Our Custom of Praying Mass 'Ad Orientem': The Theology of The Body and Liturgical Conversion

Our Custom of Praying Mass ‘Ad Orientem’: The Theology of The Body and Liturgical Conversion

     “ When we rise to pray, we turn East, where heaven begins. And we do this not because God is there, as if He had moved away from the other directions on earth, but rather to help us remember to turn our mind towards a higher order; that is, to God.”  

-- St. Augustine

     Our custom of praying Holy Mass ad orientem, that is, to the liturgical east, is of very great importance to us. Just as the Latin suggests, this custom orients our prayer in a way that so many of us have found deeply consoling.  This orientation in prayer has had a fundamental impact on our spirituality. It is a praying according to a theology of the body.

     The importance of this custom could be looked at from a historical point of view: the Mass was always prayed this way from the days of the Apostles until very recently. St. Augustine always referred to this turning together to the East in prayer at the end of his homilies, praying aloud to the people, “Conversi ad Dominum (turn to face the Lord).”

    It should make us think, if we find ourselves in a place where what was the universal custom for Catholics for the entire history of our worship, now strikes us as bizarre, irritating, and even unhealthy and unfitting. Worshipping in the same direction as the priest is not an eccentricity of a particular locale for a few hundred years, but the way Christians worshipped God always and everywhere for our entire existence.

     But the strongest sign of its importance is not in history, but here today. It is in the spiritual formation it has given us.  Facing God together with our priest during the Eucharistic prayer creates a solidarity between all of us, as we turn to God together. With a united face, we converse, through the words of our priest, to God Himself.

     This has been so consoling and uplifting to us because it has brought out and shown light upon our conversation with God. It has revealed that our conversion to Him, our conversation with Him, in the Mass is so real.

     We begin the Eucharistic prayer with our priest, turning towards our unseen God together. Suddenly this God so distant now appears as the priest raises the Blessed Sacrament. God the Father, before distant in our minds, is made present by our offering the Sacrifice of His Son to Him.

    Praying the Mass with our priest, as we face together to God, gives room for God in the Church. As St. Augustine says, not because He “has moved away from other places,” but because knowing that God is there before us all, priest and people together, “turns our mind to a higher order, that is, to God.”

    This custom is a great way in which we have lived the theology of the body, in which spiritual truths are made incarnate. We converse with God, we convert to God, in our souls and hearts, as we convert physically to God with our bodies. We need these incarnate ways of praying, and this custom has been so fruitful for our spiritual lives.

     And we do this not just as individuals, in a private spiritual life alone, but as a Church, together. And together with our priest, who is one of us, and our representative as well, presenting what is in our hearts (Sursum corda!) in words spoken towards, not “the wall”, but towards God.

    We are made by God with bodies, and we learn to convert to Him and converse with Him in our souls by first converting our bodies to Him.

Oh! Praise God!

No comments:

Post a Comment