Ad orientem: conscience & memory. “Are you finally sick of it, bishop?” “Yep.”

Cardinal Ratzinger vintage 1991 in Dallas addressing the U.S. Bishops Conference had it that we cannot begin to have any kind of viably working conscience such as we have with the grace of enmity over against Satan as promised in Genesis 3:15 if we do not have an inkling of the Sacrifice outlined in that verse, whereby the Redeemer and, please God, our Savior, takes the initiative to reach out His heel to crush Satan, knowing that He Himself would be crushed, that He would lay down His life for us, taking on the punishment we deserve for sin, the Innocent for the guilty, so that He might have the right in His own justice to provide us with forgiveness and eternal life through, with and in Him.

In other words, we tend to want to congratulate ourselves that we are “nice people”, you know, that because of whatever nice thing we think we are doing we are now back more or less to the pristine Garden of Eden, so that we can do no wrong, giving ourselves a license to sin, ignoring that those were the conditions in which original sin took place. We cannot begin to know, to live in the least way what it is to be in the grace of God analogous to what it was like before original sin – that anamnesis, that living memory if you will – if we we do not first of all have the anamnesis, the living memory if you will – of the Sacrifice promised in Genesis 3:15 and accomplished by Christ our God, who Himself said: “When you do this, do this in memory of me.” We cannot live the grace of redemption without first accepting redemption in salvation.

As has always been the great liturgical tradition, we look to the East, the pristineness, the early morning rising – to go waaay back in the etymology of the Scriptural vocabulary involved – to meet with our Redeemer, Immaculate Mary’s Divine Son. As we are reminded in the book of Revelation, we will all look upon Him whom we have all pierced, men of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, together, priest and laity, for Christ Jesus is our One High Priest.

How can a priest dare to shove his own face versus populum, toward “the people”, instead of being with them ad orientem, looking toward the One High Priest who is Himself the Altar and the Lamb of Sacrifice. How can the laity not get sick of looking at the face of a mere human being, a merely ordained priest.

(1) Anecdote time: In my own parish, I remember one day the other year when my congregation literally shoved the altar back and changed the candles around to the correct side of the altar so that we would all be facing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass together. They did this without me asking. It is to rejoice.

(2) Anecdote time: In this account don’t be thinking that you know who I’m talking about since I’ve been in a zillion cathedrals in a zillion [arch]dioceses right around the world. I’ve been friends with a multitude of bishops, archbishops and cardinals.

The back story of this account is that, traditionally, a bishop’s cathedra, a bishop’s chair in the sanctuary of a cathedral, his teaching chair, is off to the side, a symbol that he is NOT the teacher, but that Christ Jesus is the One Teacher, the One Magister.

Traditionally (and not speaking of exceptions such as massive basilicas), the tabernacle is most diocesan cathedrals has been situated in the high altar, front and center, that to which the entire architecture of the sanctuary and church pointed, as it should be. More recently, we have seen most tabernacles in cathedrals cast to the side while the bishop’s chair is moved up front and center where the tabernacle had been. This paradigmatically changed perspectives of people: the bishop is god and he is alone the teacher.

In our present anecdote, a bishop of my acquaintance was sitting in his cathedral, empty at that time of day, except for the rector of the cathedral who was in the pew behind him. At a certain point the rector learned forward to start a quiet conversation with the bishop along the lines of the Prophet Nathan with King David:

  • Rector: “Are you finally sick of it, bishop?”
  • Bishop: “Sick of what?”
  • Rector: “Look up in the sanctuary. Aren’t you finally sick of sitting where Jesus should be?”
  • Bishop: “Do what you have in mind.”

And so it happened that the rector of that cathedral forthwith placed the cathedra, the seat of the bishop, off to the side of the sanctuary, demonstrating that the bishop is submitting to the teaching of Jesus, the Son of God, so that then the tabernacle could once again find its rightful place front and center, enthroned as King, as it should be. It is to rejoice.


Filed under Liturgy

8 responses to “Ad orientem: conscience & memory. “Are you finally sick of it, bishop?” “Yep.”

  1. nancyv

    Awareness Awareness AWARENESS! Thank you Father George. How God works in mysterious ways.
    I have asked our dear priest if he would start instructing parishioners about ad orientem so that he could lead us to Jesus.

  2. Gina Nakagawa

    Yes, sick of it, sick, Sick, SIck, SICk, SICK of it!

  3. Joisy Goil

    There is a church in my county that has the tabernacle in a side room, not even a chapel proper. Years ago I was there for a regional Parish Council retreat and was asked to assist, along with several other people, as a Eucharistic minister. (I consider being an Eucharistic MInister a privilege and a blessing) We agreed and when it came time to bring in the Eucharist from the tabernacle – we walked in circles trying to find Our Lord. Finally a parishioner of the parish came to us and directed us.

    I thought then and still do, that if a church is the House of God then why would HE be anywhere but front and center ?
    When we asked about this absence of Jesus in the church, we were told He was present in the “word’ and the ‘people’. Offering an opinion doesn’t seem to get you anything but the contempt of the so called ‘authority.’

    All I could say was I was grateful this wasn’t my home parish and that I was just visiting.

    Your church though small is beautiful and I am sure it is very pleasing to God.

  4. Aussie Mum

    “When we asked about this absence of Jesus in the church, we were told He was present in the “word’ and the ‘people’. Offering an opinion doesn’t seem to get you anything but the contempt of the so called ‘authority.’ ”
    I found much the same thing in diocese I once lived in and it seemed to me at the time: (1) those in positions of apparent (but having no real) authority were women envious of the all-male priesthood (one even shed tears, saying that Jesus suffers terribly because of being depicted male); (2) the contempt was because they looked down on us as less intelligent (evolutionary laggards or less educated); (3) they wanted to shift the focus from Our Lord’s Real Presence to the ‘word’ and ‘people’ because women couldn’t turn bread and wine into Our Lord’s Body and Blood but could read and “teach” the congregation (some priests allowed women to preach the homily).

  5. pelerin

    The Priest in my territorial parish explained a few years ago the reasons why he was starting celebrating Mass ad orientem one Advent. He then continued to celebrate in this way. Sadly he has now left the parish and the new Priest reverted immediately to ad populum. So sad.

  6. sanfelipe007

    @ Aussie Mum. I remember one Mass I attended when I was a young man, where the Priest let a Parishioner give the Homily because the Priest could not speak Spanish. I was confounded by this abuse. What, there were no English to Spanish dictionaries? Was Father unable to simply read a prepared Translation? Perhaps. Perhaps all was tried before the final decision was made. It may have been one of the outrages that spurred my Father to become a permanent Deacon.

    I now feel so impoverished by my failure to ask about how my Father received his vocation – late in life as it was.

    • Aussie Mum

      @ Sanfelipe007. The longer we live the more abuses we will see and as painful as this accumulation is the outrage it sparks can bring about something very good right when it is needed, such as your father finding his vocation to the Permanent Deaconate in later life. That you regret you didn’t think to ask how he discovered his late calling may be a heavenly nudge for you to leave a record of how your own particular vocation has unfolded. Such a record would not only be relevant as a personal snippet of Church History but could be a comfort and guide to those you leave behind in this up-side-down world, a world which may well be even crazier and harder to negotiate then.

      • sanfelipe007

        What a thoughtful reply! I will carefully consider your suggestion. Thank you.

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