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Facing the Lord’s Table – Sacred Space and our Space

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Last July Pope Francis told Cardinal Sarah that there would be no return to the practice of the presider facing away from the assembly (the so-called ‘ad orientem’ position) at the Eucharist.
1 But does this high-profile debate hide some deeper misunderstandings? Of all that happened in the liturgy in the aftermath of Vatican II, only two events were visible to most people. First, there was the disappearance of Latin (which had become a de facto badge of identity for many Catholics), and the second was the fact that now the president of the assembly ‘faced the people.’ This was visually different, obvious, and – as is the way with that which we see with our own eyes – imagined to be self-explanatory. ‘He now faces us!’ and ‘We can now see him and see what’s happening!’ were the comments at the time, and the whole church-building re-ordering programme was expressed in ‘turning round the altar so that the priest faces the people.’