Laudetur Jesus Christus! Gelobt sei Jesus Christus! Sia lodato Gesù Cristo! Praised be Jesus Christ!
A question that frequently comes up is the ancient practice of worshiping God ad orient, that is toward the East. Many major religions have a direction in which they worship God; for the Jews it is always toward Jerusalem and for the Muslims it is toward Mecca. For Christians, there is no earthly city that we look to as the place where God dwells. For Christians, the direction of liturgical worship has always been the Church standing together and looking East, in anticipation of the second coming.
Until the Second Vatican Council, the practice of everyone in the congregation facing the same direction as the priest was universal. Even in St. Peter’s Basilica, where the Altar is built away from the wall, the Pope has always offered Mass in the same way as today. In this case, the faithful would turn toward the doors, with the Holy Father behind them. The practice of the priest facing the people during Mass, for the mere sake of being presider and placing him at the center, is a novel idea not found history until the second half of the twentieth century.
With the collapse of faith in God, and faith in the Holy Eucharist, various cardinals and bishops have begun to question the wisdom of the change in practice. I quote in part here a section from a recent interview given by Robert Cardinal Sarah, the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation of Divine Worship, whose job is to have concern over these matters. I hope you find this helpful to understand this ancient practice of the Church. I will quote various parts of his interview over the next few weeks. Have a good week!
“The liturgy is the door to our union with God. If the Eucharistic celebrations are transformed into human self-celebrations, the peril is immense, because God disappears. One must begin by replacing God at the center of the liturgy. If man is at the center, the Church becomes a purely human society, a simple nonprofit, like Pope Francis has said. If, on the contrary, God is at the heart of the liturgy, then the Church recovers its vigor and sap! Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger prophetically wrote, “In our relationship with the liturgy, the destiny of the faith and of the Church plays out.”
The recognition of the liturgy as the work of God implies a true conversion of the heart. The Second Vatican Council insisted on a major point: In this domain, the importance is not what we do, but what God does. No human work can ever accomplish what we find at the heart of the Mass: the sacrifice of the cross.
The liturgy permits us to go out past the walls of this world. To find the sacredness and the beauty of the liturgy requires, therefore, a work of formation for the laity, the priests and the bishops. It is an interior conversion.
To put God at the center of the liturgy, one must have silence: this capacity to silence ourselves [literally: “shut up”] to listen to God and his word. I believe that we don’t meet God except in the silence and the deepening of his word in the depths of our heart.” – Robert Cardinal Sarah