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.
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.