TURNING TOWARDS THE LORD:
Orientation in Liturgical Prayer
by Fr Uwe Michael Lang
(Ignatius, 2004, 156pp, $25.95. Available from AD Books)
In his foreword to Turning Towards the Lord, Cardinal Ratzinger writes: "To the ordinary churchgoer, the two most obvious effects of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council seem to be the disappearance of Latin and the turning of the altars towards the people. Those who read the relevant texts will be astonished to learn that neither is in fact to be found in the decrees of the Council."
These phenomena highlight the confusion that continues to bedevil the Catholic Church regarding liturgical reform and the gulf that often exists between what the Council mandated and what was later implemented in its name by experts. Other well-established practices such as standing for Communion, receiving on the hand and the proliferation of Extraordinary Ministers have no basis in Vatican II, even if many Catholics assume they are among the liturgical fruits of the Council.
Fr U.M. Lang, a young priest-scholar of the London Oratory makes the focus of this compact, accessible book the orientation of the priest as he celebrates Mass. He presents the results of the latest research, examining the relevant historical, theological and pastoral arguments regarding Mass said facing the people, or Mass said "facing East" (that is, priest and people facing in the same direction towards the altar).
Fr Lang presents a strong case for the "facing East" position being the dominant tradition of the Church's Liturgy from the earliest centuries, with the "facing the people" option the exception rather than the rule. Only since Vatican II has the latter taken over as the prevailing practice.
In this writer's view, this radical change has had mixed results, with the turning of some priests into individual performers rather than God's instruments, and the blurring of distinctions between the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.
Fr Lang concludes with a sensible compromise: the Introductory Rites, Liturgy of the Word, Communion Rite and Concluding Rite should be celebrated facing the people; but with the Liturgy of the Eucharist, and in particular the canon, "it is more than fitting that the whole congregation, including the celebrant, be directed towards the Lord, and that is expressed by turning towards the altar ...".
Turning Towards the Lord is refreshingly free of polemics, allowing the facts to speak for themselves. It is highly recommended as a reference for those Catholics wishing to get their facts straight about the Liturgy, as well as for those with specialised liturgical responsibilities.