I am an infrequent poster and mostly a lurker but decided to jump into the fray today.
Recently, I have been discussing liturgical development with a friend, and he has stated that ad orientem worship has an 8th century innovation and that the ancient practice (whether facing literal East, facing the altar/tabernacle, or however you define it) has always been to face towards the "Body of Christ" (the congregants). I am no expert in early Church liturgy but have always understood that ad orientem worship has, by and large, been the Christian norm throughout the centuries.
While I would appreciate input as commentary, I would be particularly interested to look at any historical references, studies, or similar material that anyone might be able to provide.
Thank you for your assistance.
The whole argument of the ancient liturgy being celebrated "facing the people" is something contrived by contemporary modernist Roman liturgical "scholars." To counter their erroneous beliefs, here is an excerpt from chapter 7 of "Work of Human Hands: A Theological Critique of the Mass of Paul VI", by Rev. Anthony Cekada, published by Philothea Press in 2010:
"After Vatican II, those souls unsettled by the priest's sudden change of direction often received the bland assurance that Mass 'facing the people' was really quite traditional and was the Church's primitive practice. On the surface it sounded like a reasonable argument. After all, a number of ancient Roman basilicas always had freestanding altars; the priest stood on one side and the congregation on the other. Surely, the argument went, this showed that the present practice of Mass facing the people was but a return to a more ancient tradition.
"The argument turned out to be completely fraudulent. In ancient times, what determined the direction the priest faced as Mass was not where the people where was where the *east* was.
"Time and again the Fathers of the Church emphasized the symbolic importance of facing east for prayer. Tertullian (160-220) speaks of Christians turning to the east for prayer, and says that their churches are always 'in high and open places, facing the light'. Origen (185-254) says it should be obvious that we should prayer facing east where the sun rises, since it is "an act which symbolizes the soul looking towards where the true light [i.e., Christ] arises." St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394) says we turn east to pray because 'our first homeland is in the East; I mean our sojourn in paradise from which we have fallen, for God planted a paradise in Eden towards the East.' St. Augustine (354-430) states: 'When we rise for prayer we turn toward the east, from which heaven arises... that the spirit might be reminded to turn itself to a higher nature, namely to God.' " ...
"Archaeological studies have refuted the modern misconception (or misrepresentation) that Mass facing the people was universal until the Middle Ages. A German Jesuit, Father J. Braun, studied 150 altars in churches north of the Alps. Each altar dated from the first millenium [sic] of Christianity and each was still in its original position. His conclusion: only two of them could have been used for Mass facing the people. But what of the position of the priest behind the altar in the ancient Roman churches? Braun thinks this position was chosen only if there was some special reason for it: for example, if the altar was linked to a martyr's grave, the side facing the people had to be open to give them access to it.
"Even the writings of Bouyer and Jungmann demonstrated that the antiquity argument for Mass facing the people was a fraud.
"In a 1967 work, probably written when he was in another 'Tertullian' mood, Louis Bouyer says:
'The description of the late Roman use of an altar "facing the people" is purely modern. The phrase was never used in Christian antiquity and it is equally unknown in the Middle Ages. It makes its first appearance in the rubrics of the Roman Missal printed in the XVIth century. Then, the priest, being ordered to turn ["towards the people"] to say "Dominus vobiscum," is cautioned that, if the disposition of the altar is such that he is in that situation already, at least concerning a notable part of the congregation, he need not turn. Never, and nowhere, before that have we any indication that any importance, or even attention, was given to whether the priest celebrated with the people before him or behind him."
"Note how absolute his terms are: never, nowhere, before the sixteenth century, did the Church give any attention to the matter.
"In a 1959 work, Jungmann says that the Oriental rites have never tolerated celebrating Mass facing the people, and added: 'This is worthy of note because these rites have generally preserved the primitive, traditional, practices of the Church most faithfully.'
"While altars in many churches built since the Middle Ages did not really face east, the priest and people prayer facing the same direction; this was at least a symbolic 'orientation', which brought home very powerfully the role of the priest. Jungmann describes it thus:
'Now the priest is standing at the altar, generally built of stone, as the leader of his people; the people look up to him and at the altar was the same time, and together with the priest they face towards the east. Now the whole congregation is like a huge procession, being led by the priest and moving east towards the sun, towards Christ the Lord.'
"There was, moreover, a tendency to hide the sacred rites, precisely because they were sacred, set apart and stirred up awe in the believer. Hence, the iconostatis [sic] (icon screen) in the East, and the altar curtains, the rood screens, and in Spain, even walls, that separated and obscured the place where the sacred action took place."