THE POSITION OF THE CELEBRANT DURING THE EUCHARISTIC CELEBRATION
Versus Populum (Facing the People) or Ad Orientem (Facing the East)?
A Historico-Theologico Study
Fr. Joseph Kalathil
The position of the priest has a prominent role in Christian liturgies because here the priest performs the most sublime action of the Church i.e. the Holy Eucharistic celebration. In all major religions we can see the presence of priests. The functions and performances of the priests do reveal the aspirations and characteristics of the religions which they belong to. In Christian understanding the function of a priest is not a mere cultic one or personal, rather he does his functions with the living tradition of the Church. Here he does his duties in accordance with the mind of the Church. Eucharistic celebration is the primary concern of almost all the Episcopal Churches. No symbol or word can we find in the Eucharist without meaning because the Church had already interpreted it through the biblical interpretations or the catechetical homilies by the Fathers of the Church.
It is an inevitable fact that symbols, signs, words and gestures bear deep meaning in the Eucharistic celebration. There is often a tendency to evade certain elements or symbols within the Eucharistic celebration. Without any doubt we can assert that it will harm the nature and meaning of the Eucharistic celebration. This study is an attempt to expose the meaning and relevance of an important liturgical feature i.e. the position of the priest during the Eucharistic celebration. We shall examine the liturgical and theological significance of the ad orientem and versus populum positions of the priest during the Eucharistic celebration.
The position of the celebrant is a vital subject in the field of liturgy. There are various views regarding the subject and the terms such as pre-conciliar, post- conciliar etc. which have arisen often in the liturgical field based on this subject. But we should bear in mind that among the oriental Churches with a few exceptions the position of the celebrant during the Holy Eucharistic celebration is not at all an issue since almost all the oriental Churches consider the ad orientam position of both the priest and the people as taken for granted. There often arise misconstructions and misconceptions regarding this subject. So it is very important that one should have a clear cut notion with regard to the position of celebrant during the liturgical celebration. This issue is of vital importance to the Syro Malabar Church, being the second biggest Catholic Oriental Church in the world. In a world where we find rapid and deep secularization tendencies, where we find the demolition of meaning of the signs and symbols through which the mysteries are accessible to the faithful, it is inevitable that the real meaning of the signs and symbols should be preserved in the Church. Therefore the ad orientem liturgical posture which has great symbolic significance deserves a serious study. This theme is discussed in this thesis in contrast to the popular liturgical feature of versus populum celebration.
There are biblical references and the writings of Church Fathers which explain the meaning and relevance of ad orientem prayer. Biblical and liturgical sources and the patristic writings are the principal sources of our study. We may also make use of the studies of modern authors on the relevance of prayer ad orientem and Mass versus populum.
Method and Division
In this study we may concentrate on the analysis of the existing two modes of the position of the celebrant in the Eucharistic celebration i.e. ad orientem and versus populum. This study is divided into three chapters. The first chapter deals with the history of versus populum in both the Roman and the Syro Malabar Churches. Here we try to understand the origin of the practice of versus populum. The question arises whether the practice of versus populum was a practice of the early Church or did it begin at the time of Martin Luther or was it a contribution of the II Vatican Council? Was there any influence of the Liturgical Movement for the introduction of this practice in the Church?
The second chapter deals with the theology of the versus populum position. The question here is whether there exists any theology behind the versus populum celebration. There are many who hold the view that the priority of the Eucharist consists in its meal aspect. The II Vatican Council paved the way for a new theology for them. Insisting on the meal aspect they view Eucharist primarily as a banquet. They speak about the versus populum position as much suited for the meal aspect. The danger of the concept of archaism is discussed in this chapter. Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out that the liturgical movement was infected by a kind of archaism. It means overemphasizing the past by neglecting the good things which have been evolved in later developments. Here there is a tendency to stick on one period. The influence of the Reform movement which started after Martin Luther and its impact on the Church too was discussed here. There are many authors who connected the development of versus populum celebration with the teachings of the II Vatican Council. There are opinions that in versus populum celebration one sees the image of God in another and therefore this position is ideal one. The sociological aspects of versus populum are mentioned here. There arises the question whether in versus populum position the Priest is a leader or an actor as in a drama.
Chapter three deals with the position of the oriental Churches regarding the ad orientem position in liturgy. It begins with the origin of the ad orientem position. Early Christians and their relation with the Jewish Religion and their attitude towards sun worship etc. are discussed here. A study about the early Church architecture is inevitable in order to understand the ancient structure of the Churches. There are a lot of biblical references and testimonies of the Fathers about the ad orientem celebration. Early writings such as Didache and Apostolic Constitutions testify the early practice of the ad orientem. In various liturgical texts of the East Syrian, West Syrian and Latin traditions we find the prominence of the ad orientem celebration. There are many characteristics of ad orientem such as the common direction of priest and people, the eschatological significance, the sign of Cross, the pilgrim nature, God’s revelation, cosmic symbolism, sacrificial character etc. We can see a growth of the concept from earthly Jerusalem to heavenly Jerusalem, from geographical east to the liturgical east. Thus the meaning of ad orientem is understood as the conversation with God and turning towards the Lord. Today we see the loss of mystery aspect among the contemporary modern men. The chapter ends with the notification about the Oxford movement which strived to regain the meaning of ad orientem in England.
This study tries to expose the different views concerning both versus populum and the ad orientem position. It is very important to see each one’s historical developments and meaning. Mere imaginations and guess works will not help anyone to find out an answer to the question of the position of the celebrant during the Eucharistic celebration. It is very important to preserve and interpret correctly the meaning of the different positions with the help of the Sacred Scriptures, Sacred traditions and with the testimonies of the Church Fathers. This study makes use of these sources to understand the meaning and significance of both versus populum and ad orientem positions of the priest in the Holy Qurbana.
THE HISTORY OF VERSUS POPULUM IN THE ROMAN AND THE SYRO MALABAR CHURCHES
1. 0. INTRODUCTION
The history of the practice of versus populum in the Roman and the Syro Malabar Churches are noteworthy. At present it is almost a universal practice in the Roman Church. Some argue that it is an age old custom as old as Christianity. They point to the Last supper as the example for this. Some archeologists and historians too opine that the practice of versus populum is an early custom. The famous liturgist Klaus Gamber opines that this practice has begun with Martin Luther at the Reform period. This chapter tries to evaluate the different concepts regarding the history of the practice of versus populum. Since Syro Malabar church is very much influenced by the practice of versus populum here we try also to understand a short history behind this practice in the Syro Malabar Church.
1.1. THE ORIGIN OF THIS PRACTICE
Klaus Gamber has the opinion that the custom of the priest facing the people during Mass has its origin with Martin Luther. In his book “The German Mass and Order of Worship” (1526) at the beginning of the chapter entitled ‘The Sabbath for the People’, Luther writes:
“Let all the vestments, the altar, the candles be, until they get used up, or we decide to change them. And if somebody wants to do things differently, let him do it. But for the real Mass among Christians, the altar should not remain in its current form and the Priest should always face the people-as we can undoubtedly assume, Christ did during the last supper”.
Luther came to this conclusion by referring to Christ’s own behavior in the Last supper. Luther here envisioned the scene of the Last supper in the framework of his own time i.e. Jesus standing or sitting at the centre of a long table and the apostles placed his right and left.
Gamber opines that the practice of the Priest facing the people during the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice cannot be documented anywhere from any source until Martin Luther. There is also no archeological evidence to support it. He again points out the fact that the actual expression versus populum first appears in the official text in the “The Rite to be Used When Celebrating the Mass” which is part of the Missale Romanum revised by the order of the Council of Trent under Pope St. Pius V, published in1570. Section V, 3 of this text addresses the situation of “the altar facing East (not towards the apse of the Church but) towards the people”. Uwe Michael Lang who is a theologian and liturgist points out that the expression versus (ad) populum seems to have been used for the first time by the papal master of ceremonies, Johannes Burckard, in his Ordo Missae of 1502and was taken up in the Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae of the Missale Romanum that pope Saint Pius V issued in 1570. It deals with the case where the altar is directed to the east and, at the same time towards the people. This is indeed the state of affairs in the Major Roman Basilicas with the entrance facing east and the apse facing west. Here versus populum is to be looked upon merely as an explanatory appositive, namely in view of the immediately following directive that in this case at the Pax Domini the celebrant does not need to turn around, since he already stands ad populum anyway.
It is to be noted that when these texts use the phrase versus populum, it does not necessarily mean a visual connection between the people and the sacred action at the altar. Here it is by no means suggested that nothing should limit or block the faithful’s view of the ritual acts of the celebrant. Such an interpretation seemed alien to the understanding of the liturgy that was common for the Christian antiquity until well into the middle ages and is still found in the eastern Churches. It is interesting to note that even with the altars versus populum the sight was significantly restricted by curtains that were closed during certain parts of the liturgy or already by the architectural layout of the Church. The guiding points of the Congregation for Divine Worship also make clear that the expression versus populum does not convey the theological dimension of the Eucharistic liturgy.
The practice of versus populum became common in Germany in 1920s when Mass was said with small groups of young people. Versus populum position was authorized in the Roman rite even before the Vatican II Council had concluded. After the II Vatican Council the practice of versus populum accepted in general in the Roman Church. A good number of modern Churches which built either in circular or semicircular models supported this practice. The oriental Churches such as the Maronites in France and some dioceses of the Syro Malabar Church and the Chaldean Church in Iraq recently introduced this practice.
It is a fact that celebration of the entire Mass ad orientem was almost universal in the Latin rite just prior to Vatican II although there were attempts to widen the practice of celebrating various parts of the Mass versus populum. It should be noted that Vat II itself did not call for an end to celebration ad orientem nor did it make any mention of celebration versus populum.
1. 2. THE INFLUENCE OF THE LITURGICAL MOVEMENT
During the nineteenth century the Church was confronted with new ideas that circulated mainly in Europe such as liberalism, positivism and materialism. The materialistic mindset and progress of the sciences gave birth to these doctrines which are danger to the religious life. Apart from this, the social problems created by industrial development paved the way for socialism and communism which are hostile to the Church.
At this moment Pope Pius IX (1846-1878) drew up a veritable catalogue of erroneous doctrines such as rationalism, pantheism, indifferentism, naturalism, communism etc. On December 8, 1869 he announced his intention to convene a Council. It was the First Vatican Council and this Council pertained to the unity of the liturgy in the West and showed broadmindedness towards the diversity of Eastern rites. After the Council scholars were interested to intensify a “liturgical movement” which is initiated by Dom Gueranger and his close collaborators.
The “contemporary liturgical movement” is a group of initiatives and concrete programs whereby some scholars and pastors sought to comply with the wishes of the Church and to restore to the Roman liturgy its true form, its true stature, its true meaning. The movement had been started by Dom Gueranger and the Benedictines of Solesmes, among others. Belgium and Germany were the starting points for pastoral action. It aimed at associating the Christian people more directly with the liturgical spirituality that was being discovered. It is to be noted that in seventeenth and eighteenth century, during the celebration of the Eucharist many of the faithful did not focus on the mystery of Christ. Even practicing Catholics do not know exactly what the holy sacrifice of the Mass consists of. They even do not know how to take part in it. As a result of the teachings of the Supreme Pontiffs the Mass was once again understood and experienced as the center of Christian life in the Church. The liturgy in its entirety would have to be built upon the Credo.
The contemporary liturgical movement was encouraged principally by St. Pius X and Pius XII. The former began the work of restoring the Roman liturgy. He recalled that true liturgy consists of performing the rites freely and easily so as to allow oneself in a docile way to be formed by the spiritual message. In his Encyclical letter “Mediator Dei” Pope Pius XII defined liturgy as being the “integral worship of the mystical body”. The word “integral” means that the liturgy is not only a cult but also a cultic action involving Christ and His Church in an inseparable manner. The proponents of liturgical movement state that it was founded to nourish everyday Christian life by participation in the liturgy celebrated in local Churches and chapels. In its origins it sought to awaken people’s consciousness including and primarily that of the clergy to the Church’s traditional spiritual treasury that was widely ignored. One of the American pioneers Hellriegel declaimed in 1929 that without the liturgy the Church could not live because the liturgy is the very soul and life of the Church. The Liturgical Movement is very important because for centuries we have been too far removed from this divine furnace and it’s all penetrating sacred fire. We were chilled by a degenerated humanism and rationalism and frostbitten by materialism and religious indifference. We lost a goodly portion of the mind of the Church and quite a bit of our living the liturgical life of the Church. Crichton asserts that the Liturgical Movement sought to change the liturgy to accommodate pastoral needs. There were many plans of actions for the Liturgical Movement. To this end the Liturgical Movement promoted the dialogue Mass. One of its distinguishing features was the emphasis on the oral participation of the congregation. It probably contributed to a distortion in understanding the active participation called for by St. Pius X and promoted by Beauduin et al. as primarily external participation.
As Bouyer states the pioneers of the Liturgical Movement in the twentieth century had two chief motives for promoting the celebration of Mass versus populum. First, they wished the readings to be delivered facing the people. Their problem was that, according to the rubrics for low mass, the priest had to read the Epistle and Gospel from the missal on the altar. Since they wanted to proclaim the word of God towards the people and, at the same time, follow the rubrics, the only option was to celebrate the whole Mass versus populum, as was provided for by the Missal of Pope saint Pius V to cover the particular arrangement of the major Roman basilicas. But it is to be noted that the instruction Inter Oecumenici of 1964 allowed the reading of the Epistle and Gospel from a pulpit or ambo and with this instruction the first incentive for Mass facing the people became no longer valid. Another reason that motivated the Liturgical movement was the intention to reclaim the perception of the Eucharist as a sacred banquet, which it was thought had been lost sight of. The celebration of Mass facing the people was seen as an adequate way of repairing this loss. There are authors who expressed their views that the roots of the pressure for versus populum celebration in the modern liturgical movement lie in the soil of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, where they are hard to disentangle from a conscious effort to divert attention away from the Eucharist as a sacrifice-a term as opaque to rationalistically inclined Catholics then as to many of our contemporaries now-and toward the much more comprehensible notions of the Eucharist as assembly and as meal.
Regarding versus orientem and versus populum Albert Gerhards says: “The Liturgical Movement certainly had a Trinitarian deficit in its Christocentrism, and this may have had an effect on the liturgy of the Second Vatican Council”. Cardinal Ratzinger speaks out that the celebration of the Eucharist has a Trinitarian direction and discusses the question of how this can be communicated most fittingly in liturgical gesture. When we speak to someone, we obviously face the person. Accordingly the whole liturgical assembly, priest and people, should face the same way, turning towards God to whom prayers and offerings are addressed in this common act of Trinitarian worship. He protests against the mistaken idea that in this case the celebrating priest is facing ‘towards the altar’, ‘towards the tabernacle’, or even ‘towards the wall’. There is a catchphrase which often states that the priest is ‘turning his back on the people’. It is a classic example of confounding theology and topography. The crucial point here is that the Mass is a common act of worship where priest and people together who represent the pilgrim Church reach out for the transcendent God.
The Liturgist Gamber articulates that the practice of celebrating Mass facing the people came to us during the 1920s, when it was popular to celebrate the Eucharist in small groups. The liturgical movement, with Pius Parsch leading the charge, also promoted this practice. Gamber examines the arrival of the age of the Enlightenment and the beginning of the liturgical movement. The period of the Enlightenment was the Restoration period of the nineteenth century with its Neo-Romanticism and its Neo Gothic art movement. At that time we can also see the beginning of the Benedictine monasteries of Solesmes in France and the priories of the Beuron Congregation in Germany. In these new monastic centers we can find the beginnings of the liturgical movement of the 1920s together with the cultivation of the traditional Latin liturgy and the Gregorian chant. Only small groups of intellectuals and some students were part of this. The Church’s Latin remained alive in this movement.
Different from this movement Pius Parsch pioneered to create a liturgy for the people during the 1930s. The specialty of his approach was the over-emphasis on the faithfull’s active participation in liturgical worship. Gamber opines that he has an erroneous speculation about the form of worship among the early Christians and the design and furnishing of their sanctuary. Pius Parch was the leader of the Liturgical Movement in Austria who was deeply motivated by the lack of liturgical piety he experienced among soldiers during the First World War. He obtained the use of an old chapel nearby namely St. Gertrude’s and began over thirty years of liturgical formation and celebration with ordinary people. He is known as “an apostle of active participation”. It is to be noted that Pius Parsch had reordered the building of St. Gertrude’s chapel which included an altar for celebration versus populum in 1935. There are authors who assert that it is questionable whether Parsch’s adaptations such as celebrating the Mass versus populum or standing to receive Holy Communion in fact enhance active participation. Here it is true that liturgical participation is not exclusively verbal. But at the same time we can see that Parsch was attempting rather boldly in the extent of the use of vernacular and to bring the people to the traditional liturgy. His revival of processions, his use of lights and incense enhanced the participation of mind and heart. Some authors call him as a proponent of participation in the Traditional Liturgy even though it is argued that some of his reforms were ill- considered and that he placed too much emphasis on verbal participation. The beginning of the vernacular in the Roman liturgy can be traced to Pius Parsch although in the beginning the vernacular was used only in conjunction with the Latin of the Priest-Celebrant. It is a fact that Pius Parsch’s ideas about a form of liturgical worship were pastorally effective and also more directly involving the people. Gamber opines that these ideas became part of the Constitution on the liturgy together with many of his errors as his assertion that the celebration of Mass Versus Populum was historically justified. It is a fact that the great emphasis on the social character of the Eucharist is one of the major achievements of the liturgical movement. It often went hand-in-hand with a loss of the sacrificial sense of the Mass and with a minimizing of the role of the Priest in the Eucharistic celebration.
The celebration of the Mass Versus Populum was not allowed until the Second Vatican Council. But many bishops quietly tolerated the practice, particularly during Masses celebrated specifically for young people. At the same time it is a fact that in 1947, Pope Pius XII, in his encyclical Mediator Dei, pointed out that the person who wants to change the altar into the old form of the Mensa (the table) is going down the wrong road. In Germany the new place of the priest behind the altar had its beginnings in the youth movement of the 1920s when it was popular to celebrate the Eucharist in small groups. A pioneer of this practice was Romano Guardini at the Masses he celebrated at Burg Rothenfels. The liturgical reform movement with Pius Parsch in the Vanguard also enhanced to promote the popularity of this practice. In Klosterneuburg, near Vienna, Parsch set up a small Romanesque Church (St. Gertrud) for this very purpose, for his very own “liturgical community”. It is a fact that practices like these were finally sanctioned by the “Instructions on the Proper Implementation of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” in the document Inter Oecumenici, issued by the Congregation of the Holy Rites in 1964 and these instructions also found their way into the new missal. For Church buildings newly constructed the instruction says: “Normally, a Church should have a fixed and dedicated altar, freestanding, away from any wall, so that the priest can walk all around it and can celebrate facing the people” (GIRM). It is true that the new altar facing the people has been established worldwide. But it is also true that these altars are not actually prescribed.
It is to be noted that at the beginning of the liturgical movement the desire of Pope Saint Pius X was to restore the liturgy and make its treasures more accessible. He wished that the liturgy becomes once more the well spring of an authentically Christian life in order to meet the challenge of an increasing secularism and to encourage the faithful to consecrate the world to God. Contrary to all expectation, the implementation of the liturgical reform led to a systematic desacralization of the liturgy. What happened here is that the liturgy itself progressively overrun by the secular culture of the surrounding world and thus losing its own proper substance.
1. 3. THE POSITION OF THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL
There are many who opine that versus populum was an apparent fruit of post-conciliar openness. At the same time a careful combing of the relevant Council document, Sacrosanctum Concilium reveals that Vatican II did not mandate any such action. Lang observes that there is a widespread misunderstanding that the priest’s ‘turning his back on the people’ is characteristic of the rite of the Mass according to the missal of Pope Saint Pius V and the Priest’s ‘turning towards the people’ belongs to the Novus Ordo Mass of Pope Paul VI. There is an assumption among the general public that the celebration of the Mass ‘facing the people’ is required and imposed by the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council. But Lang opines that the Council’s constitution on the sacred liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, speaks neither of a celebration versus populum nor of the setting up of new altars. The Liturgist Klaus Gamber too has the same opinion who says that one would look in vain for a statement in the Constitution on the Liturgy of the Second Vatican Council that said that Holy Mass is to be celebrated facing the people.
The instruction Inter Oecumenici prepared by the Consilium for the carrying out of the Constitution on the sacred liturgy and issued on 26 September 1964 has a chapter on the designing of new Churches and altars that includes the following paragraph: “it is better for the main altar to be constructed away from the wall so that one can easily walk around the altar and celebrate facing the people”. Here it is to be noted that this document permits the Mass facing the people, but it does not prescribe it. The famous liturgist Louis Bouyer opines that this document does not at all suggest that Mass facing the people is always the preferable form of Eucharistic celebration. The revised ‘General Instruction of the Roman Missal’ which was published in spring of 2000 says: “Let the altar be constructed separate from the wall so that one can easily walk around the altar and celebrate facing the people –which is desirable wherever possible.  It is notable here that the position of the celebrant priest facing the people is not compulsory. The instruction allows both forms of celebration. Lang has the opinion that the phrase ‘which is desirable wherever possible’ refers to the provision for a freestanding altar and not to the desirability of celebration towards the people. In this context, there appeared many opinions which postulate that the General Instruction suggested that the position of the celebrant versus orientem was declared undesirable, if not prohibited. This interpretation has been rejected by the Congregation for Divine Worship in 25 September 2000 by Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Estevez, the Prefect of the congregation and Archbishop Francesco Pio Tamburrino, the Secretary:
“…..The physical position, especially with respect to the communication among the various members of the assembly, must be distinguished from the interior spiritual orientation of all. It would be a grave error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is towards the community. If the priest celebrates versus populum, which is legitimate and often advisable, his spiritual attitude ought always to be towards God through Jesus Christ, as representative of the entire Church. The Church as well, which takes concrete form in the assembly which participates, is entirely turned towards God as its first spiritual movement”.
