For the second year in a row Bishop James D. Conley of the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska will offer all Masses during Advent ad orientem. In addition, he is encouraging the priests of his diocese to consider doing the same as well. In his column for the Southern Nebraska Register this past week, Bishop Conley wrote:
We turn toward the Lord because he is coming, ever new, into our lives, calling us more deeply into the mystery of Christian discipleship. The Lord is coming to call each one of us to become saints.
The Church, in her sacred worship, helps us to turn ourselves more frequently to the Lord. This Advent, in the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln, I will, once again, celebrate Holy Mass ad orientem—facing toward the liturgical east, facing toward Christ, on the cross, and, most especially, turning toward the Lord in the Holy Eucharist. In parishes of the Diocese of Lincoln, according to the discretion of the pastor, other priests will also celebrate Mass ad orientem this Advent, turning toward the liturgical east, anticipating the coming of the Lord at Christmas.
Ad orientem celebration of the Eucharist will not happen everywhere in the Diocese of Lincoln, or all the time. But in some places, it will. It serves as a reminder to each one of us, that our entire Church must “turn toward the Lord,” standing together, looking to Christ, who will transform our lives.
As I have written about previously (here and here), the offering of the Mass ad orientem is both a “game changer” and the liturgical third rail within the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.
It is with enthusiasm and gratitude that we greet the news of Bishop Conley’s decision. However, it is unfortunate that (in 2015) this is still newsworthy. The theological importance and liturgical history of the Church leads one to ask why we still see so few dioceses following the example given by Lincoln. For that matter, one might ask why those in Lincoln, having already offered all masses at the cathedral ad orientem last Advent, decided against continuing it the remainder of the year.
Discussing this subject twenty five years ago, the late Anne Roche Muggeridge observed:
“If an angel allowed me one suggestion as to what more than anything else would most quickly restore the sense of the sacred to the Mass, it would be this to do away with Mass facing the people. I am convinced that the position of the priest at the altar is the single most important liturgical “external” symbol, the one that carries the most doctrinal baggage. To put the priest back on our side of the altar, facing with us towards God, would at one stroke restore the Mass from an exercise in interpersonal relationship to the universal prayer of the Church to God our Father. With the priest facing God once more as leader of the people, the importance of the microphone will diminish, and the priest can stop making faces at us. He and we can go back to thinking only about what is happening in the Mystery.” (The Desolate City: Revolution in the Catholic Church, pp. 176-177.)
Since Anne Muggeridge penned those words in 1990, we have seen the topic addressed in liturgical studies by Gamber, Ratzinger, Lang, and Mosebach. We have also seen the papacy of Benedict XVI, the release of Summorum Pontificum, greater access to ad orientem worship in the Extraordinary Form Mass, and an increasing acceptance and understanding of sacred liturgy among both religious and laity alike. And yet, what we see happening at the Cathedral of the Risen Christ in Lincoln is still notable because of its rarity.
Earlier in his column Bishop Conley noted that:
Advent is a time for conversion. A time to examine our hearts and minds. A time to confess our sinfulness. A time to cast off old habits, and take up new disciplines…
Advent is a time to turn toward the Lord.
Let us dare to hope that we might finally see more priests and bishops restoring the traditional practice of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass ad orientem. After decades of anthropocentric liturgies, is it not time to once again turn toward the Lord?
Photo Credit: Southern Nebraska Register
Brian Williams is a convert who entered the Catholic Church in 2006. He is a graduate of Long Beach State University with a BA in History. Brian blogs on life, liturgy and the pursuit of holiness at liturgyguy.com. He lives in Charlotte, North Carolina with his wife and five children.
Excellent. I hope this catches on. Perhaps this will help correct the practice when crossing the tabernacle of turning one’s back to the Lord in order to bow to the altar.
The theological importance and liturgical history of the Church leads one to ask why we still see so few dioceses following the example given by Lincoln.
For the same reason it’s only starting to happen now: The generation that came of age when the turning around of the altars was proposed and implemented is still in the saddle, and pride prevents most from revisiting that decision. Only full generational turnover will really allow it to happen – that and, of course, a movement of grace.
At the beginning of Lent 2015, we rearranged things in our Divine Mercy Chapel (the former cry room) so that weekday Masses are offered ad orientem. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the Ordinary Form is used. On Friday and Saturday, the Extraordinary Form is used. (Thursday Mass is at the local nursing home, Ordinary Form, versus populum.) We also had a footpace installed that extends the sanctuary platform at the nave edge of the main altar, so that the option of ad orientem worship is present there as well. So far, we have celebrated two Masses in the Extraordinary Form at the main altar and have plans for three more in December.
That’s great news, Famijoly!
Good news, indeed.
By the way, last year, about 15-20 parishes in the diocese ended up following Bishop Conley’s lead in celebrating ad orientem, according to a survey by CCWatershed. But there are 134 parishes in the Diocese of Lincoln, means that only 10-15% actually followed through. Some were concerned that they needed more time to prepare people through catechesis. It will be interesting to see, then, how many implement it this time around, a year later.
Our OF parish in Lansing began celebrating all Masses ad orientem last Advent. After Advent ended, our pastor decided to continue it; and it’s been that way ever since. It’s been an excellent change, and my understanding is that it has generated very little resistance.
20 years ago I would have been blown away and thrilled by this. Now my reaction is more: Meh… It’s still the Novus Ordo.
Forgive me for getting older and grumpier, but this news strikes me as little more than rearranging the chairs on the Titanic.
For two other excellent articles on ad orientem worship please see the following posts by Prof. Peter Kwasniewski:
At my parish we’re now kneeling at the second elevation (Ecce agnus Dei) throught reception of communion. Not quite ad orientum worship, at least we’re ditching “sign of unity” by standing and assuming a posture of adoration. Now if we could move the tabernacle back to the center of the sactuary and end the singing of Christian pop songs. Maybe next year.
After our local pastor changed to ad orientem, it made the versus populum elsewhere start to seem like Dilbert’s boss, ensconced behind a big desk, staring at us. Ad orientem seems more like he’s with with the people, and it’s easier to concentrate on the Mass, instead of his eyeballs looking back…like a performance review meeting.