This is not a call to return to Ad Orientem, or a celebration of the Eucharist where the Priest and the People all face the same way. It is only a brief musing over a few things that have been running through my mind as of late. It is really just meant to be a moment to highlight a few things to consider as we go about worship.
The major complaint I have heard about Ad Oreientem celebration is that it makes the Priest and the Eucharist “remote” or “detached” or “not connected”. This is a good critique and it is true that the old style was usually too remote, too detached, and too not connected. The problem, however, is that the Heavenly Banquet needs to be a bit remote, detached, and not connected to our comfy American largesse. If I am in worship and there is not some sense I have left my day to day and entered into a space that takes me out of that there is a problem. Liturgy needs to reflect that transition.
I also hear “the priest doesn’t speak to me” and “God doesn’t need to hear it the people in the pew do”. Most of the complaints I hear about worship in the Episcopal Church is that we do not allow the laity to behave as if they were at a concert or movie theatre. Our pews are not that comfortable, we are constantly standing or kneeling or bowing, and a few lucky of us even get to genuflect upon occasion. The laity are not supposed to be the receptive audience of a worship experience but the primary participants. The clergy are not there to speak to the congregation but with the voice of the congregation.
When the deacon proclaims the Gospel it is the Gospel the congregation is supposed to be proclaiming to the world at large. When the priest preaches the Gospel it is the supposed to be the words that clearly state and illumine the inner working of the Gospel in the hearts and minds of the congregation. When the Presider celebrates the Eucharist it is the statement of the community as to what it strives at its deepest essence to be, participants within the heavenly banquet. The entire event is a statement of the community about its nature about what it believes and what it is. The community, and individuals there in, only “receives it” in as much as it comes to hear itself more clearly.
Part of the offering every participant in a communal ritual act, like the Holy Eucharist, is asked to do is offer up part of themselves for the community, part of this is to allow the leaders to speak on their behalf. This is actually what is occurring during the Sursum Corda, it is the space where we become unified in voice, heart, and mind with the words of the celebrant. In our world of “I statements” and “every one has their own opinion and it is rude to talk as a collective” this is a difficult act if entered into fully. That is why we try to hide it away, but by doing so I feel we have lost much.
Which is not to say we need to return to Ad Orientem but that we need to find effective ways to make this reality a part of our circular worship so that we come back to all worshiping in one voice instead of a clergy that has all the mojo and a laity that watch the show. It is also not to say that there are times when I have walked into church and had only the capacity to receive. It is to say that what I received was in part that which is God working in me and calling me and refreshing me that I have such trouble hearing by my lonesome.