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Why Ad Orientem is Anathema to So Many


It is still mind blowing to see the continuing reaction to Cardinal Robert Sarah’s call for more ad orientem masses. As I have chronicled previously, the swift response from the Vatican to the Cardinal’s address at Sacra Liturgia U.K. was enough to make your head spin. In an era of conflicting ecclesial conferences, ambiguous footnotes, and “go make a mess” Catholicism, it would appear that right worship and traditional orientation might be the only exception to the rule.

The real question we need to ask is this: Why are so many bishops opposed to masses being offered ad orientem?

The answer may be as simple as this: Pride.

That’s it. Pride. That foundation of all sins. It caused the fall of the angel Lucifer. It lead to the fall of Adam. And it’s been the cause of the widespread collapse of the faith in the post-conciliar years.

Offering the Mass ad orientem forces us to recognize, without any doubt or confusion, just who it is we are worshipping.

Sin tells man to worship himself. Virtue instructs him to worship God.

If you want to understand why the opposition to a mere suggestion from Cardinal Sarah is so intense, look no further than pride.

For a better understanding of this we only need to listen Pope Benedict XVI. Writing in The Spirit of the Liturgy, in the chapter The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer, (then) Cardinal Ratzinger notes:

“In reality what happened was that an unprecedented clericalization came on the scene. Now the priest — the “presider”, as they now prefer to call him — becomes the real point of reference for the whole Liturgy. Everything depends on him. We have to see him, to respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing.”

Connecting the dots even more on this unhealthy preoccupation to see the priest during the liturgy, an argument so foundational for proponents of versus populum (facing the people), Ratzinger continues:

“The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is locked into itself. The common turning toward the East was not a “celebration toward the wall”; it did not mean that the priest “had his back to the people”: the priest himself was not regarded as so important.”

The priest himself was not regarded as so important. Unless, of course, modernity has decided that he is; that man’s focus upon himself is more important. It’s excused in various ways:

We have to engage people.

The people aren’t ready for this. We need weeks/ months/ years/ decades/ generations(?) of catechesis to prepare them.

The General Instruction of the Roman Missal doesn’t allow for it in the Novus Ordo.

Excuses. Falsehoods. The only thing preventing more masses from being offered ad orientem is pride. Or possibly fear. Fear of man instead of a virtuous fear of the Lord.

But that’s an entirely different vice for another discussion.

(Photo Credit: Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.)

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