Phil Lawler on ad orientem worship

My friend Mr. Phil Lawler has a good piece in the fine Catholic World News, to which you all ought to be subscribing.  He writes about the issue of ad orientem worship.   Let’s have a look, with my emphases and comments.

 

The Forum: Ad orientem: the single most important reform

by Phil Lawler
special to CWNews.com

Jan. 15, 2008 (CWNews.com) – Actions speak louder.

Before he ascended to the throne of Peter, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote frequently about the liturgy, and explained his love for the Mass celebrated ad orientemwith the priest facing toward the altar, toward the east. Now as Roman Pontiff he has made his argument all the more eloquent, simply by celebrating Mass ad orientem himself in the Sistine Chapel.

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."

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.  [Papa Ratzinger also explained that, while ad orientem focuses the priest and congregation outward, to the Lord who is coming, celebration versus populum creates a "closed circle", a turning inward of the focus of celebration.]

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.  [This is a good point: the psychological impact of turning the altars around devastated the sense of true participation at Mass.  I think the turning around of the altars was the single most harmful change after the Council.]

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. [I think Mr. Lawler has been reading WDTPRS!  o{];¬) ] 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."

In reality, of course, the Eucharistic liturgy is an act of the entire Christian community, in which priest and congregation pray together as one body. As the Catechism teaches us, "The whole Church, the Body of Christ, prays and offers herself ‘through him, with him, in him,’ in the unity of the Holy Spirit, to God the Father." So the time-honored custom of the Church was to have the priest stand at the head of the people, all facing in the same direction, forming one body united in worship.

When priest and congregation face in the same direction, toward the altar, their posture reflects the unity of the Catholic community at worship. When they face in opposite directions, with the priest facing toward the people, that unity is broken. Liturgists refer to the usual posture for Mass today as versus populum. The Latin phrase sounds as if the priest is in competition with the people, and sometimes I think that is true.

If I could choose one reform to encourage greater reverence among Catholics and a better appreciation for the meaning of the Mass, it would be a return to the tradition of celebrating Mass ad orientem[AMEN!  SAY IT, BROTHER!]

As it happens, however, no reform is necessary. Neither Vatican II nor any subsequent liturgical directive required priests to face the people. In 2001, when asked whether priests could still use the ad orientem posture in celebrating Mass, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship replied that both postures, ad orientem and versus populum "are in accord with liturgical law; both are to be considered correct." In fact, the Congregation added, "there is no preference expressed in the liturgical legislation for either position."  [That’s all very nice, but I think there is.  First, the rubrics really assume that the priest is celebrating ad orientem.  Also, the practice of celebrating versus populum is still an innovation, in the long scheme of things.  But the CDW has to say things like that.]

Now, with his own public celebration of Mass ad orientem, Pope Benedict has called public attention to this option and shown the beauty of the liturgical tradition.

My own preference for the ad orientem liturgy is based mainly on practical concerns. As long as the celebrant is put in a position that tempts him to think he is "on stage," I cannot foresee an end to the unauthorized experimentation and self-indulgence that have marred the Roman liturgy since Vatican II. But Pope Benedict has more profound and more persuasive reasons for his own preference.

In his beautiful work The Spirit of the Liturgy then-Cardinal Ratzinger explains how the Christian community developed the practice of facing the east, toward Jerusalem, toward the site of the Resurrection, as a "fundamental expression of the Christian synthesis of cosmos and history, of being rooted in the once-for-all events of salvation history while going out to meet the Lord who is to come again."

Well done, Mr. Lawler!

 

You readers might want to check my PODCAzTs on this issue.

048 08-01-01 Athanasius on Mary and Christ; Gamber, Schuler and turned around altars

043 07-08-23 Benedict XVI on Mass “toward the Lord” and a prayer by St. Augustine

037 07-07-18 The position of the altar and the priest’s “back to the people”

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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26 Responses to Phil Lawler on ad orientem worship

  1. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Now, if only His Holiness does the same next Sunday!

    Here’s praying…

  2. Barb says:

    Not only celebrating versus populum has been monumentally destructive. I’d put ripping out the Communion railings, receiving Holy Communion standing and in the hand right up there for the destruction of the sacred priesthood and belief in doctrines central to our Faith.