It is a fact that the celebration of the Mass versus populum which was advocated since the 1920s was without official approval and the documentary evidence for an actual hard-and-fast Vatican mandate is embarrassingly scant. It was permitted first in regulations issued by a commission after the Council by the text Inter Oecumenici and not to the exclusion of the eastward position is mentioned here. About the freestanding altar it speaks only in the context of new Church buildings. It is very important to note that a recent official clarification from the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship interpreted ambiguous passages in the General Instruction on the Roman Missal in such a way that versus populum was still only one possible option. There are authors like Joseph Jungmann who holds the view that the practice of versus populum is a fashion to which one succumbs without thinking. Cardinal Joseph Parecattil who was the first cardinal from the Syro Malabar Church and who also participated in the II Vatican Council says:
Till recently it was a custom of the priest to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice turning back to the people. It is not suitable to the Indian custom and manners. Even to prepare children for respectful behavior or acting, the first instruction was given to them is not to turn their backs to the audience. In the early years the Orientals as well as Latins celebrated the Holy Sacrifice facing the people as Christ did in the Last Supper. That custom was abandoned first by Orientals and later by the Latins. Now Latins have regained this custom on the basis of the II Vatican Council. The Council documents call the Holy Sacrifice as paschal banquet. That biblical vision is also respectful and applicable to the Orientals.
Cardinal Parecattil repeats the same idea in another book namely Liturgy Ente Drishtiyil. He says:
Before the Vatican II there were strict regulations regarding rituals in Holy Mass such as where to put the Taksa, in which direction one should celebrate Holy Mass etc. But after the Vatican Council a thought had been developed which promoted to experience the “freedom of the God’s Children”. It suggested doing the Eucharistic celebration of both the celebrant and people with actively and in a pious way in order to enhance the inner spirit. Actually before the Council itself there started the custom of celebrating versus populum had begun which widespread especially in Germany. Such kind of developments became an important factor not only in the liturgical renewal but in many other decisions of the Vatican Council. It is a fact that in the Vatican Council itself the oriental rites dedicated the Holy Mass facing the people. Today that custom has been spreaded all over the world. In the Syro Malabar Church, many dioceses have received this developmental decision by understanding the flow of time.
The above statements of Cardinal Parecattil show that he had a preoccupation that versus populum celebration was the after effect of the II Vatican Council. But it is clear that Council did not speak about versus populum. Neither had it formulated any theory concerning the position of the celebrant. Cardinal points out that versus populum is a developmental step by the Council. We cannot see it as a development by the Council since it didn’t speak about this practice. The widespread of this practice cannot be attributed to the Council.
1. 4. VERSUS POPULUM: AN EARLY PRACTICE?
Joseph Jungmann S. J. who was a former advocate of Mass facing the congregation opines that the claim that the altar of the early Church was always designed to celebrate facing the people, a claim made often and repeatedly, turns out to be nothing but a fairy tale. Those who stand in favor of versus populum claim that the arrangement of the primitive “house liturgy” is very much similar to the current arrangement of the altar facing the people. But it is important to recall Pius XII’s Mediator Dei which warns against holding up the original, primitive form of the Mass as the sole template for the reform of the liturgy. It is a fact that the average Catholic has the vague, romantic notion that the early Christians gather together facing each other over homely tables, and that the turning towards the East was the result of an alien liturgical rigorism imposed at some unspecified point during the post Constantinian era. Let us examine these arguments.
1. 4. 1. The argument by Otto Nussbaum
There arises a question that whether versus populum was an early Christian practice. Here we see the study of Professor Otto Nussbaum. He correctly observes that modern man no longer understands the significance and meaning of the act of facing east in prayer. In his book, The position of the priest at the Christian altar (1965) he says: “Ever since buildings have been constructed that were specifically designed for liturgical worship, there has been no firm rule about on which of the altar the priest should stand. At times he could stand in front of the altar, at other times, he could stand behind it.” Here Nussbaum makes it clear that until the sixth century the celebration of the mass facing the people had been the generally preferred practice.
Nussbaum makes a comprehensive study on the pertinent literary and archeological sources in the first millennium. His research points out the following observations.
Where the entrance was in the east, the altar was always placed between the celebrant and the congregation. Where the apse was in the east, in the early days both the celebrant’s position versus populum and with his back to the people evenly practiced. It would seem that at first the orientation of the entrance and the orientation of the apse were on a par. Hence it can be inferred that since the first proper buildings for worship were constructed, there had been no strict rule as to on which side of the altar the celebrant was supposed to stand. He could just as well have stood either in front of or behind the altar. When from the beginning of the fifth century the type of Church with an eastward- facing apse became the norm, this did not at once change the two existing possibilities of the direction of celebrant and congregation. It was only at a later point that the position of the celebrant in Churches with the apse in the east came almost always to be between the congregation and the altar.
According to Nussbaum in the earliest known Church buildings of Syria and Greece, the celebrating priest stood between the congregation and the altar, facing the apse. But in other regions such as Egypt and Italy, the position of the celebrant facing the people used to be the early practice and had become an exception only in the course of time. There are scholars who criticize Nussbaum’s interpretation of the available sources as highly questionable. Marcel Metzger is one of them.
1. 4. 1. 1. Criticism on Nussbaum’s argument
Here it is to be noted that where the practice of versus populum was done, there was no ‘turning towards the people’ in the modern sense. The hypothesis of Nussbaum states that the change in emphasis from meal to sacrifice in the understanding of Eucharist took place in 400 A. D and which resulted in the celebrant’s turning away from the people. This hypothesis is undermined by very early documents such as the Didache and the first letter of Clement (ca. 100) where the celebration of the Eucharist is clearly perceived as sacrificial. Nussbaum adduces some texts in favor of a celebration versus populum. But it does not allow for the conclusion that the faithful could observe what was happening on the altar. Even where the celebrant stood facing the people, they could scarcely have seen much. It is because of the elaborate superstructure around the altar or because of the distance between the sanctuary and the nave in a large basilica. In the east, curtains were presumably drawn to veil the altar at certain parts of the liturgy. So the idea that the Eucharist was originally celebrated versus populum would not appear to be a sound working hypothesis for explaining the layout of ancient Churches.
First of all Metzger points out that the practice of patristic age can only be established if we have at our disposal clear data about the arrangement of early Christian sanctuaries. The majority of the Churches investigated by Nussbaum (some 360 of 560) give no indication of the celebrant’s position. For any assertion about the layout and the use of the altar in these buildings, one is bound to start from working hypotheses as Jean Lassus and Georges Tchalenko did. They assumed that the Churches in any given region were similar in their architectural structure. From the remaining monuments they concluded that their research on ancient Churches in Syria and Mesopotamia shows that the celebrant at the altar was generally facing the apse, which was directed towards the east. Metzger shows that the weakness of Nussbaum’s argument lies in his hypothesis that the celebration of the Eucharist facing the people must be taken for granted, unless the plan of a Church shows otherwise. Thus he often indicates that everything in a Church suggests the face-to-face position of priest and people or at least gives no indication to the contrary.
The rationale behind Nussbaum’s giving systematic priority to the celebration versus populum is his theory that this was the original form of the Eucharist. According to Nussbaum the first Christians participated to the Liturgy of the Word in the temple but celebrated the Eucharistic banquet in their own houses. When the two forms of worship were eventually combined, it was customary for the presider to stand behind the holy table. Here the presider turns towards the people and it was like the speaker in front of an assembly. Nussbaum points out that only the later emphasis on the sacrificial character of the Eucharist led to the ‘turning away’ of the celebrant from the people.  Here, Marcel Metzeger observes that any discussion about the celebration of Eucharist in the primitive Church is purely hypothetical. It is because the literary sources are extremely restrained and no archeological monuments have come down to us. It is very important to note that the celebration of the Eucharist was not invented ex nihilo. But it was taken from elements of contemporary ritual banquets, Jewish as well as pagan. It is very important that there is no warrant to derive the earliest form of the Eucharist from the customs used at ordinary meals. It is to be noted that it would be fallacious to imagine some kind of primitive creativity that was later lost. The Eucharist is a new reality and one cannot simplistically derive the Eucharist from any or all of these forms.
1. 4. 1. 2. The Churches with the eastward entrance
There are Churches with an oriented apse and an oriented entrance. Metzeger points out three characteristics regarding the position of the celebrant and the Church. He says that firstly the orientation of the apse was the prevailing custom. The Churches with an eastward entrance can be found chiefly in Rome and North Africa. In the case of basilicas constructed over the tombs of saints, the site of these highly venerated memoriae determined the layout of the Church and often did not allow the orientation of the apse. Several Roman basilicas are not aligned along the east-west axis. It is because many Churches rested on ancient foundations. Under Constantine secular buildings were turned to Christian use. In the majority of cases the variation from the east-west axis was owing to the constraints of the location, for the entrance to the Church usually lay on the street side. We can see the Church of San Clemente in Rome where the doors open to the south-east. Secondly, the principle of orientation was so dominant that we cannot find any Church without an eastward entrance as in Asia Minor, Greece, Noricum and Dalmatia. Thirdly, the principle of facing east was so important that the celebrant in the Churches with an entrance in the east possibly turned to the nave. Here we get a conclusion that it is the wrong question to ask, as Nussbaum does, at what time in any given region a transition was made from the celebration ‘facing the people’ to the Priest’s ‘turning away’ from the congregation.
Gamber too observes that Nussbaum fails to make a clear enough distinction between church buildings with the apse facing east and those with the apse facing west- in the latter case with the entrance facing east. It is to be noted that churches with the apse facing west and the entrance facing east are almost exclusively the basilicas of the fourth century. These were built by Emperor Constantine and his mother St. Helena- for example St. Peter’s in Rome. In the beginning of the fifth century the usual way of building Churches was having the apse facing east. Consequently, we find Churches with their entrances facing east primarily in Rome and in North Africa, while they are relatively uncommon in the eastern places i.e. in Tyre and Antioch. The practice of having entrances facing east in the Churches built under the Emperor Constantine follows the design of the temple of Jerusalem (Ezek 8,16) as well as the design of some temples of antiquity. These temples allowed the light of the rising sun to shine into the temple chamber and illuminate the image of the god inside. In this context it is very important to see the arrangements in the Christian basilicas. In Christian basilicas with the entrance facing east, the Celebrant had to stand at the “back” of the altar, in order to offer the Holy Sacrifice towards the east, while in the Churches in which apse faced east, the priest always stood “before” the altar, his back to the people.
1. 4. 1. 3. Turn to the People or Turn to the East?
It is a fact that in many cases the Churches had sanctuaries or the apse built towards the east and thus the priest and people together faced the same direction. But in some cases particularly inherited architecture from pagan Rome such as the Roman basilica, the nature of the architecture would often naturally put the apse of the Church in the west end. This resulted in a situation that in order to maintain literally the historical principle of ad orientem the priest has to look in the direction of the nave where the people would be. In this context, during the appropriate points of the sacred liturgy the faithful would join the priest in turning ad orientem toward the narthex of the Church. Here arises a question that if in Churches with the apse facing west (St. Peter’s in Rome) the priest did stand “behind” the altar, was this not in fact a celebration facing the people. Gamber answers to this question that this is not the practice of facing the people. He points out an example that during the Eucharistic prayer it was not only the Priest but also the people face the East. As St. John Chrysostom reminds since antiquity the faithful joined the priest in lifting up their hands in prayer and everyone was turned to gaze at the open doors through which the light of the rising sun was streaming into the Church’s interior- the rising sun being the symbol of the risen Lord returning.
In his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger states that because of the topographical circumstances, it turned out that St. Peter’s faced west. Thus if the Christian tradition of prayer demands if the celebrating priest wanted to face east, he had to stand behind the people and look toward the people. It is to be noted that one can see this arrangement in a whole series of Church buildings within St. Peter’s direct sphere of influence. The liturgical renewal in our own century took up this alleged model and developed from it a new idea for the form of the liturgy. Here the result was that the Eucharist had to be celebrated versus populum i.e. towards the people. As in the model of St. Peter’s the altar had to be positioned in such a way that priest and people looked at each other and formed together the circle of the celebrating community. Thus there emerged the common understanding that this alone was compatible with the meaning of the Christian liturgy, with the requirement of the active participation. Ratzinger observes that this alone conformed to the primordial model of the last supper. The end result was that after the Council new altars were set up everywhere and it seemed that the celebration versus populum was the characteristic fruit of the liturgical renewal of the Second Vatican Council. But at the same time it is to be noted that as Cardinal Ratzinger points out the Council says nothing about “turning toward the people”. 
1. 4. 1. 4. The Arguments by Bouyer and Gamber
The liturgist Louis Bouyer makes it clear that all the discussion in the recent years about the altar “facing the people” is based on a misunderstanding. If the altar of the Roman basilicas was turned toward the people as seen from the Episcopal throne in the apse, this could never mean that the celebrant faced the people when he celebrated the Eucharist, if by this is understood that he was face to face with them. Stephen Schloeder, a noted Church architect says that it is obvious from archaeological evidence that versus populum was definitely not the norm. Gamber and Schloder note that the people would have probably sat in the side-aisles and the altar itself would have been shrouded by veils and a chancel screen. It is very important to note that the people themselves would have turned to face the rising sun through the doors during the Eucharistic prayer rather focusing their attention on the hidden Priest at the altar. Bouyer points out that the notion that the arrangement of the Roman basilica is ideal for a Christian Church because it enables priests and faithful to face each other during the celebration of Mass is really a misconstruction. Thus the view that the Roman basilica and its altar versus populum would provide a better view of the ceremonies is not even true when one is stationed facing the celebrant in defiance of the traditional orientation.
There are various hypotheses for the direction of liturgical prayer in basilicas with the entrance in the east and the apse in the west. Bouyer states that both the celebrant who stood behind the altar and the people in the nave turned towards the east during the Eucharistic prayer. But this suggestion has met severe criticism because it would have been unthinkable for the people to turn their back on the altar. The reason is that from the earliest time onwards the altar was considered a holy object, a symbol of Christ.
Gamber too holds the same view. But he adds that the congregation mainly occupied the side naves. The central nave would have been left free for liturgical actions such as the solemn entry of the celebrant and his assistants and other processions. Consequently in basilicas with an eastward entrance, the faithful did not face the altar directly and did not turn their back on it. It is because of the sacred character of the altar and of the sacrifice offered on it. The people in the side naves needed only to change their position slightly in order to face east; the altar would have been more or less on their right or their left. During the Eucharistic liturgy the congregation would face the same direction as the celebrant, looking towards the open doors of the Church through which the light of the rising sun flooded into the nave. The rising sun is the symbol of the risen Christ and his second coming in glory. According to Gamber the liturgical assembly would have formed a semicircle that opened to the east and the celebrating priest is in its apex. It is observed that the practice of priest and people facing each other arose when the profound symbolism of facing east was no longer understood and the faithful no longer turned eastward for the Eucharistic prayer.
It is to be noted that even if we assume that priest and people were facing one another in early Christian basilicas with an eastward entrance, there was not much to see on the altar since ritual gestures such as signs of the cross, altar kisses, genuflections, and the elevation of the Eucharistic species were only added later. Christians in the ancient world and in the early Middle Ages would not have associated real participation in the liturgy with looking at the celebrant and his actions. Versus populum celebration in the modern sense was unknown to Christian antiquity.
1. 5. VERSUS POPULUM IN THE SYRO MALABAR CHURCH
There are a few eastern Catholic Churches like the Maronite and Syro Malabar Churches which have lately adopted the celebration versus populum. It is due to the modern Latin influence and not in keeping with their authentic traditions. The orientation of the celebrant during the Eucharistic liturgy is a thorny question in the Syro Malabar Church (hereafter SM Church) which was raised to the status of a Major Archiepiscopal Church sui iuris by Pope John Paul II in1992. After the Second Vatican Council Mass facing the people was introduced in some dioceses of the SM Church as a spontaneous practice and without approval from the authorities.  The Syro Malabar rite belongs to the East Syrian liturgical tradition which has a particular significance for the eastward direction. It is to be noted that the celebration versus populum in the SM Church is not a part of Inculturation rather a part of Latinization. According to Mar Jacob Thoomkuzhy the practice of versus populum began in most of the Syro Malabar dioceses after the Second Vatican Council. It was actually started as a spontaneous practice and not at the order of anyone.
1. 5. 1. The Position of the Oriental Congregation
The Congregation for the Oriental Churches had already said in 1985 concerning the question of celebrating the entire Syro Malabar Qurbana versus populum. The Congregation reminds that the introduction of the Mass versus populum was done without any approval from the Holy See. The Eucharist celebrated versus populum certainly runs counter to the basic approach to worship in any eastern tradition worth the name. The celebration therefore is not to be versus populum but in conformity with the normal way of standing at the altar in the oriental tradition. It is to be noted that there is no official document, either from the Holy See or from the SMBC approving the introduction of the Mass facing the people in the SM Church. The Code of Directives on the Order of the Syro Malabar Qurbana in Simple and Solemn forms was communicated by the Holy See on May5, 1988 which proposes the SM Church to have the anaphoral celebration facing the east. The Directives make it clear that if the Liturgy of the Word has been celebrated facing the people, it is highly desirable that the sacred ministers turn to face the altar at the lavabo and maintain this position for the rest of the Qurbana, except where the ritual determines otherwise (e.g. for greetings, blessings, distribution of communion and final blessing).
About versus populum celebration, the observations on “The Order of the Holy Mass of the SM Church 1981” clearly says that the Priest stands facing the east and not towards the Congregation. The final judgment of the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches had already said in 1985 that the introduction of the Mass versus populum was done without any approval from the Holy See. The tradition in this matter remains the ideal and clearly represents the will of the Holy See in this matter. The Eucharist celebrated versus populum certainly runs counter to the basic approach to worship in any Eastern tradition worth the name. The celebration therefore is not to be versus populum but in conformity with the normal way of standing at the altar in the oriental tradition. The position of versus populum may be tolerated in parishes where it has already been introduced, provisionally and for as brief a time as is reasonably possible, while keeping the fact in mind that all permissions and dispensations of whatever kind given during the experimental period are revoked.
The Directives on the Order of the SM Qurbana in Simple and Solemn forms dated on April 3, 1989 states that if the Liturgy of the Word has been celebrated facing the people, it is highly desirable that the sacred ministers turn to face the altar at the lavabo and maintain this position for the rest of the Qurbana except where the ritual determines otherwise (e.g. for greetings, blessings, distribution of the communion and final blessing). It is also be noted that none of the Qurbana texts of the SM Church officially approved and properly promulgated by the Holy See witness to Mass versus populum. This practice was arbitrarily introduced into the public worship of the Church and did not get any official approbation from the Holy See. G. Nedungatt comments here that the term “highly desirable” shows a scaling down from the previous resolute exclusion of versus populum (up to 1983) via tolerance (1985) to pastoral option (1988). Thus Rome has registered a shift of position from the firm insistence on adherence on to the eastern tradition to a free option.
1. 5. 2. Symbolic Nature of East
It is to be noted that the SM Church has an equally important tradition of keeping a corpse facing the east. When the corpse is kept at home or in the Church at the time of the burial service this practice has been followed. It is interesting to note that the proponents of versus populum do not dare to change versus altare or versus east orientation of the corpse in the SM Church. It is because the faithful in the SM Church are highly sensitive to such age old traditions, especially in vital moments such as birth, death etc. In the liturgical tradition of the SM Church, the altar is always set at the eastern end of the Church. So, according to the architectural symbolism of the Church the celebration of the Syro Malabar Qurbana is a pilgrimage of the believers into a covenantal communion with the Lord at the Holy of the Holies, which is the altar. In the Qurbana, the Priest who represents Christ celebrates the mystery of salvation with the pilgrim Church. The celebrating Priest leads the pilgrim Church to the heavenly Jerusalem as it is normal that the driver and the passengers travel in the same direction.
1. 5. 3. Western influence behind this practice
As it is noted by many the celebration of Mass versus populum in the SM Church is a continuation of the Latinization process of the past. The tendency to copy the Latin Church in liturgical matters shows the lack of understanding of the proper symbolic system active in the Syro Malabar liturgical tradition. There are opinions that after the Vatican Council, when the Catholic Church renewed its own liturgy, the Mass in which the celebrant is facing the congregation was accepted in general without much protest. Here the influence of the Protestant Churches cannot be denied. In the western Church the participation of the congregation during the Mass has become active and the celebration of the Word gained much more importance than before. Some Oriental Churches like the Maronites in the France and the SM Church in India introduced the practice versus populum inspired by the ‘reform’ of the Second Vatican Council.
It is a fact that the direction of the Liturgical Prayer is perhaps the most contested issue in the struggle for liturgical identity of the SM Church. The position of the Priest facing the people during Qurbana became common practice after 1968 departing from a tradition of over a thousand years in the SM Church. It seems to be as a spontaneous development and it was suddenly put into common use in almost all Churches without any authorization.
