From George Weigel's most recent column (January 31st), which reflects on U.M. Lang's excellent book, Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer:
As discussion of deepening the Church’s liturgical reform unfolds, a lively conversation will likely revolve around be the question of “orientation” during Mass: might priest and people face in the same direction, toward the Holy Trinity, during the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy? Father U. M. Lang of the London Oratory has done that conversation a good service with his book, Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer (Ignatius Press). Among Father Lang’s interesting points:
- The question at issue is “not so much the celebration of Mass ‘facing the people’ as the orientation of liturgical prayer.” Thus attempts to derail this discussion by dismissing it as a project of anti-Vatican II reactionaries eager for the priest to “turn his back to the people” should be resisted. As Father Lang writes, this cheesy sound-bite “is a classic example of confounding theology and topography, for the crucial point is that the Mass is a common act of worship where priest and people together, representing the pilgrim Church, reach out for the transcendent God.” ...
Can’t be done? Each summer, during the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society, that’s precisely how we do it in the St. Hyacinth Chapel of the Dominican basilica in Cracow. There, for reasons of space, a free-standing altar is impossible. Yet no one thinks that the celebrant is “turning his back to the people;” everyone instinctively understands that, together, we are turning towards Christ.
The Catholic parish I've attended for seven years also has the priest facing God with the people most of the time. Of course, it is an Eastern Catholic parish, so it was spared the dubioius post-Vatican II directive (it doesn't appear in any of the Council documents) to have the priest face the people 99% of the time, as is usually the case in the Roman rite.
The foreword to Lang's book was written by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who states:
In this situation, Lang's delightfully objective and wholly unpolemical book is a valuable guide. Without claiming to offer major new insights, he carefully presents the results of recent research and provides the material necessary for making an informed judgment. The book is especially valuable in showing the contribution made by the Church of England to this question and in giving, also, due consideration to the part played by the Oxford Movement in the nineteenth century (in which the conversion of John Henry Newman matured). It is from such historical evidence that the author elicits the theological answers that he proposes, and I hope that the book, the work of a young scholar, will help the struggle-necessary in every generation–for the right understanding and worthy celebration of the sacred liturgy.