The Daily Telegraph reports that Pope Benedict recently celebrated Mass facing East in the Sistine Chapel. Shawn Tribe has a picture and more scholarly comment. Fr Ray has more photos and comment.

It makes a lot of sense to me. There are certain parts of the Mass that are clearly the priest’s prayer and offering to God on behalf of the people, and certain parts of the Mass where the priest is addressing the people. In those parts where the priest prays to God with the People of God it makes sense for the priest to be facing the same way as everyone else in the church.

The rubrics in the Novus Ordo sacramentary assume that the priest is still facing East because they tell the priest at certain points to ‘turn and face the people.’ One of the disadvantages of facing the people all the time is that, no matter how much we try to avoid it, the priest becomes the center of focus. I personally sometimes feel awkward whilst facing the people. Why should they be watching me, and even if they’re not, I feel like they are. I’d rather pray with them than to them.

Will more of our masses be celebrated ad orientam before long? Time will tell. Before it becomes the regular practice we will need to do a fair bit of education and explaining.