1. 5. 4. Various Opinions
For some authors facing the east or the people in the SM Church is a secondary and relative issue. It is the circumstances of place and time to decide that. It is not a matter of faith and morals. From the point of view of the liturgical theology, just one position does not exhaust the riches of the Eucharistic mystery. They opine that both positions have their share of symbolic meaning and here the preference of the faithful ought to be respected. There are different views concerning the power to implement it. F. Kanichikattil opines that the authority to take decisions regarding the position of the Priest during the Eucharistic celebration still remains with the local ordinary within his legitimate limits. According to G. Nedungatt, it is not the faculty granted directly to the bishops so that they in their turn may permit or forbid the use of the versus populum position. The option is given in the general terms. So it is up to the celebrating Priest to make the choice. Another proposal is that the Parish Priest in consultation with the elders of the parish ‘Palliyogam’ could take the decision, depending on the particular situation and tradition of each parish. But the basic questions remain unanswered: what is more pastoral, whether to let go the mentality of the people fearing some unrest if some directions are given; or to correct them if something is found not genuinely good for them.
We cannot here forget the fact that a position has its meaning within the tradition of the Church. The communitarian dimension of the Eucharistic celebration expressed in the facing the people position cannot adequately substitute the trinitarian and eschatological meaning of the eastward position of the celebrant. It is a fact that today the celebration versus populum really does look like the characteristic fruit of Vatican II’s liturgical renewal even the Council does not say about ‘turning towards the people’. We can see it, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger observes, as the most conspicuous consequence of a new idea of the essence of the Liturgy- the liturgy as a communal meal.
1. 5. 5. Among the St. Thomas Christians
We can see the hints on the practice of turning towards the east among the St. Thomas Christians since the early period. A meeting which was held in Ernakulam under the leadership of Parayil Avira Varkey Tharakan on November 30, 1905 shows this fact. The report of that meeting says that when the bishop came in the meeting about 2.30 p.m. everyone received him with respect by standing. He wanted that all should pray before the meeting. Then everybody received the instruction of the bishop by kneeling down and prayed towards the east. Even today we see that in some houses prayer rooms are arranged with a view to turning towards the east. The churches were built and the Holy Masses were celebrated in the SM Church pointed towards the east till 1962.
It is after the II Vatican Council versus populum celebration started in the SM Church as well as in the Latin Church. It is also to be noted that the period between 1968and 1980 was a time of liturgical innovations and experimentations in the SM Church. at that period we can see the publication of different liturgical texts such as Short Mass, Mini Mass and Bharatheeya Puja etc. without due recognition from the authorities. There was a general tendency which grew among the clergy that the celebration of the Holy Eucharist can be done by each priest as he wishes. It was a period where the laws regarding the Holy Eucharistic celebration were violated without any limits and in this context we see the intervention by Rome regarding certain liturgical principles.
There are authors who point out that the practice of versus populum is against the spirit of inculturation. It is contrary to the mentality and praxis of the Indian religions. In all the religions the worship has a directional fixation as the Hindus who pray facing the east or the Holy of Holies and the Muslims who face Ka’aba in Mecca. C. Gugerotti observes that the practices like versus populum may have been considered pastorally valid by those who proposed them. But they cannot be seen as a fruit of inculturation.
1. 5. 6. Attempts for a Uniform Mode
After the Second Vatican Council the point of orientation of Priest in the liturgy became the point of divergence of opinion and even now this remains as the point that divides the Church in the case of the SM Church.There were many attempts in the SM Church for a uniform mode of celebration. In 1996 there was a suggestion in the Synod for the uniform mode of the celebration. It was the suggestion for a compromise formula that the Divine Liturgy may be celebrated “until the liturgy of the word facing the people and the rest facing the altar”. In the Major Archiepiscopal Assembly which was attended by 352 representatives of the clergy and the laity, held on 9- 12 November 1998, liturgy was one of the main points of discussion. The assembly wished that there should be a uniform practice followed throughout the Church. The need for a uniform mode of celebrating the Holy Mass was discussed at length at the 6th synod held on 14- 20 November 1999. After lengthy discussions the Synod unanimously agreed to have the liturgy celebrated in the following way i.e. from the beginning till the anaphora- facing the people, the whole of the anaphora (communion inclusive) – facing the altar and the part after communion- again facing the people. The synod decided that the uniform mode of celebration of the Holy Mass shall come in to effect on 3 July 2000. However the decision of the Synod created a mixed response. The decision of the uniform mode of celebration was not implemented in seven Arch/ dioceses. Some bishops even if adhere faithful to the Synodal decision, in virtue of CCEO Canon 1538 temporarily postponed its implementation in their respective dioceses. The reason they stated was that in order to avoid an explosive pastoral situation and grave spiritual harm to the faithful.
In this chapter we were searching the history of the practice of the Mass versus populum. There are different opinions regarding this practice. One cannot neglect the impact of the liturgical movement which promoted this practice. The Second Vatican Council doesn’t speak of the Mass versus populum. Some are of the opinion that it is an age old practice which goes back to the period of Jesus Christ whereas some others hold the view that this practice is a recent one which traces back its origin to the Reformation period by Martin Luther. Some authors point to the influence of the liturgical movement and some others regard the promulgation of the liturgical renewal by the II Vatican Council. To state versus populum as an early practice is an illusion since the early customs and the writings reveal contrary to the practice of versus populum.
THEOLOGY OF VERSUS POPULUM
2. 0. INTRODUCTION
Versus populum Mass which has a general appeal in the Latin tradition, is appreciated much also by some oriental Churches. Henceforth it is very important to seek the theology behind this practice. There are different authors who explicate their views regarding this matter. There are a lot of theological interpretations to promote the practice of versus populum. In this chapter we try to examine the various theological ideas behind versus populum.
2.1. VERSUS POPULUM AND THE MEAL ASPECT OF THE EUCHARIST
In the current of 1971 Terence Wynne, editor of The Universe gave in the editorial the principal arguments in favor of Mass facing the people. It can be summarized as follows: 1) It is in conformity with the Last Supper. 2) It is the custom of the ancient Church. 3) It is asked by the Vatican Second and required by the law of the Latin Church. 4) It has important pastoral advantages, particularly as regards visibility and audibility.
It is widely believed that the practice of versus populum is in conformity with the Last supper. Those who hold this view point out that the Last supper itself was in the form of versus populum and therefore it is the imitable position which trace back to our Lord Jesus Himself. Thus it is the best position in the Eucharistic celebration. But a contrary argument we can see in Fr. Napier who says that at the Last supper Christ certainly did not face his apostles. He says that at any banquet –including the Last supper- all the guests would have been ranged on the same side of the table, usually curved, leaving the other side free for the approach of the servants. The idea of putting oneself opposite a guest at table could not have arisen in Christian antiquity. The communal character of the meal was rather emphasized by the contrary disposition, the fact that all the participants were together on the same side of the table.
It is regarded the idea that the priest is to face the people during Mass has its origins with Martin Luther in his little book “The German Mass and Order of Worship” (1526). In this book Luther exclaims that for the real Mass among true Christians, the altar should not remain in its current form and the priest should always face the people- as we can without any doubt assume, Christ did during the Last supper. It is to be noted that in writing about the celebrant’s position at the altar Martin Luther refers to Christ’s own behavior during the Last supper. Here it is clear that Luther envisioned the scene of the Last supper in the framework of his own time: Jesus standing or sitting at the centre of a long table and the apostles placed at His right and left.
Here Gamber opines that Jesus probably did not sit at the table because it would have contradicted the table etiquette observed in antiquity. He points out that at the time of Jesus and during the following centuries no round or semi-circular tables were in use. The side of the table facing the observer remained empty: it was the side from which the food was served. The people partaking in the meal would sit or recline behind the table, in a semi-circular arrangement, resting on sofas or on a semi-circular bench. It is to be noted that here the place of honor was not at the center of the table but on its right side. The second highest place of honor was at the opposite end of the table. This seating arrangement is depicted in all the oldest illustrations of the Last supper, up to and into the middle ages: the Lord is always reclining or sitting at the right hand of the table. It is also notable that the sitting of Jesus behind the table in a center position surrounded by His apostles appeared only in the thirteenth century. This type of illustration certainly looks like a celebration versus populum.
Many believe that versus populum is conformed to the primordial model of the Last Supper. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger quotes the words of Louis Bouyer on this subject. He says:
The idea that a celebration facing the people must have been the primitive one, and that especially of the Last supper, has no other foundation than a mistaken view of what a meal could be in antiquity, Christian or not.
Here Bouyer points out that in the early Christian era during the time of meal, the President of the banqueting assembly did not face the other participants. They were all sitting or reclining on the convex side of a C-shaped table, or of a table having approximately the shape of a horse shoe. Here the other side was always left empty for the service. It is to be noted that in the Christian antiquity we cannot find anywhere the idea of having to ‘face the people’ to preside at a meal. The communal character of the meal was emphasized here by portraying all the participants were on the same side of the table. Here the place of honor was not in the middle but on the right of the semicircle. This arrangement is depicted in the oldest representations of the Last Supper in mosaics and book illuminations from the fifth century far into the middle ages. From about the thirteenth century depictions of the Last Supper adopted the contemporary seating arrangement with Jesus occupying the place of honor in the middle of a large table and the apostles to his right and left. An example for it is Leonardo da Vinci’s famous fresco in Milan.
It is noted that the Eucharistic banquet was held in a suitable house with a spacious dining room (Ref: Acts2, 46; 5, 42) and is likely to have been the place of Scripture readings and religious instruction as well. The primitive Christians may well have gone to the Synagogue on the Sabbath, but they celebrated the Eucharist on the first day of the week. Here we can assume that the Eucharistic banquet was preceded by readings and preaching, after the manner of the Synagogue services. It is to be noted that the increased emphasis on the communal character of the liturgy was the product of the ecclesiology of communion expounded by the Second Vatican Council. But at the same time it was not offered as an alternative to the intrinsically sacrificial dimension of the Mass or to the importance of the ministerial priesthood. An explanation of this we can read in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia. “Though the idea of a banquet naturally suggests familiarity, the Church has never yielded to the temptation to trivialize this ‘intimacy’ with her spouse by forgetting that he is also her Lord and that the ‘banquet’ always remains a sacrificial banquet marked by the bloodshed on Golgotha. The Eucharistic banquet is truly a ‘sacred’ banquet and in which the simplicity of the signs conceals the unfathomable holiness of God” (No. 48).
According to G. Nedungatt even if Church is a pilgrim community during the time of Eucharistic celebration, it is to be noted that they receive the power for the pilgrimage by receiving the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Eucharist is the self gift and nutrition given by Jesus Christ. Eucharistic celebration is the time to receive this gift in order to be nurtured and to take rest; not the time to do march. In the gospels we see that before multiplying the bread Jesus makes the faithful sit and at the time of Last supper both Jesus and the disciples sit together. If these were the proclamation of the salvific banquet, we can say that each Holy Eucharist is the anticipation of the banquet of the kingdom of God which will be held at eschaton. So those who hold this view argue that it is a mistake to see the Holy Eucharist as a time of pilgrimage than a time of food and rest. They also say that the position of Jesus at the Last Supper and feeding the faithful in the desert justifies the position of the celebrant as versus populum. For them, Jesus who was crucified as a sacrifice on Calvary is the great model for versus populum celebration.
Since Holy Eucharist is a sacrifice, the age old practice of many Churches is that it should be celebrated together by both the Priest and the faithful, turning the same direction, i.e. the ad orientem. Those who oppose this idea say that in the ad orientem celebration we see the idea of sacrifice in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament style of liturgy the Priest turned away from the people and stood in front of the altar to dedicate the sacrifice in the order of Aaron. But the sacrifice in the New Testament is a different one where we find the experience of Emmanuel-God is with us. It is the vision of newness and continuity about the Christian worship which affected the structure of the church and the position of the celebrant. Nedungatt points out that through the study on the Holy Scriptures the western people accepted the newness in the Liturgy while the easterners gave importance to the continuity. For example the early Church especially the Syrian Churches which were affected by the Jewish Christians maintained the liturgical prayers of the Old Testament even if there was the presence of the different Eucharistic theology in the New Testament.
The above argument that through the study on the Holy Scriptures the western people accepted the newness in the Liturgy should be examined because it implies the idea that the oriental Churches were unaware of scriptures and these Churches were doomed in a world of ritualism. This argument is defective since there were many Church fathers and apologetics who interpreted the faith based on the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Tradition. This argument is strange since it reduces the liturgical developments of the Western and Eastern Churches. This argument also contradicts the tradition of both the Eastern and Western Churches which grow by their own traditions through the centuries. It is also a fact that for a long time the Western Church too practiced the position of the celebration of Holy Mass ad orientem. As we have examined behind the recent practice of versus populum has different reasons.
2. 2. LITURGICAL REFORM AND THE DANGER OF ARCHAISM
In his encyclical Mediator Dei Pope Pius XII warns of a misguided archaism. He says that the liturgy of the early ages is most certainly worthy of all veneration. But ancient usage must not be esteemed more suitable and proper on the simple ground that it carries the savor and aroma of antiquity. It is neither wise nor laudable to reduce everything to antiquity by every possible device, according to him. John Henry Newman too speaks about it. According to him recourse to this principle of ‘antiquity’ alone does not hold, because it cannot account for the development of Christian doctrine that took place already in the apostolic age and continued through the middle ages until the present day, being authenticated by the infallible Magisterium of the Catholic Church. He observes that divine revelation was communicated to the world once for all by inspired teachers. However it was received and transmitted by human agents and therefore it needed time and thought for its complete elucidation. Newman holds the view that it is inconsistent to acknowledge the Church fathers as authorities in matters of revealed truth while at the same time rejecting the tradition of the medieval Church.
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger too holds this view when he speaks about the critical evaluation of the liturgical reform. He says that the liturgical movement was infected by a certain archaism the purpose of which was the restoration of the Roman liturgy in its classical form before it became overlaid by medieval and Carolingian accretions. According to him this archaism has often made us close our eyes to the good things which have been evolved in later developments and has caused us to set the taste of one period up on a pedestal; admittedly, it was a splendid period which rightly commands the greatest respect and affection. But, its taste can no more be made a matter of absolute dogma than the taste of any other period. He says:
The problem with a large part of modern liturgiology is that it tends to recognize only antiquity as a source, and therefore normative, and to regard everything developed later, in the Middle Ages and through the Council of Trent, as decadent. And so one ends up with dubious reconstructions of the most ancient practice, fluctuating criteria, and never ending suggestions for reform, which lead ultimately to the disintegration of the liturgy that has evolved in a living way. On the other hand, it is important and necessary to see that we cannot take as our norm the ancient in itself and as such, nor must we automatically write off later developments as alien to the original form of the liturgy. There can be a thoroughly living kind of development in which a seed at the origin of something ripens and bears fruit.
Ratzinger points out against archaism that in the middle ages and in the age of Baroque, the liturgy developed depth and maturity that cannot easily be disregarded. An example of such archaism is the suggestion that the Priest should face the people for the celebration of the Eucharist because this was the position of Jesus and the apostles at the Last Supper. There is the assumption that the ritual shape of the Eucharist is or should be a reproduction of the Upper Room where the Last Supper was held. But, it is also important that the sacrament of New Covenant was instituted in the context of a Jewish festal meal and it was the new reality, not the meal as such, that Christ commanded us to repeat in memory of him. Christian worship refers to the paschal mystery i.e. the total reality of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection and cannot be reduced to the category of a ‘meal’. Hence it was appropriate that, in earliest times, this new reality was distinguished from its Jewish context and developed its own ritual shape. It is to be noted that the synagogue liturgy of the word was renewed and was deepened in a Christian way, merged with the remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection to become the “Eucharist” and thus the fidelity to the command “Do this” fulfilled. This new and all-encompassing form of worship could not be derived simply from the meal but had to be defined through the interconnection of Temple and Synagogue, Word and Sacrament, cosmos and history.
It is a fact that the historical development in the west since the end of the Middle Ages gave the impression that facing east in prayer is not an inviolable element and cannot be considered a fundamental principle of the Christian liturgical tradition. The reference of the term ‘archaism’ in the encyclical Mediator Dei of Pope Pius XII raised a question whether it would not be archaeologising to see in the arrangement of the altar towards the east the decisive key to a correct celebration of the Eucharist. Here it is to be noted that for the Christians of the first millennium, the east had a very distinctive theological and liturgical significance. Their lively hope for the second coming of the risen and ascended Christ in glory who judges the living and the dead embodied in the practice of facing east in prayer. It also symbolized the journey of the pilgrim people of God towards the future bliss promised to them, a foretaste of which was made present in the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice. History shows that this eschatological expectation was severed from its cosmological context.
Now there are people who argue that the attempt to restore this connection would be just another archaism. Here the issue is the common direction of Priest and people in liturgical prayer. We cannot see it as a form of archaism because it was the virtually universal practice in the Latin Church until the most recent times and is part of the liturgical heritage in the Churches of the Byzantine, Syriac, Armenian, Coptic and Ethiopian traditions. In most of the eastern rites it is still the custom that both the Priest and people face the same direction in prayer, at least during the anaphora. The words of Cardinal Ratzinger are worth notable here: “we cannot simply replicate the past. Every age must discover and express the essence of the liturgy anew. The point is to discover this essence amid all the changing appearances. It would surely to mistake to reject all the reforms of our century wholesale.” So, for him a romantic escape into antiquity is not the way but a rediscovery of something essential is important in which Christian liturgy expresses its permanent orientation.
2. 3. VERSUS POPULUM AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE REFORM MOVEMENT
It is to be noted that from the thirteenth century onwards the depiction of the Last supper took a new form where Jesus sat at the middle of a large table and the apostles to his right and left as pictured in Leonardo da Vinci’s famous fresco in Milan. In 1526 Martin Luther, the pioneer of Protestant Reformation, suggested that the altar should not remain in its old position and that the priest should always face the people as Christ did at the Last Supper. In a number of Churches the reformers modified the existing medieval altar with a retable so that the celebrant could stand behind it, facing the people. It is to be noted that Luther condemned the Roman Canon as idolatrous and for liturgical purposes he reduced it to the words of consecration that were to be understood as proclamation of the word of God and hence to be chanted in the Gospel tone. Still Luther’s proposal that the words of consecration should be said or rather sung facing the people was scarcely put into practice in the sixteenth century. It was taken up by the reformed in the southwest Germany i.e. in Strassburg where free standing tables for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper were introduced but never in Wittenberg. Until recently most Lutheran Churches retained the common direction of liturgical prayer, even though they rejected the sacrificial understanding of the mass. It is also to be noted that the rising demands for celebration of the Holy Communion facing the people since Vatican II have met with the opposition of Protestant theologians and have not been implemented much.
It is a fact that the cosmological orientation and its attendant eschatological symbolism have gradually been lost in the Latin Church. From the sixteenth century it was no longer the general custom in the West to align Churches and altars along the east-west axis. This is exemplified in Ludwig Ciconiolanus’ Directorium divinorum officiorum iuxta Romanae curiae ritum which was approved by Pope Paul III in 1539. Ciconiolanus discusses the question as to whether one can put up an altar facing west. He says that where it was done it used to be customary for the Priest to stand on the far side of the altar and celebrate Mass facing the people. But according to the decision of the Popes and the universal practice of the Church, the Priest now celebrates Mass with his back to the people. He says that there is no binding law that an altar cannot be constructed facing west. It means one is free to put the altar facing any of the cardinal points.
St. Charles Borromeo says that the Christian direction of prayer had not yet fallen into oblivion. In his work Instructiones fabricae et suppelectilis ecclesiaasticae of 1577 which is a key work on the renewal of the Church architecture after the Council of Trent, he says that the capella major must be oriented with the main altar facing east. If it is impossible it can be directed another cardinal point preferably towards the west. He says that it is because as in accordance with the rite of the Church, the sacrifice of the Mass is celebrated at the main altar by the Priest with his face turned towards the people. Here we can note that Borromeo must have had in mind those Roman basilicas with a westward apse and an eastward entrance, where Mass was celebrated facing the people. We can assert that this practice was familiar to him. It is very important here to note that still for Borromeo the eastward direction was the paramount principle for liturgy and Church architecture.
2. 4. VERSUS POPULUM AND THE TEACHINGS OF THE SECOND VATICAN COUNCIL
The authors like Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger had already explicated that the Council says nothing about “turning toward the people”. But it is a fact that after the Council, new altars were set up everywhere and today celebration versus populum really does look like the characteristic fruit of Vatican II’s liturgical renewal. He says that it is the most conspicuous of a reordering that not only signifies a new external arrangement of the places dedicated to the liturgy but also brings with it a new idea of the essence of the liturgy-the liturgy as a communal meal.
Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, the secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, says that the implementation of the Council’s suggested reforms often changed the direction from the actual intent of the Council fathers. As a result the liturgy today is not a true realization of the vision put forward in the key liturgical document of Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium. It is because some practices which Sacrosanctum Concilium had never even contemplated were allowed into the Liturgy like Mass versus populum, Holy Communion in the hand, giving up the Latin and Gregorian chant in favor of the vernacular and songs and hymns without much space for God etc. Archbishop Ranjith says that the Council took place at a time of great worldwide intellectual turmoil and it’s after effect was that many saw the Council as a break from the prior traditions of the Church. He observes that basic concepts and themes like Sacrifice and Redemption, Mission, Proclamation and conversion and the need of the Church for salvation etc. were sidelined while dialogue, Inculturation, Ecumenism, Eucharist as banquet, Evangelization as witness etc. became more important.
