O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Dawn of the East, brightness of the light eternal, and Sun of Justice: Come, and enlighten them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Psalm 19:6-7. (Ps 19:6-7; Is 9:2).
Lost on us today by-and-large is the cosmological connections with Jesus as not only Son of God but also the Sun of Justice. Often I say that salvation comes from the East, the where we see the Rising Sun. This is not unique to me: the our parents in the Faith in Jesus knew this intimately because of their connection with the land, and the heavens. No doubt that today the Church gives us this antiphon on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Astronomically we, as Catholics, are aware that God works in and through creation. Architecturely, Christians in Rome built churches that accounted for the sun with not only its usefulness in growing vegetables but energy and light, taking up the ancient liturgical (theological) metaphor noted in today’s antiphon: Christ is the Dayspring, the Dawn of the East. Christ is Light from Light, as stated in the Creed. Those who pray the Divine Office will recall that in the Canticle of Zachary –the Benedictus– pray the words of St Luke: “the Dawn from on high”; He will give light to those who live in darkness, those who dwell in the shadow of death.
It is only Jesus who dispels the darkness of the world (temporally) and mystically (spiritually). And that’s why we face East in the sacred Liturgy, and that is why the priest ought to face East when praying the Mass.