Tuesday, September 04, 2007

A Parish Priest's Pithy Perusal of Latin and Ad Orientem

I just returned from a trip home to visit my parents, who saved a rather nice church bulletin announcement for me. It comes to us from Fr. John Szada, pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Church in Hanover, PA (Diocese of Harrisburg USA). This is the parish in which I was baptized, so it gives me great satisfaction to share with you what Fr. Szada wrote to his parishioners in the August 19, 2007 bulletin:

Often we hear the different Masses described in the media with something like, "the Tridentine Mass is celebrated in Latin with the priest's back to the people, and the New Mass is celebrated in English with the priest facing the people." This is an oversimplification that is not accurate.

The New Mass can be celebrated in Latin at any time. And, as was our experience when we went to Europe for World Youth Day two years ago, it sometimes happens that it is also celebrated in English, but not facing the people. Ultimately, it is not the language or the direction the priest is facing that is the important thing. It is the ritual being followed, in other words, what are called the rubrics. The New Mass has greatly simplified rubrics compared to the Tridentine Mass.

However, the issue of which direction the priest faces is important, historically. In Judaism, the direction of prayer is always to face Jerusalem. For Muslims, the direction of prayer is always to face Mecca. For Christians, especially for Catholics, the direction of prayer has always been to face the East. I wonder how many of our people even realize that. And why might that be important?

It was to the East that Jesus ascended into heaven. And the angels present that day told the apostles that He would return in the same way that they saw Him going up. Therefore, Catholics always prayed facing the East as a way of waiting for the return of the Lord in glory. And the priest stood with his back to the people, not turned away from them, but leading the entire congregation in prayer. He stood at their head, so to speak, leading the assembly in worship of God.

Contrary to popular opinion, Mass facing the people is a totally modern invention. It was not the way Mass was celebrated in the early church. And the disadvantage of Mass celebrated this way is that we can too easily forget that the entire Mass is a prayer to God, led by the priest. The danger is that the community can too easily turn inward on itself, rather than facing and anticipating the coming of the Lord.

Fr. Szada


Methinks the good Father has been reading works by Ratzinger and Lang, among others. Also, I think it's interesting to note that Father also celebrates the Byzantine Liturgy. His grasp of liturgical subjects is therefore quite diverse and well-rounded. This statement is a very no-nonsense approach to this subject which is accessible to the average pew-dweller. No academic stuffiness--just straight talk. Good job, Fr. Szada.

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