in his very being, conformed to the being of Christ and Christ is present in His priests. This is why we need to pray for vocation to the priesthood. We need more men to step up and fill this role as “alter Christus” – another Christ.
As a priest is ordained “in persona Christi” it brings up another aspect of the role of a priest in the Church. He, being conformed to the very being of Christ, becomes a spiritual father to his flock. And as the spiritual head of the family of his congregation, the priest leads the faithful to Christ and to eternal life. He walks ahead of the people, he marches into spiritual battle on their behalf, he leads the people to God and brings God to the people. In this sense we might be able to understand the reason for an all male priesthood. Christ chose men to be priests, to be spiritual fathers – which is why we call priests ‘Father’ because of their role in protecting, leading, and feeding the faithful. Make no mistake, a priest is not simply a ‘functionary’ … his identity is wrapped up in the identity of Christ. Therefore, friends, please pray for vocations to the priesthood, we need more priests!
Sunday November 22, 2020
Last week I began a short teaching on the priesthood. As I mentioned, the role of the priest is not merely functional. He is to LEAD the faithful to God. Life is often described, in terms of faith, as a pilgrimage – a journey. Said journey is supposed to end with our eternal union with God in heaven. The role of the priest is to lead us on this journey, this pilgrimage. Think of it in this way, when you are on a city tour, lets say Rome, Italy or Boston, you allow the tour guide to go ahead of you to lead the group around the city. It is safe to say that you trust that the tour guide will do his or her job and take you to popular sites, give you proper information, and not get lost along the way! We might say that this is true for the priest as well. He leads the faithful on the journey to God, gives proper information, shows us the beauty of faith, and we trust that the priest will not lead us astray, that we will not get lost while in his company.
Now think of this in the context of the Mass, in the worship of our God. The clearest and most visible way for this role of priest as a leader, that walks ahead of the faithful, en route to God is when he – along with the congregation – face the same direction during Mass. In other words, when the priest and faithful all face the tabernacle, it makes his role all the more visible. In this way, facing the same direction, facing the Lord, the priest is able to lead. Here, the priest speaks directly to God on behalf of the faithful. This direction of prayer in the context of our worship is known as “ad orientem” – to face east. East is the direction of the rising sun, which is symbolic of the Risen Lord – who in His resurrection has defeated death and opened up the way to eternal salvation for His faithful. The role of the priest is to lead the faithful to Christ, the Risen Lord, to eternal life and nothing better visualizes that than in the orientation of the Mass.
For this reason, I will begin at the daily Masses in Advent to face the tabernacle for Mass. Advent is a season of hope and expectation. It is with this in mind, to build up within our hearts a greater spirit of anticipation, hope and longing for God. My role is to lead you to God and my prayer and hope is that you will meet Him with joy as we journey together.
Sunday November 29, 2020
This week, at the daily Masses, I will begin to celebrate the Mass “ad orientem” or “towards the east”. In other words, we will face the tabernacle, together, for Mass. Celebrating the Mass in this way recalls a rich patrimony in the Church’s tradition. In fact, it was never the intention of the Second Vatican Council to break from this historical practice. Having done so, in the last 50 years, the Church has suffered, particularly in the way we worship. Now, facing each other does foster dialogue in the Mass but we must not forget that there is also a dialogue with God. When we speak to one another, we face each other. Therefore, when the priest speaks to God, he ought to face the tabernacle, i.e. facing Jesus. I want to be clear though in saying that to face the same direction, is not a wholesale return to the Tridentine Latin Mass (known today as the Extraordinary Form). Such posture at prayer during the Mass is essentially ordinary – something that has always been. While the priest faces the people for particular moments of dialogue, it is unimportant to face each other the entire duration of the Mass. It is far more important to face the Lord since ultimately God is the object of our worship, not each other. In this way, we can all focus more on God – the priest and people.
As Advent begins, we enter into a season of hope and joy, one that embodies a spirit that anticipates the Lord’s coming among us. We, in this spirit, ought to take upon ourselves an attitude as well as a bodily disposition that bespeaks this spirit of hope. As we turn to the Lord together, we therefore turn our minds and bodies alike toward the One who breathes life into our souls, who directs our thoughts and actions. This may prove to be a great challenge yet it will also prove to aid us in a greater focus, a clearer attentiveness, and deeper reverence for our faith and worship. May this Advent Season, by this simple change in posture, deepen our reverence, love and devotion to Christ in our hearts and minds, in all that we say and do.
PS: I will also utilize this posture for the 10pm Christmas Mass but it will not be a normative practice on the regular weekend Masses.
Sunday December 13, 2020
At the weekday Masses this past week I began facing the tabernacle for the celebration of Mass. A move I have written about and explained. I thought that it might be worth writing about my own experience of offering the Sacrifice of the Mass in this way for this short article – even though its only been a week since I began doing it.
First, I want to assure you that I did not make this move without considering how all of our parishioners would respond. It was not a unilateral decision. Yet, I also took into account my thoughts about how the Mass is meant to be celebrated and what the true worship of God, in the context of the Mass, is meant to look like. Not to mention my own personal thoughts on what seems right and true. I made this move because I became increasingly convinced that we (the Church) need to rediscover the true meaning of our worship and the power of the graces that come from the Eucharist. This year, this terrible and frightening year, has made me all the more convinced that we need God to intervene more fully in our lives and we need to trust Him as well. I see no other way than to tap into the rich patrimony of the Church’s tradition in the celebration of the Sacraments and the true worship of God. We need to bring back a sense of awe and wonder in His presence and the feeling of an “other worldliness” and being carried away by His grace.
Having said that, my experience thus far has given me a much deeper appreciation for the Mass and the efficacy of the Eucharist. In doing something as simple as a change in posture and position at the altar has allowed me to understand the real dialogue of the Mass, it has allowed me, as priest, to address the Father on your behalf and lead us in worship. On Monday, the Feast of St. Andrew, when I held up the chalice and paten, facing the tabernacle and sang: “Through Him, with Him and in Him … all glory and honor are Yours …” I got chills! This feels right to me. I hope that you will get the chance to experience the Mass in a renewed way this Advent and Christmas. I hope that you too may come to a deeper and more profound understanding and experience of Christ in the Eucharist as I have. May it have the power to transform and renew your faith in Him.