High Schoolers Facing East

Six high school boys stayed after Thursday’s daily Mass at St Joseph’s Catholic School:

“Father, why didn’t you celebrate Mass facing East today?”
“I’m doing so on two days of the week, and on the other two the usual way. Do you like the Mass when I celebrate facing East?”
“It feels more holy. It’s older right? But you’re not really facing East here.”
“There’s something called ‘liturgical East.’ It’s when the priest faces what used to be the East ’cause all the churches were built to face the rising sun, which was a symbol of the resurrection and also because Jesus would return to Jerusalem, which was in the East.”
“Like Muslims facing Mecca.”
“Sort of, but I’m not going to start wearing a turban”
“You could wear your biretta more often.”
“Shall I?”
“I like Mass when you face East because it feels like you are offering the Mass for us more.”
“I just like stuff that’s more traditional.”
“I think it feels more, well, manly. Do you know what I mean. Is that dumb?”
“That’s interesting. No, I don’t think it’s dumb, but I have to think about why it might be true.”
“I think it’s good because I was thinking more about God and not you, and when you elevated the host it was like Jesus floating there. It was more mysterious. It was cool.”
“Would you like me to continue saying Mass facing with you to the Lord?”
“Yes please.”
“You don’t feel slighted because I have turned my back to you? You sure I haven’t hurt your feelings?”
Laughter all around. “You’re not that good looking anyway Father.”
“OK, why don’t you all go to lunch now?”
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  • Sometimes at Mass I have to close my eyes to shut out crying babes, women with body art and other things. Face East young men.

  • Hahaha! Great story, Father.

  • Father I always wanted to ask this. Was there a time that Pirests in the Anglcian Tradiotion still said Mass Facing East or Ad Orientem after the Reformation. If so when did that practice go out

  • “Out of the mouths of babes…”Honestly, I say Our Lord put the longing in my heart for things like this before I knew of them.

  • I can only confirm the experience, Father. Our school has had a daily Mass as part of its schedule since we founded it in 1994, and every Mass is celebrated ad orientem. Most of our students find it odd when they go to other parishes and (in their words) have to look at the priest’s face. Of course, they’re so unreformed that they wish every day was a feast day so we could have incense, too! Keep up the excellent work at the school.

  • “it’s like Jesus floating there”Wonderful

  • thats not quite exactly how i remember the conversation went. but i think you captured the heart of it

  • Fr. Phillips,Incense can be used at any and every Novus Ordo Mass. One the (few) plusses of the Novus Ordo over the TLM, in my opinion.Utilize the option!-Garrett

  • Yes Garrett, but incense every single weekday might be a bit like iced cream sundaes for breakfast every day. I use it liberally at three of the four Sunday Masses, but our general rule of thumb for the school Masses is that if the Gloria in excelsis is sung, then we throw some smoke!

  • When I began at my high school, every Mass in the chapel was ad orientem. Granted, the chapel was set longitudinally, but…I never found it strange for some reason, and I only ever heard someone comment on it once. We even had the Mass in Latin a few times, and there was hardly any comment. Then we got a new altar, and it ended.

  • To James H.Many years ago, I attended Mass at an Episcopal church in Columbus, Ga. The altar was at the back of the apse against the wall, then the chancel for the choir, and in front of the apse was the lectern for the Epistle, and pulpit for Gospel and sermon. They did the Offertory portion of their Mass ad orientem.

  • “Yes Garrett, but incense every single weekday might be a bit like iced cream sundaes for breakfast every day. I use it liberally at three of the four Sunday Masses, but our general rule of thumb for the school Masses is that if the Gloria in excelsis is sung, then we throw some smoke!”This Greek Catholic had it daily during his brief stint in the seminary.It is ok – you can do it, go ahead and smoke the place up more… You know you want to.

  • As to the question on Episcopalian (Anglican) practice. Under the 1549 Prayerbook (which is the first one the first one–under Henry VIII the traditional Latin Mass used), the rubrics on this seem to have been confused: some conservatives continued to stand in the eastward position, reformers stood on the north (left) side facing the people. Conservatives wore surplice and cope (what the rubrics prescribed), reformers wore plain black gowns.The north-side position was universal in Anglicanism from the 1553 prayerbook to the 1800s. The rubrically correct vestments were now cassock and surplice (and nothing else), although puritans refused the surplice as popery.In the wake of the Tractarian (Oxford) Movement, a move was made to restore use of vestments, candles, and Eastward position. This causes huge fights into the 1900s.I am doing most of this from memory; if you want the exact information, go to the appendix of Gregory Dix’s Shape of the Liturgy.

