The St. Louis Review, the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, ran a great story about First Friday Mass and devotions to the Sacred Heart at the Old St. Ferdinand Shrine. The photograph above was taken by the Review and appears in the story. It shows a beautiful young girl at prayer with head properly covered.
She also likes how the Mass, while celebrated in English in the Ordinary Form, is at a shrine that is set up for the Extraordinary Form, or traditional Latin Mass. “This is different than our Sunday Mass. It shows more reverence, and it’s a different way for our family to worship once a month.”
What is referred to here is that the traditional placement and orientation of the altar causes the priest to, of necessity, celebrate Mass ad orientem. That is to say, he faces towards liturgical East, along with the congregation. Those who deride this ancient and immemorial practice would describe it as “the priest turning his back on the people”.
And while it is true that the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite requires this orientation of the priest, what is not generally known is that the rubrics of the Ordinary Form assume this orientation as well. For example, among other places, at the various points in Mass when the “Dominus vobiscum” (“The Lord be with you”) is said, the rubrics (those directions in red ink indicating the actions of the priest celebrant) indicate that the priest should turn to face the people.
Of course, if a priest must turn to face the people, it assumes he is not (or at least may not) be facing them already. The rubrics certainly do not require the Mass to be said versus populum, nor did the Council Fathers do so. However well established the innovation of Mass facing the people may be today, it is no less a deviation from the practice of the Church for at least 1500 years, and likely more. In other words, it is an innovation, and the immemorial custom of facing towards liturgical East cannot be abrogated by neglect or general disuse.
So, I applaud the ad orientem Mass on First Fridays at St. Ferdinand, and call on priests who may read this to emulate the practice. It follows the ancient custom of the Church in that the priest faces the altar, along with everyone else. It is more reverent, almost by default, because the personality of the priest is muted, leaving only his reality as acting in the person of Christ the Head, with the faithful as the Body. All are oriented towards the Sacrifice of Calvary. But this is not because the church is set up for the Extraordinary Form. It is because both Forms should be celebrated this way. And though the Extraordinary Form must be so celebrated, the Ordinary Form certainly can be so celebrated.
Finally, the photo below should help you picture it better– it is of the Holy Father celebrating the novus ordo–the Ordinary Form– ad orientem in the Sistine Chapel. Wouldn’t it be great of our priests of the Archdiocese followed his example more often?