Tuesday, 3 February 2015
Versus populum Masses make me uncomfortable
It struck me the other evening how enriching the ad orientem orientation is for the layperson in the pews. As our priest led the faithful in the prayers of the (silent) Canon towards the consecration, I was absorbed in prayer, my eyes focused on the figure of the infant Jesus in his Blessed Mother's arms above the crucifix on the altar. There was something profoundly moving about the Blessed Sacrament being lifted in adoration towards both the representation of the Crucifixion and that of Our Lord and his Mother.
Later, in contemplation after Holy Communion it occurred to me that this intense visual focus would not have been possible if the priest was saying Mass versus populum: even if the priest was a master of directing his gaze away from the congregation, there would be something uncomfortable, even unseemly about staring in the general direction of a person for an extended period -- even if the stare wasn't directed at the priest.
Ad orientem, the priest all but disappears: he is in alter Christus - he is a conduit for the sacrifice of the Mass, not the "show". This applies whether the Mass is in English or Latin, the Traditional Mass or the Novus ordo. In our culture staring at a person is considered bad manners, a habit avoided from childhood onwards. Ad orientem the priest as person disappears leaving the worshipper free to worship without constraint, without self consciousness, with fewer barriers to their relationship with God.