This afternoon I managed to find some time to start perusing the latest edition of the Worship journal, a bimonthly journal published out of St John’s Abbey, Collegeville. The journal is currently celebrating its 90th year of publication and always contains some interesting articles. The current edition, the November edition of Volume 90, contained a fascinating article at the very beginning – always entitled “The Amen Corner” – from Fr Paul Turner, where he examines the current fascination with presiders of the celebration of Eucharist facing ad orientem (literally, ‘towards the East’) which, in the contemporary form of the Roman Rite, would mean that the presider has his back to the rest of the liturgical assembly for the overwhelming majority of the time.
Turner, in what is his usual style, starts his examination by going straight to the appropriate sources: the General Instruction of the Roman Missal and the rubrics of The Roman Missal. It becomes clear, in following Turner’s argument, that the contemporary liturgy’s preference is for presiders to face the assembly over which they preside except where the liturgical architecture makes this absolutely impossible. Even then, there are some clear times when the rubrics demand the presider face the people, mostly when he is addressing the liturgical assembly in some fashion. This observation makes perfect sense, of course, because it would seem thoroughly rude to speak to the assembly without facing them (at the very least!).
Turner goes on to note
Although some priests and deacons find it inspiring for the presider to lead the eucharistic prayer ad orientem, there are difficulties with it. True, the rubrics of the Mass permit it, but they by no means encourage it. Having the priest face the people is one expression of the full and active participation of all the people, which the council decreed the aim to be considered before all else (Sacrosanctum Concilium 14). (p. 490)
Turner also notes the number of times in which the rubrics and GIRM demand that the presider is required to face either the assembly or some other object, which when put together essentially mean that at no time should the presider face away from the people unless the architecture leaves him no option.
In the end, however, Turner makes what I believe to be most convincing part of his argument. His very last paragraph asserts
The liturgy and mission of the church demand the active participation of the people. If a priest finds it hard to pray while facing the people in his oratio, one wonders if he finds it hard to minister with them in his labora. The faithful are not a distraction. A presider who looks at them with love will feel himself transported ad astra, facing the face of God. (p. 491)
Paul Turner, “Amen Corner – About Face”, Worship 90 (November 2016): 484-491.