Last Sunday, we had a Liturgy Lab discussion about church furniture, and how changing the orientation of the altar, pulpit/lectern, font, and seating change our experience of worship. It was an interesting discussion.
Then we experimented with the orientation of our furniture of worship during our 10AM service. Since we were worshiping in the parish hall, we placed our movable altar in the center of the room, and oriented the lectern and baptismal font on either side. We then sat “collegiate” or “monastic” style with the chairs lined up on either side, facing each other (sort of like the choir seating area is arranged in the chancel of the church building itself). This had the effect of putting the altar and the Eucharistic prayer right in the middle of everything. The idea was that the presence of Christ is found in Communion, right in our midst.
While there will not be a Liturgy Lab discussion, this Sunday the experiment continues. We are going to try a different orientation of our worship space while we worship in the parish hall. During last week’s discussion, we talked about “praying toward the East.” It was the ancient practice of the church until the 20th century to pray facing east. Praying facing the direction of the rising sun is symbolic of our hope in the return of God’s son, Jesus Christ. Our hope is that God’s Son will return one day to judge the living and the dead and to bring about God’s reign of righteousness & perfect peace. For centuries, this hope was symbolically expressed by facing the east during liturgical prayer. Logistically, this means that the priest presiding over the Eucharistic prayer and the people all faced the same direction (east) while praying to God. As liturgical scholar, U.M. Lang writes, “When we speak to someone we obviously face that person. Accordingly, the whole liturgical assembly, priest and people, should face the same way, turning towards God to whom prayers and offerings are addressed in this common act of trinitarian worship.”
This practice ought to emphasize that when the priest says the Eucharist, it isn’t a performance. He or she isn’t saying the prayer to the people, but rather, he or she is a representative of the people offering the prayer and other offerings to God on the people’s behalf.
Accordingly, our liturgical experiment for this Sunday will be that we will orient the altar and the chairs so that we all face east when we pray to God. It ought to be fun. I am very interested in hearing from you how this orientation (and last week’s orientation) change the experience of worship for you.
U.M. Lang, Turning Toward the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer. San Francisco: Ignatius Press (2004), 32.