  • On Anglican use, by a convert from Anglicanism: I don’t believe I ever saw anything other than the ad orientem position until a number of years after Vatican II. Even now I know of a number of Anglican parishes that have never departed from the ad orientem position.

  • Father, I love this post!Maybe ad orientem feels “more manly” because it’s less touchy-feely? A priest facing the congregation could seem to be babying them, paying lots of attention to them, trying to keep their little brains interested. A priest facing the Lord expects his congregation to do their part of worshiping and offering themselves like adults, without needing to be prompted or supervised.I’m not saying I think versus populum folks are babies; I’m just thinking out loud about why facing East seems more manly.I do think when religion gets all sharing and caring and emotional experiencing, men tend to tune out more. When religion is real and deadly serious– offering the perfect Sacrifice to God– then men seem more interested: we’re *doing* something here! And ad orientem is a position that downplays the sharing and caring between priest and people, and plays up the concrete theology, the objective action of offering sacrifice.

  • Father, liked the post.Today I went to an Eastern liturgy out-of-town and it was facing East. I noticed my attention was directed over the celebrant’s head to the picture of the risen Christ and cross behind the altar. The celebrant was also wearing a cope, so when you did look at his back, it was visually pleasing.About it appealing to men: In the two parishes of this Eastern Catholic church that I have been to (Chaldean/Assyrian), there are usually about a half dozen subdeacons assisting–laymen who chant and serve as lectors and ministers, etc.(Usually I go to a Roman parish.)

  • It might be thought of as “more manly” because a priest more obviously displays his belief in the invisible, at the risk of appearing silly. I don’t doubt that all priests believe in a God they can’t always see, but it takes a bit of guts to turn from a congregation and speak to an invisible person.Just a guess…I like ad orientem because it becomes more clear when the priest is talking to the congregation and when he is talking to God on behalf of the congregation.http://www.companionofjesus.com

  • Growing up as an Anglican (Episcopalian)during the 1960s-1970s, the priest always celebrated ad orientem. Things changed with the 1979 BCP, priestesses, et al.On another note: I have met Fr. Phillips at his church, “Our Lady of the Atonement” in San Antonio, TX. All I will say is that my family and I would move there in a heart beat if we could. Stunningly beautiful church, school, and Fr. Phillips’ preaching.

  • Fr Phillips will be visiting us here in Greenville in a few weeks’ time. He is to be commencement speaker at St Joseph’s Catholic School graduation.

  • While the Anglican question might be a red herring, I’ll offer this slight amendment. The Prayer Book of 1549 allowed the use of either “the vestment” (i.e., the Chasuble, stole, etc.,) or a cassock surplice and cope. Also, the eastward position was mandated, with protesting Reformers adopting a position at the north horn of the altar. The priest did not, strictly speaking face the people, rather, he faced perpendicular to them. The 1552 Prayer Book and following editions mandated the northward position. Technically speaking, any Anglican using the 1662 Prayer Book would use the northward position. Anyway, this fell into disuse after the Tractarian movement in the 19th c. Regardless, Anglican altars were almost never divorced from the back wall until after Vatican II, when most Anglicans followed the new Roman custom, albeit a little more conservatively (eg., altars remained on the step, but would be pulled away from the wall, rather than a new altar built at the west end of the chancel). At this point, many young Anglicans, like many young Romans, are trying to reverse the (sometimes destructive) trends of our forebears. For Anglicans, the Mass still retains the same sacramental and eschatological consequences as our “separated brethren,” and so a return to devout reverence is as essential for us as for Rome. And who can say, but perhaps a return to reverence for worship will return us all to a reverence for unity in Christ in the Blessed Sacrament?

  • I think that Ad Orientem may be more “manly” because it literally places the priest in a position of leadership, with the people in a position of following. We all need to see our priests as leaders, as strong, reliable men who can lead us all to Heaven. But I think that boys and men especially need to see their priests that way. I feel sure that it would bring about many new vocations!Keep up the excellent work, Father! God be with you.

  • Thanks for a wonderful post. I am going to share it on Facebook.