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Another Confusion in the Mass

I saw a picture of a Priest saying Mass recently. It was, generally speaking, somewhat reverent. He was, however, saying Mass with his back to the Lord for the majority of the time (otherwise called versus populum, "towards the people", as opposed to ad orientem). I am not going to criticize this common form of the Mass (that is for another time and place). What troubled me was the fact that he had a crucifix in front of him, but the crucifix was facing the people (presumably, so they could see it).

Sadly, this is 100% wrong. The reason for having a crucifix on the altar in a versus populum Mass is, according to Pope Benedict XVI, to remind the Priest what he is doing. He needs to reminded because he is turned away from the Lord's tabernacle and cannot see it. Thus, Pope Benedict said it is necessary to have a crucifix to remind the Priest that he is backwards. If he turns the crucifix around towards the people he is backwards, and the crucifix is backwards as well! The crucifix above the altar (required in Catholic Churches) should face the people, yes, but that is for all to see. The crucifix on the altar is for the Priest to remind him of what he is doing. No crucifix is needed on the altar in an ad orientem Mass because the Priest is already facing toward the Lord.

I do not believe that the Priest meant to say this, but that is symbolism involved (even if he is unaware of it). When we get turned around (pun intended), then things get all mixed up. Once again, the traditional direction for the Mass matters. It reminds us of the direction of our hearts (and a Priest who prefers to turn his back to the Lord and face the people for the entire Mass might very well be confused about the point of the Mass). We are gathered to approach the Lord and the Priest is supposed to be at the front of the congregation pointing them in the way that they should go. Let us make sure that we face the right direction, in heart, soul, mind, and body.


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