Enjoy an article by Bp. Arthur Seratelli on liturgical unity through gestures and postures

His Excellency Most Rev. Arthur Seratelli, Bishop of Paterson has made a very interesting statement on the sense of the sacred.  The artilce says it is "the second of two articles that treat the meaning of bodily gestures at liturgy."  You can read other pieces by Bp. Seratelli here and here.

My emphases and comments.

Respect for Liturgical Norms: An Expression of Love for the Church

The Ka’bah is less than forty feet high. Certainly not a rival to the one thousand four hundred and fifty-three feet tall Empire State Building.  Yet its impact on our world history has been greater. This small, cubed building is located near the center of the Great Mosque in Mecca. Muslims considered it the most sacred spot on earth.  Five times every day, Muslims face this shrine for their prayers. In mosques around the world, a niche (Mehrab), is built where an imam can stand facing the direction of the Ka’bah.  The people join him from behind and follow him in prayer. So important is the direction of the Ka’bah at Mecca that Muslims bury their dead facing its meridian. Prayer and body language go together.  [Doesn’t this paragraph sound like the beginning of a defense for Mass being prayed ad orientem?]
 
So, too, for the Jews.  Orientation of the body at prayer has meaning.  [See what I mean?] The most important prayer of the synagogue is the Shemoneh Esrei (the Eighteen Blessings). Observant Jews recite this central prayer of the Jewish liturgy each morning, afternoon and evening.  They pray it standing and facing the ark that houses the Torah.  [This is what Joseph Ratzinger wrote about in his Spirit of the Liturgy when describing why praying Mass ad orientem is superior to praying versus populum.  Has H.E. been listening to the PODCAzTs?] The Torah niche shows the direction of prayer.  It orients those praying toward the Land of Israel.  Those praying in Israel face Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:29, 30, 44; 2 Chronicles 6:21; Daniel 6:10).  Those in Jerusalem face the Temple Mount.  This tradition of orientation to the Temple has persevered even in recent Reform American synagogues. [So… why can’t Catholics pray facing the liturgical East?]
 
Praying toward the place where the Temple once stood keeps alive the expectation that one day the Messiah will come, the Temple will be rebuilt and the dead will rise from their graves.  The position of the body itself during this prayer is clearly an act of eschatological hope and Messianic expectation.
 
In the same way, when the first Christians built their churches, they built them facing the East.  As the sun rises in the East and brightens the day, Christ himself will come again at the end of time to bathe us in the eternal light of God’s glory.  He is the Rising Son that will never set.  This is why the Christians adopted the ad orientem position for prayer.  They were expressing their expectation of the Second Coming.
 
Even in liturgy today, we use the position of our body to signal a spiritual attitude.  [This flows very nicely.] We sit during the readings. It is the position of attentive listening[One of the most important form of "active participation", because it is "active receptivity".]   We stand during the Gospel. It is a sign of respect and welcome.  When the priest prays the Eucharistic Prayer, we kneel.  [At least we are supposed to.  But we know that in many parishes people don’t anymore.] During this prayer, we express our profound reverence and adoration as we are caught up in the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.  [Too bad he doesn’t address the proper position for reception of Holy Communion.]
 
To insure good order and a proper use of our body in liturgy, the Church lays down liturgical norms. “…Every liturgical celebration, because it is an action of Christ the priest and of his Body the Church, is a sacred action surpassing all others” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). It is for this reason that the Church pays particular attentions to the gestures and postures we use at Mass.
 
Liturgical norms are a concrete expression of the authentically ecclesial nature of the Eucharist.  The General Instruction on the Roman Missal and Redemptionis Sacramentum are documents that guide us in our common worship.  These instructions are needed so that the Liturgy may be seen for what it truly is—the worship of the Church. It is God’s people uniting themselves to Christ.
 
As the public worship of the Church, the Liturgy belongs to all of us. It is neither the property of the priest nor the private devotion of the individual.  It is never merely an expression of a particular parish or community.
 
