Sunday, April 15, 2012

When Israel Shall Turn to the Lord: Christ Mystically Present in the Orient

One thing that has really been turning over in my head lately is the concept of the Divine Liturgies of the Church of God being celebrated toward the people or toward the East, toward God. Something that is just striking to me is that there are many, many within the Church today who do not recognize the fact that celebrating the Liturgy with the Priest(s) and the congregation of the priestly people facing East is not, repeat, NOT so that the Priest can have his back to the people. There is an beautifully rich and mystical reason regarding practice of ad orientem Liturgy, one that can be found throughout Scripture and in the organic and Living Tradition of the Catholic Church. Here are eight passages of Scripture (and one, from the Didache, of Sacred Tradition interpreting that Scripture) that give us a sense of the Church's understanding of what worshipping toward the East means, and the mystical Truth that it has been in the Church since the first century.

"For behold the day shall come kindled as a furnace: and all the proud, and all that do wickedly shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall set them on fire, saith the Lord of hosts, it shall not leave them root, nor branch. But unto you that fear my name, the Sun of Justice shall arise, and health in his wings: and you shall go forth, and shall leap like calves of the herd." - Malachi 4:1-2

"For as lightning cometh out of the East, and appeareth even into the west: so shall the coming of the Son of Man be... And then shall appear the sign of the Son of Man in heaven: and then shall all tribes of the earth mourn: and they shall see the Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with much power and majesty. And he shall send his angels with a trumpet, and a great voice: and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the farthest parts of the heavens to the utmost bounds of them." - St. Matthew 24:27, 29-30

(Notice: Our Lord, Jesus Christ, teaches us that His final and conclusive coming to judge the quick and the dead occurs somehow mystically from the East; when the Eucharist is celebrated toward the East and the faithful worship Jesus Christ present in the Eucharist, the coming of Our Lord in the Eucharist is superimposed over that grand and final coming, becoming itself both a real accessing of the people of God to that day of His Revealing at the end of time, and a type and symbol of that Day. This is all vital Sacred Tradition, and it is unspeakably beautiful. When the Priest(s) proclaims "Lift up your hearts," He means it; we are encountering the Risen Savior coming at the end of time from the East; time and eternity have become interwoven and joined in His Presence in the Eucharist; angels accompany His coming. It is the Revelation of Jesus Christ in the Hidden Manna, and the proclamation of His final coming.)

"Then the Lord shall go forth, and shall fight against those nations, as when He fought in the day of battle. And His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is over against Jerusalem toward the East: and the Mount of Olives shall be divided in the midst thereof to the East... and the Lord my God shall come, and all the saints with him... And the Lord shall by King over all the earth: in that day there shall be one Lord, and His Name shall be one.

Behold, the Lord cometh with thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to reprove all the ungodly for all the works of their ungodliness, whereby they have done ungodly, and of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against God. it was said: The Lord shall come and all His saints with Him. Then shall the world see the Lord coming upon the clouds of heaven." - Zechariah 14:3-5, 9, St. Jude 1:14-15, and Didache 16:15-17

"When Jesus therefore was born in Bethlehem of Juda, in the days of king Herod, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem. Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen His Star in the East, and are come to adore him." - St. Matthew 2:1-2

"And when they were drawing near to Jerusalem and to Bethania at the Mount of Olives, He sendeth two of his disciples, and saith to them: Go into the village that is over against you, and immediately at your coming in thither, you shall find a colt... And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down boughs from the trees, and strewed them in the way. And they that went before and they that followed, cried, saying: Hosanna, blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.
Blessed be the Kingdom of our father David that cometh: Hosanna in the highest.
And He entered into Jerusalem, into the temple..." - St. Mark 11:1-2, 8-10

(Notice: Christ came from the East, from the Mount of Olives and Bethania, in order to enter the Temple on Palm Sunday, and cleanse it. This calls to mind the following passage from the prophet Ezekiel, which is prophetic of the cleansing of the Temple by Jesus Christ, who is the Image and Glory of God the Father, and it is also prophetic of the Second Coming, as all of these passages are.)

"And he brought me to the gate that looked towards the East. And behold the glory of the God of Israel came in by the way of the East: and His Voice was like the noise of many waters, and the earth shone with His majesty... and I fell upon my face.
And the majesty of the Lord went into the temple by the way of the gate that looked to the East.
And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court: and behold the house was filled with the glory of the Lord.
And I heard one speaking to me out of the house, and the Man that stood by me,
said to me: Son of man, the place of My throne, and the place of the soles of My feet, where I dwell in the midst of the children of Israel for ever: and the house of Israel shall no more profane My holy Name...
Now therefore let them put away their fornications, and the carcasses of their kings far from Me: and I will dwell in the midst of them for ever.
But thou, son of man, shew to the house of Israel the temple, and let them be ashamed of their iniquities..." - Ezekiel 43:1-10

(Notice as well: What did Ezekiel do when the Glory of God descended upon Him from the East? He fell upon his face. Again, those who do not understand what they are doing (at least, I hope they don't) abolish kneeling before the Presence and Glory of God present even more profoundly to us and in us via the Eucharist, and rarely do you see Priests or anyone else prostrate in adoration before the Sun of Righteousness rising from the East in the Eucharist. Do not doubt this: Everything in the Sacred Liturgy of all the ancient rites is there because the Holy Spirit intended it to be and moved the Church to this symbolism over millennia. This does not mean that Liturgy does not grow and develop, and it doesn't mean changes like altering whether the people receive under one or both species, altering the precise number and types of Clergy celebrating, or other such things should not be done, since indeed both of those and many other things have place in Sacred Tradition and the various Rites present in the Church today. But if there is something that is changed in the Liturgy that is present in no current Rite at all, but is a complete innovation and rupture, that is just... painfully sad and in some cases, impious; for many ought to know better and commit Liturgical abuse and radical alteration anyway.)

