UPDATE: Turning the altar around in Greenville, SC – It’s time!

Do you remember my talking about the parish in Greenville, SC, where the altar and direction of worship is being "reoriented"?  During Lent the pastor Fr. Scott Newman issued in the parish bulletin a series of article explaining what worship ad orientem is all about in anticipation of … hold on …. actually doing it.  I wrote about this here.

Ad orientem worship is one of the most important re-reforms we can implement because the turning around of altars after Vatican II was perhaps the single most damaging change to Catholic identity that was forced on the Church.

A follow up is due, since Fr. Newman is hard at it again.  Let’s have a look at his recent bulletin with my emphases and comments.

 

Fifth Sunday of Easter
20 April 2008

Dear Friends in Christ,

During the five Sundays of Lent, I dedicated my bulletin columns to an explanation of the origin and purpose of the ancient custom of priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar during the celebration of the Most Holy Eucharist, a practice known variously as the celebration of Mass ad orientem (towards the East) or ad Deum (towards God). All five of those columns are available on the parish website, and if you did not read them during Lent, I encourage you to do so now since they provide a thorough explanation of what you will see today and contain recommended reading for in depth study of these questions. Among the essential points in those essays is my explanation that celebrating ad Deum does not mean that the priest is turning his back on the people; rather, priest and people are joined together in turning towards the LORD.

In the last of those five columns I announced that sometime during Eastertide we would restore the custom of ad Deum celebration here at St. Mary’s to follow Pope Benedict’s lead in recovering our own authentic traditions of liturgical prayer, and we begin this practice today. During the first few weeks of this very old and (to us) totally new way of praying, there will undoubtedly be a bit of confusion [And, you can bet, resistence and griping and letter writing.] for everyone: our priests, deacons, and servers must adjust to the logistical changes which flow from the change of direction, and our congregation must adjust to an unfamiliar experience of the Eucharistic Prayer. And while we are all growing accustomed to this method of celebrating the sacred liturgy, I ask everyone to be patient and charitable.

While the celebration of Mass facing liturgical East is ancient, my decision to try this practice here is not an exercise in antiquarianism. Father Bartholomew, Father Longenecker, and I are deeply convinced that this way of praying is a more effective means of drawing everyone more deeply into the Paschal Mystery of the Lord Jesus, and that is why we are introducing this practice for a period of discernment. Having said that, the Church has made clear that both ways of celebrating the Eucharist (ad Deum and versus populum) have value and are equally legitimate, [Something I think we might reasonably dispute, but this is a parish bulletin and this is a bold project.] so no one should conclude that one practice excludes the other. For this reason, we will from time to time revert to the more familiar form of celebration (particularly, for example, at weddings or funerals when large numbers of people from other places may be present), and every priest remains free to decide in which posture to offer the Mass.  [YES!]

In doubtful things, liberty; in essential things, unity; in all things, charity. This ancient maxim should guide us all in our response to what we begin today. I hope that each of you will see this development as an opportunity to retrieve an ancient and noble part of Christian tradition and enter with generosity into the celebration of the sacred mysteries of redemption.

Father Newman

Fr. Newman gets the highest WDTPRS kudos for this initiative.  I hope to hear reports about how this is going.

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28 Responses to UPDATE: Turning the altar around in Greenville, SC – It’s time!

  1. Father Bartoloma says:

    The priest is a courageous and obviously intelligent man. To move to ad Deum worship is, in my humble opinion, probably one of the most difficult things to pull off in an Ordinary Form parish. To introduce the Extraordinary Form into the Mass schedule, to tweek the Music, to introduce more Latin and other varia of the ‘Reform of the Reform’ may pose a challenge depending upon the makeup of a parish, but ‘re-orientation’ can be meet with the greatest amount of hostility, irregardless of how skilled the pastor is in liturgical catechesis. Father did a fine job in this critical area and surely his parish, if they are not already, will be blessed and grateful for what he has done.

  2. Tom says:

    “To move to ad Deum worship is, in my humble opinion, probably one of the most difficult things to pull off in an Ordinary Form parish.”

    Father, is the difficulty in question tied to bishops and/or the laity?

    In all my years of having discussed the Mass and liturgical reform with my brothers and sisters in the Faith, I haven’t encountered anybody who held a strong opinion regarding the continuation of offering Mass ad populum.

    Language is the issue that sends (Latin) Catholics into panic…I’ve met few who had any interest in Mass offered in Latin.

    Change the Mass from the current Tower of Babel to unifying Latin and people would go ballistic.