There are authors who hold the opinion that the liturgical vision of the Council had set the tone and temper of the general renewal (aggiornamento) of the Church as envisaged by the visionary Pope Bl. John XXIII. They believe that the first document of the Council “Sacred Liturgy” (Sacrosanctum Concilium) was offered to the entire Church as the road map to liturgical renewal in accordance with the Council’s principles of fidelity to tradition and openness to legitimate development. They argue that before we take up the precise and pointed issue Holy Mass turning to/facing the people we need to attend to the theology of the Church of Vatican II, theology of the Ministry/Priesthood of Vatican II and theology of the Eucharist of Vatican II.
Malieckal holds the view that in the context of ancient eastward position and symbolic expression of Christ as sun there arise different opinions which state that the risen Lord is not just localized in the east; he promised to be with his disciples as they go in all directions proclaiming His word among all the people. Wherever two or three meet in His name, He is there irrespective of the direction they face together, or they face one another in a circle (Mt18, 19-20; 28, 19-20). The theologians like Samuel Rayan SJ comments that the practice of the whole congregation like a procession led by a Priest was strengthened when Christ began to be symbolized by the sun. But Christ is also symbolized by the lamb, the bread, vine, way, light, door, shepherd etc. The Eucharist, the central act of Christian worship is not a procession but a shared meal with historical roots in the table fellowship Jesus practiced with his disciples and with the impoverished and the outcaste of his society. There are four statements against the practice of facing the people and the counter arguments to it. Let us examine this.
The first statement is that authors like Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger comment that the Second Vatican Couuncil did not say about Mass facing the people. In order to counter argue this, some opine that Council in general did not make any executive decisions regarding the programs of renewal of the liturgy; rather it has given principles and norms for the reform of the liturgy, based on the practical norms which was established by the competent bodies. They say that for the Roman Church this practical decision was established by the Congregation by Divine Worship when it published the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar, 1970. Here we read: “The main altar should be freestanding, so that the ministers can easily walk around it and Mass can be celebrated facing the people. It should be placed in a central position which draws the attention of the whole Congregation. (No. 262).
The second statement is that there are authors who say that in the history of the Church until 1969 there was never a tradition of celebrating Mass facing the people. Those who oppose this argument points out that there is enough evidence to show that in the apostolic and post apostolic community of Jesus’ disciples the celebration of the “Lord’s Supper” was as memorial meal of Jesus’ Last Supper. Didache Ch.14 and Justin’s Apology 65-67 give sufficient indications of the situation of celebration in the middle of the 2nd century. They say that in the early Church the meal aspect of the Eucharist was quite spontaneously understood and accepted. According to J.H. Emminghaus the Mass is a rite derived from a meal, not from a Eucharist as a sacrifice. As a memorial of his pasch the Lord left His Church the Eucharist, that is the prayer of thanksgiving over bread and wine as elements of a meal…..It is important therefore that in celebrating the memorial of the Lord we give careful consideration to the meal aspect of the Eucharist. Behind and above this meal form, lies the reality of the sacrifice of Christ and the Church. Here sacrifice must be taken in a broad sense as self-giving. Thus they say that it can be inferred that the assembly is not oriented to East or West i.e. in any particular direction but faces one another in a circular direction.
A third statement which is attributed to Joseph Fessio is that the Mass is part of the Pilgrim Church on the way to her heavenly home land, the Priest leading the people who follow him. The counter argument is that this view is due to the Pre-Vatican perception of the Church mainly as a hierarchy. They hold the view that in the post Vatican people of God perception we have ‘a new way of being Church’ in which the leadership of the ministerial priesthood is understood as service in terms of the principle of collegiality. In their opinion, the Church is a pilgrim people led by their Priest-servants towards the eschaton. Now the Eucharist is the bread broken and shared as a meal on the ‘day of the Lord’ on their way in memory of His redemptive death. Here the conclusion is that a celebration facing the people or rather Mass around the altar is more fitting than the one turning away from the people.
The fourth statement is that the Mass facing the people makes the Priest ‘the performer and the people spectators. Those who deny it say that it is a silly or childish objection raised by some people who have probably psychological problem to face people. They say that the centre of concentration in Mass turning to the people is not Priest or any particular person, but the cross which is obligatory to be placed on the altar between the Priest and people. In Mass facing the people, Priest in his servant hood is not a performer but a humble minister who is well integrated with the community. Here the people are not a mob who watch a show but a real community of persons with full, conscious and active participation in the celebration.
There are authors who stand for the integral vision of liturgy according to Vatican II who want to take in account both Orientalium Ecclesiarum (OE) and Sacrosanctum Concilium(SC). For example Malieckal argues that the Council’s vision of aggiornamento is two-fold i.e. restoration and renewal. Restoration is the thrust of OE and renewal is the thrust of SC and we cannot neglect the question of renewal in OE and restoration in SC. The restored liturgy of the Syro Malabar Church in its solemn forms with Priest and people completely turned to the East/Altar is more suitable for a well established stagnant Church. It fosters the status quo and offers no challenge to a pilgrim people and a missionary community. It does not inspire especially the youth for liberative social action. It may be more appealing to retired, ethno-centric and middle-aged aristocracy, as it prepares them well for their final journey of hope in the Lord.
The above stated arguments which often hear in the Church circle should be examined. There are the elements of restoration and renewal in the Church documents. But it should be done according to the principles and traditions of the Church. One’s whims and fancies shouldn’t lead the principles of the Church. Then the Church may become a mere social organization. The author alleges that the eastward position of both priest and people in the Syro Malabar Church is an example for a stagnant Church. But we should bear in mind that the II Vatican Council neither formed a new theology in the Council nor banned the ad orientem celebration.
2. 4. 1. Vatican II and the Concept of ‘Paradigm Shift’
The Vatican II was officially the universal Council of the Catholic Church. There were radical changes and challenges in the Council. This change in Catholic ecclesiology today is very often called as a paradigm shift in ecclesiology made by Vatican II. The terms ‘paradigm’ and ‘paradigm shift’ have been used in the area of science especially in physics. It means a new understanding, orientation, approach, pattern, example, model to explain the reality in a more satisfactory way. In the science we see that one paradigm for understanding and explaining reality is slowly replaced by another paradigm as the former could not explain the new findings of science adequately. An example we can show that the Einstenian paradigm replaced the earlier Ptolemic and Newtonian paradigms. But there may be still some valuable elements in the earlier paradigms and so they may not be totally irrelevant or rejected. It is very important to point out that as David. J. Bosch comments “scholars in many disciplines especially in philosophy and theology, found the concept of paradigm very useful in an era of rapid change to understand reality in a new way, quite different from the previous eras”.
Paradigm shift means replacement of an old model of understanding by a new paradigm. The notion of paradigm shift in theology does not mean a total break with the past. The validity of the new paradigm depends on its success in preserving and integrating the truth contained in the earlier paradigms. Therefore it is not a matter of simply replacing the old with the new, but of integrating a more comprehensive perspective that would meet the new challenges. The major changes or shifts that the Council made were such as from institution to mystery, from hierarchy to people, from papal primacy to Episcopal collegiality, from universal Church to local Churches, from one and the only true religion to plurality of religions etc. There are also some traditionalists and extreme conservatives in the Church who think that the council yielded to the Protestant, modernist and secular tendencies and compromised its traditional teachings and positions. There are also different interpretations of the Council. Some insist on the continuity with the past in the teachings and doctrines of the Council and others on the change and innovations which were made by the Council.
Pope Benedict XVI has published a Motu Proprio on July7, 2007 with the title Summorum Pontificum. It was on the use of Roman liturgy prior to the reform of 1970. Here Pope declares that there is an essential distinction between the forma ordinaria of the lex orandi which remains the Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970, and its forma extraordinaria constituted by the Missal existing before the Council, which has never been abrogated. These two forms do not establish two rites; rather they are two usages of one and the same Roman rite. In the letter to the bishops Benedict XVI elaborates that there is no contradiction between the two editions of the Roman Missal. In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred remains sacred and great for us too and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It is a fact that a logic of rupture has inspired many theologians and pastors since the Second Vatican Council. The analysis of Fr. Michel Gitton is very important here. He says that the prejudice in favor of a rupture that has affected the liturgy in such a grotesque way has damaged much more profoundly the relation of Catholics to their spiritual and doctrinal heritage. The masters who were behind the beginning of the theological renewal of the mid twentieth century such as Romano Guardini, Henri de Lubac and Louis Bouyer and so on were trying to broaden contact with the tradition of the Church. It is very contradictory that their clumsy imitators have claimed to indict the most constant expressions of the Church’s faith, judged henceforth unacceptable by men of today.
The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI suggests that we should distinguish between a hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture and a hermeneutic of reform. Here we see two contrary hermeneutics came face to face and quarreled with each other. One caused confusion and the other is silently bearing fruit. The hermeneutic of reform is the renewal in the continuity of the one subject i.e. the Church. She is a subject which increases in time and develops, yet always remaining the same. The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church.  In his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis Benedict XVI comments that the changes which the Council called for need to be understood within the overall unity of the historical development of the rite itself, without the introduction of artificial discontinuities.
According to Benedict XVI the hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture is found a trend in modern theology. The adherents of this type of hermeneutics argue that because the text would only imperfectly reflect the true spirit of the Council and its newness, it would be necessary to go courageously beyond the text and make room for the newness in which the Council’s deepest intention would be expressed. They say that one needs to follow the spirit of the Council and not the texts. As opposed to the hermeneutic of discontinuity, Pope Benedict mentions about the hermeneutic of reform. It means that the reform comes not from a new interpretation or alteration of the authentic doctrine, but by the faithful preservation of it.
The principle of hermeneutic of discontinuity deserves special attention when we study about the history of the liturgy in the Church. Here it is very important to note that Benedict XVI denounces the hermeneutic of discontinuity. In the letter to the bishops about his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, he writes that in the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. According to him, further theological study of Vatican II must be situated within a logic of growth and not of rupture. An example for this is that the increased emphasis on the communal character of the liturgy, which was the product of the ecclesiology of communion expounded by the Council, was not offered as an alternative to the intrinsically sacrificial dimension of the Mass or to the importance of the ministerial priesthood, particularly stressed by the Missal promulgated following the Council of Trent. It is to be noted that the dogmatic contribution of the Council of Trent concerning transubstantiation, the holy sacrifice of the Mass and the ministerial priesthood of the Priest was not solely motivated circumstantially by the errors being spread abroad at the time of the Reformation. But, it is constituted in a more positive way the unwrapping of truths that had for a long time remained implicit in the revealed message and were nonetheless held as true by the faithful people. It is very important to note that the Protestant Reformation was merely the historical condition for these dogmatic definitions and not their proper cause.
We can see that after the Second Vatican Council there emerged a new way of thinking and approach regarding the matters of faith. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, when he addresses the Chilean Bishops’ Conference on July 13, 1988 points out that after the Council, there were many who quite deliberately laid the foundations for a program of desacralization. They explain that the New Testament had abolished the cult of the temple: the veil that was torn from top to bottom signified according to them the end of the sacred……Using reasoning like this, they gave up sacred vestments, despoiled Churches and reduced the liturgy to the language and the gestures of everyday life. An explicit example for this attitude we can find in the Syro Malabar Church concerning the use of sanctuary veil. The argument is like this: “…At the death of Jesus, the veil that was in front of the Holy of Holies was torn from the top to bottom (Mt 27, 51), unveiling the mystery. God is face to face with his people in Jesus on the cross. The resurrection and crucifixion of Christ have in fact abrogated the relevance of the veil….In the use of the veil there lays a veiled attempt to consider the laity profane to be near to the mysteries, thus undermining the royal Priesthood of the laity.” It is to be noted that the existence of the iconostatis and the veil manifests that not only it is unnecessary that the congregation should see every part of the liturgical action, but even that there are parts (the most sacred ones) which positively they are not allowed to see.
2. 5. VERSUS POPULUM AND THE ‘IMAGE OF GOD’ IN MAN
In versus populum we see the face to face position between the celebrant and the faithful. Those who oppose the position of Ad Orientem often argue that in whatever direction we turn we are face to face with God. It is God who made the world and does not make his home in shrines and basilicas made by human hands (Acts 17, 24-25). In God we live, move and exist. If we would express the presence and face-to-faceness symbolically, then God’s finest symbol or image is the human person. It is especially the community of those who constitute the Body of him who is the image of the living God and the Sacrament of the divine presence in our midst (Col 1, 15; Heb 1, 3). Facing east rests on religious cosmology, facing Jerusalem hinges on salvation history and facing one another on the mystery of the Body of Christ which is the community of bread sharing.
There is an argument that we do not need to look towards the east or toward the Crucifix but when Priest and faithful look at one another they are looking at the image of God in man and so facing one another is the right direction of prayer. Cardinal Ratzinger analyzes this statement and says that we do not see the image of God in man in such a simplistic way. The “image of God” in man is not something that we can photograph or see with a merely photographic kind of perception. It is important that only with the new seeing of faith we can see it. We can see it just as we can see the goodness in man, his honesty, interior truth, humility, love etc. which give him a certain likeness to God. Thus, according to Ratzinger the argument which states that the celebration of versus populum which help one another to see the “image of God” is based on a shallow ground.
The American Jesuit theologian John Baldovin questions the rationale for a common orientation of Priest and people. According to him to assert that the sacrificial nature of the Mass is more evident when the celebrant and the people together face the same direction is to betray an inadequate, even dangerous understanding of the sacrifice by which the world was redeemed. He finds that the deepest meaning of Christ’s sacrifice is not in the “outdated categories” of expiation and atonement but in the shared meal. He explains that Catholics who prefer the traditional orientation for the sake of “facing Christ” forget that “One faces Christ in the assembly, one faces Christ in the presider, one faces Christ in the altar, and of course one faces Christ in the consecrated gifts.” He sees Mass versus populum as crucial to enfleshing the Church’s restored and continuing emphasis on giving the faithful an active part in liturgical celebrations. Here also we see the elements of ‘meal’ and the ‘image of God in man’ in the versus populum celebration.
There is the opinion that the option for the celebration versus populum is coherent with the foundational theological idea discovered and proven by the liturgical movement. The theology of the common priesthood and ministerial priesthood is better expressed with the arrangement of the altar versus populum. The monks from the ancient times in order to pray turned toward each other and searched the presence of the Lord in their midst.
There are interpretations which negate the pilgrim character and the ad orientem position of the celebrant. Those who hold this view argue that face to face position in the celebration of the Eucharist is the ideal one. For example P. Thelakkat argues that pilgrimage towards God is spiritual than in the literal sense which is the search for truth and the search for God. As St. Augustine and Theresa of Avila taught us it is the pilgrimage to one’s own inner self. So we should recognize God in the lives of others whom we found in the inner core of ourselves. Our Christian responsibility is the response we give to the face of others. Our pilgrimage should be towards the lives of others. So we should not turn away from the face of others but turn towards others. So in order to turn towards the Lord we should turn towards the human beings, not to the East. Jesus Christ is the face of God who turned towards the world. Holy Eucharist is the worship of the faithful before the face of God. So in order to pray we should not turn our face from other human beings. Being face to face is the actual expression of life. My words are the response that I give to the face. Language is the revelation of the face. You will be divinized only if you’ll respond to the faces of others. So we can say that Liturgy is the response to the Holy face of God. An example we can see in the life of father Abraham. Abraham replied to the face of God when he looked and responded to the face of Isaac. Then he heard the revelation of the angel of the Lord: “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him” (Gen 22, 12). Those who do not see the face of the human beings are unable to see the Holy face of God. The sacrifice of Abraham completed when he turned to the face of Isaac who was laid on the altar. Here, ofcourse we can say that these kinds of interpretations seem to be rather spiritualistic and philosophic than any theological explanation. We cannot reduce the practice of ad orientem in such way of interpretation which is an obvious exaggeration in favor of the practice of versus populum. Here also we find the simplistic way of the presentation of the image of God in man which was already asserted by Cardinal Ratzinger.
2. 6. VERSUS POPULUM AND ITS SOCIOLOGICAL ASPECT
There are many who believe that versus populum represents the best and primary symbol of the new spirit in liturgy. Here we can see the study of W. Siebel who is the Professor of sociology. In his book “Liturgy on Offer”, he says that the practice of the Priest turning towards the east gave the impression that the Priest was the leader and representative of the faithful acting as a spokesperson for the faithful, like Moses on Mount Sinai. Here the faithful assumed the role of sending a message (prayer, adoration, sacrifice) and the Priest functioned as the leader delivering the message; God as the recipient of the message. But in the celebration of versus populum, the Priest is not a representative of the faithful rather he is an actor who plays God’s role, at least during the central part of the Mass. Here the priest has changed into an actor expected to play the role of Christ on stage in the re-enactment of the Last Supper. He explains that the considerable level of insecurity and loneliness experienced by the Priest naturally brings about a search for new emotional structures. The support provided by the faithful is a part of this emotional support. This support leads to a new form of dependency i.e. of the actor on his audience. Siebel questions also the claim that celebration facing the people strengthens the sense of being a community. Here the Priest stands at the table and the faithful are in the auditorium. Usually the table is at a distance and it looks as a one-man-show. So, according to Siebel versus populum is a one-man-show rather than a practice which strengthens the community. Gamber points out that the new theological idea behind the practice of versus populum is based upon a new concept of the Mass i.e. the “Eucharistic community around the table”. He says that the predominant concept of the Mass until now, that of worshipping and adoring God together with the sacrificial character of the celebration has now been relegated to a secondary level of importance.
Another author K. G. Rey in his article “Signs of Puberty in the Catholic Church” observes that in the past the Priest was the first among the faithful who was facing God and not the people. He was the representative of all who together with them offered the sacrifice. But, today he is a distinct person with personal characteristics. Their gestures, facial expressions, movements, overall behavior etc. serve to subjectively attract attention to their person. Some draw attention to themselves by making repetitive observations, issuing instructions, delivering personalized addresses of welcome and farewell….To them the level of success in their performance is a measure of their personal power and thus the indicator of their feeling of personal security and self assurance. Thus from a sociological perspective, placing the Priest behind the altar and facing the people turns him into an actor, totally dependent on his audience and also into a salesman offering his wares to the public. If he has any talent at all he can develop into a real huckster. According to the modern sociological point of view Mass facing the people creates better contact between the presiding priest and the participating congregation. When the celebrant faces the people and becomes more closely related with them, it gives a better expression to the modern democratic ideas of equality and dignity of human beings and to the concepts of human solidarity and social commitment. A. Nariculam opines that facing the people stresses on better participation with the theology of common priesthood where all are celebrants of the same action “gathering around the altar”. There are also opinions which hold that to deny the Mass facing the people is to keep away the people of God and to make the celebration a personal act of the priest. Thus today the Christian community rather than God the Father has become our point of liturgical focus and reference. Our understanding of versus populum today has come to denote that the emphasis of the liturgy as being directed toward the horizontal dialogue of priest and faithful. Here the priest faces the people as though at a podium rather than at an altar. He focuses his attention upon the people and the people focus their attention upon what the priest is saying to them. Similarly those caught in this mindset regard ad orientem in its relationship to the Christian community. So we often hear that “the priest’s back to the people” in connection with the Holy Mass. To them, here the priest ignores the people and he is separated or indifferent to them and the faithful are merely passive spectators. Here we see that the understanding of the focus of the liturgy has come to rest on man and not upon God.
Alfred Lorenzer in his book “The Council of Accountants,” deals with some aesthetic matters which are related to versus populum. He notices that in the Reformed Churches the ritual became marginal and it was purposely brought to a level of simplicity and brevity. The liturgical reform in our Church has kept the sacred rite at the centre of its liturgy and did away the treasure of the symbolic acts that are an integral part of it. It goes on to present awkwardly the rite as an essential process of deliberate acts. For example we can see the act of the ritual of eating which shows us every detail. Here you sit and watch a man awkwardly breaking the brittle Host into pieces and you watch how he stuffs the pieces into his mouth. Here you are forced to witness the way the person chews whether you like it or not. It is not always aesthetically pleasing act to watch but here you watch the person’s peculiar way of consuming the Sacred Species. You watch his way of drying and polishing the chalice with a cloth.
There is the opinion that versus populum has important pastoral advantages particularly as regards visibility and audibility. For example the National Liturgy Commission of England and Wales states that celebration facing the people permits them to see the sacred action better, improves their dialogue with the celebrant and clearly indicates the unity of Priest and people in the one celebration. The words of Professor Vogel concerning versus populum is noteworthy here. He says: “There was never any question of placing the celebrant versus populum with the aim of deepening the participation of the faithful in the celebration. The idea that the congregation must see the liturgical actions in order to play a more effective part is a modern idea (the desire to see the Host, which originated in the middle Ages, originated from other causes). In the ancient Church (and in the eastern Churches today) to participate in the liturgy means that each category of person taking part should say the words and carry out the actions allocated to it (the sacred ministers, the choir and the people) and not to follow every action of the liturgy visually. The celebrant neither faced the people nor turned his back to them, but faced the east.” So it is alleged that the practice of versus populum is alien to the liturgical ethos of east and west. Far from deepening the attention of the assistants it is more likely to diminish it.