"But all things that are reproved, are made manifest by the Light; for all that is made manifest is LightWherefore he saith: Rise thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead: and Christ shall enlighten thee." - Ephesians 5:13-14

"And that knowing the Season; that it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep. For now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is passed, and the Day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of Light. Let us walk honestly, as in the Day: not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy: But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh in its concupiscences." - Romans 13:11-14

"Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not see the end of the fading splendor. But their minds were hardened; for to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their minds; but when a man turns to the Lord the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit... For it is the God who said, "Let Light shine out of darkness," who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." - 2nd Corinthians 3:12-18, 4:6

This is the point: the Scriptures are full of mysteries and mystical types, with connections we could scarcely fathom. They truly are divine and sacred Writ, beautiful to behold. When I look back upon the Early Church of the first number of centuries and the very early development of the Liturgies of the Church, this is what I see: I see sacred mystery, I see holy mysticism, I see profound Christian spirituality, I see a Church learning and understanding more and more about the infinite Gift it has in the Eucharist, and I see the Spirit of Christ enlightening His Church how best to honor the Lord in the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist. When you look at how the Liturgy developed very early in the infancy of the Church to the point that the Priest(s) and the people faced East, you can really connect with the mystery they were experiencing and understanding. When the Priest(s) utter the Epiclesis over the holy Gifts, and when they bless them with the prayer of Christ's words, the Spirit and the Bride are indeed calling with one voice to the one who is Light itself, the One who is called the Sun; for He descends down from the Heavens to Hell and disappears for three days, to rise gloriously as the risen Sun, in splendor in the East, to Lighten the world. This is the Mystery! This is the Faith! Those who tamper with the Liturgy do not understand that profound mystical theology of the first, second, third, and fourth century Church. They do not realize that those who first worshipped Christ, had this complex theology already seen in the AD 50's and 60's in St. Paul's writings of Christ being patterned after the Rising Sun, and these and later Christians realized that when they were encountering the Lord Jesus Christ present among them in the sacred Mystery of the Eucharist, by facing East they were greeting their Bridegroom, coming both now and truly present in the Eucharist, and greeting Him in earnest expectation of His final and conclusive Appearing. The night of this world is indeed far spent; Day draws near. Let Grace come to us from the East, and let this world pass away. Let that Place in Eternity where Christ is the only physical and spiritual Reality descend to us now in the Eucharist, and transform us into His Reality of Being, true Reality, for we are in poverty of His Being. Let us draw near to Christ, the Light of the World, the Sun of Justice, and submit to this divine Tradition. Do not be one who stands by as the spirituality of the ancient and Catholic Church is diminished or disregarded, and when you are at the Liturgy, recall to mind these passages, and worship Jesus Christ, who comes into your presence to dispel all night.


  1. I thought this post was very interesting, Jonathan. I think, however, that you are not mentioning something very foundational to this very subject: orthodoxy. It's become a tendency (at least from what I've studied in the history of the Catholic Church present in the USA) to rate orthopraxy and what is called "tradition" much higher on the scale of importance or even necessity than orthodoxy. The comical thing is, though, that without orthodoxy, you will fail to have either orthopraxy or complete and true tradition. Orthodoxy is the necessary foundation of the Catholic individual! Orthopraxy necessarily follows it.

    1. If you mean by orthodoxy a submission to the Magisterial teaching authority of the Church exercised through the teaching of Ecumenical Councils, Papal Authority, and the teaching authority of the Bishop over you when he is orthodox and in line with the Holy See, yes, I completely agree that orthodoxy is pivotal and orthopraxy follows and is defined by orthodoxy. The reason I didn't elaborate on orthodoxy is because I'm taking it rather for granted that ad orientem *is* in fact orthodox (which is the case). Vatican II never called for a change to versus populum; quite frankly, that started out for a solid bit of time as a genuine and rebellious liturgical abuse. This idea of orthopraxy encompassing this proper Eastward orientation is ancient, Sacred Tradition that contradicts no official Magisterial authority, and has only been eclipsed by the novelty of VP Masses in the last forty years.

      Am I wrong to take this beautiful and mystical aspect of the Liturgy as orthodox for granted?

    2. I didn't intend this article to say anything unorthodox or against the Ordinary Form; the OF is very much legitimate and is and approved form of Liturgy. I merely mean to say that the custom of ad orientem worship is ancient, mystical, and profound, and I think it's a shame to remove it from our heritage of worship.

    3. Jonathan, bless your heart, I am not taking exception with what you wrote. I am merely expanding what you wrote here based upon what I've seen elsewhere. It's true that you didn't write explicitly regarding orthodoxy, but I don't think you wrote anything unorthodox.

      Orthodoxy is a very personal condition in which an individual holds the true doctrines of the Church in regard mainly to what is bound upon our assent of faith, but also to that which is bound upon our religious assent as well.

      It's true that ad/pro populum offering of the Holy Sacrifice is a novelty as regards the Latin Rite of the Mass. It's true that it needs to be stopped.

      I liked this post...and I hope you post more like it!