On the first Sunday of Advent I devoted the sermon to explaining the history of the position of the celebrant at Mass, talking about the ancient Christian tradition of facing East to pray and then how that influenced the construction of churches and how even when a church was not constructed on an east-west axis then there was still value in priests and people facing the same way at Mass for the times prayers are addressed to God. I relied on the works of Mgr Gamber, Fr Lang and the Pope and quoted the passage in Spirit of the Liturgy which speaks of the disadvantage of creating an inward-looking circle at Mass and the advantage of having a attitude of looking out together to what lies ahead and above. (p.80 in Spirit of the Liturgy). I also quoted from Fr. Richard Simon, Pastor of St. Lambert Parish, Skokie, IL. USA, who said that he had had some angry responses to trying it. I read out part of his account of trying it for the first time. And then I carried on the Mass as usual. I had thought of introducing it at that Mass but at that moment it felt better to let people think it over.
The following Sunday I decided I would have to give it a go if I was to ever do it at all. I have been in this parish five years and it has always been in my mind to give it a try even though the church re-ordering was quite drastic and we don`t really have a sanctuary any more just a small raised platform with an unfixed wooden table for an altar. Afterwards I said that this was just an experiment and not to be alarmed if people found it strange. No-one said anything apart from in the sacristy afterwards when a couple of extraordinary ministers of the Holy Communion said they didn`t like it.
When I say Mass facing the people in this church I am facing east. I had mentioned St Peter`s in Rome and Gamber`s suggestion that the people faced east too. I had also mentioned that looking at the altar, and the celebrant, wouldn`t have been that interesting as there was a curtain drawn around the altar during the canon. From the disagreement I got after Mass it seems that my acknowledgement that I was facing east when facing the people but that there was still value in us all turning the same way to look towards the Lord especially in Advent hadn`t made much of an impression.
No-one said that they thought it helped them pray better but I suppose it was all rather new and these things take time. I know of two other priests in this diocese who do this for the Ordinary Form on a Sunday in their parishes although one has now reverted to facing the people. I have used it at school Masses with St Stephen`s school at Longbenton after explaining it to the children and staff and they seem quite happy about it. The Holy Father himself in Spirit of the Liturgy acknowledges that it will be difficult to re-introduce this practice since people have been through so many liturgical changes but he has given a lead of sorts in the Mass he says in the Sistine chapel on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord when he uses the original altar. ( See the picture above.) However with the new translation coming out next year change is in the air and so I thought the time might be ripe for this.
I had quite a number of supportive comments when I mentioned this on Facebook and one priest took the time to ring me up which was very kind. I recognise that people get angry about this because they feel excluded in a way but I think there are important issues at stake and I probably will have another try sometime next year and I`m thinking Ash Wednesday may be an appropriate time.