Frank Sinatra’s [From Mecca to Frank Sinatra… agile!] popular rendition of “I Did It My Way” is as much about music as it is about the strong sense of individualism in our American spirit. Some will always be tempted not to follow the words and the gestures that the Church asks us to use.  Some may long for more ancient ways; others, for more modern ways.  But for the sake of good order, the Church calls us to unity[hmmm….  I wonderful if this is an appeal to people to receive Communion standing rather than kneeling, since the conference ridiculously said people should stand in the US.  I wonder.] Following liturgical norms makes our local parishes and communities enlivened by a more tangible expression of our belonging to something greater than ourselves.
 
It may take a childlike humility to do as the Church asks in the celebration of the Liturgy. True love is never proud.  “Priests who faithfully celebrate Mass according to the liturgical norms, and communities which conform to these norms, quietly but eloquently demonstrate their love for the Church” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 52).  [At the end it really sounds as if this is directed more at priests than lay people.]

This was a very good letter!  the average reader will be able to grasp right away what the Bishop is saying. 

Frankly, I get the impression that this is aimed at priests more than anyone else.  It is as if the bishop is saying "Do The Red, Say The Black".  The unity of the congregation will follow, as it will also between parishes.
 

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24 Responses to Enjoy an article by Bp. Arthur Seratelli on liturgical unity through gestures and postures

  1. Diane says:

    Thanks for this Father Z

    Great article.

  2. Pretty good letter. I like how explains to follow the instructions of the Church not just because it is the law, but there is a reason behind that law, not only the unity of the faithful, but the unity with the Church’s own liturgical tradition. I really like how he shows that if we have no problem with it in other religious, why do so many Catholics have problems with it in their own religion.

    Pretty good letter. I like how explains to follow the instructions of the Church not just because it is the law, but there is a reason behind that law, not only the unity of the faithful, but the unity with the Church’s own liturgical tradition. I really like how he shows that if we have no problem with it in other religions, why do so many Catholics have problems with it in their own religion.

    I don’t think he is trying to say anything about norms for Communion. Although, in one sense, I might think that for the sake of getting all the other problems in the Mass fixed, I would be willing to concede to standing for Communion if it helped for a uniform carrying out ALL of the instructions, rubrics, and ritual of the ordinary form of Mass by the priest. Of course, Rome did introduce that little “loophole” which says Catholics cannot be denied Communion just for kneeling, which sort of makes the instruction for standing for Communion rather moot.

    It certainly is hard to break people out of that “inculturation” mindset, even if it be to the point of just one individual parish’s or priest’s “culture” or way of doing things, that has become so entrenched in many post-Vatican II bishops, priests, and laity. How I would love to see even a Novus Ordo Mass carried out accurately according to the books. See Canon Law #846).

  3. Ooops. Sorry, disregard the first paragraph in my above post, I thought I had corrected that.

  4. Fr R Blake says:

    Good article but it sounds incomplete – what he wants to say is presunably …and this is why Christians face East to pray.

  5. RBrown says:

    [This is what Joseph Ratzinger wrote about in his Spirit of the Liturgy when describing why praying Mass ad orientem is superior to praying versus populum. Has H.E. been listening to the PODCAzTs?]

    Either that or reading the book itself.

    The good bishop has an STD and SSL.

  6. Trubador says:

    I’m curious about something… (liturgically speaking) if your place of worship is east of Jerusalem (e.g., somewhere in Asia), are you still supposed to face “east”, or are you instructed to face “west”? The same for if you are north (say, in Lebanon or Ukraine) or south (in Ethiopia) of Jerusalem?

    Just curious.

  7. PMcGrath says:

    John Eakins: “If that’s what he meant then that’s what he should have said. … I wonder how the Novus Ordo Mass is celebrated in his diocese as relates to reverence?”

    OK, Diocese of Paterson viewers, have at it! Are the pastors in your diocese following his directives, or are they blowing him off?

    What I’m waiting for is some bishop, or bishops, or (heaven help us) the Holy See to issue an Act for the Suppression of Liturgically Unsound Music, with a Schedule in the act that basically reprints the OCP, GIA, and Haugen/Haas catalogues, and have it strictly enforced parish by parish. That is the next needed step — real episcopal liturgical butt-kicking.

  8. John V says:

    Worth mentioning that come November His Excellency will be succeeding Bishop Trautman as chair of the USCCB Committee on the Liturgy (which is to be renamed the Committee on Divine Worship).

  9. PNP, OP says:

    [So… why can’t Catholics pray facing the liturgical East?]