The practice of versus populum and its sociological impacts are very evident in the celebration of the Holy Mysteries. According to Klaus Gamber we are now involved in a liturgy in which God is no longer the centre of our attention. He says that today the eyes of our faithful are no longer focused on God’s Son who became Man and hanged before us on the cross or on the pictures of His saints. But they focused on the human community assembled for a commemorative meal. The assembly of people is sitting there face to face with the “Presider” in order to expect from him in accordance with the modern spirit of the Church. It is not so much a transfer of God’s grace but primarily some good ideas and advice on how to deal with daily life and its challenges. It is a fact that today many scholars speak about the community character of Eucharistic celebration in which Priest and people face each other in a dialogue relationship. It expresses only one aspect of the Eucharist. But the danger is that as Cardinal Ratzinger observes, it can make the congregation into a closed circle which is no longer aware of the explosive Trinitarian dynamism which gives the Eucharist its greatness. Ratzinger suggests that a truly liturgical education will have to use all its resources to counter this idea of an autonomous, complacent community. It is very important that the community does not carry on a dialogue with itself; it is engaged on a common journey toward the returning Lord.
Thelakatt points out that in the celebration of versus populum the celebrant stands in two modes. First of all he wears the personality and sandals of Jesus Christ. Thus he is another Christ before the people of God. Even though he is one of the pilgrim people, he is the destiny of them and the face of Lord Jesus. He is one of the faithful and at the same time set apart in front of them. The celebrant is a Christian who wears the personality of Jesus Christ for Him. So the celebrant should stand as the body and tongue of Christ. He is the image of Christ whom the faithful are ready to welcome. Therefore it is very meaningful that he stands in front of the people and face them.
Those who hold the position of versus populum argue that the richness of the holy Eucharist as a mystery and the Christian prayer cannot be revealed by any mode of worship. Nedungatt clarifies here that both modes have their own value and they are complementary. But the celebrant who stands in front of the faithful represents more clearly Jesus who speaks with the people and share the friendship with the worshipper at the meal table.
Another argument is that the term versus populum celebration is in itself wrong. Nedungatt says that here we can only say that the celebrant turns towards the altar. That means when the celebrant turns towards the faithful, he turns towards the altar which stands in between him and the faithful. According to the tradition of the Eastern Churches, since altar represents Christ all turn towards the Lord. When we encounter Christ sacramentally at the altar, we also encounter God the father there. Thus the celebrant who faces the faithful, who stand the other side of the altar, actually faces the altar. In other words he faces the Lord.
It is pointed out that versus populum position of the Holy Mass obscures its sacrificial character. As a consequence the Eucharist, which is the supreme act of homage to God and the mystical re-enactment of the unique sacrifice of Christ for our salvation appears today more as a secular form of worship. The above arguments do not promote any greatness to the Eucharistic celebration and also seem to contrary to the traditional position of the Church which had been molded through the centuries. These arguments were formed in view to promote the versus populum celebration of the Mass. Thus it seems to be superficial rather based on a sound doctrinal basis.
We have been trying to understand the theology behind the practice of versus populum. The proponents of versus populum propose various interpretations regarding this practice. It is to be noted that since from the early centuries we cannot see this practice, it is very difficult to find a sound theology in favor of this practice. There are authors who try to give meaning to this practice. But often it seems to be spiritualistic or simplistic explanation. Some argue that even if the II Vatican Council does not directly speak of this practice, we should understand from the teachings of the Council the spirit of it. This argument is vague since the II Vatican Council directly or indirectly does not promote the practice of versus populum. There are many who favor the practice of versus populum on the basis of sociological and pastoral elements. But it should be noted that we cannot find any theology for versus populum on the basis of the tradition of the Church. Ofcourse we often see different interpretations in favor of versus populum but their basis are rather weak and superfluous.
POSITION OF THE ORIENTAL CHURCHES REGARDING AD ORIENTEM IN LITURGY: HISTORICAL AND THEOLOGICAL ASPECTS
3. 0. INTRODUCTION
The ad orientem direction or turning towards the east while prayer is an old practice. We can see in the major religions of the world, a direction was always kept among them. They were very faithful to keep up their direction whether it is east or west even in the twenty-first century. For many, to preserve the direction which was given traditionally by the ancestors was also equal to keep intact the faith. This chapter examines the age old practice of ad orientem and its impact on the Christian religion. Until now many Churches in the world keep the ad orientem direction during the Mass and in private prayers. History shows that Latin Church withered away from this age old practice only not more than fifty years before. Yet there are many who wish to rejuvenate this old age practice in the Latin Church. There are many characteristics for the ad orientem principle irrespective of east or west. This chapter tries to evaluate these things.
3. 1. AD ORIENTEM PRACTICE: IT’S ORIGIN
The term ad orientem derives from the Latin Oriens meaning the rising sun, the east or the dawn with the proposition ad expressing the direction toward or to. Hence it means eastward or toward the east. It is a fact that in most major religions the position taken in prayer and the layout of the holy places are determined by a sacred direction. For the history of religions the term ‘sacred direction’ is more appropriate than ‘orientation’ since the latter specifically indicates a turning towards the east.
About the beginning of this practice, the liturgical historian Theodore Klauser mentions that the placing of altars against the rear wall of parish Churches was a practice introduced from the sixth century onwards. Outside Rome the practice of celebrating Mass with the Priest’s back to the congregation became the general rule about the year 1000 A. D. The weight of patristic scholarship is placed on the side of the view that eastward orientation celebration was the norm in the early Church. Moreton points out that the orientation of the Church building in which the liturgy is performed expresses the hope and confidence of the Church in him whose coming was from the east in the historic past and will be again at the glorious parousia.
3. 1. 1. Early Christianity and Sun worship
According to J. A. Jungmann the literature, the painting and sculpture and building of the Christians should bear traces of the cultural environment even if it was pagan. It is also not surprising that the Christian liturgy should display some marks of its secular surroundings. It is a fact that the early Christians were men and women of the Greek and Roman culture. Although they became Christians, they yet retained the material and ideal formalities of their own cultural life. The new Christian order did not demolish the cultural values of the past but transformed them to the honor and glory of God. There are many forms of the religious culture of the ancient world which were adopted into the worship of the Church.
To turn towards the east while praying was a fixed custom among Greeks, Romans and the most civilized people of the ancient world as well as among various primitive races. The east where the sun rises appeared to men as the place whence life, power, and happiness proceed. Thus the rising sun became a symbol of divinity. There were people who deify the sun itself. But the orientation remained independent of these false notions and adopted into the Christian practice. It is a fact that the importance of east in cosmic space is related to the rising sun. The relation to the rising sun has constituted the ground for the sacredness of the east in the religious traditions. It was Justin the Martyr (d. 165) who first introduced the name Sunday in Christian liturgy. There was the Christianization of Sunday from pagan sun worship to the symbolism of Christian worship. Christians recognized Sunday (sun’s day) as their worshipping day symbolizing Christ, the ‘Sun of Justice’ (Mal 4, 2) ‘light of the world’ (Jn 8, 12; 9,5; 12, 46), ‘light of revelation to the gentiles’ (Lk 2, 32) and ‘true light that enlightens everyone’ (Jn, 1-9).
It is to be noted that Franz Joseph Dolger points out in his work on orientation in prayer and liturgy that turning towards the east in prayer was a general custom in the sun worship of the ancient world from the Mediterranean to India. St. Augustine speaks that the Manicheans in their prayers used to follow the course of the sun and turn towards its actual position. It is to be noted that this practice was attacked by the Christians as contrary to the faith. Turning towards the rising sun for prayer was customary among the Greeks and in the Roman religion. At the same time facing east became detached from the cult of the sun and independent of the time of prayer. The eastern sky was regarded as the home of gods and thus as a symbol of fortune.
Towards the end of the third century, the sun- cult began to expand in the Roman Empire. Emperor Aurelian purposely imported it to Rome from the Orient and declared the sun as the god of the Empire. Then the Christians began to emphasize that Christ is their sun. The mosaic on the ceiling in an individual Christian tomb under St. Peter’s basilica at Rome dated on the third century pictures the sun god who drives the sun- chariot. The light spreads out before him and this depicts Christ because among the Christians the sun had become an image of Christ.
The Church Father Ephrem considered sun as the perfect symbol of Christ. The descent and ascent of Christ are prefigured by the sun’s setting and rising. The conception and birth of Christ take place at the moments of the sun’s victories in spring and in winter. It is a known fact that the image of the sun was used in early Christian art and literature to represent Christ who is the true “sun of righteousness”. In the earliest known Christian mosaic (dated ca. A. D. 240) found in the Vatican necropolis below the altar of St. Peter, Christ is portrayed as the Sun ascending on the quadriga chariot with a flying cloak and a nimbus behind his head from which irradiate seven rays in the form of a T (allusion to the Cross?). Thus the Christian artists used sun to portray Christ. The Christian teachers also proclaimed Him to the pagan people who were well acquainted with the rich sun- symbology. It is a fact that numerous fathers abstracted and reinterpreted the pagan symbols and beliefs about the sun and used them apologetically to teach the Christian message. If Christ was early associated in iconography and in literature with the invincible sun, it is possible that even the day of the sun could readily have been adopted for worshipping Christ who is the Sun of Justice. 
3. 1. 2. Early Christians and the Jewish Religion
It is a fact that the early Christians defined their identity through a critical discernment of their pagan surroundings in the Roman Empire. If we try to understand the Christian idea of sacred direction it is not sufficient to look at the context of pagan thought and practice but we must consider the process by which Christianity became separate from Judaism. Here it is to be noted that Jews in the Diaspora prayed towards Jerusalem or more precisely towards the presence of the transcendent God in the Holy of the Holies of the temple. The ancient synagogues that have been excavated face toward Jerusalem. In the beginning the doors or windows of Jewish houses of prayer faced Jerusalem and were opened during prayer in order to allow the prayer to move freely in the direction of the sanctuary. We can see in the Holy Scripture that Daniel in the Babylon went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open to Jerusalem and he got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God as he had done previously (Dan 6, 10). It is a fact that even after the destruction of the temple, the prevailing custom of turning towards Jerusalem for prayer was kept in the liturgy of the synagogue. In that way the Jews have expressed their eschatological hope for the coming of the Messiah, the rebuilding of the temple, and the gathering of God’s people from the Diaspora. Thus the direction of prayer was inseparably bound up with the messianic expectation of Israel.
The Mishna commands the Jew all over the world to follow this practice. But in the first century we see Christians turned towards the east when praying. In the history we see Elchasai who was the founder of a Judaeo- Christian sect demanded his adherents that they should turn towards Jerusalem while praying and forbade them expressly to pray in the direction of the east. Here it is clear that turn towards the east was then the practice among the Christians. Even today the Jew says his obligatory prayers while facing in the direction of the temple. It should be noted that in Judaism and Christianity the meaning of the practice of turning to the east differs. Jews naturally looked for a Messiah who would come in Jerusalem while Christians awaited a Messiah who would return from the east (Mt 24, 27; Rev 7, 2). For the Christian, prayers said while facing eastward became an eschatological confession of the divinity of Jesus. It is very important that if the Christian like the Jew were to face toward the former temple, he would be denying the divinity of Christ since the Jew thought the promised Messiah had not yet come. On the other hand, by praying toward the east the Christian showed that he was waiting Christ as the Son of God “who will come again in glory”. According to E. Peterson the Christian practice of praying towards the east was a polemical attitude against the Jewish practice of praying towards the temple in Jerusalem.
The studies of M. J. Moreton who collected important archeological and textual data show that the eastward orientation of Churches was standard from very early times. Thus the Christians generally followed the common Greco-Roman practice of making the temples face the west so that the worshippers would face the east. In his paper “Orientation as a liturgical principle”, Moreton states about Dura Europos, which is the ancient Mesopotamian riverine city with its significant Christian and Jewish communities. Here we can see one of the best preserved synagogues of the late antiquity and the only house Church of the pre-Nicene period to have survived lie in close proximity. It is important to note that while the first is oriented towards the Jerusalem, the second is oriented in the strict sense aligned with the east. Moreton here comments:
In this respect we encounter at Dura for the first time a conflict of principle which goes to the heart of what is at issue between Judaism and Christianity viz., whether the advent of Messiah is still future or already realized; whether it is looked for in the devout observance of the Torah, itself associated with the land, the city and temple in Jerusalem, or realized in the performance of the Liturgy.
It is very important to note that a favorite theme of the paintings and mosaics in the sanctuaries and the apses of Churches came to be the cross regarded as the herald and “sign of the son of man” who will be “coming on the clouds of heaven” (Mt 24, 30). Thus to pray towards the east was to pray with a correct faith to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. It is very important that not only the faith but even the bodily attitude of the Christian was a profession of faith.
3. 1. 3. Ad Orientem and the Early Centuries’ Church Architecture
There are basilicas in Rome and Jerusalem where we see these were built in the direction of the east and the altar put at the east end of the building. Here the celebrant and the congregation normally turned to the east during the Divine Liturgy. Thus the old practice in all the traditions including the Roman, the Churches were oriented i.e. the High altar was at the east end and the main entrance at the west. This was customary as early as the second century. Tertullian says that the house of the holy church is built in the direction of the rising sun. There were exceptions to this general principle for example St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. Here the priest who stood behind the altar really faced “towards the east” rather than “towards the people” and thus kept the age-old liturgical principle.
Jungmann reminds us of a tradition of the religious cult of antiquity where the temples of the Greeks and the Romans were also as a rule built in such a way that they faced east. Here the rays of the rising sun fell upon the idol when the doors of the temple were opened. The façade of the temple was therefore in the direction of the east. The oldest Christian Churches too at least in Rome were thus built with the façade towards the east. This we can still see in the case of St. Peter’s or the basilica of the Lateran. This had the disadvantage that the congregation who wish to look east during prayers had to turn together with the priest towards the door of the Church. In such Churches the altar was placed versus populum.
In Rome where the apse of the Church turned toward the west, the priest was compelled to turn his back to the apse and look towards the people. Here the people also had their backs to the priest while he thus stood in prayer. Thus the disposition of the altar in the Roman basilicas is linked with this orientation of prayer because in these Churches the priest is able to face the altar while at the same time facing eastward. But for the people the necessity of turning away from the altar was a distinct inconvenience. It is a fact that this inconvenience finally led to a change in planning the Church building. As early as the fourth century some Churches were built with the apse towards the east which became a general custom later on.
It is to be noted that even before the Constantinian settlement Christian communities had their own buildings dedicated to liturgical worship. Lang mentions about a very important archeological discovery in the recent decades. It was the Christian building of Dura-Europos which is a Roman frontier city on the river Euphrates. The city was completely destroyed by the Sassanians in A. D. 256 and was not rebuilt afterwards. Owing to this circumstance the structure of a house Church from the first half of the third century has been preserved. Here the assembly hall is oriented and has a platform on the east side which might indicate the place of the altar. The archeological finds in North Syria and Mesopotamia are informative. Gamber here makes it clear that the orientation of Church and altar corresponds to the universally accepted principle of facing east in prayer and expresses the eschatological hope of the early Christians for the Second Coming of Christ as the sun of righteousness. It is to be noted that there are specific laws governing the design of a place for liturgical worship, laws that are not subject to prevailing fashion and changing trends. This is where God resides in a very special way just as He did in the temple of Jerusalem. This is the place where we worship God. Here we should note that the strict separation of the sanctuary and the nave of the Church came into use when the faithful began to attend worship in large numbers i.e. shortly before the year A. D. 300. Here we see altar railings were set up and curtains hung. The reason behind it is the belief that the mystery occurring on the altar had to be shielded from the eyes of men.
Louis Bouyer observes that the ancient churches must be studied in relation to contemporary synagogue architecture. It is to be noted that Syrian Churches were generally oriented with the apse. There is a wide agreement that the celebrant would have stood in front of the altar, facing east with the congregation for the Eucharistic liturgy. Long before the persecutions the Christians in the city of Rome had their own buildings for the celebration of the liturgy. But it is a fact that for the shape of these pre-Constantine domus ecclesiae we do not know much information. The oldest surviving monuments are the basilicas built under Constantine. But the interior of these buildings has been changed considerably over the centuries.
The Constantinian plan can be discerned most clearly from the Lateran basilica. Here the bishop’s cathedra was placed at the end of the apse which corresponded to the seat of honor occupied by the magistrate in secular basilicas which were used as court or market halls and to the Emperor’s seat in the senate. As a result the bishops enjoyed the same rank as high state officials and were invested with the same signs of honor. In the early Roman basilicas the altar stood either at the entrance to the apse or in the central nave. Its sacred character is marked by its exalted position. Here we see the steps leading up to it, a ciborium and a superstructure that was particularly apt to emphasize the altar’s importance. There is no clear evidence for the original position of the main altar in the Constantinian building of St. Peter’s. This Vatican basilica was a martyrium which marked out by the tomb of the Apostle and its design was governed primarily not by the needs of a liturgical assembly but by the peculiar site of the memoria. Here we see that unlike in the rest of Christendom the Pope did not stand before the altar but behind it. Gamber says that in this situation some liturgists speculated and arrived at the erroneous conclusion that this must be a vestige of an early Christian practice-that of celebrating Mass facing the people. He points out that the real explanation for this is the ancient custom of facing east in prayer. It is because unlike the great majority of the Churches, St. Peter’s basilica has its apse which faces west rather than east. It is a fact that the pontifical altar of the basilica before it was remodeled by Pope Paul VI, shows that it was impossible for the faithful to see the Pope standing behind the altar. So we cannot say that we had a celebration versus populum here.
Cardinal Ratzinger too speaks about the ad orientem position of the early Churches. He says that in the eastern churches such as the Byzentine churches the ad orientem practice had been retained since the early centuries. But a different arrangement was developed in Rome. The bishop’s chair was shifted to the centre of the apse and so the altar was moved into the nave. This seems to have been the case in the Lateran basilica and in St. Mary Major’s into the ninth century. In St. Peter’s, during the Pontificate of St. Gregory the Great (590-604) the altar was moved nearer to the bishop’s chair probably for the simple reason that he was supposed to stand as much as possible above the tomb of St. Peter. This was a visible expression of the truth that we celebrate the sacrifice of the Lord in the communion of saints. It is also a fact that the ordering of St. Peter’s was copied in many other station churches in Rome. Because of topographical circumstances, it turned out that St. Peter’s faced west. So if the celebrating priest wanted as the Christian tradition of prayer demands to face east, he had to stand behind the people and look toward the people. One can also see that this arrangement in a whole series of Church buildings within St. Peter’s direct sphere of influence.
Jungmann points out that the same idea of orientation was also carried out in the lay- out the cemeteries. In most of the old cemeteries in the villages of Tyrol and Austria the graves are laid out in such a way that all the dead lie facing towards the east, to the rising sun. It is interesting to note that a broad avenue is cut through the cemetery. But the graves, the crosses and the gravestones do not face the road or the Church. They face away from the road and away from the Church: towards the east. So the dead are like a large army looking out for Him who has risen and awaiting His call, when He will summon them also to the resurrection.
3. 2. AD ORIENTEM IN LITERARY SOURCES
In the New Testament the special significance of the eastward direction for worship is not explicit. But, tradition has found many biblical references for this symbolism. Let us examine the biblical references and the main ancient writings which speak about the ad orientem direction.
3. 2. 1. Biblical References
We can see the examples as the sun of righteousness (Mal 4, 2), the feet of the Lord standing on the Mount of Olives, which lies before Jerusalem on the east (Zech 14, 4) etc. The early Christian exegesis points out that the sign of the coming of the Son of Man with power and great glory, which appears as lightening from the east and shines as far as the west, is the Cross (Mt 24, 27. 30). There are references that Garden of Eden is in the east (Gen 2, 8), Glory of God enters from the east (Ezek 43, 2-4) and wise men came from the east to worship Jesus at his birth (Mt 2, 1-2).
George Kretschmar argues that the earliest Christians identified the Mount of Olives as the location of key eschatological events on the basis of their interpretation of various Old Testament prophecies. We can see in the Old Testament there are a number of biblical allocations. For example in Ezek 11, 23 we read: “And the glory of the Lord ascended from the middle of the city, and stopped on the mountain east of the city”. Ezek 43, 1-2 says: “Then he brought me to the gate, the gate facing east. And there the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east”. In Ezek 43, 4-5 we read: “As the glory of the Lord entered the temple by the gate facing east, the spirit lifted me up, and brought me into the inner court; and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.”
Ezek 44, 1-2 says: “Then he brought me back to the outer gate of the sanctuary which faces east; and it was shut. The Lord said to me: This gate shall remain shut; it shall not be opened and no one shall enter by it; for the Lord, the God of Israel has entered by it; therefore it shall remain shut”. Here it is to be noted that on basing these verses we see that in the eastern wall of the Church a small door was arranged and this custom is existed almost in all the oriental Churches. Zech 14, 4 too speaks about the east. “On that day his feet shall stand on the Mount of Olives which lies before Jerusalem on the east; and the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west by a very wide valley; so that one half of the Mount shall withdraw northward, and the other half southward”.
3. 2. 2. Early writings
There are many literary sources for the Christian principle of praying towards the east. From second century onwards we can find strong evidence for eastward prayer from most parts of the Christian world. In the ancient literary work, Shepherd of Hermas, Hermas sees the second woman who appeared to him passing out of sight in the direction of the east. It is an indication that Hermas would have turned towards the east in prayer as the studies of Dolger shows. This would correspond to the prevailing custom of Roman Christians around the middle of the second century. In the apocryphal Acts of Paul written by a presbyter from Asia Minor around A. D. 180, we can read the last moments before the martyrdom of the Apostle: “Then Paul stood with his face to the east and lifted up his hands to heaven and prayed a long time”. Here we can assume that the fictional account in the Acts of Paul reflects the current practice in Asia Minor of turning towards the rising sun in prayer. The acts of the martyrs from the middle of the third century also testify that in the hour of martyrdom Christians turned to pray.
