What is it, from a priest’s point of view that I love about celebrating the Mass ad orientem? A number of things:
1. I no longer have to worry about being in ‘performance mode’. When I am facing the people, no matter how much I try, I am looking more at them and focussing more on them as ‘audience’ than I am on what I am doing at the altar. I am concerned therefore about what I look like. Is my face conveying what it should? Do I look ‘holy’ enough? Am I making it ‘meaningful’ enough? Why is that person dozing? What must I do to regain their attention. I don’t want to think all this while I am celebrating, but too often I do.
2. I can pray without worrying what others think of me or what I look like. If I want to concentrate and furrow my brow I can without being self conscious. If I want to weep I may without being worried about ‘losing my composure’. If I want to pause and enter into silence or speak in the language of angels silently I may. No one can see me.
3. In the new Our Lady of the Rosary at the East end is a wonderful 19th century hand painted English crucifix. at last I can behold this great mystery as I celebrate the Pascal mystery. I can behold the mystery in stained glass while celebrating rather than looking at the people.
4. This doesn’t mean I disregard the people. By praying in the same position as them I actually feel closer to them than I did the other way around. Now I am praying with them and for them and offering the holy sacrifice with them and for them. We are now more ‘one’ than I ever felt before. This aspect of the celebration ad orientem is felt more profoundly than any of the others.
5. I feel more a part of the great tradition. This is the way the sacrifice of the Mass was offered for millennia. Now I feel more part of that great stream of the faith ‘that comes to us from the Apostles’
6. The faithful seem to appreciate it too. Certainly the comments we get are appreciative, and very few seem disgruntled.
I don’t mind saying mass versus populum, and I feel there are other good things that can be said for that position. I don’t take a doctrinaire view or an intolerant view.
However, I have my preference.