offering the Extraordinary Form in St. Peter's Basilica
As some of you may know (particularly those who are my facebook friends) I have been learning how to celebrate the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. One of my priest-friends, Fr. S., is also doing the same and is offering some wonderful commentary on the Extraordinary Form on his extraordinary blog. Here is a taste of what he has to say:
In many Catholic minds today, this means, "turning one's back to the people." It is amazing to me how pride creeps into the mind! Somehow, if the priest is facing the same direction as the people, he must be intending to show his superiority as opposed to his unity. What insidiousness! I find that facing the same direction as the faithful is a great help in humility while offering the Holy Mass. When facing the people, ("ad populum") there is a constant temptation to make the Holy Mass about the presider and his own whims. When the priest faces the same direction as the congregation, that desire disappears because no one sees his face. It is far easier to speak to the Father.
This orientation has a second benefit, too. So often when one goes to Holy Mass, it seems that the priest is trying to tell a story or to be having a dialogue with the congregation. While there are certainly exchanges between the priest and the faithful, the Mass is primarily said by the priest, in the person of Christ, to the Father. I recall the first time that I offered the Ordinary Form ad orientem. After Holy Mass, people said, "Father, that was dramatic! It was so clear when you were speaking to us and when you were speaking to God!" Now, can this be clear ad populum? Surely. That being said, it seems easier to me to me ad orientem.
The third benefit of this orientation, it seems to me, is its intimate nature. When Holy Mass is offered ad orientem, the priest does not have the sense of being watched, of being on display. Rather, there is a great deal of closeness by virtue of having no one between the priest and the crucifix. This is, to me, the most important benefit of offering Holy Mass ad orientem.
If you want to read more of his commentary, check him out at his blog: Clerical Reform.