    Fr. Z., as far as I know there is nothing preventing a priest–even in the O.F.–from doing just that! Am I missing something?

    Fr. Philip, OP

  10. Fr. Z., as far as I know there is nothing preventing a priest—even in the O.F.—from doing just that! Am I missing something?
    Fr. Philip, OP

    Only either the physical layout of the sanctuary (which could technically be changed) or just prudence on whether it might be too hasty to do it … yet :)
    As I’ve always read, the rubrics always assume the priest is facing liturgical East (ie the same direction as the people).
    I don’t think I have seen one document that says the priest has to face the people.
    (BTW. I would love to see a Mass at UD ad orientem.)

  11. anne scanlon says:

    As one ‘persecuted from the pulpit’ layman, my prayer is the bishops will encourage reverence and permit the faithful to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer, after the Agnus Dei and to receive Communion…we bend the knee to God alone..it makes a powerful statement….
    AHHHHH just one more reason to travel for hours to attend the Tridentine Mass

  12. Timothy James says:

    Beautiful Coat of Arms! Vivere Christus est! One of my favorite verses.

  13. Jakub says:

    Second that coat of arms comment…

    By the way Fr. Z, your name is mentioned a few times at another Catholic Forum regarding the TLM and communion in the hand as well as altar servers…it’s getting very warm

  14. Tobias says:

    “I’m curious about something… (liturgically speaking) if your place of worship is east of Jerusalem (e.g., somewhere in Asia), are you still supposed to face “east”, or are you instructed to face “west”? The same for if you are north (say, in Lebanon or Ukraine) or south (in Ethiopia) of Jerusalem?”

    If you are a Jew, face Jerusalem. If a Christian, always face east. There is some very interesting evidence about Jewish Christians in the early Church who continued to face Jerusalem when they prayed.

  15. Mark says:

    A very good and relevant letter, and not just for the faithful in the bishop’s own diocese. We face the exact same problem here, or rather the ‘variety’ in positions during any given moment during Mass. Most striking was a Mass I attended which was part of an event organised by our diocese’s youth platform. The vast majority remained seated throughout… It”s simple ignorance due to never have been exposed, or even told about, the correct body language.

  16. Aaron Traas says:

    I wonder how the Novus Ordo Mass is celebrated in his diocese as relates to reverence?

    Actually, his diocese is filled with liturgical abuses — it’s a situation he inherited. He’s been fighting, but getting outright disobedience from priests.

    He’s a very generous bishop to those who value tradition; he celebrated a pontifical high mass with FSSP in June at a parish that was “independent” until the pastor died and FSSP came in.

    Seratelli has his work cut out for him, and fights an uphill battle. The laity and the priests are largely against him. Pray for him!

  17. Pat says:

    The bishop’s article is indeed encouraging in that he clearly understands the importance of liturgical east. I’m not sure where he or any of the clergy who are concerned with the innovation from after Vatican II of turning “toward the people” are going with it practically speaking. Actually it is the Church’s actual practice that leaves me confused.
    For example, the bishop mentions the importance of following liturgical norms and quotes Sacrosanctum Concilium. For the average layman it makes no sense to reference a document as the norm and then go from church to church in one diocese and be told that complete opposites are the norm. In one parish you cannot kneel during the Consecration because we are a redeemed people! As Anne points out above, in these parishes you will be corrected if you dare to kneel. A few miles down the road you’ll find a kneeling church. It will also most likely be a more quiet (reverent) church, which they say is also bad because this shows there is no sense of community.
    Fr. Z., you mentioned that you would have liked the bishop to have gone into proper posture during Communion but since he didn’t would you be willing to? I went to hear the priest at a neighboring church speak about the liturgy. He said that we must not genuflect before receiving Communion but we can make a deep bow. Again I am confused because at my parish the priest gets irritated by those who bow because they hold up the line. Some priests say you may, even should receive on the tongue and others get red in the face at the question.
    Then there is the question of liturgical dance. In another essay very strong language was used about this profane practice that still goes on in our churches. When discussing this with other Catholics, all objections are dead on arrival because someone will always say that Pope John Paul approved the practice. Remember, there are pictures of him at these Masses!
    Inconsistencies abound, that’s for sure. How do you navigate in the real world where it’s not likely there will be a Mass in the ancient form anytime soon?
    Pat

  18. Maureen says:

    Re: remaining seated

    It’s not ignorance you’re seeing, but faithful obedience to what people have been taught. Many times I’ve gone to a parish or university parish that had chairs instead of pews, and (unless the chairs had kneelers, and sometimes even then), the congregation has been instructed to remain seated. Scolded, even, if they do anything else.

