After Cardinal Robert Sarah addressed the Sacra Liturgia Conference on July 5, 2016, at least two churches in the Oakland diocese have taken his request to heart: “Dear Fathers, we should listen again to the lament of God proclaimed by the prophet Jeremiah: ‘they have turned their backs to me and not their faces.’ Let us turn again towards the Lord! Since the day of his Baptism, the Christian knows only one direction: the Orient. ‘You entered to confront your enemy, for you intended to renounce him to his face. You turned toward the East (ad orientem), for one who renounces the devil turns towards Christ and fixes his gaze directly on Him’ (From the beginning of the Treatise on the Mysteries by Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan).”
Two parishes, St. Margaret Mary in Oakland and St. Joseph the Worker in Berkeley, have decided to the use the ad orientem posture in their parishes, beginning on the first Sunday of Advent. Before the change took effect on Sunday, Nov. 27, Fr. Glenn Naguit of St. Margaret Mary’s spent time every week educating his parishioners about the ad orientem posture and more of Cardinal Sarah’s suggestions. He said that he was willing to provide further education on the issue should anyone be interested and has made pamphlets on the subject available to parishioners.
Many parishioners at St. Margaret Mary’s had requested the ad orientem posture for their Ordinary Form Masses over the years and were happy to see it finally implemented. “I am thankful to Father Glenn for celebrating the Mass ad orientem,” said parishioner Ron Durling. “Some people see it as some kind of offense aimed at them. It might be due to a lack of education on the matter, but the comment around our diocese has always been ‘ad orientem means the priest is turning his back on the congregation.’ The reality is that the priest is joining with us in adoring the Lord.”
So far, the ad orientem posture seems to have been accepted by parishioners at both parishes, with very little opposition. Joy, shoulder shrugs, and even pleasant surprise seem to have been typical responses to the change. Any apprehension about the modification seems to have faded with its actual implementation. Pope Francis himself has used the ad orientem posture on occasion.
“The unity of worship with the celebrant was more obvious than I had expected,” noted parishioner Nick Libby following implementation of the new posture. “By facing the same direction, the faithful are more included in the actions of the priest and altar servers.”
Beth Hockel, another St. Margaret Mary’s parishioner, commented, “I am very happy with the change to having the priest face the same direction as the people, in unity, toward God. To me, this more closely follows what Vatican II envisioned. It allows the focus to be more on God, and less on the person of the priest. The Mass feels more reflective, more sacred, more prayerful. I especially appreciate that it is available in the English and Latin Ordinary Form of the Masses and not just the Extraordinary Form.”
Cliff Price, a parishioner of St. Joseph the Worker in Berkeley, said: “One of the main reasons I became a Catholic almost 40 years ago, was that I read the documents of Vatican II and really took them to heart. So, it has always saddened me that here in the Bay Area, it was almost as if none of the priests or people who organized the liturgy in the parishes had even read Sacrosanctum Concilium, much less taken it seriously. Such a waste, such a lost opportunity! But, what we have now at our neighborhood parish, St. Joseph’s, is a powerful step towards restarting the implementation of what Vatican II intended for the People of God in the liturgy. Celebrating the Mass ad orientem is a big help in a restoration of the profound sense of the sacredness, mystery, and sacrificial nature of the Mass. From my reading of Vatican II, I believe that you can’t begin to achieve ‘active participation’ in the liturgy without effectively developing that sense first.”
Parishioners from the two parishes said they are hoping that more of the faithful will accept Cardinal Sarah’s request, educate their fellow parishioners to the beauty of this posture, and embrace it on Ash Wednesday — the next date suggested by Cardinal Sarah.