In the Latin Mass the priest is turned away from the people. He has his back to them. The word used by the Church to explain why the priest is facing that way is “Orientation”. Please explain “Orientation”.
The definition of “orientation” is the relative position of something or someone. The priest’s orientation is facing away from the congregation. You can refer to orientation for anything- people, animals, furniture. My couch is oriented against the wall in my living room, facing the television.
This is called ad orientem or “facing east” even if it’s not geographical east. The concept is “liturgical east” meaning the priest does NOT have his “back to the people” but rather is FACING THE LORD, along with the congregation. IOW, all pray in the same direction. This is a very ancient custom. From the Didascalia Apostolorum (the highlighted portion is the redactor’s comment):
…Let the place of the priests be separated in a part of the house that faces east. In the midst of them is placed the bishop’s chair, and with him let the priests be seated. Likewise, and in another section let the lay men be seated facing east. For thus it is proper: that the priests sit with the bishop in a part of the house to the east and after them the lay men and the lay women, and when you stand to pray, the ecclessial leaders rise first, and after them the lay men, and again, then the women. Now, you ought to face to east to pray for, as you know, scripture has it, Give praise to God who ascends above the highest heavens to the east. Again note, Mass was NOT celebrated facing the people as some suppose of the early Church. Everyone was to face to the east, clergy and people. Everyone faced one direction. The text cites Scripture as the reason for this. God is to the East, the origin of the light.
I actually wrote a blog post explaining this very topic that you might find very helpful. You can read it by clicking here - Disorientation - God bless.
PietroPaolo, Thank you for mentioning the blog. I learned very meaningful facts about the celebration of the Mass. It was interesting to learn; “When a congregation cannot face directional east, they may face ‘liturgical east’ - that is they can all face the crucifix together.” I had not heard the term liturgical east before.
Glad I could be of help. Have a blessed Advent.
I think the confusion may also come from the Latin text. Ad orientem means “Facing the East,” and is used to describe how the Mass was said prior to the changes promulgated by Pope Pius VI (and the Mass can still be said today — ad orientem celebration is a perfectly valid option). Sometimes, this same “orientation” is referred to as ad apsum [sp?], “Facing the Apse.”
This is contrasted by ad populum, “Facing the people.”
Here is a brief essay of sorts I wrote three years ago on the subject.