We are going to the East -- a letter from Fr. Allen



Dear friends,

The image [shown below] at the top of this week's newsletter is from the 15th century Ranworth Antiphoner (an antiphoner is a book of Mass and Office chants for use by the choir). One thing we might notice right away is that the priest is celebrating the Mass ad orientem, or, "to the East." That is, he is standing on the same side of the altar and facing the same direction as the (presumed) congregation, as is our custom at Corpus Christi and is indeed normal throughout the Ordinariate (and is actually normative, though not normal, throughout the Church).

I bring this up because of today's saint: St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross; or, as she more usually know, St. Edith Stein. Edith Stein was a Jew, a convert from Atheism, a professor of philosophy, and a Carmelite nun, murdered by the Nazis in the gas chambers of Auschwitz on 9 August 1942. Bishop Barron has a short but insightful reflection on her life and witness here, in the course of which he relates this story of her forced journey to Auschwitz:

'The sisters were held briefly in a camp in Holland and then were packed onto what amounted to a cattle car for the trip to Auschwitz. A former student of Edith’s reported an encounter with the nun when the train stopped briefly at a platform in Germany. After greeting her, Edith asked her to convey a message to the mother superior in Echt: “We are going to the East,” a sentence with both a literal and a spiritual meaning. She was undoubtedly trying to communicate information about their geographical destination, but “the East” is also mystical language for heaven and eternal life...'

"We are going to the East." The saint's statement reflects her firm belief, her "sure and certain hope" in the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. This is precisely why in the churchyard at St. Mary's, with only two recently added exceptions, all 338 of the graves face east - that is, the direction of heaven and the returning Lord. Churches anciently were always build so that direction of prayer was toward the east. (St. Mary's is oddly oriented - meridianated? - to the south; I suppose this is due the exigencies of 18th century property availability.) I haven't done the research, but it's unlikely that St. Edith Stein ever attended Mass except facing literal east. For her, "going to the East" was going to the Lord.

Long ago, St. Augustine put it this way: 

"When we rise to pray, we turn East, where heaven begins. And we do this not because God is there, as if He had moved away from the other directions on earth..., but rather to help us remember to turn our mind towards a higher order, that is, to God."

This is why we celebrate Mass ad orientem (even if only figuratively). With Edith Stein and aided by her prayers, and with all the Church, "we are going to the East," and every Mass is another step in our journey to meet our Lord.

God bless you, 
Fr Allen

P.S. Please remember that Wednesday, 15 August, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a holy day of obligation.

Update: Regarding the scandal involving Cardinal Theodore McCarrick about which I have previously written to you, I recommend the following letters and articles: