Friday, October 30, 2009

Facing East


It is important to clearly distinguish the place for the liturgy of the Word from the place of properly Eucharistic liturgy. For, the liturgy of the Word is about speaking and responding, and so a face-to-face exchange does make sense. On the other hand, a common turning to the east during the Eucharistic prayer remains essential. Looking at the priest here has no importance. What maters in the Eucharistic liturgy is looking together at the Lord. It is now not a question of dialogue but of common worship, of setting off toward the One who is to come. What corresponds to this reality of what is happening is not the closed circle of dialogue, but a common movement forward, expressed in a common direction of prayer. (The Spirit of the Liturgy, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 2000 AD)


One of the casualties in the worship as you please mindset of the reformation has been the most basic understanding of worship has disappeared. In a world where the Pastor/leader gets to make up the worship as he goes, corporate worship has for the most part been reduced to the format of a late night talk show focused on the bible. However, a deep understanding of proper worship according to the traditions of the apostles and the church Fathers can still be found. In the above quote we find a Roman Catholic scholar, and now Pope, distinguishing between orientations, that is, the direction towards which worship is offered. He acknowledges the two classical parts of liturgy: the liturgy of the Word, and the liturgy of the Eucharist. He makes the point that there is closed circle of dialogue during the liturgy of the Word, but a common worship of thanksgiving that goes outside the circle during the liturgy of the Eucharist. He states that the major difference between the two is that there is to be a common movement forward, expressed in a common direction of prayer during the Eucharistic prayer. This understanding reshapes the whole concept of orientation during worship. In fact, it ensures that we who worship are transported to the doorway of eternity in the Eucharistic mystery rather than just remaining in a circle of intellectual dialogue. In other words, facing east together enhances the mystery of the sacrament rather than truncating it to a mere teaching. Facing East during the Eucharistic prayer is like setting a diamond on an appropriate mounting, the two bring out the beauty of the one main point. In short, facing east during the Eucharistic liturgy places our thanksgiving in its proper setting.

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