Two early Church orders are valuable sources for the Christian direction of prayer. The Syriac Didascalia Apostolorum or the Catholic Teaching of the Twelve Apostles and Holy Disciples of our Saviour is a third century Church order which also speaks about the liturgical celebrations in Church. It says that the presbyters should sit at the eastern side of the house with the bishops. It is required that one should pray toward the east since it is written that “Give praise to God who rides on the heavens of heavens toward the east” (Ps. 68). Thus the whole liturgical assembly should turn towards the east in prayer. The Teaching of the Apostles is an ancient Syrian document. Here the apostles exhort to pray towards the east because as the lightening which lightens from the east and is seen even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of Man be. By this we might know and understand that He will appear from the east suddenly.
The eschatological significance of the eastward prayer is obvious from the first canon of the Syrian Didascalia Addai which is probably from the second quarter of the fourth century. It says that the apostles therefore appointed that you should pray towards the east because ‘as the lightening which lightens from the east and is seen even to the west, so shall the coming of the son of man be’ (Mt 24, 27). By this may we know and understand that he will appear suddenly from the east. These two texts do not present the thought of an individual theologian but rather establish a general rule by appeal to tradition. As in Origen this tradition is explained by reference to the apostles.
The Apostolic Constitutions too mentions about the eastward position. It is a compilation which derived from sources differing in age. It seems that the entire work is not later than the fourth century. It exhorts that the building for worship be long, with its head to the east and with its vestries on both sides at the east end and so it will be like a ship. Those who have been dead with Christ and is raised up with Him should stand up. But let him pray towards the east. It is because in the second book of Chronicles it is written that after the temple of the Lord was finished by King Solomon, on the very Feast of Dedication the priests and the Levites and the singers stood up towards the east praising and thanking God with cymbals and psalteries.
3. 2. 3. Church Fathers and Apologetics
Augustine associates the lifting up of the heart with a complete turning towards Christ and the kingdom of heaven. This entails a physical turning towards the east. It is to be noted that many of Augustine’s sermons conclude with a prayer that is introduced in the manuscript tradition by short formulas such as Conversi (ad Dominum). The prayer Conversi ad Dominum at the end of Augustine’s sermon summoned the faithful to turn eastward. He says:
There is much difference spiritually between a sinner and a saint as there is materially between heaven and earth. For the purpose of signifying this fact when we stand at prayer we turn to the east where the sky rises. And we do this not because God is dwelling there, as if He had deserted the rest of the universe. He is present everywhere, not in the spacings of places but by the power of His majesty. Our purpose is to impress upon our soul to turn to a more excellent nature, i.e. to God, seeing that the body itself which is earthly, is turned to a more excellent body i.e. to a heavenly body. Further it is proper and eminently beneficial to the stages of religion that the senses of all both young and old be sensitive to God.
Augustine has the opinion that the inner disposition of the faithful correspond to the external gesture. He reminds that as in the liturgy, so in their everyday life the faithful must be directed towards Christ in charity. It is clear that facing east in prayer was a well established custom in North Africa. In his discourse on the Sermon on the Mount Augustine states that when we stand at prayer we turn to the east. The words of St. Augustine are notable here. He says: “when we raise our hearts in prayer we turn towards the east whence heaven arises. This is not to say that God could only be found there and that he has forsaken the other directions of the world…..rather we face east to remind ourselves that we must turn in the direction of a higher natural state, that is, that we must turn to God.” In those days St. Augustine would frequently call on his assembled listeners to turn to the east using a set formula, conversi ad Dominum (turn to face the Lord). It is to be noted that in the early Church to turn and face the Lord and to look towards the east was one and the same thing.
In the mystagogical catecheses of the fourth century by Ambrose of Milan, Cyril of Jerusalem and Theodore of Mopsuestia we see the symbolism of the liturgical orientation as manifested in the baptismal rite. Here we see that the catechumen turns towards the west in order to renounce Satan and then performs a bodily conversion towards the east in order to give himself over to Christ. It is very important to note that at the end of the patristic age, theologians of different traditions are found to agree that prayer facing east is one of the distinctive practices that mark Christianity out from the other religions of the Middle East.
In his works To the Nations and The Apology, Tertullian (A. D. 197) witnesses that the Christians turns towards the east in prayer both in the liturgy and in private prayer at home. He says that the Christians were praying in the direction of the rising sun and they faced the light. The sun was seen as a symbol of the risen Lord who had gone up to heaven and who would come back from there (Mt 24, 27). Clement of Alexandria (ca. A. D. 150- 215) also offers the theological reasons for praying towards the east in his works. His text is full of biblical resonances and it offers an interpretation of pagan temple worship as an expectation of the true enlightenment through the glorious light of Christ that, just like the sun, rises in the east. He explains that the prayers are offered while looking toward sunrise in the east because the orient represents the birth of light that dispels the darkness of the night. In corresponds with the manner of the sun’s rising, prayers are made looking towards the sunrise in the east. The most ancient temples also looked towards the west, that people might be taught to turn to the east when facing the images.
Origen, who lived in the first half of the third century in Alexandria and Caesarea maritime in Palestine, explains reasons for facing east in prayer. In his treatise On Prayer, he says that there is disposition and deportment in prayer where disposition refers to the soul and deportment to the body. There are four cardinal points- north, south, east and west. It should be immediately clear that the direction of the rising sun obviously indicates that we ought to pray inclining that direction, an act which symbolizes the soul looking towards where the true light rises. It is by nature that the east takes precedence over the other cardinal points and that one should choose nature before convention. His arguments are imbued with the symbolism of the fourth gospel which presents Christ as the light of the world. Origen says that when the people departed from the east and began to entertain sentiments alien to those of the east they found a place in the land of Shinar which indicates symbolically that they had lost the means of their support.  For him the eastward position in prayer is taken for granted, for it belongs to the sort of ecclesial custom that must be observed, even though the meaning is not familiar to everyone. Origen comments that together with other rites the turning to the east was handed on and entrusted to us by Christ and his apostles. Gregory of Nyssa records how his saintly sister Macrina right before her death spoke only with Christ, looking at him steadfastly, since her bed was aligned towards the sunrise.  He says:
Whenever we turn towards the east not as if God were only there to be contemplated but because our first homeland is in the east where there is paradise from which we have fallen. God is everywhere and is not particularly apprehended in any part since He comprises all things equally. God has planted a paradise in Eden towards the east and when we look to the east and recall to our memory how we were cast out from the bright regions of bliss in the east, we shall have reason to utter such prayer. For we live in the shadow of the evil fig tree of material life, and have been cast out from the sight of God.
We see the practice of burial of the dead in the direction towards the sunrise which indicates turn towards Christ who was to come again from the east. It is evident in the early Christian burial sites of Gaul, Italy and North Africa.
3. 2. 4. In Various Liturgical Texts
In the liturgy of the eighth book of the late fourth century Apostolic Constitutions which is based on the text of the so called Apostolic Tradition, after the dismissals the general prayer of the faithful and the kiss of peace, the proclamation of the deacon asserts the turning towards the east. In Greek, Coptic and Ethiopian liturgies we can see similar diaconal exhortations to stand upright and look towards the east at the beginning or during the anaphora. It is particular to the Coptic liturgy that the deacon stands at the altar facing the people vis-à-vis the celebrant who is looking towards the east. All the Coptic Churches are oriented eastwards so that the faithful and the celebrant are looking to the east during their prayers. He admonishes here to look to the east.
In his catechetical homilies given before A. D. 392, Theodore of Mopsuestia mentions the diaconal admonition before the anaphora i.e. attends the offering. It does not mean that the celebrant faces the people so that the offertory gifts are visible. In an oriented Church it means that the admonition corresponds to attend to the east of the liturgy of St. Mark and other oriental anaphoras. Here the deacon exhorts the faithful to turn reverently towards the eastward-facing altar, where the Eucharistic sacrifice is being offered. Robert Taft opines that the response to the dialogue which precedes the anaphora that is common to all liturgical traditions implies that the congregation would face east. Taft says that in the early Church this lifting up of hearts was accompanied by bodily gestures such as standing upright, looking upward, raising one’s arms and most likely turning towards the east.
3. 2. 5. Ad Orientem in East Syrian, West Syrian and Latin Tradition
It is a fact that praying ad orientem is the liturgical practice of East Syrian liturgical tradition from time immemorial. The East Syrian tradition has Christianized the Jewish practice of turning toward Jerusalem and more precisely toward the presence of the divine ‘Shekinah’ in the Holy of Holies of the temple (Dan 6, 10). The sanctuary located in the east is the type of Holy of Holies and of heavenly Jerusalem. The theological significance of the east as the East Syrian liturgical commentaries narrate can be summarized in three points. Firstly we adore towards the east because the first light of creation emerged from that direction and the first light stands for the revelation of Christ. East is from where Christ comes and is to where we go. Though God did not reveal in OT the true orientation of prayer, God taught Jews through the prophets the preeminence of the east. Commentary of Abdisho bar Bahriz quotes the texts of Ez 44, 2 and Ps 68, 34 in this regard. Secondly paradise is in the east and it is where Adam was placed after creation and from where he was expelled. East is the superior region of life and our sweet home till final resurrection. Turning towards east is a movement of con-version and reconciliation. He says that it is right that we turn our look, our faces and our prayers. According to the witness of the scripture and nature, east is better from every side. Therefore we too turn and adore (towards east as the superior place, as the place of life, as the place of the saints, as the place from where we were expelled, as the place from where rises the sun, as from where we have the origin, as the place praised by the Lord God through the prophets. Thirdly we adore towards east because the Second Coming of Christ in his glory will be from the east, according to the words of our Lord (Mt 24, 27). Christians saw in the rising sun a symbol of the final resurrection. This is the eschatological reason for the liturgical orientation.
Abdisho bar Brika too explains the three reasons behind adoration ad orientem. Firstly from the east emerges the light in creation and from there the lights begin their manifestations. Secondly paradise is placed in it, the house of saints, abode full of happiness, meeting place of holy souls of all just men. And finally from there will be manifested (our Lord) in his glory, king of Resurrection. “As the lightening comes out of the east, and shines unto the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man (Mt 24, 27)”.
In the history we see that the Catholicos-Patriarch of the Church of the East, Timothy I (728-823) defends the eastward direction in his apology for Christianity before the Caliph Mahdi. Timothy argues that this custom was laid down by Christ himself. He says that Christ has taught us all the economy of the Christian religion i.e. baptism, laws ordinances, prayers, worship in the direction of the east, and the sacrifice that we offer. All these things he practiced in His person and taught us to practice ourselves. It is to be noted that an East Syrian theologian Mar Abdiso (Ebed Jesus) who was the Nestorian Metropolitan of Nisibis and Armenia in A. D. 1298 wrote a short treatise on the truth of Christianity for catechetical purpose called The Jewel (Marghaneetha). In the fifth part of the book which is entitled “On the Theory of Those Things that prefigure the World to come” the first chapter is dedicated to worship towards the east and only then follow the chapters on the worship of the Lord’s Cross and on the observance of Sunday and of festivals of the Lord. He asserts the eschatological significance of facing the east.
This custom is therefore profitable in two ways. First because it stirs up the remembrance of the end and of the judgment to come and which is a preservative against evil. Secondly, it brings to mind our old place from which we were driven out on account of our sins, viz. Paradise which is situated in the east and thereby we are led to lay hold on repentance. … when our Lord ascended up to heaven, His face was turned toward the west, in the same way in which He will come at the resurrection. The disciples who were before Him, and looking at Him ascending, worshipped Him towards the east….
The East Syrian Anonymous Author, also known as Pseudo George of Arbel of the 9th century explicates cosmological, Christological, eschatological and soteriological arguments in favor of ad orientem. The ‘East’ has priority in the cosmic space. The fact that the sun and the stars begin their course from the east constitutes the cosmological argument. On earth itself the eastern region has priority. The Christological argument is that Christ takes the place of sun. The Jewish people saw the light coming to them through the prophets and priests, as if the stars give light. For the Christological argument, Pseudo George of Arbel refers to the OT authority like that of Ez 44, 2-3 and Ps 48, 33. The relation of the east to paradise constitutes the eschatological argument. Paradise is the place of sanctity and immortality. It is situated in the eastern region. The primordial paradise of the first parents is viewed also as the eschatological paradise of our expectation. Therefore the fact that paradise located in the east is our hope. There is a soteriological reason also related to the orientation in prayer. It is to be noted that paradise is the place of our fall and it becomes the place of our salvation too. Adam was expelled from the paradise. After that we too expect reconciliation. So it is right that we turn to the same place for the reconciliation. We should turn ourselves in prayer toward paradise which is in the eastern region. The Anonymous Author says that we adore and contemplate towards east because it is the superior place. It is the place of life, the place of the saints, the place from where we were expelled, the place from where rises the sun, from where we have the origin, the place praised by the Lord God through the prophets. Mar Abdiso of the 14th century too comments on the eschatological significance of facing the east. He says that firstly the rule of facing the east stirs up the remembrance of the end and of the judgment to come. It checks us from doing evil things. Secondly when we face the east we may remember our old home, from which we were driven out on account of our sins, namely paradise and which is situated in the east. When our Lord ascended up to heaven, His face was turned towards the west significant of His coming at the resurrection. His disciples who were before Him looked at him when he ascended and worshipped Him towards the east. 
In the west Syrian tradition too we see the prayer facing east as one of the characteristic features of the Christian faith. For example Moses bar Kepha (815-903), in his short work mentions the custom of turning eastward among the mysteries of the Church. St. John of Damascus (died ca. 750) too provides an explanation of the Christian direction of prayer in the concluding part of his major work On the Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. He says that it is not without reason or by chance that we worship towards the east but seeing that we are composed of a visible and an invisible nature i.e. a nature partly of spirit and partly of sense. Since God is spiritual light and Christ is called in the scriptures ‘Sun of righteousness’ (Mal 4, 2) and ‘Dayspring’ (Zech 3, 8; Lk 1, 78), the east is the direction that must be assigned to his worship. According to him the scripture says that God planted a garden in the Eden which is in the east. There he put the man whom he had formed (Gen 2, 8). So we worship God seeking and striving after our old fatherland. When Christ was received again into heaven he was borne towards the east, and thus his apostles worship him, and thus he will come again in the way in which they beheld his going towards heaven. The Lord himself said that as the lightening comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man (Mt 24, 27). So John of Damascus says that in expectation of his coming we worship towards the east. But this tradition of the apostles is unwritten. For much that has been handed down to us by tradition is unwritten. The situation of Eden in the east (Gen 2, 8), the tent of Moses with curtain veil and propitiatory facing the east, the tribe of Judah encamped on the east side (Num 2, 3), the Lord’s gate of the temple of Solomon, facing the east, Lord on the Cross looking towards the west, Lord raised towards the east during ascension (Acts 1, 11), Lord’s eschatological coming from the east (Mt 24, 27) are all the basis for our worshipping him towards the east. Most of these arguments have parallels in the East Syrian tradition, especially in the commentaries of the Anonymous Author and Abdiso of Nisibis.
St. Thomas Aquinas, a great theologian who represents Latin tradition also discusses the practice of praying towards the east. He does not speak about its apostolic origin but considers the fittingness of this practice. The first reason he says that the movement of the heavens which manifest the divine majesty is from the east. Secondly paradise was situated in the east according to the Septuagint version of Genesis and we seek to return to paradise. Thirdly, Christ who is the light of the world is called the Orient and is expected to come from the east according to Mathew.
3. 3. CHARACTERISTICS OF AD ORIENTEM DIRECTION
As it is obvious the early Christians did not turn to Jerusalem or to Temple when they prayed. But they turned towards the east while they prayed. One of the reasons for it was that the ascension of Christ into heaven took place to the east of Jerusalem i.e. from the Mount of Olives. Another reason is that the early Christians imagined that the dwellings of the blessed were somewhere in the eastern sky, where the sun rises. The paradise in the Genesis too was situated in the east: God planted the Garden of Eden towards the rising of the sun (Gen 2, 8). The angel of the Lord in the apocalypse (7, 2) comes from the direction of the rising sun. Another reason is that Christ’s second coming was expected by the early Christians to be an immediate event from the east. For them turning towards east while praying was equal to turning towards the glorified Christ who conquered sin and death and who as the head of the church is living in heaven.
Professor Vogel explains that the practice of “praying in the direction of the rising sun” was not a direct borrowing from pagan cults worshipping the birth of the unconquered sun, which marked the winter solstice (around 25 December); it was due to the pervasive influence of the cultural milieu in which the early Christians found themselves. At the same time we can see that warnings were given against any confusion between orientation in Christian and pagan worship. For example Pope St. Leo the Great (about 450) ordered that even appearance of a parallel between both must be avoided. Christians worship not the sun king, but the king of the sun because the sun itself was created by Christ. In a sermon he criticizes that some Roman Christians still greet the morning sun. After having climbed the steps leading up to the Church of St. Peter’s they turn around and bow before the rising sun. He knew well enough that they did not have in mind worshipping the sun itself, but there was cause for scandal when the Christians act likewise. Thus it is a fact that the ancient Christians found a rich and meaningful symbolism in this orientation. The invincible sun of paganism became a symbol of Christ, the victor over death and sin. He is the Sun of salvation, the Sun of Justice.
3. 3. 1. Ad Orientem: The Common Orientation of Priest and People
There often arise allegations that during the ad orientem celebration the priest direct his prayers to the wall. Gamber says that when standing before the altar the priest does not pray to the wall. Instead he prays to the Lord together with all the assembled faithful. Ratziger also observes that the common turning toward the east was not a “celebration toward the wall”. It did not mean the priest “had his back to the people”. Here the priest himself was not regarded as so important. As the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together “toward the Lord”. Ratzinger holds the view that it is important to distinguish the place for the liturgy of the word from the place for the properly Eucharistic liturgy. He says that a common turning to the east during the Eucharistic prayer remains essential. This is not a case of something accidental but of what is essential. Here looking at the priest has no importance. On the other hand looking together at the Lord is important here. It is not now a question of dialogue but of common worship, of setting toward the one who is to come. What corresponds with the reality of what is happening is not the closed circle but the common movement forward, expressed in a common direction for prayer.
It is a fact that until recently Christians were less concerned about forming a “faith community” than in the priest offering the sacrifice before God as the representative of the faithful and together with them. In his book Sol Salutis which was published in 1920, Joseph Dolger explains about the priest’s call to lift up your hearts. The response by the faithful here is that we have lifted them up to the Lord. Dolger says that it implies turning and facing the east i.e. facing the Lord. In the oriental liturgies such as the Coptic and Egyptian we see that before the Eucharistic prayer the deacon invites the faithful to turn towards the east. The practice of rising to pray and facing the east during prayer is specifically mentioned in Apostolic Constitution which was written in 4th century. Here we see the parallel association between the act of turning to face east and facing the Lord. Dolger here asserts that the custom of praying in the direction of the sunrise is an ancient one, practiced by Jews and pagans alike. The proper direction in which to turn for prayer was indicated early on by a cross placed on a wall in people’s houses.
In his book Spirit of the Liturgy Ratzinger asserts the position of the famous liturgist Louis Bouyer who clarifies that before the sixteenth century there was no indication that any importance or attention was given to whether the priest celebrated with the people before him or behind him. Professor Cyrille Vogel has demonstrated the only thing ever insisted upon or even mentioned was that the priest should say the Eucharistic prayer, as all the other prayers, facing east. Even when the orientation of the Church enabled the celebrant to pray turned toward the people when at the altar. Here we must not forget that it was not the priest alone who turned east. On the other hand it was the whole congregation turned to the east together with him. We can conclude that the facing east in the Eucharist has had a profound significance in the Christian tradition. The intrinsic meaning of this liturgical gesture transcends the mere turning towards one of the cardinal points. In fact ‘liturgical orientation’ in an ideal sense can even be disconnected from its strict geographical context. What is important here is the common direction of the priest and people in liturgical prayer.
3. 3. 2. Ad Orientem and the Pilgrim Nature of the Liturgy
J. A. Jungmann, who was one of the fathers of Vatican II’s constitution of the liturgy, says that it was much more a question of priest and people facing the same direction and they were together in a procession toward the Lord. They did not close themselves into a circle and they did not gaze at one another. But here as the pilgrim people of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us.
The Syro Malabar Holy Qurbana envisages a pilgrim community travelling towards the heavenly Jerusalem. The sanctuary symbolizes heaven while the nave represents the earthly Church which travels toward heaven. In the liturgical tradition of the SM Church the altar is always set at the eastern end of the Church. As the architectural symbolism of the Church suggests, the celebration of the SM Qurbana is a pilgrimage of the baptized into a covenantal communion with the Lord at the Holy of Holies, which is the altar. In the Mass the priest represents Christ and celebrates the mystery of salvation with the pilgrim Church. He leads the pilgrim Church to the heavenly Jerusalem.
The priest is like a shepherd, not driving his flock from behind, but leading them. They are the people of God advancing through the desert of this life to the promised land, symbolized by the east, priest and people striving together to reach the lost paradise reopened by Christ. As some traditions point out Christ will return during a celebration of the Eucharist, just as several times He appeared after the resurrection to the apostles when they were gathered for communal meals. So, the eyes fixed on the east, all are ready to meet Him. It is appropriate that priest and people face east for worship of God and Christ. The celebration of the Eucharist is not only a commemoration of a past event and a renewal of the Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary, but it is also a preparation for a future event, the Second Coming of Christ.
