“Ad Orientem? Nah, not my cuppa tea….”

This post is brought to you by one of the young CUF members, as she reflects on her experience at Holy Mass… and some of the distractions that can present themselves!

handsome priest

So here I am, attending a Novus Ordo Mass in New York, and the priest celebrating the Mass looks like he could be on Baywatch – classic American movie-star good looks. I’m struggling to be present to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass… thinking thoughts like, “Wow he’s so handsome, I wonder what his past life was like before he became a priest… Oh wait no, focus, focus, I’m at Mass, focus on Jesus. I know, I just won’t look at the priest to avoid being distracted by his good looks! Hang on, what if he thinks I’m being rude and not paying attention to the homily? What a dilemma….”

ad orientemBeing brought up only knowing the Novus Ordo Mass celebrated the way it generally is today (priest facing the people), when I first heard about the term “Ad Orientem”, my reaction was, “Whatever, I like it the way it is right now, much more personable & connected to the people”. In case you’ve never heard the term Ad Orientem before, in Catholic liturgy, it refers to the eastward orientation of a priest whilst celebrating Mass, which usually means the priests’ back faces the people, since in early Church tradition, churches were normally oriented towards the east. As St. Augustine says: “When we rise to pray, we turn East, where heaven begins. And we do this not because God is there, as if He had moved away from the other directions on earth… but rather to help us remember to turn our mind towards a higher order, that is, to God.”

Now back to this Mass in New York I just attended… I’m now at lunch about an hour later after Mass, I’m sitting next to 2 married ladies (with children), and I hear them start talking to each other in spanish, and stealing obvious glances at the Baywatch priest standing nearby in the doorway. I cheekily lean over and ask, “What are you ladies talking about? Hmm?”. They both look embarrassed and laughed, and to help ease the embarrassment, I say, “Is it about the good looking priest?” And they laugh and admit it. I realised at that moment that my struggle to not be distracted by such a good looking priest didn’t only apply to me, it applied to all (or maybe most) women, regardless of whether they’re single, or happily married with their own prince charming or not.

My struggle to focus on what the Mass is really about, and the conversation with the 2 married ladies at lunch, really made me ponder on a few things. If a good looking priest can be so distracting to women (and women are meant to be less “visually activated” than men) – how hard must it be, when there are women in the sanctuary, serving as altar girls for example, for men to focus on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass? I think it’s pretty safe to say – women don’t even have to be very pretty for men to get distracted, one might even say, just the very presence of the opposite sex is enough to distract men’s thoughts.

What’s my point? Perhaps this. Maybe, the Church, in all it’s 2000+ years of wisdom & tradition, has really really REALLY good reasons, why it teaches what it teaches and recommends what it recommends. Perhaps, in the Year of Faith, it might be a really good idea, to examine our own opinions on the Church’s teachings – notice the things we disagree with, or dislike, or don’t understand well, and take the time to read up what the Church ACTUALLY says about it (instead of relying on what we’ve heard from Joe Bloggs who heard a version of the Church’s teachings from John Doe), pray about it, and ask for the Holy Spirit to guide us in fully understanding why the Church teaches what it teaches (understanding its authentic spirit) based on accurate facts & information.

holy-sacrifice-of-the-massAnd who knows, maybe when Masses are again celebrated Ad Orientem (as is still assumed in the Vatican documents – even in the Novus Ordo Mass) – it will lead us lay people to focus better on the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass instead of being distracted by how good looking the priest is or distracted with judging and assessing his performance as a priest, or distracted with the long flowing beautiful hair of an altar server. As our Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI recently said (the homily at the opening Mass of the Year of Faith):

“I have often insisted on the need to return, as it were, to the ‘letter’ of the council – that is, to its texts – also to draw from them its authentic spirit. The true legacy of the council is to be found in them.” – Vatican II must be understood in continuity with the Church’s millenial traditions, not as a radical break with the past.

One Comment

  1. Great article, but I’d like to comment on one thing: “In case you’ve never heard the term Ad Orientem before, in Catholic liturgy, it refers to the eastward orientation of a priest whilst celebrating Mass, which usually means the priests’ back faces the people…” This is half true. “Ad orientem” applies to priest AND people. ALL face the altar in the east together, with the priest acting as a leader, priest and intercessor, turning towards the altar, then to the people, then back again. The back of the priest is no more turned in “exclusion” towards the people than is the back of a general leading troops into battle. I know you know this, but your description didn’t really express it.

Leave a Reply