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At Gallup Cathedral… New Ad Orientem Mass Receives “Overwhelmingly Positive” Response

August 14, 2019 Frontpage No Comments

By DEXTER DUGGAN

Response to the reintroduction of the historic ad orientem celebration of the Mass in the Diocese of Gallup, N.M., “has been overwhelmingly positive,” the diocese’s communications director told The Wanderer.
Suzanne Hammons said there were “a lot of good conversations on social media when it was first announced — many people who had neutral or negative reactions did not realize that the ad orientem position is still the default,” in which the celebrant and congregation both face toward the Lord instead of facing each other in church.
Gallup Bishop James S. Wall announced the change in a July 22 letter to the diocese, in the tenth year since he began his episcopal service there in largely rural northwestern New Mexico in 2009 at age 44, then the youngest U.S. diocesan bishop.
While the ad orientem service began regularly at the 11 a.m. Sunday Mass at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Wall said in his letter that he wished to encourage this form of the Mass “throughout the Diocese of Gallup.” He added:
“I believe it is pastoral to offer Masses both ad orientem and versus populum, so that, together, we can all be exposed to the varied riches of the Church and Her prayerful history.” In the versus populum Mass, the celebrant faces the congregation.
Hammons, the communications director, told The Wanderer on August 2 that some people “mistakenly thought this was our attempt to return to pre-Vatican II rubrics, without understanding that even Vatican II documents themselves assume the priest says the Mass ad orientem.”
Hammons added that “we’ve had emails from people in other countries (Ireland, England) expressing gratitude to Bishop Wall” for this additional option.
Beginning his letter “Turning Toward God: Celebrating the Mass Ad Orientem,” Wall cited a recent letter by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that touched on various topics, including the Eucharist.
“He acknowledged, and rightfully so, that we have become too lax in our approach to the Eucharist,” Wall wrote. “There were a number of reasons for this, even extreme cases when Holy Communion has been distributed to non-Catholics at weddings and other large events for the sake of ‘inclusion.’ We know, however, that such ‘inclusivity’ is actually quite dangerous, for it can put someone’s soul at risk in the name of not hurting feelings. . . .”
“We would do well to remember, then,” Wall continued, “that the Eucharist is not simply a nice ‘sign’ or ‘symbol’ of communion with God, but rather truly is communion with God….Pope Benedict’s letter thus provides an opportunity for us to reflect on how better to respect the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.”
A contributor to the UK Catholic Herald expressed his pleasure at Wall’s decision. Chad Pecknold, Ph.D., a theology professor at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C., posted on July 26:
“Bishop Wall treats the common objection that such worship entails the priest ‘turning his back’ to the people. This is technically true, but misses the point, namely that such a practice literally turns everyone, united together as one body. The implication, then, is the opposite of some kind of separation between priest and people, but rather the deepest kind of union, facing God together, physically as well as spiritually.”
Wall acknowledged that ad orientem “can be a contentious topic. To make changes to the way we pray can be difficult, especially when it comes to liturgical prayer. By explaining and advocating for this, I am in no way trying to disrupt the way the people of this diocese pray.
“Rather,” he continued, “I am trying to open the treasury of the Church’s patrimony, so that, together, we can all experience one of the most ancient ways that the Church has always prayed, starting with Jesus and reaching even to our own day, and thereby learn from the ‘ever ancient, ever new’ wisdom of the Church.”
Hammons provided The Wanderer with examples of reactions on Facebook:
“I’m 32. . . . We have three children ages 5, 3 and 2 . . . they’ve seen Mass celebrated this way 99 percent of the time . . . when they ‘play Mass,’ they do it in this manner. . . . I fell in love with it as a teenager and can’t stay away from it.”
“Thank you, Your Excellency! As a young person, with a convert wife, and a brand-new daughter, we love ad orientem.”
“(Y)ou make my heart sing and you can be sure my family and I will be traveling to (Sacred Heart Cathedral) from St. Johns (Ariz.) on occasion to be present in this beautiful and sacred form of the liturgy! This reintroduction to the sacred tradition is being yearned for by young and old alike — thank you for doing this, and we will see you on a Sunday soon!”
Wall, a second-career priest who earned a master of arts degree in history at Arizona State University before entering the seminary, was ordained in 1998. Only four years later he was named as pastor to a prominent Phoenix parish, St. Thomas the Apostle, where he told the Sunday congregation in 2002 that he was impressed with the parish’s reputation and planned to remain there “a long, long, long, long time.”
Only five years later, however, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted called him to a new assignment as vicar of priests at the chancery in 2007 — followed two years after that with the appointment by Pope Benedict XVI as the new Gallup bishop.
During a 2009 interview with The Wanderer as he was about to be ordained a bishop, Wall was reminded about his declared plans in 2002 to remain at St. Thomas the Apostle for a very long time. He burst out laughing and replied, “You never know what the Lord has in mind, right?”
Although Wall isn’t Native American, his appointment to Gallup represented a sort of homecoming. He was born within the New Mexico diocese’s boundaries, in Ganado, Ariz., and lived in Chinle, Ariz., both located in the Navajo Nation, before his family moved to the Phoenix area.
Phoenix’s St. Thomas the Apostle Parish reintroduced a Sunday ad orientem Mass last November.

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