His Excellency Most Reverend Mario Conti, Archbishop of Glasgow, has revealed his thoughts about ad orientem worship to the UK’s Catholic Herald.
Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments.
March 14, 2008
Letters to the Editor
From the Archbishop of Glasgow
SIR – I am spurred on by Tom McIntyre’s letter (March 7) to venture where angel bishops might fear to tread.
The subject is celebrating Mass versus populum or ad orientem. Much was made of the Holy Father celebrating Mass recently in the Sistine Chapel ad orientem — towards the east. In fact he was facing west. [Your Excellency, the geographical orientation is not really the point any more, is it? I think by now everyone knows that today this is in its essence a liturgical and theological distinction and not a matter of cartography. In ancient times, yes, geographical East was also an important consideration, but as in some many other areas of the Church’s understanding of the sacred mysteries, our grasp of the liturgical East has developed and deepened.] The Sistine Chapel runs parallel to the Basilica where, when celebrating Mass at the High Altar, the Pope actually does face both versus populum and ad orientem – since the basilica is not oriented, its facade faces east! [Because of the constraints of the slope of the Vatican Hill, yes.]
Some have suggested that in the "old days", ie in the former Constantinian basilica, the congregation would also have faced east, which would have meant that the celebrant faced the backs of the people. [And that is indeed the case, but not for the entire Mass. At a certain point the people were to turn about to face East, in this case literally east. This is very well handled by Klaus Gamber. St. Augustine (+430) also speaks about the importance of "turning East", turning to where "heaven begins", not because they though God was physically there, but because we must turn our minds to a higher order. At the end of his sermons, St. Augustine would say conversi ad Dominum, thus instructing his people to turn to the Lord.]
I know that facing east meant for us in the west turning not only to the rising sun but to Jerusalem, where Jesus rose from the dead. What does it mean for Christians east of Jerusalem? [Ehem… again… this is not really a matter of geographical East, Your Excellency. Also, the point Papa Ratzinger makes is that in our Judeo-Christian tradition, prayer in synagogues and thereafter in ancient churches was directed to where the Lord’s presence, and his future coming, was most strongly perceived. For Jews it was the niche for Scriptures, for example, and for Christians it was the liturgical East where the Crucifix came to be situated. Again, this is more than mere cartography.]
In fact, in our liturgy we take a God-ward stance, neither to the east nor to the west, [If you mean neither to the actual geographical East, then this statement is perfectly correct.] and our prayer is addressed to God the Father, in the name of Jesus who is "in our midst" ("where two or three are gathered together"). [Notice that His Excellency focuses on this manner of the presence of Christ with His disciples, which seems a little arbitrary. Also, this choice seems to shut out the possibilities opened up by an eschatological consideration of the sacred action in Holy Mass. Christians believe that Christ is with us always, to the end of time. We believe He is present especially in the Eucharist, but also in, say, the Word of Sacred Scripture, the person of the priest who is alter Christus, and, yes, in those gathered in His Name. But Christians also believe that Christ will come again. This is our constant concern as a Church: maranatha … come, Lord Jesus! Our prayers at Mass have a strongly eschatological dimension. If you are going to diminish the Lord’s Second Coming, in favor of His continued presence, then I would be on board with what Archbp. Conti says. But his starting point is insufficient. It seems to me that ad orientem worship by far expresses our belief in the Second Coming, at the same as as Mass, especially with the Novus Ordo during the liturgy of the Word can manifest our understanding that Christ is present in our midst.]
Nor is it to the crucifix that we turn other than to be reminded of His sacrifice which in the Mass we are representing (re-presenting). [Again, I think this is insufficient. As Papa Ratzinger explained, the Crucifix is not just a reminder of the historic event of Christ’s Sacrifice, nor also just a physical expression of our belief that that Sacrifice is renewed on our altars. It is also an eschatological sign.] It is to the bread-become-his-body and the wine-become-his-blood that our eyes are turned, for it is through Him made present that we offer the supreme sacrifice of obedience and praise lo the Father. [Taken with his previous sentence this sounds as if His Excellency thinks that we are to face each other, because when we are together Christ is in our midst, until the consecration, when the Eucharistic species are on the altar. It seems to me that, even while we can admit that anything that focuses on Christ in whatever way is going to take us beyond ourselves, this position runs the risk of "closing the circle", as Ratzinger describes and warns against. I think Archbp. Conti is sliding toward "closing the circle" when he sets aside the eschatological dimension.]
I am content, as the Holy Father was, to celebrate the Canon of the Mass facing in the same direction as the people when circumstances dictate or encourage it. I am more content to celebrate the Canon when we can all face inwards towards the altar and the bread and wine consecrated on it, which we are to "take and eat", "take and drink". [His Excellency is entitled to his preferences.]
This new order – but not so new in the churches of Rome – is surely the organic development of the liturgy with which the Second Vatican Council has enriched our worship and our understanding of it. [Does this sound rather like a non sequitur? I don’t think it is. His Excellency is identifying the "new order" (Latin novus ordo) with Mass versus populum and therefore, by implication, ad orientem worship a matter of the "old order" (preconciliar Mass). In other words, new order = Vatican II = versus populum, while older Mass = pre-Concilar = ad orientem. I think he has created a rupture where there doesn’t have to be one. The rubrics of the Novus Ordo, examined carefully, assume that the priest is celebrating ad orientem. Also, in the TLM there were provisions to celebrate versus populum when necessary. What is interesting is his use of the word "organic". He turned "organic" , a word Papa Ratzinger uses, as a kind of buzz word to make it sound as if his position is in harmony with Papa Ratzinger’s. I don’t think it is, based on what he wrote here. I think his strongest statement was that of his personal preference for versus populum worship.]
+ MARIO CONTI
Much food for thought here.
I think we have to read his op-ed in conjunction with his other recent statement about Summorum Pontificum. I posted on those here (from The Tablet) and here (his provisions on Summorum Pontificum for Glasgow).
He revealed what I think we must call hostility toward Pope Benedict’s provisions. His comments in the Catholic Herald, though very gently couched, are consistent with his previous statements.