Benedict on 1-11-09 worshiping 'ad orientem' in the Sistine Chapel, on the Feast of the Baptism of our Lord.
Hat-tip to The New Liturgical Movement.
Despite all the variations in practice that have taken place far into the second millenium, one thing has remained clear for the whole of Christendom: praying toward the east is a tradition that goes back to the beginning.
-- The Spirit of the Liturgy (Ignatius Press, 2000), pg. 75.
As I have written in my books, I think that celebration turned towards the east, towards the Christ who is coming, is an apostolic tradition.
-- Looking Again at the Question of Liturgy with Cardinal Ratzinger, ed. Alcuin Reid (St. Michael's Abbey, 2003), pg. 151.
The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is closed in on itself. The common turning toward the east was not a "celebration toward the wall"; it did not mean that the priest "had his back to the people": the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian liturgy the congregation looked together "toward the Lord".... They did not close themselves into a circle; they did not gaze at one another; but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us.... [A]common turning to the east during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential. This is not a case of something accidental, but of what is essential. Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord.
-- The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp. 80-81.
Moving the altar cross to the side to give an uninterrupted view of the priest is something I regard as one of the truly absurd phenomena of recent decades. Is the cross disruptive during the Mass? Is the priest more important than the Lord? This mistake should be corrected as quickly as possible; it can be done without further rebuilding.
-- The Spirit of the Liturgy, pg. 84
[I]n St. Peter's [Basilica], during the pontificate of St. Gregory the Great (590-604), the altar was moved nearer to the bishop's chair, probably for the simple reason that he was supposed to stand as much as possible above the tomb of St. Peter.... Because of topographical circumstances, it turned out that St. Peter's faced west. Thus, if the celebrating priest wanted--as the Christian tradition of prayer demands--to face east, he had to stand behind the people and look--this is the logical conclusion--toward the people.... The liturgical renewal in our own century took up this alleged model and developed from it a new idea for the form of the liturgy. The Eucharist--so it was said--had to be celebrated versus populum (toward the people). The altar--as can be seen in the normative model of St. Peter's--had to be positioned in such a way that priest and people looked at each other and formed together the circle of a celebrating community. This alone--so it was said--was compatible with the meaning of the Christian liturgy, with the requirement of active participation. This alone conformed to the primordial model of the Last Supper. These arguments seemed in the end so persuasive that after the Council (which says nothing about "turning toward the people") new altars were set up everywhere, and today celebration versus populum really does look like the characteristic fruit of Vatican II's liturgical renewal. In fact it is the most conspicuous consequence of a reordering that not only signifies a new external arrangement of the places dedicated to the liturgy, but also brings with it a new idea of the essence of the liturgy--the liturgy as a communal meal.
-- The Spirit of the Liturgy, pp. 76-77
[T]he positive content of the old eastward-facing direction lay not in its orientation to the tabernacle.... The original meaning of what nowadays is called "the priest turning his back on the people" is, in fact--as J.A. Jungmann has consistently shown--the priest and people together facing the same way in a common act of trinitarian worship.... Where priest and people together face the same way, what we have is a cosmic orientation and also an interpretation of the Eucharist in terms of resurrection and trinitarian theology. Hence it is also an interpretation in terms of parousia, a theology of hope, in which every Mass is an approach to the return of Christ.
-- The Feast of Faith (Ignatius Press, 1986), pg. 140
[T]he cross on the altar is not obstructing the view; it is a common point of reference. It is an open "iconostasis" which, far from hindering unity, actually facilitates it: it is the image which draws and unites the attention of everyone. I would even be so bold as to suggest that the cross on the altar is actually a necessary precondition for celebrating toward the people.
-- The Feast of Faith, pg. 145
[A]mong the faithful there is an increasing sense of the problems inherent in an arrangement that hardly shows the liturgy to be open to the things that are above and to the world to come.
-- Foreword to U.M. Lang's Turning towards the Lord (Ignatius Press, 2004), pg. 11