A few days ago, I was listening to the 8/8/17 podcast of the “Calling All Catholics” talk radio show (The Station of the Cross, WLOF [Our Lady of Fatima], 101.7 FM, Buffalo, NY), with this particular broadcast featuring Jesuit priest, Robert McTeigue, and moderator, Steve Quebral.
A variety of topics were discussed including the current controversy that’s raging throughout the church over the “Ad Orientem” question.
Ad Orientum? What exactly is that, you ask? Okay, allow me to share a little background information.
Back in the early 1960s, moderate and liberal Catholic prelates pushed for church practices to be modernized. The old, dusty rituals were done pretty much as they had been done for centuries, including the mass being conducted in Latin. “Who wants to sit through an hour-long liturgical ritual they can’t understand?,” they asked. Pope John XXIII obliged and called together the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), which made several changes to the mass liturgy including, among other things, removing the altar rails, changing the language to the vernacular, and having the priest face the congregation instead of showing them his back. The new, modernized version of the mass was dubbed “Novus Ordo” or New Order. Conservative Catholics were enraged by these alterations, which seemed to them to make the mass less dignified and less “holy.” They were angry then and they’ve been angry ever since.
As I mentioned, one of the alterations to the mass was changing the posture of the priest from facing away from the congregants, i.e., “Ad Orientum” (literally, facing eastward toward the altar – older churches always had the entrance of the church at the west end) to facing the congregants (“Versus Populum” or facing the people). Conservatives know they cannot change all masses back to Latin (Latin masses were restored on a very limited basis in 2007 by pope Benedict XVI to appease conservatives) or reinstall communion rails, but they can fight for the priest to turn around 180 degrees as he says mass, as it was done before Vatican II. Last year, conservative cardinal Robert Sarah, who holds the position of Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, urged priests and bishops to start celebrating masses “Ad Orientem” once again at regular, “Novus Ordo” masses. Pope Francis, hardly a fan of turning back the clock to pre-Vatican II days, quickly rejected Sarah’s appeal, but many conservative priests and bishops have taken up the “Ad Orientum” battle cry. Some have arbitrarily begun saying mass “Ad Orientum” once again.
In the “Calling All Catholics” segment, conservative Jesuit, McTeigue, spent quite a bit of time arguing for the return to the “Ad Orientum” posture.
If you’re an evangelical reading this post, you may wonder why all the fuss about which way the priest faces at mass. After all, wouldn’t it make sense for the priest to face the congregants? But this kind of debate over the intricate details of the liturgy is common within Catholicism. Every mass all over the world is supposed to follow the exact same prescribed formula. If a neglectful or rebellious priest deviates from the official script one iota, some pious retiree with too much time on his or her hands will be on the phone to the diocesan office within the hour. The lesson is, DO NOT mess with people’s rituals and traditions.
But in the big picture, it really doesn’t matter which way the priest faces during the mass because the entire liturgy of the mass is anti-Biblical. The priest does not actually change the bread wafer and wine into the literal body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ. Neither does the priest actually offer the Jesus wafer and wine as a sacrifice for the sins of the congregants. Rather, God the Son, Jesus Christ, offered the perfect sacrifice for sin once and for all on the cross at Calvary and is now seated at the right hand of God the Father, interceding for all those who accept Him as their Savior by faith alone. There is NO MORE sacrifice for sin as God’s Word plainly says:
“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” – Hebrews 10:11-14
There’s nothing in the empty mass ritual that conveys that an individual must repent of their sins and come to Christ and receive Him as Savior personally by faith alone. For Catholics, the idol of ritualism takes the place of saving faith in Christ. Trust in Christ, not in rituals and religious legalism.