IMPORTANT UPDATE BELOW!
At the parish of St. Mary in downtown Greenville, South Carolina, the pastor, Fr. Jay Scott Newman, is helping his people get re-oriented… liturgically.
He is shifting them to ad orientem worship.
He has been carrying on a good catechesis about this extremely important issue through his parish bulletins which are also posted on the parish website.
I am of the mind, along with great scholars like Klaus Gamber, that turning altars around after the Council devastated our Catholic identity and understanding of Catholic worship. I have made several PODCAzTs about this. Papa Ratzinger has written eloquently about this important topic.
Here are some excerpts from Fr. Newman’s pages. My emphases and comments:
Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger was one of the most thoughtful and respected critics of the unintended consequences which flow from the priest and people facing each other across the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer. Ratzinger argued that this arrangement, in addition to being a radical novelty in Christian practice, has the effect of creating a circle of congregation and celebrant closed in upon itself rather than allowing the congregation and celebrant to be a pilgrim people together turned towards the LORD. And this closed circle, in turn, too easily renders the Eucharist more of a horizontal celebration of the congregation gathered than a vertical offering of the sacrifice of Christ to the Father. This flattening of divine worship into a self-referential celebration [Well put.] is, in part, what leads many Catholics to experience Mass as much less than the source and summit of the Church’s life, and the remedy for this malady is to open the closed circle and experience the power of turning together towards the LORD.
This can be done primarily in two ways: 1) return to the ancient and universal practice of the priest standing with the people on one side of the altar as they together face liturgical East, the place from which the glory of the LORD shines upon us, [Preferable, but perhaps too much of a first step.] or 2) even when the priest and people remain separated on opposite sides of the altar, place a cross at the center of the altar to allow both celebrant and congregation to face the LORD. [A first step.] Pope Benedict, through his writing and by his example, is encouraging priests everywhere to work towards these goals to enrich the experience of divine worship and free us from the danger of solipsism which is contained in self-referential ways of praying.
Fr. Newman made some good points here, based on Papa Ratzinger’s work and on his example as Roman Pontiff. Pope Benedict has been celebrating in the Vatican Basilica with a Crucifix placed between himself and the congregation. This is important even in a building which by its physical location on the Vatican Hill is liturgically oriented to the geographical East, but in such a way that the congregation and celebrant seem to be facing each other over the altar. In fact, in ancient times, there was a moment at Mass when the people in the old Constantinian Basilica literally turned around to face the East along with the celebrant, thus putting the celebrant physically behind them.
That’s how important eastward celebration was.
I want only to make this point: there is no essential connection between the liturgy of Vatican II, the freestanding altar, and the priest facing the people at the altar. In fact, even now the rubrics in the modern Roman Missal are written with the assumption that the priest and people are together facing liturgical East during the Mass, and as I explained last week, Pope Benedict XVI wants Catholics everywhere to understand that to be faithful to our own tradition, we must live in continuity with the Church’s worship in every age.
Exactly. Nowhere do the documents of Vatican II or the rubrics of the Mass, or the GIRM require that Mass be celebrated "facing the people". The rubrics assume the opposite. There are moments when the priests is (in Latin) instructed to say something in the direction of the congregation and then turn back to the altar. No document requires that an existing altar be detached from the wall or that it cannot be used. Yet, far and wide terrible vandalism was done to churches based on an ephemeral ideology and incomplete scholarship
Moreover, because the Eucharistic Prayer is addressed to God the Father and not to the congregation, the normal posture of the priest has always been to face the East with his congregation and offer the sacrifice of the Mass with and for them to the Father. Accordingly, it is a simple mistake to think of the priest as “having his back to the people” when they stand together on the same side of the altar; rather, the priest and people by their common “orientation” show that they are turning towards the LORD, a physical metaphor for the interior work of conversion which can be thought of as the “reorientation” of our lives. This is why in nearly every place and for almost all of Christian history, the priest has stood with his people on the same side of the altar so that, together facing the East of the sacred liturgy, they could offer their lives while pleading the sacrifice of Christ, and it is this deep dimension of our common prayer which Pope Benedict wants us to retrieve from our own tradition.
What Father points out here is also important for reorienting our Catholic identity, who we are as a pilgrim people on a journey to meet the Lord who is returning. It also helps us understand who the priest is in the Church, who he is for the people, what their relationship is.
It sounds like Fr. Newman is on the right track, and his people are fortunate to have him at their helm.
Among the important things we must address in our liturgical lives, the position of the priest in relation to the congregation and the altar might be the most important. This is an issue which transcends the edition of the Missale Romanum being used. A return to ad orientem worship must be sought out again, patiently and with catechesis, for the Novus Ordo.
A growth in celebrations of the older form of Mass will help this process, through the "gravitational pull" it will exert and the awareness it will bring to new generations.
