The Forum: Ad orientem: the single most important reform
If you read about the ceremony in the secular media, you almost certainly read that the Pope had "his back to the people." While that description is not inaccurate, it is reflects a distinct perspective. You could just as well observe that the Holy Father and the other worshipers in the Sistine Chapel were "facing in the same direction."I recommend the entire story as well as the comments!
When the priest-celebrant faces the altar, he looks like what he is: the leader of a community at prayer. Everyone is facing the same way; everyone is involved in the same action. When the priest faces the people, on the other hand, he appears to be a performer, with the people as his audience.
The liturgical changes of Vatican II were intended to encourage more active participation by the laity in the Eucharistic liturgy. But think of any other situation in which one man faces a group: a classroom lecture, a musical concert, a product demonstration, an after-dinner speech. In those situations we ordinarily expect the group to be passive: to listen but not to participate. The speaker or soloist is the focal point of the action; he commands the spotlight.
The holy Sacrifice of the Mass does not belong to any priest. This is the Sacrifice of Calvary. The celebrant is not the central actor in the liturgy, except insofar as he acts in the person of Jesus Christ. When we shine the spotlight on the person of the priest-- on his face and features, his gestures and expressions-- we can easily become distracted from the true meaning of the Eucharistic liturgy.
How often, in the years of liturgical turmoil since Vatican II, has a priest been carried away by the knowledge that he is the center of attention? How many times has the celebrant adopted the attitude that the Mass is his "show," and felt free to adapt the liturgy to fit his own personal style? And how frequently have lay Catholics-- even informed, pious Catholics-- slipped into the same attitude, so that they tell their friends, "I like Father Smith's Mass."