From the Archbishop of Glasgow SIR I am spurred on by Tom Mclntyre's letter (March 7) to venture where angel bishops might fear to tread.
The subject is celebrating Mass versus populism or ad onentem. Much was made of the Holy Father celebrating Mass recently in the Sistine Chapel ad orientem towards the east. In fact he was facing west. The Sistine Chapel runs parallel to the Basilica where, when celebrating Mass at the High Altar, the Pope actually does face both versus populum and ad orientem since the basilica is not oriented, its façade faces east!
Some have suggested that in the "old days", ie in the former Constantinian basilica, the congregation would also have faced east, which would have meant that the.celebrant faced the backs of the people.
I know that facing east meant for us in the west turning not only to the rising sun but to Jerusalem, where Jesus rose from the dead. What does it mean for Christians east of Jerusalem?
In fact, in our liturgy we take a Godward stance, neither to the east nor to the west, and our prayer is addressed to God the Father. in the name of Jesus who is "in our midst" ("where two or three are gathered together").
Nor is it to the crucifix that we turn other than to be reminded of His sacrifice which in the Mass we are representing (re-presenting). It is to the bread-become-his-body and the winebecome-his-blood that our eyes are turned, for it is through Him made present that we offer the supreme sacrifice of obedience and praise to the Father.
I am content, as the Holy Father was, to celebrate the Canon of the Mass facing in the same direction as the people when circumstances dictate or encourage it. I am more content to celebrate the Canon when we can all face inwards towards the altar and the bread and wine consecrated on it, which we are to "take and eat", "take and drink".
This new order but not so new in the churches of Rome is surely the organic development of the liturgy with which the Second Vatican Council has enriched our worship and our understanding of it.
+ MARIO CONTI Glasgow