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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Facing East as Cosmic Orientation



I just received Pope Benedict XVI's book Feast of Faith from a dear friend in the States. I was very glad to receive this gift and I immediately picked it up to read the contents. Cardinal Ratzinger (Ben. XVI) writes of the reasons for facing eastward in the liturgical celebration. In the past, especially by Protestant objectors, it has been wrongly described as the priest 'putting his back to the people.' Not so, says, Ben. XVI; we need to understand the liturgy and facing towards towards the rising of the sun as a liturgical gesture we do all together--priest included. The eastward gesture of the eucharistic celebration creates the context of cosmos and parousia. He writes,
Priest and people were united in facing eastward; that is, a cosmic symbolism was drawn into the community celebration--a factor of considerable importance. For 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. Because of the rising sun, the east--oriens--was naturally both a symbol of the Resurrection (and to that extent it was not merely a christological statement but also a reminder of the Father's power and influence of the Holy Spirit) and a presentation of the hope of the parousia. Where the priest and people together face the same way, what we have is a cosmic orientation and also an interpretation of the Eucharist in terms of resurrection and trinitarian theology. Hence it is also an interpretation in terms of parousia, a theology of hope, in which every Mass is an approach to the return of Christ.

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