21 December 2010

Towards the Lord

As preparations for the Christmas celebrations continue, I have been asked to celebrate the Christmas Midnight Mass again at the high altar as I did last year; I am happy to grant this request.

The other day, Father Ray Blake posted ten reasons from Father Mark Kirby for celebrating the Mass ad orientem:

  1. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is experienced as having a theocentric direction and focus.
  2. The faithful are spared the tiresome clerocentrism that has so overtaken the celebration of Holy Mass in the past forty years.
  3. It has once again become evident that the Canon of the Mass (Prex Eucharistica) is addressed to the Father, by the priest, in the name of all.
  4. The sacrificial character of the Mass is wonderfully expressed and affirmed.
  5. Almost imperceptibly one discovers the rightness of praying silently at certain moments, of reciting certain parts of the Mass softly, and of cantillating others.
  6. It affords the priest celebrant the boon of a holy modesty.
  7. I find myself more and more identified with Christ, Eternal High Priest and Hostia perpetua, in the liturgy of the heavenly sanctuary, beyond the veil, before the Face of the Father.
  8. During the Canon of the Mass I am graced with a profound recollection.
  9. The people have become more reverent in their demeanour.
  10. The entire celebration of Holy Mass has gained in reverence, attention, and devotion.


  1. Sammy9:21 PM

    Are you as pompous in person as you come across on this blog?

  2. If you take another look, Sammy, you'll see the ten reasons are not from me but are, in fact, from a different priest.

  3. Sammy6:28 AM

    I meant your (pompous) phrase "I am happy to grant the request" -- all that's lacking is the royal "we"

  4. Father, for my part, as a long-time reader of this blog, I will vouch for you not being a pompous man. (Anyone who defends Dr. Pepper with as much ardor as you do cannot be pompous. My wife drinks the stuff on occasion, and I just gotta say--that stuff will make anyone humble!)

    As far as Fr. Blake's point 2: I've had quite the opposite experience during my forty-plus years of attending Masses in which the priest faces the people, the people for whom Christ died. As I kneel and pray during the Eucharistic prayer, I am face to face with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. I'm convinced that Jesus' words from the Last Supper-- words that explain on Holy Thursday his willing self-sacrifice on the cross--are directed not just to his Heavenly Father, but also to his apostles. ("Take this bread and eat...") It's those words I'm listening to, and the actual Christ in the consecrated body and blood on the altar that I'm looking at. I'm not viewing the priest as an entertainer or a personality from a talk show. I'm focused on Christ who is RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME in the Eucharist, not an abstraction represented by a geographical direction. The Real Presence trumps facing East any day. All of us--you as priest as well as those of us in the congregation--are gathered around the Real Presence when you stand at the altar and face us with the body and blood.

    At the risk of going out on a limb, I think I speak for many, if not most, Catholics on this point. And it's certainly not because I have any extraordinary degree of piety. I don't. I'm a struggling sinner all the way, a sinner who is brought face to face with my Lord during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. What a moment, a soul-gripping moment.

    While I appreciate that some Catholics (and some priests) would prefer a return to Mass celebrated ad orientem on a regular basis, I sure hope we don't see that happen. The Eucharistic prayer encompasses some of what Jesus prayed privately in the garden, yes, but it also includes a lot of Last Supper language. It's there for a reason, I'm convinced. If we do not pay attention to--and see--the re-enactment of the Last Supper at the altar, then we might as well think of Jesus as just another political prisoner, killed against his will, not someone who loved God's children so much that he came to eat and drink with them, in a most holy context, and to die willingly for them in a most brutal way. Without the Last Supper, the crucifixion is much, much more difficult to comprehend.

    Another long missive from me. Sorry! Hope you have a blessed twelve days of Christmas no matter what! May this be a time of deep peace and hope for you.

  5. I am certainly not without mny faults, Sammy, and I can sometimes act a bit pompous, but it is done in jest. My friends recognize this and enjoy it.

    For what it is worth, three of my parishioners saw your comment and assured me after Mass that I am not pompous.

    Even so, if you find me pompous you do not have to read these pages; the choice is yours.

    A blessed and merry Christmas to you!

  6. No worries, Steve; thanks, again!

    I agree with you that many Catholics find the Mass celebrated towards the people to be very prayerful; I know many of them and find them to be holy people of deep faith.

    I've celebrated Mass ad orientem in two different parishes, in addition to doing so on high school retreats due to a lack of space, and no one has ever complained about it. The only comments I have heard have been positive.

    At the same time, though, I am very much aware are staring at me during the Eucharistic Prayer, which, naturally makes me uncomfortable; hence, I do not look up much from the book.

    A merry Christmas to you and yours, Steve!