“We would do well to remember,” Bishop Wall wrote, “that the Eucharist is not simply a nice 'sign' or 'symbol' of communion with God, but rather truly is communion with God.”
He said the emeritus pope's letter “provides an opportunity for us to reflect on how better to respect the Most Blessed Sacrament,” noting arriving early for Mass to pray; remaining afterward to offer thanksgiving; dressing appropriately; keeping the Eucharistic fast; regular, even monthly confession; and reverent reception of the Eucharist.
“There is, however, one particular practice that I would like to highlight here,” said Bishop Wall. “It is about exercising the option to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass facing 'toward the East' (ad orientem) or 'toward God' (ad Deum) as distinct from 'toward the people' (versus populum).”
He acknowledged that such celebration can be “contentious” and that “to make changes to the way we pray can be difficult,” adding that “by explaining and advocating for this, I am in no way trying to disrupt the way the people of this Diocese pray.”
“Rather, I am trying to open the treasury of the Church’s patrimony, so that, together, we can all experience one of the most ancient ways that the Church has always prayed, starting with Jesus and reaching even to our own day, and thereby learn from the 'ever ancient, ever new' wisdom of the Church.”
The bishop wrote that “celebrating Mass ad orientem is one of the most ancient and most consistent practices in the life of the Church.”
However, he said that “celebration of Mass ad orientem is not a form of antiquarianism, i.e. choosing to do something because it is old, but rather choosing to do something that has always been.”
“This also means, in turn, that versus populum worship is extremely new in the life of the Church, and, while a valid liturgical option today, it still must be considered novel when it comes to the celebration of Mass,” he noted.
In ad orientem worship the main point, the bishop said, is that it “shows, even in its literal orientation, that the priest and the people are united together as one in worshipping God, even physically with their bodies.”
He added that describing such Masses as ones in which “the priest has his back to the people,” while technically true, “largely misses” this main point, which is “much grander and more beautiful.”
“Celebrating Mass ad orientem, then, is meant to remind us … that the Mass is not first and foremost about us, but rather about God and His glory—about worshipping Him as He desires and not as we think best. It is His work after all, not ours, and we are simply entering into it by His gracious will,” Bishop Wall reflected.
He also pointed out that a “common objection or at least misunderstanding is that this particular way of celebrating Mass was disallowed at or after the Second Vatican Council. This is not accurate, as none of the conciliar documents even mention this.”
(Story cotinues below)
Subscribe to our daily newsletter
At Catholic News Agency, our team is committed to reporting the truth with courage, integrity, and fidelity to our faith. We provide news about the Church and the world, as seen through the teachings of the Catholic Church. When you subscribe to the CNA UPDATE, we'll send you a daily email with links to the news you need and, occasionally, breaking news.
As part of this free service you may receive occasional offers from us at EWTN News and EWTN. We won't rent or sell your information, and you can unsubscribe at any time.
In fact, “a close reading of the rubrics of the Roman Missal will still show today that ad orientem is assumed to be the normal posture at Mass: they often describe the priest 'turning to face the people,' which implies he is facing the altar before and after doing so.”
Bishop Wall also addressed the idea of “preference,” and the principle that “when it comes to taste, there is no room for dispute.”
“To a point, that is true,” he said. “Nobody can fault anybody for liking chocolate chip ice cream more than mint, or Chevrolet more than Ford. When it comes to the ways in which we worship God, however, nothing is simply a matter of taste.”
He quoted from a 2016 writing by Msgr. Charles Pope, a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington, who said that “Preferences should be rooted in solid liturgical principles. […] People matter, and they should be nourished and intelligently engaged in the Sacred Liturgy—but not in a way that forgets that the ultimate work of the Liturgy is not merely to please or enrich us but to be focused on and worship the Lord”.
The decision to provide one ad orientem Mass at the cathedral each Sunday “provides the faithful with the opportunity to attend the Mass in this way … which is still approved and generously allowed by the Church,” he said.
Bishop Wall added that he would like to encourage the practice throughout the diocese as an option for priests.