  3. Mark D says:

    One difficulty I have noticed is that newer Churches often do have the priest facing east – except the Church has been oriented facing west, so that versus populum and ad orientem are one and the same.

    And in these cases, the symbolism of the Church having turned its back on Christ isn’t lost on me.

  4. danphunter1 says:

    Mr. Lawler is a very bright and observant man, God bless him.
    I have also seen the horrid effects of offering the Mass “versus populum”,even with a good and for the most part reverent priest.
    This particular priest is very dignified when reciting the words and executing the rubrics until he happens to glance up and catch the eye of the congregation wherein he starts ad-libbing his own explanations of what is transpiring at the altar.
    He will make pious little comments about how awesome is the real prescence of Christ on the altar [which is all good and true] but he strays consistantly from the Altar Missal.
    This could all be prevented by having Father face God, instead of being tempted to host the, “Father Bob Show”,
    Deo Gratias

  5. Fr. John says:

    Fr. Z and good readers,

    What is the likelihood of the Holy Father actually issuing a statement on the ad orientem posture? I am not suggesting that he needs to suppress the versus populum posture, as nice as that might be (that would cause more revolt than Summorum Pontificum) but, merely give a well reasoned nod in favor ad orientem, stating it is a good and spiritually fruitful practice, it is my prayer that he does. Has there been any hint that such a document may be necessary by those in authority?

  6. jack burton says:

    danphunter1,

    Your post made me recall something I read this morning:

    “Whilst hitherto the priest, as an anonymous intermediary, as the foremost member of the congregation, turned towards God and not towards the people, offered the sacrifice as a representative for everyone and together with everyone, whilst the prayers he had to say…were prescribed for him, he now stands up as a person, with his own personal peculiarities, his personal life-style and turns his face towards us. For many of them this means a temptation to prostitute their own person, a temptation they are not sufficiently mature to resist. On the contrary! Many of them learn how, in a refined way – sometimes not such a refined way – they can turn this to their own advantage. Their gestures, their silent miming and the attitudes they strike, their entire behaviour becomes a suggestive, eye-catching way of directing attention to their own person. Many of them, in addition to this, forcibly draw attention to themselves by repeated remarks, directions, and most recently by means of personal forms of greeting and farewell…The degree of success for their suggestive behaviour is for them the measure of their power and thereby the norm of their security.”
    (K.G. Rey, “Pubertatserscheinungen in der katholischen Kirche”, Kritische Texte, Vol. 4, pg. 25; quoted in K. Gamber, “The Modern Rite”, pg. 34)

  7. pattif says:

    This is hardly an original observation, but it is not only new churches that are ‘oriented’ in a westward direction; the major basilicas of Rome are. I think it was ‘Spirit of the Liturgy’ that described the congregation turning towards the east during the Canon of the Mass,so that they were facing in the same direction as the priest (towards the rising sun).

  8. Fr Edward says:

    A wonderful article, and so many positive responses.
    I wonder though, how many of my fellow priests are actually going to lead their people towards the rising sun this Sunday?
    Its easy to post comments, easy to preach to the choir, but actions speak louder than words.

  9. EJ says:

    Fr. John – I completely agree with you. I would be most helpful if the Holy Father were also to say something about ad orientem as Pope, although I agree with Mr. Lawler, he has already spoken volumes about it by actually doing it. I have a feeling that if a certain Secretary of the CDW would be promoted to prefect – we would see and hear the difference. Cardinal Arinze, for all his orthodoxy, was not warm towards the TLM or Summorum Pontificum, and implied once that even though ad orientem is theologically preferable to versus populum, that it would be too impractical and pastorally insensitive (as if it wasn’t the first time around!) to “turn the altars around again on the faithful” (I believe those were his actual words).

  10. dcs says:

    One difficulty I have noticed is that newer Churches often do have the priest facing east – except the Church has been oriented facing west, so that versus populum and ad orientem are one and the same.

    There really is no difficulty. The Sistine Chapel itself is facing west, so that when the Pope celebrating facing liturgical east, he was actually physically facing west. There are lots of churches that do not face east, whether for one constraint (like an existing foundation) or another. The church at which I assist at Mass faces basically north, meaning that during a Solemn Mass when the deacon sings the Gospel facing liturgical north he is actually facing west.

