During Advent of this calendar year only (late November through part of December 2021) I will be celebrating all my Masses in the traditional posture of the priest celebrant “Facing the Father” together with the people. This is sometimes also called Mass “Facing East” or “Facing God” (or to use the Latin terms, Ad Orientem, or Ad Deum ).
Here are some questions and answers about this topic:
When are we doing this?
Just for the Advent season. For all of the Christmas Masses (except the Midnight Mass) the priest will face the people. After Christmas Day, we’ll return to what we are currently doing (alternating the posture for daily Masses but with all Sunday Masses having the celebrant face the people).
Is this a permanent change?
No. It is just for the Advent season.
Why are we doing this?
As pastor, I want to emphasize what is really happening at Mass (the part that we can’t see) and
what the Church focuses on during the Advent season – the coming of Jesus Christ in history,
mystery and in glory. I think this posture helps the faithful to do that.
How does this accomplish the goal?
With the priest and people “facing the Father” together, the emphasis is not on the particular priest who happens to be celebrating the Mass, but on Jesus Christ, the High Priest Who is offering Himself to the Father. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote that having the priest facing the people risks “closing the circle” – that is, making it look like we are talking to each other, rather than uniting ourselves as Christ the Head and Body, praying together and offering our lives to God the Father with Him.
But didn’t Vatican II say that the priest has to face the people during Mass?
No. This is a very common misconception. When the Second Vatican Council reformed the Mass, the resultant Instruction book for the new Mass that was developed did talk about separating the altar from the wall of the Church so the priest could walk around it. The section about what happens once the altar is detached is ambiguous, so some liturgists have argued that it means the priest is required to face the people. The way we know that the instruction doesn’t mean this is that the rest of the instruction manual tells the priest celebrant when to turn to face the people. That is, it assumes that the priest might be facing East, or towards the sanctuary wall. The bottom line is that the Instruction book allows either option at the celebrant’s discretion (facing the people or symbolically “facing the Father”).
If it wasn’t required, then why has it been so common these last 50 years? Every Mass I’ve been to does it this way.
That is an excellent question. Whole books have been written about this and the topic of how the liturgical changes of Vatican II were implemented as there was a great deal of confusion about this at the time in the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, these questions have sometimes become contentious and polarizing, but they don’t have to be. Many thoughtful voices including Pope Emeritus Benedict, have noted that some of the Mass changes weren’t implemented very well and weren’t necessarily intended to be permanent. Over time and especially In more recent years, the Church has been able to reflect more on how we celebrate the Mass and to ensure that we do so with maximum reverence and attention to the meaning and symbolism of the sacrament.
Didn’t Pope Francis say parishes can’t celebrate the “Latin Mass” anymore without special permission?
This has nothing to do with the Traditional Latin Mass (the old form of the Mass the way it was celebrated before Vatican II). That change affected the prayer texts and the priest’s motions during the Mass. When the Mass was reformed, many options for the priest celebrant were introduced into the new Mass. One of the options in the new Mass is for the priest celebrant either to face East (towards the sanctuary wall) or to face the people.
Is anyone else doing this?
Yes. Many parishes around the country and the world are beginning to return to this ancient traditional posture on occasion, including several right here in our Archdiocese. Some are even using this posture exclusively. Many of the more newly ordained priests especially are returning to this tradition.
Where can I read more?
On the parish blog, at https://sccrparish.blogspot.com/2021/11/facing-father-together.html
Facing the Father; Advent, Liturgical Year 2022, Fr. Reutter