On Sunday as we were celebrating Corpus Christi, Fr Neil gave out two articles to read. One referred to how we receive the sacrament and the other was a copy on “Eastward facing” which Fr Neil had produced a few months ago. The decision to hand these out was prompted by an interview with Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments on how to celebrate Mass. As Fr Neil pointed out on Sunday after mass, over cake, was that the Cardinal, as head of the congregation responsible for worship and the sacraments we should listen and act on his words in the matter of our liturgy.

The National Catholic Register has an English translation of the original article, which was in French. It is worth reading the whole interview as there is plenty of food for thought.

The Cardinal pinpoints the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church and therefore, in the lives of individuals. He says: “The liturgy is the door to our union with God. If the Eucharistic celebrations are transformed into human self-celebrations, the peril is immense, because God disappears. One must begin by replacing God at the center of the liturgy. If man is at the center, the Church becomes a purely human society, a simple non-profit, like Pope Francis has said. If, on the contrary, God is at the heart of the liturgy, then the Church recovers its vigor and sap! Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger prophetically wrote, “In our relationship with the liturgy, the destiny of the faith and of the Church plays out.””

This ‘Putting God at the centre’ requires some important elements:“To put God at the center of the liturgy, one must have silence: this capacity to silence ourselves [literally: “shut up”] to listen to God and his Word. I believe that we don’t meet God except in the silence, and the deepening of his Word in the depths of our heart.”

One concrete way of enabling this change is for the Eucharistic prayer to be said eastward facing: “To convert, is to turn towards God. I am profoundly convinced that our bodies must participate in this conversion. The best way is certainly to celebrate — priests and faithful — turned together in the same direction: Toward the Lord who comes. It isn’t, as one hears sometimes, to celebrate with the back turned toward the faithful or facing them. That isn’t the problem. It’s to turn together toward the apse, which symbolizes the East, where the Cross of the risen Lord is enthroned.By this manner of celebrating, we experience, even in our bodies, the primacy of God and of adoration. We understand that the liturgy is first our participation at the perfect sacrifice of the Cross. I have personally had this experience: In celebrating thus, with the priest at its head, the assembly is almost physically drawn up by the mystery of the Cross at the moment of the elevation.”

One of the objections to the celebration of the Eucharist prayer with the Priest orientated toward the east is that the congregation feel ‘excluded’, only seeing the back of the priest. (It has been pointed out by some members of our community that seeing the back of a priest has plenty of advantages!) This objection, however seems to be based in a misunderstanding that Cardinal Sarah tackles. “It consists first of all of allowing ourselves to be led to follow Christ in the mystery of His death and of His resurrection. “One doesn’t go to Mass to attend a representation. One goes to participate in the mystery of God,” Pope Francis reminded us very recently. The orientation of the assembly toward the Lord is a simple and concrete means to encourage a true participation for all at the liturgy. The participation of the faithful therefore would not be understood as a necessity to “do something.” On this point, we have deformed the teaching of the Council. On the contrary, it is to allow Christ to take us and associate us with his sacrifice. Only a view tempered in a contemplative faith keeps us from reducing the liturgy to a theater show where each has a role to play. The Eucharist makes us enter in the prayer of Jesus and in his sacrifice, because he alone knows how to adore in spirit and in truth.”

Coming, as many of us do, from a Protestant background, this advice from the Cardinal is very helpful in deepening our understanding of the Mass. It gives a clear explanation to that which many of us have encountered in our Monday Ordinariate Use mass.