Hopefully, everyone has had a very Merry Christmas and is beginning to enjoy a great New Year! Last week I pointed out Pope Emeritus Benedict’s latest book on the Liturgy, but there are various others and I would definitely encourage all of you to read them. Even though he is extremely intelligent and the Liturgy is an intricate topic, his writings are very understandable. So now we know that the whole idea of the “priest facing the people,” or “ad populum,” was a historical mistake. It was never a tradition in the Church before 1970.
We also have looked at the true focus of the Mass, which is our encounter in time with the eternal risen Lord, and our readiness to meet him at the end of time at our final judgement; and so we look to the East “ad orientem” in coherence with this.
I know that even though there is no argument in favor of the “ad populum” posture, there are those who will want to be the devil’s advocate and say, “Well in our churches (St. Andrew and St. William) the tabernacle and Crucifixes are on the western walls.” As it is true that the Church recommends that all churches be built on the eastwest axis with the altar and crucifix at the east end, the church is also realistic in its legislation and knows that it will not always be possible. So we have the next best thing—our churches are on the east-west axis but with the altars and crucifixes at the west end. Pope Emeritus Benedict makes the point that when we all face the same direction in prayer, facing the tabernacle and crucifix— then that becomes our liturgical east.