  11. J Basil Damukaitis says:

    I might add that Sr. Mary Microphone, the commentator at Sunday’s papal liturgy ALSO SAID THE POPE WOULD HAVE HIS BACK TO THE FAITHFUL! Even Vatican Radio can’t get it right!!!!!!!
    Frustrating, simply frustrating!!!

  12. Jordan Potter says:

    On this issue, Catholic News Service has posted a not exactly accurate or helpful commentary from John Thavis:

    http://newshub.cnslis.com/2008/01/16/not-exactly-ad-orientem/

  13. Tom says:

    Mass versus populum is a destructive liturgical practice?

    Critics of that assertion could point to the fact that Popes Paul VI, John Paul I and John Paul II offered Mass versus populum.

    Pope Benedict XVI offers Mass versus populum.

    I doubt that the majority of Catholics would accept the argument that Mass versus populum is a destructive liturgical practice.

  14. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    I guess Tom hasn’t read ANY of the posts or comments on WDTPRS, probably because he is concerned with democratic Catholicism (which is impossible). He says: “I doubt that the majority of Catholics would accept…” blah, blah, blah.

  15. Tom says:

    Fr Renzo di Lorenzo wrote: “I guess Tom hasn’t read ANY of the posts or comments on WDTPRS, probably because he is concerned with democratic Catholicism (which is impossible). He says: “I doubt that the majority of Catholics would accept…” blah, blah, blah.”

    I guess that Fr Renzo di Lorenzo has not read ANY of my posts or comments on WDTPRS. Had he done so, he would have known that I am a staunch Traditional Latin Mass Catholic.

    My point is as follows:

    Whether we on WDTPRS believe that Mass versus populum is a destructive liturgical practice is irrelevant.

    The reality that the majority of Catholics in the pews do not agree with us regarding Mass versus populum is relevant. (The reality is that the majority of Latin rite bishops and priests do not regard Mass versus populum as a destructive liturgical practice.)

    The majority of Catholics would not accept our argument regarding Mass versus populum for the following obvious reason:

    The Vatican II era Popes have offered Mass versus populum.

    Pope Paul VI did so. Pope John Paul I did so. Pope John Paul II did so.

    Pope Benedict XVI has and will offer Mass versus populum.

    The majority of Catholics — bishops, priests and laymen — would respond to our argument as follows:

    “Popes Paul VI, John Paul I and II, and Benedict XVI would not have engaged in ‘destructive’ liturgical practices. Therefore, Mass versus populum cannot possibly be a ‘destructive’ liturgical practice. If Pope Benedict XVI believes that Mass versus populum is a ‘destructive’ liturgical practice, then he will halt said practice immediately. But he hasn’t and he won’t.”

    As Popes have spent the past 40 or so years offering Mass versus populum, it is ridiculous to believe that the majority of Catholics would believe that said practice is “destructive.”

    Do you disagree with that?

  16. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    Sometimes I’m a bit slow, Tom. Thanks. I’m going to chapel now to pray about this precipitous spirit of mine.

  17. Tom says:

    Fr Renzo di Lorenzo wrote: “Sometimes I’m a bit slow, Tom. Thanks. I’m going to chapel now to pray about this precipitous spirit of mine.”

    I apologize to you and need to pray myself. Pax.

  18. jack burton says:

    I believe that things change Tom. It wasn’t that long ago when Popes sanctioned private devotions for the laity during Mass and that the majority of bishops and priests would not have questioned this practice. Of course in a fairly swift turn of events private devotions at Mass would be seen and an abuse. In the early stages I believe there were Popes who personally believed that this practice was destructive of the authentic spirit of the liturgy and took steps to promote the authentic participation of the laity, and yet we do not find a clear reprobation straight away. You are right that most bishops and priests do not understand that versus populum is an illegitimate practice, and clearly many people do not understand why Pope Benedict would promote ad orientem, but this does not mean that the masses are correct or that Pope Benedict would not prefer the abolition of versus populum. I don’t think the Pope is one to violently impose such a change on the Church when it is not even understood. He has personally contributed a great deal to the understanding of ad orientem and its importance in the liturgy and I believe that when these insights are internalized on a larger scale the situation will ripen in such a way that the abolition of versus populum will not be a cause of scandal and division. The Pope must be a sign of unity for the whole Church and I think the Pope is simply being a wise and fatherly leader by making the best of versus populum in the meantime. I’m sure every orthodox priest can understand the need to pick your battles and approach things in a diplomatic way. I know priests who disagree with versus populum and other such things and yet do them out of obedience to their bishop and/or flock. I know that the Pope is the top dog in the Church, but I imagine being in those shoes one would feel a great deal of responsibility towards the clergy and faithful. I don’t doubt that this responsibility could be compared to the submission that priests often experience towards their bishop and flock. I don’t know that I could ask for much more than what the Holy Father has been doing: writing about the ideals of the liturgy and setting a good example (which includes a pastoral example). Of course I have never discussed the matter with his holiness so this is mere speculation, but I tend to see things in this way for what it is worth. Peace.

