A lot has been made about the ad orientem “to the east” posture of the priest during the Mass as opposed to the versus populum “toward the people” posture. Why is the ad orientem posture so much more reverent, and why should it be used? Why is it so maligned and being done away with in so many churches? The fact that it has been discarded in favor of what is seen as a more inclusive approach to encourage more lay participation in the Mass shows a blatant disregard for or ignorance of the proper reason for the ad orientem posture and fails to recognize the real reason for the Mass itself, i.e., the worship of God.
Catholics for over a thousand years have faced east during the Mass, which signifies facing Jerusalem, the City of Peace and the symbol of the heavenly City of Peace. It also follows the way of offering worship in the Old Testament, in which the priest offered sacrifices in a specific way in accordance with the directions of God as described in Exodus. In this way, they lead the people in worship, just as priests did in the New Testament and continue to do so today. The new habit of facing the people while celebrating the Mass takes away from this designation of leading the people, and it becomes more like the priest and laity just celebrating a meal together instead of a sacrifice where the priest is the primary celebrant and intercessor for the people. Unfortunately, this realization and history of the way sacrifice was offered has been lost on many priests and bishops, and so, as a result, many of the laity are not educated on it either.
The argument for using the ad orientem posture is also simply logical because our worship is supposed to be directed toward God, and since He is present in the Tabernacle, the priest, along with the laity, should be facing toward the Tabernacle during worship. Yes, the priest facing toward the people might seem more inclusive and seem to make it easier for the people to participate, but at the end of the day, the Mass is not about the people and their active participation but about their quiet and prayerful participation. When the priest turns to face the people and include them more, he, at the same time, whether he means to or not, also turns his back on the Tabernacle and on God. He is saying that including the people is more important than directing the worship where it belongs, on God alone.
Jesus told His followers that they would be persecuted because the world first persecuted Him, and sadly, that includes forms of worship that are truly reverent and directed toward God alone, even by people within the Church Herself. It is our job to stand up to these persecutions and stand for Christ and His Church. Saying Mass ad orientem does not exclude the people but rather invites them to an even richer participation by directing all of their attention to God and prayerfully offering their own sacrifices and intentions to Him in union with the priest. Educating Catholics on this will lead to a richer and fuller understanding of the Faith as well as a stronger Church that partakes in the true fullness of worship.