UPDATE: 4 March 08: 15:10 GMT
Fr. Newman gets into "active participation".
… [I]n the years following the II Vatican Council, the Church’s desire that all the faithful participate fully in the sacred liturgy was too often rendered a caricature of the Council’s teaching, and misconceptions about the true nature of active participation multiplied. This led to the frenzied expansion of “ministries” among the people and turned worship into a team sport. But it is possible to participate in the liturgy fully, consciously, and actively without ever leaving one’s pew, and it is likewise possible to serve busily as a musician or lector at Mass without truly participating in the sacred liturgy. Both of these are true because the primary meaning of active participation in the liturgy is worshipping the living God in Spirit and truth, and that in turn is an interior disposition of faith, hope, and love which cannot be measured by the presence or absence of physical activity. [A true WDTPRS description!] But this confusion about the role of the laity in the Church’s worship was not the only misconception to follow the liturgical reforms; similar mistakes were made about the part of the priest. [A very good way to track back to the position of the altar.] … [T]he priest was gradually changed in the popular imagination from the celebrant of the Sacred Mysteries of salvation into the coordinator of the liturgical ministries of others. … Once these falsehoods were accepted, then the service of the priest in the liturgy became grotesquely misshapen, and instead of a humble steward of the mysteries whose only task was to draw back the veil between God and man and then hide himself in the folds, the priest became a ring-master or entertainer whose task was thought of as making the congregation feel good about itself. [In Sacramentum caritatis] the pope teaches that “the primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself,” and an essential part of that work is removing the celebrant from the center of attention so that priest and people together can turn towards the LORD. Accomplishing this task of restoring God-centered liturgy is one of the main reasons for returning to the ancient and universal practice of priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar as they offer in Christ, each in their own way, the sacrifice of Calvary as true worship of the Father. In other words, the custom of ad orientem celebration enhances, rather than diminishes, the possibility of the people participating fully, consciously, and actively in the celebration of the sacred liturgy.
5th Sunday of Lent <— UPDATE
Well… it seems he has gone and done it!
5th Sunday of Lent
8 March 2008
Dear Friends in Christ,
In the last four bulletin columns, we’ve seen that:
+ until the 1960’s the vast majority of Christians in every time and place offered the sacrifice of the Most Holy Eucharist with the priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar. [Yes. Gamber is strong on this. Support from a historian.]
+ this ancient and universal practice of offering the Eucharistic Prayer ad orientem, or facing East (whether geographical or liturgical East), is rooted in Judaism and the practice of the first Christians and emphasizes the vertical dimension of worship by opening the circle of priest and people to the presence of God among us in the sacred liturgy. For this reason, the custom of facing East is also described as praying ad Deum or towards God. [This is the line of Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. Support from a theologian.]
+ when properly understood and celebrated, this form of prayer not only does not constitute an impediment to the full, conscious, and active participation of the people in the sacred liturgy, it actually enhances that possibility by removing the priest from the center of the action and allows him to be once again merely a steward of the Sacred Mysteries rather than a host charged with entertaining his guests. [Another point Benedict stressed in Sacramentum caritatis. Support from the Magisterium.]
+ the II Vatican Council said not one word about the direction in which the priest should face at the altar, and even now the rubrics of the modern Roman Missal are written with the assumption that the priest is facing East at the altar. Moreover, the Congregation for Divine Worship has clarified that facing East and facing the congregation are both equally lawful and that no special permission is needed for the priest to face the East, a fact underscored recently by Pope Benedict’s public celebration ad orientem, something he does everyday in his chapel. [Support from modern Church documents.]
For all of these reasons, we will begin to celebrate Mass ad Deum at St. Mary’s sometime between Easter and Pentecost, after all the clergy and servers have been prepared for the logistical changes which will attend this development. We will celebrate the Mass in this fashion for several months until both priests and people have had the opportunity to grow accustomed to a practice that is unfamiliar to us, despite being the norm of Christian worship for nearly all of our history. After a suitable period of acclimation, we will evaluate our progress and review the best practices for our parish, and during the months of testing, I ask only that everyone (no matter whether you support this decision, oppose it, or have no opinion) exercise patience, prudence, and charity. This return to our own tradition is not an exercise of change for the sake of change; it is, rather, an effort to respond to the leadership of our Holy Father, who reminds us that what has been held sacred by all generations of Christians is to be held sacred by us. Let’s work together in this retrieval of an ancient and noble part of Christian prayer to see how it might strengthen our union with the Lord Jesus and deepen our capacity to worship the Father in Spirit and truth.
WDTPRS applauds Fr. Newman. I pray that he will be able to weather the storm that I fear will come from some quarters… probably from very few.
This will only benefit his parish.
WDTPRS will happily follow their progress and post reports as they come in over time.