  19. I think that like the Holy Father, we must use prudence! I would love to celebrate Mass Ad Orientem. However, to do so without good teaching, the Holy Father’s continued example and maybe an official document, we may cause more confusion and anger. In time, I believe the Church will return to Ad Orientem (and not soon enough), but like the old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. So, this will not happen overnight. In the meantime, we must all strive to celebrate the Holy Mass with reverence and devotion and teach in ways that we can without causing more pain and confusion.

  20. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    Fr Jay Finelli, has, I think, a good point. It has application to the clergy.

    A priest, for instance, who is merely assisting in a parish, could very well be marginalized right out of the active ministry if he were to take it upon himself to offer Mass ad orientem, no matter how gentle and nice and instructive and preparatory he has been, indeed, even if the parishioners are unanimously, vocally behind him, demanding ad orientem.

    Some, that is, most priests, and some, if not most bishops, get so nervous about ad orientem that they will not refrain from abuse of authority in severly punishing any priest who offers Mass ad orientem. I would rather see a good priest continue to be innocent as a dove while being clever as a serpent, suffering in his non-ad-orientem “posture”, and continuing to be able to do as much as he can for the flock, than see him effectively removed from active ministry because of having offered Mass ad orientem.

    Thus, I think Fr Edward needs to reconsider that his words might have real, devastating effects in the lives of the few priests who might feel that they have to follow his sarcasm:

    He says: “wonderful article, and so many positive responses. I wonder though, how many of my fellow priests are actually going to lead their people towards the rising sun this Sunday?
    Its easy to post comments, easy to preach to the choir, but actions speak louder than words. Comment by Fr Edward — 16 January 2008 @ 2:44 pm.”

    A bit rough, that. I think this is a step by step process. I know that there are those who have willingly let their throats be metaphorically slit, knowing that they were going to be marginalized and shunned as the scum of the earth. They might also have vast resources, both interior and exterior, with the support of untold numbers of people. Not all priests are in that position, not at all. Yes, we need martyrs. I know that. But there is a point to what our Lord say about being clever as serpents and innocent as doves.

    All of this is a matter of prudence in unrepeatable circumstances. Thus, others may disagree for this or that priest. Does anyone else have a different idea about the generalities of this?

  21. Tom says:

    Jack Burton wrote: “I don’t think the Pope is one to violently impose such a change on the Church when it is not even understood. He has personally contributed a great deal to the understanding of ad orientem and its importance in the liturgy and I believe that when these insights are internalized on a larger scale the situation will ripen in such a way that the abolition of versus populum will not be a cause of scandal and division.”

    I agree that the Holy Father (bishops and priests) should instruct the Faithful on the issue at hand.

    However, I don’t believe that the majority of Catholics care deeply about the direction in which their priests face during Mass.

    That is, should their priests today offered Mass ad orientem, I don’t believe that the majority of Faithful would feel scandalized and confused.

    I don’t believe that Mass versus populum vs. Mass ad orientem is an important issue to the majority of Catholics.

    If a pastor announced today that he will henceforth offer Mass ad orientem, I believe that the majority of his parishoners would respond…”fine…go ahead.”

    Such is simply not an important issue to Latin Church Catholics.

    If the rich tradition of ad orientem were explained to the Latin Church Faithful, then I believe that they would develop a strong appreciation for said tradition.

    However, as things stand, offering Mass today ad orientem would not remotely scandalize the majority of Latin Church Catholics.