    (Now, there’s nothing preventing folks from leaving a little more room between rows of chairs, so that one could kneel easily. It’d be a lot easier to move around and not break fire code, too. But nooooo.)

  19. Michael says:

    PMcGrath,

    I think it was His Excellency’s first letter in the Beacon (the diocese newspaper) that discussed the importance of the sacred in Mass (music, clapping, talking, etc.) In my own parish, it was COMPLETELY ignored. When the Bishop came to our parish for the 50th anniversary celebration a few weeks ago, the music director chose a Hawaiian luau Mass with bongos as the Ordinary. Parishoners were appalled. Those who had read the Bishop’s articles saw it as a cruel slap in the face. In short, no, pastors aren’t listening to him. But neither are they listening to the Pope. The only mention of Summorum Pontificum in my area came from a nearby parishes bulletin and denounced the entire thing. His justification? There were only 36 bishops present at Trent, therefore, the Mass of VII is superior.

  20. Charles Robertson says:

    The one aspect of the good bishop’s argument that bothers me vis-a-vis the current situation, is that it reflects that argument often used that one should simply adopt the posture of the majority in any given parish. The reason I say this is that when an argument of this type is presented, it is presented in terms of “unity”. If unity is based on common posture, that is a somewhat superficial unity. Has anyone else here encountered this argument? Even if I’m the only one kneeling in a given Churh, I kneel because it is the universal practice and corresponds to the dignity of the moment. I would not really be expressing any truer unity with the congregation by standing with them, would I? I certainly don’t see those who stand as lacking reverence, just formation.

  21. The kneeling issue during Mass can be a bit confusing. Kneeling from the “Sanctus” to the beginning of the Pater Noster is a norm for the United States. It’s not a universal norm. When I was in Italy, most people would just kneel from the epiclesis to the beginning of the Pater Noster.
    It’s the local norms that can be confusing, especially travelling to other countries. Still, those are norms that are to be observed in all the churches of that area. The problem comes in that so many individual parishes or priests have their own little customs that sometimes contradict the universal liturgical instructions. The majority of the laity don’t know what to do, and as Maureen pointed out above, they are actually being “obedient” to what they are being told. “Father said to do it or that it is OK, so he must be right, right?”
    It’s the bishops responsibility to see that the liturgical norms are followed, but he can’t do that if his priests are formed and willing to follow the same norms. It looks like there are more and more bishops who are trying to reform the liturgy in their dioceses (in a correct way), but are having to deal with priest who think they can do anything they want in the Mass.
    The problem is that with so many diocese having vocational problems, they need all the priests they can get, even if they are not very obedient in some situations. We need to pray for bishops, because sometimes their hands are pretty tied. We also need to pray for (good) vocations, because that is what is so needed in many diocese.

  22. Oops, sorry. Above I meant to say “It’s the bishops responsibility to see that the liturgical norms are followed, but he can’t do that if his priests are NOT formed and willing to follow the same norms.

  23. Paul Murnane says:

    Is it just me or does it seem like Summorum Pontificum has provided “cover” for many of the bishops to speak out on liturgical matters. As more bishops release positive statements both on SP and other liturgical matters and the sky still hasn’t fallen, it appears more bishops are becoming emboldened to actually lead in these matters. For example, last year Bishop Slattery really stood out nationally for his comments; but now there are so many that it is actually getting hard to keep track of.

    I guess what I’m saying is that a document that was issued to empower priests is also energizing our bishops. How cool is that?

  24. CDB says:

    Inconsistencies abound, that’s for sure. How do you navigate in the real world where it’s not likely there will be a Mass in the ancient form anytime soon? – Pat

    You do what you consider to be most in keeping with the mind of the Church and due reverence to Our Lord. Remember unity is one thing, uniformity is another. Sometimes you have to accept dirty looks or even scolding, but we are adults. At the end of the day, there is no canonical penalty for not following the formalities imposed by a tyrannical priest!