3. 3. 3. Ad Orientem Direction and God’s Revelation
Ratzinger points out that Judaism and Islam now as in the past take it for granted that we should pray toward the central place of revelation. So we should pray to the God who has revealed himself to us in the manner and in the place in which he revealed himself. But in the western world contrary to it we see an abstract way of thinking in which one can find a fruit of Christian influence. Such way of thinking often asserts that God is spiritual and He is everywhere. Does that not mean that prayer is not tied to a particular place or direction? Now we can indeed pray everywhere and God is accessible to us everywhere. This idea of universality of God is a consequence of Christian universality, of the Christian’s looking up to God above all gods, the God who embraces the cosmos and is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. But it is to be noted that our knowledge of this universality is the fruit of revelation: God has shown Himself to us. Only for this reason we know Him and can we confidently pray to him everywhere. Ratzinger opines that precisely for this reason it is appropriate now as in the past that we should express in Christian prayer our turning to the God who has revealed Himself to us. As God assumed a body and entered the time and space of this world, so it is appropriate at least in the communal liturgical prayer that our speaking to God should be “incarnational” i.e. it should be Christological, turned through the incarnate Word to the triune God. Ratzinger says that the cosmic symbol of the rising sun expresses the universality of God above all particular places and yet maintains the concreteness of divine revelation. In his book The Feast of Faith Ratzinger explains that there is only one inner direction of the Eucharist, namely from Christ in the Holy Spirit to the Father. The only question is how this can be best expressed in liturgical form.
3. 3. 4. Ad orientem and the sign of the Cross
Facing the east also means facing the cross. The cross adds to the symbolism of the east. The cross embodies in itself the whole theology of the east. Orientation in Eucharistic liturgy is not just a waiting turned to the east, rather it is the movement towards the east. Here Bouyer sees the whole liturgical celebration as a movement towards the east.
Jungmann here reminds the comment of Erik Peterson who stated that the eastward position of prayer makes the cosmos a sign of Christ and thus defines the cosmos as the locus of prayer. It was underlined very early by the custom of placing a Cross on the east wall of Christian meeting houses. First this was seen as a sign of the returning Christ. Later it became more and more a reminder of the Lord’s historical passion and finally the eschatological idea disappeared almost entirely from the image of the Cross.
About the question of practical order Ratzinger gives a solution from the insights of Erik Peterson. For Peterson facing east was linked with the ‘sign of the Son of Man’ which is the Cross. It announces the Lord’s second coming. Because of this from the very early period the east was linked with the sign of the Cross. Peterson has shown the close connection of eastward prayer and the Cross, which is evident for the post-Constantinian period at the latest. Among Christians it became a general custom to mark the direction of prayer with a Cross on the eastern wall in the apse of basilicas as well as in the private rooms of monks and solitaries.
It is important that where a direct common turning toward the east is not possible, the Cross can serve as the interior “east” of faith. It should stand in the middle of the altar and be the common point of focus for both priest and praying community. It is clear that the Lord is the point of reference and He is the rising sun of history. So, there is a Cross of passion which represents the suffering Lord and a Cross of triumph which expresses the idea of the Second coming and guides our eyes toward it.
Ratzinger points out that our Protestant brethren have achieved a real balance between the relationship of the community to its leader and their common relationship to the Cross. Their whole basic approach laid great weight on the community character of worship and the interplay of leader and Congregation. It is to be noted that when it is a question of praying together, Protestants, people and leader, together turn to the image of the crucified. Ratzinger reminds that when we pray it is not necessary and even not appropriate to look at one another.
The altar Cross is viewed as a relic of the ancient eastward orientation. It maintained the ancient tradition of praying to the Lord who is to come under the sign of the Cross. This tradition had strong association with the cosmic symbol of the “east”. So with regard to the eastward facing position of the celebration, one cannot say that it is toward the altar or toward the holy of holies. But it can be said that the Mass was celebrated facing the image of Cross which embodied in itself the whole theology of the Oriens. It is important to note that in the early Church not only the heaven but also the cross was depicted in the apse or at least placed at a high location in the apse. Everyone was supposed to look at the cross when they prayed.
3. 3. 5. Ad orientem: Eschatological Orientation
This ancient Christian liturgical posture was traditionally interpreted as a bodily expression of the assembly’s eschatological expectation. To face east was to face Christ who is the oriens. This idea found its way into the Christian liturgy as the faithful turned towards the east in prayer as an expression of eschatological expectation. Christ himself is the rising sun whose dawn marks the consummation of all things in a restoration of paradise. Liturgically speaking it is the eschatological orientation of the assembly rather than their literal geographical orientation which is paramount. It should be noted that only at a later date did the direction of eschatological orientation come to coincide with the direction of the tabernacle. Therefore although the reserved Eucharist has profound eschatological significance, celebration ad orientem does not depend on the location of the tabernacle.
The Roman Congregation for Divine Worship states that in the Mass the Second Coming of the Lord in glory is anticipated sacramentally. When she celebrates the sacrament of her redemption the Church is necessarily oriented towards the Lord; in communion with him and through his mediation she addresses her prayers and offerings to the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit. The arrangement of the altar where both the celebrant and the faithful face eastward brings to light the ‘parousial’ character of the Eucharist. The Congregation says that only during the dialogue parts of the Mass the priest addresses himself to the people. Apart from this he prays to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit.
Before his election to papacy, Cardinal Ratzinger spoke of the liturgical practice of turning to the east as a Conversi ad Dominum, an existential turning towards the Lord less related to Israel’s geography than to the ancient Christian symbolism of the rising sun, an eschatological image of the risen Christ who is to come. When one turns to the east, both priest and faithful are turning towards the Jesus of the Second coming. It is not a return to the past but a bold march forward to eternity.
3. 3. 6. Ad Orientem and the Cosmic Symbolism of the Liturgy
It is very clear that the old eastward facing direction lay not in its orientation to the tabernacle. But its original meaning is as Joseph. A. Jungmann commented the priest and people together facing the same way in a common act of Trinitarian worship. Here priest and people were united in facing eastward and thus a cosmic symbolism was drawn into the community celebration. It is a fact that the true location and the true context of the Eucharistic celebration is the whole cosmos. “Facing east” makes this cosmic dimension of the Eucharist present through liturgical gesture. It is because of the rising sun, the east was naturally both a symbol of the Resurrection and a presentation of the hope of the parousia. When the priest and people together face the same way, we see a cosmic orientation and also an interpretation of the Eucharist in terms of resurrection and Trinitarian theology. It is also an interpretation in terms of parousia i.e. a theology of hope.
It is a fact that today we are in the midst of a crisis in the anthropocentric view of the world. This crisis pervades the whole of man’s self made world. Here it is very important to rediscover the significance of creation. We should remember that liturgy involves the cosmos or Christian liturgy and it is thus the cosmic liturgy. In it we pray and sing in concert with everything “in heaven and earth and under the earth” (Phil 2, 10). Here we join in with the praise rendered by the sun and the stars. It is also to be noted that the Churches are not designed merely with human utility in mind. But they stand in the cosmos and invite the sun to be a sign of the praise of God and a sign of the mystery of Christ for the assembled community. A rediscovery of the value of the Church building’s eastward orientation would help to recover a spirituality which embraces the dimension of creation.
Ratzinger believes that a rediscovery of something essential in which Christian liturgy expresses its permanent orientation is very important. There are authors like Haussling who thinks that turning to the east i.e. toward the rising sun is something that nowadays we cannot bring into the liturgy. Ratzinger questions this by asking whether we are not interested in the cosmos any more. He asks that whether it is not important today to pray with the whole of creation. He says that it is important precisely today to find room for the dimension of the future, for hope in the Lord who is to come again and the dynamism of the new creation as an essential form of the liturgy.
Ratzinger is of the opinion that by means of this liturgical gesture the true location and the true context of the Eucharist are opened up namely the whole cosmos. The orientation of prayer reaches beyond the visible altar towards eschatological fulfillment which is anticipated in the celebration of the Eucharist. The priest who faces the same direction with the faithful leads the people of God on their way towards meeting the Lord who is to come again. This movement towards the Lord who is the rising sun of history has found its sublime artistic expression in the sanctuaries of the first millennium where representations of the Cross or of the glorified Christ mark the goal of the assembly’s earthly pilgrimage. The eschatological character of the Eucharist is kept alive by this looking out for the Lord. Here it is very important to remind that the celebration of the sacrament is a participation in the heavenly liturgy and a pledge of future glory in the presence of the living God. It is this Trinitarian dynamism which gives the Eucharist its greatness and saves the individual community from closing into itself and opens it towards the assembly of the saints in the heavenly city.
The eastward facing position for prayer and liturgical celebration makes the cosmos a sign of Christ and thus defines the cosmos as the locus of prayer. It was underlined by the primitive Christian tradition of placing a cross on the east-wall of Christian meeting houses and later on, on the altar.The thought of Cardinal Christoph Schonborn is important in this context. He says that the whole liturgy is celebrated facing the bridegroom. The faithful who anticipate the Lord’s Second coming are like the virgins in the Gospel parable. Schonborn emphasizes that signs and gestures such as the common direction of liturgical prayer are vital for incarnating the faith. The common prayer of priest and faithful ad orientem connects the cosmic orientation with faith in the Resurrection of Christ and with His parousia in glory.
Ratzinger sees that the cosmic nature of the liturgy represents something beyond a simple meeting of a larger or smaller circle of human beings. The liturgy is celebrated within the vastness of the cosmos and thus it embraces creation and history at the same time. Here it is important that the Redeemer to whom we pray is also the Creator and so there always remains in the liturgy love for creation and responsibility toward it. This is what was intended in the orientation of prayer.
3. 3. 7. Ad Orientem and the Sacrificial Character of the Holy Mass
There are authors who are of the view that in the early Church Mass versus populum were celebrated. For them Mass versus populum was not an innovation, but a restoration. But there are authors who point out that neither in the east nor in the west there ever a practice of celebrating while facing the people. Though Martin Luther was the first who recommended it, he never practiced it so as not to scandalize the people.  Later his disciple Martin Bucer introduced it in Strassburg. Cranmer published in 1552 a new edition of the Book of Common Prayer in which he removed all references to the Real presence, it was insisted that communion is to be received in the hands, altars are replaced by tables, the priest has to stand at the north side of the table in view of the people to avoid any appearance of a sacerdotal posture. Douglas Harrison who was an Anglican Dean of Bristol said: “So Mass, priest and altar are replaced by Lord’s Supper, minister and Holy Table and the westward replaces the eastward position of the celebrant”. Cranmer explains that the use of an altar is to make sacrifice upon it whereas the use of a table is to serve men to eat upon. Here the abandonment of the eastward position and the adoption of a table in place of an altar signified the rejection of the Eucharist as a sacrifice.
About the versus populum celebration Gamber observes that it is the result of the newly created understanding of the nature of the Mass and the Eucharist which differs markedly from the traditional one. It is a fact that the altar or the Holy Table is in fact a sacrificial altar, an altar on which to offer the holy sacrifice. In the current era we see efforts to make the altar into a meal table. Since the pagan times we see that the priest faced the image of the god in the temple’s inner sanctuary in order to offer sacrifice to god. This basic approach was quite similar to what occurred in the Temple of Jerusalem. Here the priest stood before the “Table of the Lord” in order to offer the animal sacrifice and faced the inner temple where the Ark of the Covenant was kept in the Holy of Holies (Ref: Mal 1, 12; Ps 16, 17).
It is clear that a sacrifice is offered inside or in front of a sacred place. This basic concept applies to all religions. The liturgy is raised above the people. Throughout the history people turned the direction of the one for whom the sacrifice was intended. They did not turn in the direction of their fellowmen. Origen, in his explanations of the book of Numbers (10, 2) explains that the person who stands before the altar indicates through his position that he is engaged in priestly functions.
Jungmann observes that the patristic evidence for the eastward position of the celebrant is strongest where the sacrificial understanding of the Eucharist was clearly developed at an early stage, particularly in Syria. Here the basic principle is that the celebrant at the altar should take a God-ward stance at prayer and face the same way as the people expresses the character of the Mass as an offering to God. In early times there was the agape, a community meal of charity, and the Eucharistic celebration which first followed the agape and later preceded it. During the agape people were sitting. Once the number of faithful increased, several tables were set up, the clergy sat at one table, men and women separately at other tables. But for the Eucharist people stood behind the priest at the altar, turning towards the east as it is specified in the Didascalia Apostolorum. Later the agape was discontinued and the tables disappeared.
There are some Catholic theologians who deny the nature of the Mass as the offering of a sacrifice and instead they take the concept of the communal meal as important during the celebration of the Mass. The deciding issue concerning the position of the priest at the altar is the nature of the Mass as a sacrificial offering. The person who is doing the offering is facing the one who is receiving the offering. Thus, he stands before the altar, facing the Lord. Gamber mentions here that nowadays the emphasis of the communal meal in versus populum celebration is not met. It is because in the new arrangement the “meal leader” positioned at the table by him. The other “meal participants” are situated in the nave or in the auditorium which is not directly connected to the “meal table”. Gamber mentions about a practice which is seen in small groups where all participants stand around the altar in a circle. This destroys the meaning of the Mass as a sacrificial offering.
3. 4. AD ORIENTEM DIRECTION: EVOLUTION OF ITS MEANING
It is very important that the Christians gave a radically new meaning to the liturgical gesture of ad orientem. As we have seen in the history of religions, the practice of facing east in prayer is based on the solar symbolism. But in the Christian tradition the insistence on facing east in prayer is founded upon the concern of turning towards the Lord. When compared to the practice of non-Christian religions, Christian practice was not centered on a strictly cultic concern towards the geographical east. It is not at all a question of attributing sacredness to a particular part of the space. Here east symbolizes the space of the Lord and turning towards the east had the central concern of turning towards the Lord. Here the congregation together with the priest turned towards one direction is important. Even if it was not the geographical east, it is viewed as the symbolic east.
Emminghaus points out that when people pray inside a temple, they should turn to the image of the god and thus to the Holy of Holies. Even in the ordinary conversations we turn face of our body to the other. We can also see the phrases used by the Old Testament such as “turn your face” or “lift up your hands to the holy place” (Ps 134, 2) with reference to individuals praying. When the believer found himself far from the sanctuary or sojourning in a foreign country or living in a Diaspora, he turned during the time of prayer to the sanctuary and did so not only with the interior desire of the heart but even in the exterior position and posture he adopted.
There are various opinions regarding the ad orientem position of the celebrant in the Eucharistic celebration. Cardinal Ratzinger, in his book The Feast of the Faith critically evaluates the different arguments concerning the ad orientem position. He says that the eastward facing position of the celebrant in the old Mass was never intended as a celebration toward the holy of holies nor can it really be described as facing the altar. It would be contrary to all theological reason since the Lord is present in the Eucharistic gifts during the Mass in the same way as He is in the gifts of the tabernacle which come from the Mass. So it is very important that there is only inner direction of the Eucharist, namely from Christ in the Holy Spirit to the Father. The only question is how this can be best expressed in the liturgical form.
Fr. Geo Thadikatt makes it clear that it is very important to note that a position has its meaning within the tradition of the Church. The communitarian dimension of the Eucharistic celebration expressed in versus populum position cannot adequately substitute the Trinitarian and eschatological meaning of the eastward position of the celebrant. The pilgrim nature of the Church, its eschatological and cosmic dimensions etc. are emphasized in the celebration. The role of the celebrant is in leading the people of God, turning to God in the same direction with them. Regarding Indianization too facing the east has a great value. In Indian religions, all the prayers and offerings in the temples and public places of worship are done towards the east or the Holy of Holies and not towards the people.
Today all the Orthodox Churches and many Lutherans and Anglicans celebrate turning towards the east. Jungmann observes that the eastern Churches were always faithful to their traditions. The different oriental rites have never countenanced the practice of celebrating the liturgy facing the people. These rites have generally preserved the primitive, traditional practices of the Church most faithfully and because they have retained to this day a very active and close participation of the laity.
Ratzinger comments that the idea that the priest and the people should look at each other in prayer emerged only in modern Christianity, and is completely foreign to ancient Christianity. Priest and people certainly do not pray to each other, but to the same Lord. So in prayer they look in the same direction. It is either toward the east as the cosmic symbol of the Lord who is to come or where this is not possible toward an image of Christ in the apse, toward a cross or simply toward the sky as the Lord did in his priestly prayer the evening before his passion (Jn 17, 1).
3. 4. 1. From the Earthly Jerusalem to the Heavenly Jerusalem
It is a fact that from very early times it was a custom that the Christians all over the world turned in prayer towards the rising sun i.e. towards the geographical east. In private and in liturgical prayer Christians turned no longer towards the earthly Jerusalem but towards the new heavenly Jerusalem. They firmly believed that when the Lord comes again in glory to judge the world, he would gather his elect to make up this heavenly city. The rising sun was considered an approximate expression of this eschatological hope. The Sun as the powerful source of energy for the sustenance of the universe had a driving force for all primitive religions irrespective of their background and origins. When Christ was identified with ‘Light’ in the Bible this idea was further strengthened. Christ called Himself the “light of the world” (Jn 8, 12) and He is the one to give light to those who sit in darkness (Lk 1, 79). These ideas made the early Christians to develop a sense of fearful reverence towards the east. It is to be noted that Christians adopted the direction of sunrise and reinterpreted its meaning in the light of the Christian message. F. A. Regan observes that a suitable, single example of the pagan influence may be had from of an investigation of the Christian custom of turning toward the east, the land of the rising sun, while offering their prayers…. In the transition from the observance of the Sabbath to the celebration of the Lord’s day the primitive Christians not only substituted the first day of week for the seventh, but they went even further and changed the traditional Jewish practice of facing toward Jerusalem during their daily period of prayer. The Christians are indebted to the pre-Christian religions for the practice of ad orientem. It was a reaction against the Jewish practice of praying in the direction of Jerusalem and building their synagogues oriented towards the holy city. Here we see that they gave a radical new meaning to the liturgical gesture. Though in the history of religions the practice of ad orientem is based on the solar symbolism, in the Christian tradition the insistence on ad orientem is founded upon the concern of turning towards the Lord. Here the east symbolized the heavenly Jerusalem, in contrast with the earthly (Jewish) one. Once adopted, this practice was invested with inspiring Christian symbolism.
The Christian practice of facing east in prayer has a rich meaning of cosmic, ecclesial, eschatological and sacrificial dimensions. Cardinal Ratzinger observes that despite all the variations in practice that have taken place far into the second millennium, praying toward the east which is the tradition that goes back to the beginning, has remained clear for the whole of Christendom. It is a fundamental expression of the Christian synthesis of cosmos and history. It is being rooted in the once-for-all events of salvation history while going out to meet the Lord who is to come again. Insisting on the solar worship the pre-Christian religions revered the east as the abode of God. The Jewish and Christian attitude towards the symbolism of east was the result of the adaptation of the attitude originating from the solar worship. However it is to be noted that neither Jews nor Christians took to the solar worship. For them east is the symbolic abode of the true God.
3. 4. 2. From Literal East to the Liturgical East
The most of the eastern Churches still seem to retain the physical orientation to the east to a great extent. But in the western Churches the symbol of the ‘East’ came to be more symbolic and less literal. Instead of the emphasis on turning towards the east we can see that a notion of “liturgical east” was developed. It was a more symbolic conception of priest and faithful turning towards the Lord. Here they together look toward the east, toward the resurrection and second coming and together joined in the offering of sacrifice and worship to God the Father.
It is clear here that though facing east in the Eucharist has had a profound significance in the Christian orientation, the intrinsic meaning of this liturgical gesture transcends the mere turning towards one of the cardinal points. The concept of ‘liturgical orientation’ in an ideal sense can even be disconnected from its strict geographical context. According to Jungmann what is at stake here is the common direction of priest and people in liturgical prayer.
3. 4. 3. Ad Orientem: Conversation and Turns Toward the Lord
According to Stefan Heid to pray is to converse with God. It would be impolite not to be looking at someone with whom we are conversing. Thus the act of looking up when we pray is an expression of the whole creation theology of the Old and New Testaments. In the early Church the priests and the faithful could look up to the apse when they prayed i.e. seeing into heaven. The gaze of the faithful was not focused on the altar and the celebrant, but rather overhead. The Church building itself always had to be “oriented” to the east at this graphically depicted heavenly art. The actual geographical orientation toward the east was of secondary importance. In the ad orientem worship both the priest and the people turn together towards the east, marked by the apse of the Church. Here the priest becomes the head of a procession filling the nave of the Church, symbolically moving towards eternity- the east from which Christ would rise like the sun on Judgment day. This arrangement is certainly well established in the Churches of Middle ages, the Renaissance, the Counter- Reformation and post- Tridentine eras.
The Christians prayed facing east towards the New Jerusalem in contrast with Jewish direction of worship towards Jerusalem temple. The Christians were awaiting and spiritually journeying towards the New Jerusalem. Facing west was to face the evil of this world. This is explicit in the early baptismal liturgies described by St. Ambrose and St. Cyril of Jerusalem. Here we see that the one about to be baptized first faced to the west to renounce Satan and all his works and then turned around to face east to profess faith in Christ.
