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How One Picture Makes the Case for Ad Orientem


They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. That being the case, the picture above is a powerful argument in favor of the Mass being offered ad orientem.

In the picture we are shown the supernatural truth re-presented at every Mass. What we have is a visual reminder that the Mass is indeed a sacrifice–THE sacrifice of Calvary–and that the Eucharist is nothing less than Our Lord Himself: body, blood, soul, and divinity.

The priest offering the Mass ad orientem joins with the faithful, on the same side of the altar and this side of humanity, as he leads us to the Cross through his priestly ordination and the words of consecration.

The priest and people face together the crucifix and tabernacle, visually reinforcing that it is Christ, the perfect, holy, and spotless victim being offered to God the Father.

The picture above also illustrates how the priest himself disappears to a degree when the Mass is offered ad orientem; a sort of liturgical anonymity. It is not Fr. ____ who we see or hear at this pinnacle of the Holy Sacrifice; his personality is irrelevant to the action of the Mass.

It is not his face we see, his expression and mannerisms, but only the ornateness of his vestments and the overall beauty of the sanctuary. And it is this beauty that glorifies God and further directs us towards the source of beauty itself.

With the great elevation of the host it is the Eucharist, and nothing else, that we are drawn to adore. This, of course, can be further aided by the silent recitation of the Canon and the accompaniment of Sanctus bells at the moment of consecration.

There are obviously many more liturgical, theological, and historical arguments that can be made in support of ad orientem liturgies. The mere fact that it was the near universal practice of the Church, east and west, for the first two thousand years is compelling enough. Just last year Cardinal Sarah of the Congregation for Divine Worship reiterated the fruits of returning to the traditional practice.

But sometimes we need to forego a well researched and well reasoned defense and simply let an image speak for itself. To that end, the picture above succeeds.

Photo credit: SueAnn Howell/Catholic News Herald

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