The Priest Was Facing The Other Way

As I mentioned in a post last year, I’ve never gotten to attend a celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form (aka the “Latin Mass” or the “Tridentine Mass,” etc.). I’ve tried a few times and it didn’t work out for various reasons. And I really didn’t even know it existed or what it exactly was up until 5-10 years ago. I’ve been interested in attending ever since.

I grew up where all I ever knew was the Ordinary Form (this is the same form of the Mass that’s been said in various translations since Vatican II). If you’re under the age of 40 it’s probably all you’ve ever really known, too.

Not too long ago, however, I attended an Ordinary Form of the Mass where the priest was facing away from the congregation during the consecration. Of course, that was the normal practice prior to Vatican II. But I had never experienced it. In the Ordinary Form of the Mass today, the priest faces the congregation the whole time.

I know there are theological reasons to support both practices. And my point here is not to argue them or to say that either is objectively “better.” All I want to say is that when the priest held up the bread and wine and offered them up to the Father as the Body and Blood of His Son, I experienced Mass in a different way than ever before.

At every other Mass I had ever been to, I had seen the priest holding up the Body and Blood toward me. Holding them up for an audience to see - or at least, that is what I naturally perceived from the way it was done. If you are just observing the Ordinary Form of the Mass, this is the part where you’d say, “Oh, this is where the priest holds up the bread and wine to the congregation.”

But when the priest was facing away from me this time, I got a very different impression. It really hit home to me more than ever that in that moment I was participating in something, not just observing. That I wasn’t just being shown something, but that we were the ones offering the something together — through the priest. All because the priest was facing the other way. The position of his body just seemed to resonate more with what we were doing. That’s all.

It just reminded me that the motions of the liturgy are always communicating something important. And that depending on one’s background or perspective, they impact you differently.

I’m thankful for the latest improvements to the Mass translation. And I’m hopeful that we’ll all continue to uncover, embrace and express the mysteries of the Mass together as we go forward as the Church.

I also thought the following words from Cardinal Burke regarding the long tradition of the Mass were both interesting and promising:

Many Catholics now see that the Church’s “ordinary form” of Mass, celebrated in modern languages, “could be enriched by elements of that long tradition.”

In time, Cardinal Burke expects the Western Church’s ancient and modern forms of Mass to be combined in one normative rite, a move he suggests the Pope also favors.

“It seems to me that is what he has in mind is that this mutual enrichment would seem to naturally produce a new form of the Roman rite – the ‘reform of the reform,’ if we may – all of which I would welcome and look forward to its advent.”