The commentaries of Qatraya and Anonymous author show that the eastern space of the Church i.e. sanctuary is heaven. In the liturgy, we can see that there takes place a number of movements between the sanctuary and the haykla. The movements from the sanctuary towards the haykla or the movements from east to west are God’s movements towards creation, especially to men. On the other hand, the movements from haykla to sanctuary or the movements from west to east are our movements towards God. It may be called the journey into heaven. The eastward position in liturgy is the typical attitude that every one of the faithful should have in the liturgy, namely the attainment of the heavenly life. By facing the east all the faithful look beyond the altar toward the rising sun as toward the symbol of sol Justitiae they are expecting. As far as the liturgical actions are concerned, the most dynamic activity of the earthly assembly is the eastward movement expressed all throughout the liturgy. In the human divine encounter, orientation becomes the most dynamic human attitude.
It is a very important fact that the symbolic interpretation of the sacred space in the East Syrian Qurbana aims at the fruitful participation in the Qurbana. The space of the Qurbana is understood by all the commentators as the meeting place of heaven and earth. The entry into this new space marks the entry of the space-time reality into the heavenly reality. The persons, actions and prayers of the liturgy cannot be separated from the space allotted to each of them. A proper understanding of the space of the East Syrian Qurbana is closely related to the study of the persons, actions and prayers of the liturgy.
3. 5. AD ORIENTEM WORSHIP: ITS LOSS OF MEANING IN HISTORY
Orientation at prayer i.e. the physical turning toward the east while praying seems rather meaningless for many today. But it is a fact that this practice exercised a very important influence on the Christian liturgy from an early date. In particular, it determined the layout of Church buildings from the third century on and later the position taken by the celebrant during the Eucharistic liturgy. It is a fact that until quite recently it was almost a fixed rule that a Church should face east i.e. that a separate choir area should be at the east end of the building. It is to be noted that only serious reasons having to do with the layout of the city itself or the nature of the terrain made a departure from this principle acceptable. In antiquity, people regarded the principle as very important and even in everyday life, it was thought essential that the main streets of a city should run north-south and east-west.
It is a fact that the history of the celebration versus populum in the proper sense began in the late middle ages and the Renaissance when the Christian principle of praying towards the east was little understood and began to fade away. De Blaauw shows how misconceptions about early Roman Church architecture could arise when the principle of orientation was no longer understood. The idea that the priest should face the people during the celebration of Mass only gained currency in the Catholic Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. The rationalist ‘Zeitgeist’ also affected liturgical practice and thought. Thus the Christian worship was supposed to be useful for the moral edification of the individual and for the building of society. This was at the expense of its latreutic and mystical nature. Here we see therefore the espousal of the aesthetic ideal of ‘noble simplicity’ and the demand for the rites to be simplified and intelligible. These tendencies coincided with various currents in Catholicism that endorsed similar ideas such as Jansenism and Josephism. However it would seem that the call for Mass facing the people did not come into practice till that time. It is a fact that the cosmological orientation and its attendant eschatological symbolism have gradually been lost in the Latin Church. From the sixteenth century it was no longer the general custom in the west to align Churches and altars along the east-west axis.
Ratzinger points out that since the nineteenth century the awareness of the liturgy’s cosmic orientation and the significance of the image of the Cross as a point of reference for the Christian liturgy had been lost. As a result the ancient eastward orientation of the celebration became meaningless. People began to speak that the priest celebrates facing the wall or imagined that he was celebrating towards the tabernacle. This misunderstanding alone can explain the sweeping triumph of the new celebration facing the people, a change which has taken place with amazing unanimity and speed, without any mandate.
Later we see that in the twentieth century the pioneers of the Liturgical movement had some motives to promote the celebration of Mass versus populum. Their one motive was to perceive the Eucharist as a sacred banquet, which was thought had been lost sight of. They saw the versus populum celebration of Mass as an adequate way of repairing this loss. Theologians like Jungmann already in 1967 made it clear that the common orientation in prayer is a real symbol of the movement towards God. Here the priest who along with the faithful turns towards the transcendent God who is to come.
3. 5. 1. The Notion of the Community as a Closed Circle
It is a fact that facing east during the celebration is a symbol of the procession towards the heavenly east. But it is of little significance for many priests who emphasize instead the mutual interaction of the celebrant and the people. Here the liturgical celebration is limited to an affair of the community on earth. Thus the face to face position of priest and people which is contrast to the ad orientem position expresses a symbolism of its own and suggests a closed circle. The ideal of the Christian Church is not a circular building with altar, ambo, and sedilia in the centre. The samples of this type are hardly found before the second half of the twentieth century is not mere accident. The celebration versus populum tends to diminish the transcendent dimension of the Eucharist to such an extent that it generates the notion of a closed society. Cardinal Ratzinger opines that when the priest and people face each other in a dialogue relationship, it expresses a community character of the Eucharistic celebration. It expresses one aspect of the Eucharist. But the danger is that it can make the congregation into a closed circle which is no longer aware of the explosive Trinitarian dynamism which gives the Eucharist its greatness. Here the danger is that the congregation can become complacent and entertain a misconceived autonomy. It disconnects itself from the other assemblies of the faithful and from the invisible assembly of the saints in heaven. As a result the community would just be in dialogue with itself. What we see here is the eclipse of transcendence. History shows that half a century ago Henri de Lubac warned Christians to be on guard against the present tendency to absorb God into the human community. So it is very important that the priest does not celebrate the Eucharist towards the people but the entire partnership celebrates turned to God through Jesus Christ. Also the arrangements in liturgy remind the worshiper that God’s house is a house of prayer and spiritual sacrifice and not of mere instructions.
Peter. L. Berger who is a Protestant sociologist of religion comments that this new position makes clear that the sacred being that is worshipped exists not outside the gathered community but rather inside it. It is a powerful symbolic reversal. Here Berger points out about the community which worships itself. From a biblical point of view it is a form of idolatry. The recent liturgical changes emphasizes on a gathering of people which enjoy the experience of community. This in turn conveys the impression that nothing extraordinary is happening. Berger further comments that all true worship is a difficult attempt to reach out for transcendence. This reaching out must be symbolized. There is room for communal aspect but it should be remembered that the community itself is not the object of the exercise; it is the subject. As Ratzinger, Berger too emphasizes that the common direction of prayer stands for the Trinitarian and eschatological dynamism of the Christian liturgy.
There is another argument that the actions of the celebrant should be made visible to the congregation and hence require the arrangement of the altar toward the people. But it is a fact that the visibility of the priest’s actions at the altar was of hardly any interest to Christians in the first millennium. Looking at the celebrant was not considered a requirement for real participation in liturgical prayer. Here the important principle was not one of visibility but of audibility. There is another argument that the celebration versus populum is indispensable for the dialogue between celebrant and congregation. It is a fact that versus populum position makes sense for those parts of the Mass where priest and people are in dialogue i.e. in the Liturgy of the Word. But the supreme principle of Christian worship is the dialogue between the people of God as a whole (including the celebrant) and God, to whom their prayer is addressed. If this principle is not manifested in the shape of the liturgy, the Eucharist appears like a catechetical instruction. It is to be noted that the synagogue service which is one of the roots of Christian worship was not purely didactic. But it had a ritual and sacramental dimension which was shown in turning for prayer towards the Torah shrine and thus to the Holy of Holies in the Temple. The face to face position of priest and people is fitting for catechesis but not for the celebration of the Eucharist.
About the celebration versus populum the comment of M. Metzger carries special attention. He says that the celebration versus populum does not show the true aspect of the Church and of her ministry. He reminds that the phrase ‘facing the people’ and ‘back to the people’ exclude the one to whom all prayer is directed, namely God. The priest does not celebrate the Eucharist ‘facing the people’ rather the whole Congregation celebrates facing God through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit. This dialogue between God and His whole people is represented most appropriately in the celebration versus orientem.
Therefore our faith holds that the central factor of the Holy Mass is not that a community is brought together and that we experience a sense of community; but the liturgical worship of God. Here the focus must forever be on God, not man. It means that everyone turns toward God in prayer rather than the priest faces the people. Gamber makes it clear that from this insight we must draw the necessary conclusion and admit that the celebration versus populum is in fact an error. In other words the celebration versus populum is a turning towards man and away from God.
Fr. Hugh makes an observation that Mass is not about us, here our object and focus is God. There are liturgists who proclaim that “Liturgy is the celebration of the community”. We celebrate the glory of God and God’s love for us in Christ, and not ourselves. Self celebration is an insidious form of narcissism which breeds self satisfaction. If we are satisfied with ourselves, if we are just fine to the point that we can celebrate ourselves, what need is there for repentance, ongoing conversion and God’s grace? The most potent symbol of such a tendency is found in standing around the altar in a circle- everyone faces each other, and the circle is in effect an enclosure which excludes everyone outside the circle. The dynamics of this, the message it conveys, can hardly be Christian. When the priest and people face east and the altar from one side then the focus can more clearly and more easily be placed on God.
In 2009 Bishop Slattery who is the Bishop of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the USA restored Mass facing east in his cathedral. About this he told that versus populum position of the celebrant had a number of unforeseen and largely negative effects. First of all it was a serious rupture with the Church’s ancient tradition. Secondly it can give the appearance that the priest and people were engaged in a conversation about God, rather than the worship of God. Thirdly it places an inordinate importance on the personality of the celebrant by placing him on a kind of liturgical stage. By facing in the same direction the posture of the celebrant and the congregation make explicit the fact that we journey together to God. Here he recognizes that our actions and posture can either help or hinder the meaning of our words. When we talk to a person we face that person. So too in the liturgy it would make things clearer and more logical if the priest faced the people when he is talking to them, and faced God when he is addressing God on behalf of the people.
3. 5. 2. Modern Man and the Loss of Mystery Aspect in Liturgy
There is another argument that the modern man cannot expect an appreciation for the practice of facing east during prayer. The rising sun has no longer the symbolic significance it had for the man of antiquity. It is also a fact that a person who lives in a Mediterranean climate can experience the life giving effect of the sun much more intensely than the northern European. For today’s Christian the concept of the “Eucharistic community around the table” has much greater significance. Gamber gives a response for it by telling that even today Muslims are still facing Mecca and Jews continue to pray towards Jerusalem. Thus Gamber says that the modern man should understand the reason why the priest and the faithful should both be facing in the same direction. He points out that it is a timeless practice and it makes good sense even in our day and age.
Max Thurian presents the deficiencies of the contemporary liturgical life which he published in Notitiae which is the organ of the Congregation for Divine Worship. They are indifference towards the worship, boredom, lack of vitality and participation. Thurian says that the basic problem is the fact that the celebration of the liturgy is often devoid of its character as mystery. The symbols and images used in the liturgical tradition of the Church convey a sense of the Eucharist as an act of thanksgiving, a consecration, a memorial etc. He suggests that the face to face dialogue of the Liturgy of the Word and the contemplative orientation of the Liturgy of the Eucharist must always be respected. The fact is that the celebrants and the faithful constantly face each other closes the liturgy in itself. Here we see the lack of adoration, contemplation and silence. On the other hand in a sound celebration we see the orientation of everyone towards the Lord and the adoration of his presence signified in the symbols and realized by the sacrament.
The current ambiguity concerning the role of the priest and the reduction of the liturgy to its “horizontal” dimension has given rise to an ideological interpretation of versus populum celebration. This false interpretation fosters an exaggerated reaction which focuses on the priest that the distinction between ministerial and baptismal priesthoods risks becoming a separation which could place the laity outside the sacred action. These errors arise from an impoverished spirituality, not from the position of the priest during the Mass. The priest who stands at the altar cannot cause, prevent or correct these errors. Here a great deal of patient catechesis is needed.
In a Symposium which was held in 2000 at Vatican, Tena Garriga presents on a paper on the survey of liturgical life in the Catholic Church where he observes that there is a widespread desacralization and secularization of the liturgy which go with a purely horizontal vision of Christian life and have their roots in a deficient Christology. It is a fact that the efforts to give the liturgy a more communal character make it more centered on the celebrating priest. He also states that the intelligibility is not an absolute principle in the liturgy. Hans Urs von Balthasar observes that an element that has crept into the liturgy since the (falsely interpreted) Council was the joviality and familiarity of the celebrant with the congregation. However, people come for prayer and not for a cozy encounter. Because of this misinterpretation one gets the impression that the post-conciliar liturgy has become more clerical than it was in the days when the priest functioned as mere servant of the mystery being celebrated. Before and after the liturgy personal contact is entirely in place. But during the celebration everyone’s attention should be directed to the one Lord.
3. 5. 3. Benedictine Arrangement: To Preserve the Ad Orientem Meaning
It is noteworthy that in the context of the celebration of the modern Roman Rite, Pope Benedict XVI has introduced a more traditional arrangement of the candles and crucifix upon the altar namely the big six with the cross in the middle. This is known as Benedictine arrangement. The reason is that it greatly helps the celebrant and the faithful alike to perceive and thus to reverence the greatness of the altar of sacrifice and to gaze Jesus Christ who stand at the very center of the liturgical action. According to Peter Kwasniwwski to shift the center of gravity from a minister to the solid and silent sacred altar and the Lord it represents and bears upon itself is a long fixation and the cult of personality that entered into the Catholic Church with the abandonment of worship ad orientem. It is regarded as an antidote for the dreadful spirit of horizontal community. Thus it is pointed out that wherever the priest is still following the novel custom of facing the people (novel because it breaks with almost 2000 years of Christian practice) the Benedictine arrangement is absolute necessary in order to preserve the meaning of the eastward orientation. This along with catechesis and education will pave the way slowly towards a gradual re- orientation of the liturgy and will prepare us to turn both physically and spiritually back to the east. Once we realize that we are meant to gaze upon the same Christ rather than on the talking head of the priest, the ancient custom of the eastward position will not seem so alien.
Asserting the importance of ad orientem position of both priest and people Ratzinger says: “Moving the altar cross to the side to give an uninterrupted view of the priest is something I regard as one of the truly absurd phenomena of recent decades. Is the cross disruptive during Mass? Is the priest more important than our Lord?” He opines that it is high time to reestablish in an obvious visible way the primacy and centrality of Jesus Christ in the celebration of His Holy sacrifice and the easiest and simplest way to do this is to put the altar cross right back where it belongs, in the very front and center of everything.
3. 5. 4. The Oxford Movement: An Attempt to Restore the Ad Orientem Meaning
It is important to note that Alf Hardelin shows that for the Oxford movement the eastward position was a crucial element in their efforts to restore the Catholic heritage to the Church of England because it was taken to express the sacrificial character of the Eucharist and constitute liturgical worship as a God-ward act. The common direction of the liturgical prayer had an importance in the Tractarians’ campaign against the rationalism of contemporary Anglican theology. From their earlier years the Tractarians worked with great vigor for the restoration of the eastward position. For the Tractarians the liturgical gesture of facing the east is intrinsically related to doctrine and a basic theological perspective. The eastward position was considered certainly the key sign for understanding the Eucharistic sacrifice as a God-ward act. It was a central element in the Tractarians’ fight against the rationalism then prevalent in Anglican theology. The Tractarians’ emphasized on prayer facing east because they opposed the rationalist theology of their age. It is a fact that the introduction of the celebration versus populum into Anglican Churches was met with profound uncertainties. According to John Macquarrie the ‘excessive subjectivism’ of our time is a serious threat for theology and worship. This subjective attitude is conveyed by the newly adopted position of the celebrant facing the people at Eucharist. He says that this subjectivism is at the cost of the objective dimension of the Eucharist which is symbolized “when priest and people together are directing themselves to God who is always ahead of us and always calling us to go out beyond ourselves into the venture of faith.
Andreas Odenthal suggests that the category of sacrifice is not given its due place in the Catholic Church’s life today and this serious deficit is linked to the overwhelming practice of Mass being celebrated facing the people which diminishes the perception of the Eucharist as a sacrifice. Thomas Witt observes that there is an obvious connection between the common direction of liturgical prayer and the Eucharist as the sacrifice of the Church.
It is a fact that the understanding of the Mass as the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Church has diminished considerably, if not faded away among the faithful. The emphasis on the meal aspect of the Eucharist that complemented the celebrant priest’s turning towards the people has been overdone and has fallen short of the Eucharist as a visible sacrifice. The teachings of the Church always emphasized that the sacrificial and meal aspects of the Eucharist cannot be isolated from each other. It is very important that the sacrificial character of the Eucharist must find an adequate expression in the actual rite. It is a fact that not even the best mystagogical catechesis can make up for the decline in the understanding of the Mass among the Catholics, if the liturgical celebration sends out signs that are contrary to the meaning of the Mass. According to Stefan Heid after all the Christian faith owes to the incarnation. It has a much closer and more conscious relationship to the body than the other religions. Prayer is not mere interiority, but must incarnate itself in particular prayer postures.
This chapter examined so far the origin, history, architectural influence and characteristics of the ad orientem direction. As it is clear from the history this age old custom was very precious for most of the Churches. At the same time we can see an evolution of meaning in the ad orientem direction. For example the concept of geographical east has paved the way for the concept of liturgical east. Turning towards the east is explained as turning to the Lord. The common direction of both the priest and people was narrated by many theologians. Behind all these attempts we can see the age old principle of the eastward direction. Today many theologians and authors in both east and west try to explicate the importance of the ad orientem direction of priest and people. There are many parishes in the west which rearrange the altars in order to celebrate the ad orientem Mass. The teachings of the Church and the writings of the Fathers always put forward the meaning and importance of the ad orientem position.
We have been discussing the various positions of the celebrant during the Eucharistic celebration. We examined the concept of versus populum which is prevalent in the western Church and its history and theology in the first and second chapters. The third chapter is an attempt to expose the origin and development and theological significance of the practice of ad orientem. We could observe that early Church Fathers unanimously promoted the practice of ad orientem.
It is evident that versus populum was not an official position envisaged by the early Church. It was only a later development which may be associated with the Reformation in 16th and the following centuries until the period of liturgical movement in the western Church that reached its climax at the beginning of the twentieth century. We should also bear in mind that a good number of faithful in the Catholic Church still believe that the II Vatican Council put an end to the practice of ad orientem celebration and instead introduced versus populum celebration. For the ordinary people celebration versus populum and the introduction of local languages instead of classical Latin language are the direct effects of the II Vatican Council. But the history and the documents of the Church do not show that II Vatican Council ever took such a decision. There are also people who interpret the Council, telling that the Council teachings prompt and encourage versus populum celebration and put forward a new dimension in theology.
As it was stated the Oriental Churches consider the ad orientem position as taken for granted. A good number of both Catholic and non-Catholic Churches still follow the practice of ad orientem. In this regard there are exceptions among the Oriental Churches. It is mainly because of the influence of the western Church. The term ‘versus populum’ often promotes the building of a community. But it should bear in mind that the goal of Eucharistic celebration is neither building up of a community nor revealing the performances of the celebrant. There are also many who give prominence to the meal aspect of the liturgy along the line of the Protestant theology. There are authors who argue that the versus populum celebration destroy the sacrificial character of the Holy Mass. The assembly is becoming a closed circle here.
Since the question of the orientation of the celebrant during the Eucharistic celebration is a burning issue in the Syro Malabar Church as well as in the Latin Church, there often appears a term namely ‘Latin influence’ or ‘Latinization’. In other words many prefer the above terms either to support the practice of versus populum or to negate it. But this term should be examined. It is because neither in the tradition of the Latin Church or in the documents of the II Vatican Council we can find the promotion of the practice of versus populum. Further, we see the great theologians in the Latin Church such as Augustine and Aquinas strongly promote the ad orientem celebration. Augustine always refers to the turning to the east in prayer at the end of his homilies. He uses a set formula namely Conversi ad Dominum which means turn to face the Lord. So the remark that versus populum celebration is the product of Latinization, is in fact a misconception. It gives the wrong idea that versus populum celebration was a part of Latin tradition. There were certain movements in the western Church such as Liturgical Movements in the 20th century which promoted the versus populum celebration. But that was not a part of Latin tradition.
In the principle of communication too it is very important to speak face to face. In the liturgical celebration it is an age old practice that both priest and people look in the same direction in order to speak God. Of course it implies communication with God. Here conversations between the persons are insignificant. At the same time it is very important that as many liturgists propose in the liturgy of the Word, the face to face position is relevant since it includes the conversation. But the Liturgy of the Eucharist has mainly the sacrificial character.
The real meaning of the ad orientem celebration does not consist in insisting on the position of the geographical east. But, the meaning of ad orientem is to turn towards the Lord rather than towards the geographical east. Of course the point of east has significance as the noted Church Fathers and the early writings testify. If it is not possible to turn towards the east in the topographical sense, it is very important that we should see the sign of the cross as the east. As Cardinal Ratzinger asserts where a direct common turning toward the east is not possible, the cross can serve as the interior “east” of faith. The Lord is the point of reference here. He is the rising sun of the history. It is a fact that due to the historical accidents the role of the priest had been changed and took different forms. As many authors observe the anthropocentric tendencies of the present era made the priest as a community accelerator rather than the leader of the worshipping community. Since our knowledge about the universality of God is the fruit of revelation it is appropriate that we should turn to God who has revealed Himself to us. That means it is very important that the priest and the people together turn to the east at least in the communal liturgical prayer.
Ours is a period of erosion of values and meaning. A moving force of secularization tries to wipe out God and discard the values connected to Him. So it is very urgent to regain the lost values and meaning in the society. The liturgical celebration is very important because it is the source and summit of the life of the Church as the II Vatican Council teaches (LG, 11). There are movements in the Church to regain the lost values and meaning of the symbols. Many westerners are aware of this fact. The ad orientem celebration is not uncommon in the western Church. It is because of the ardent desire of the westerners to keep up the sacred elements of the tradition. As it is clear from the tradition and teachings of the Church, ad orientem celebration is a great patrimony of both the western and oriental Churches.
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