    In fact, I have literally never encountered an “average” Latin Church Catholic who feels strongly about the direction in which priests face during Mass.

    The Faithful would accept Mass today either way.

    Frankly, Mass ad orientem vs. Mass versus populum is a specialized liturgical issue amongst Traditional and liberal Catholics who argue regarding the Mass.

    The majority of Catholics simply arrive at Mass and accept that which they encounter.

  22. Tom says:

    Fr. Jay Finelli “I think that like the Holy Father, we must use prudence! I would love to celebrate Mass Ad Orientem. However, to do so without good teaching, the Holy Father’s continued example and maybe an official document, we may cause more confusion and anger. In time, I believe the Church will return to Ad Orientem (and not soon enough), but like the old saying “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. So, this will not happen overnight. In the meantime, we must all strive to celebrate the Holy Mass with reverence and devotion and teach in ways that we can without causing more pain and confusion.”

    I simply do not believe that introducing ad orientem to a parish would cause “pain and confusion.”

    I literally have never encountered “average” Catholics who would fall into pain and confusion should they encounter Mass ad orientem.

    Some of us have imagined that the direction in which a priest faces during Mass is a major issue among the majority of Catholics.

    Frankly, ad orientem and versus populum is a major issue only among relatively few “specialized” Catholics.

    That is, among Traditionalists and liberals (Chancery folks) who are determined to form the Mass according to each group’s desires.

    The folks in between, the “average” Catholics in the pews, couldn’t care less about the issue at hand.

    The majority of Catholics at a given parish would simply “fall into line” and accept ad orientem should their priest introduced ad orientem today.

    For better or worse, a parish takes on its pastor’s personality and “follows the leader.”

    We are simply making too a great an issue over the issue at hand…in the sense that we believe that it is imperative, for some reason, to proceed with monumental caution regarding ad orientem.

    Switch today to Mass ad orientem and the only folks who would whine would be the liberals at the Chancery.

    Otherwise, the majority of Latin Church Catholics would simply say “fine…offer Mass ad orientem…the switch won’t upset us one bit.”

  23. Tom says:

    Fr Renzo di Lorenzo wrote: “Some, that is, most priests, and some, if not most bishops, get so nervous about ad orientem that they will not refrain from abuse of authority in severly punishing any priest who offers Mass ad orientem. I would rather see a good priest continue to be innocent as a dove while being clever as a serpent, suffering in his non-ad-orientem “posture”, and continuing to be able to do as much as he can for the flock, than see him effectively removed from active ministry because of having offered Mass ad orientem.”

    Please, I have two questions for you.

    1. Do you believe that the majority of Latin Catholics would feel deep pain and confusion if they encountered ad orientem liturgies, for example, this weekend?

    2. If a priest offers Mass versus populum but is convinced that Mass versus populum is the most destructive liturgical practice within the Latin Church, would he please God and do well to switch to Mass ad orientem, which is the liturgical Tradition of the Latin Church.

    Thank you.

  24. Melody says:

    It might actually be destructive if a priest were to just suddenly say mass ad orientem, since people would be confused and offended. But, if the priest were to speak before mass saying, “I’m going to celebrate mass this way, and this is why…” then I see no practical barrier to ad orientem. Ironically, it could be justified by the amount of experimentation that takes place already.

  25. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    Tom,

    1. No, not at all, not if this was presented well. And it can be.
    2. Yes, of course.

    However, Tom, it is NOT the laity! Also, there is a tolerance, in the rubrics, as aggravating as that is, for non-ad-orientem.

    Consider the situation I described for those who are not in charge in a parish! We are actually talking about some excellent priests being effectively removed from active ministry. I’ve seen this, some have have lived it. This is cut-throat. We are living in a horrific reality of persecution in its last stages (which is still intensifying). Yet, I would expect more from those who are in charge of parishes.

    May I suggest this: those priests who have decent bishops, GO FOR IT! AD ORIENTEM! NOW! It is an obligation also for our fellow priests. This will create a culture within which it is possible for others to do the same with being effectively removed from active ministry. Step by step… We help each other.

  26. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    Melody, see my question for you here:

    http://wdtprs.com/blog/2008/01/wsj-papal-inquisition/#comment-45255

    Thanks!