    But I haven’t encountered opposition to Mass ad orientem…at least among people in the pews.

    Perhaps bishops and Chancery folks object to Mass ad orientem.

    The majority of Catholics are follow-the-leader types.

    When my parish was run by a “moderate” pastor…the majority of parishoners went along with his program.

    We had a “liberal” pastor…the majority followed his lead.

    Our parish has been run the past three years by a “conservative” pastor…the majority have followed his lead.

    Pax.

  3. Tom Ryan says:

    Brick
    by
    brick

  4. Susan Peterson says:

    I have heard several lay people say they “don’t like that thing where the priest has his back to the people.” I tried hard to say that the priest and people were facing God together. The first response I got was “God is everywhere.” I didn’t have a good way of explaining liturgical east to this person, whose primary experience of worship is in a “church in the round” where the pews circle the altar. The other person said to me that the priest in facing the people is facing God, since the people are the church and the church is Christ, and Christ is God…… I haven’t yet quite recovered from my astonishment at this! My first thought for an an answer was that the Church is the Body of Christ, but Christ is the head; we aren’t, all by ourselves, Christ. Another thought was to say that we are indeed being sanctified to share the divinity of Christ, but first of all most of us have not got very far on this road, and second of all, there remains a distance between the divinity we can share in and the absolute divine being of God. (As in the old story of the important comma change, not “God is other people.” but “God is other, people.”) I intend to try to address this with this woman when I see here again this coming Friday. I would appreciate any help with what to say to her.
    Susan Peterson

  5. Dominic says:

    The re-orientation of the priest is of singular importance. This more than anything moves us away from the ‘priest as performer’ and towards a clearer understanding of the priest who is acting un persona Christi and not in his own person. If only we had a Fr Newman in our parish.

  6. Janice says:

    Would someone explain to me, if Fr. Newman is now experimenting with ad Deum worship, why he was so against the derestriction of the TLM?

    [Fr. Z: A matter which is entirely irrelevant in light of this very good initiative.  Brick by brick.  Good projects like this help everyone.  So people ought not whinge.] 

  7. elizabeth mckernan says:

    It is not only lay people who talk about the ad orientem Mass as being ‘with the back to the people.’ When I was telling a priest how I was overjoyed to be able to attend a weekly Mass celebrated ad orientem, he replied ‘Oh you mean with his back to the people.’ I was saddened at his comment particularly as he is a seminary professor.

  8. Thank you, Father Z, for your generous words of encouragement. I am pleased to report that our reorientation is off to a very good start. There has been no audible murmuring so far, and 95% of remarks from the congregation have been overwhelmingly positive. The priests and deacons of the parish all report that ad Deum celebration lends itself much more easily to praying the mysteries we celebrate, and the altar boys are thrilled. Is that last indication, perhaps, the promise of future glory?

    To any priest considering such a change in his own parish, I have this unsolicited counsel:

    1. Before undertaking a reorientation, put everything else in the sacred liturgy right: ritual, music, furniture, vesture, etc. Right worship lovingly embraced by the people almost cries out in time for ad Deum celebration, and that makes the transition much easier when it comes.

    2. Prepare the people carefully with adequate catechesis and time to ponder it all. Nothing is served by surprising the congregation with sudden change, even when it’s change for the better. Also take time to prepare the parish clergy and servers so that nothing appears ad hoc or amateurish when the change occurs.

    3. Anticipate that the primary opposition will come from other priests in your diocese. This is a very emotional issue for priests of a certain age, and some of them will simply be unhinged by the return of ad Deum celebration anywhere in their diocese.

    I first thought of doing this in my present parish over five years ago, and the demands of pastoral care kept crowding it out. Doing it now, in the wake of Summorum Pontificum and after the personal example of Pope Benedict, has probably made things much easier than they otherwise might have been. If that is one fruit cross-pollination of the two Forms of the Roman Rite, then God be praised.

  9. My family and I were blessed to be able to attend the first 11 a.m. solemn Mass ad orientem at St. Mary’s two weeks ago. My younger boys were dicernibly interested throughout Mass and I can say that personally, if I have to periodically attend the Novus Ordo, this is the only way to do it.

    It was wonderful to return to my adopted hometown from two weeks of traveling to attend daily Mass prior to the Sunday event and attend with both Fr. Longenecker and Fr. Bartholomew Leon, OSB, offering each of the daily Masses ad orientem.

    A great thanks to Fr. Newman for having the courage to do this while surrounded by many throughout the diocese who are not at all pleased. Fr. Newman has never lacked courage in following through in this well-formed, well thought out commitments to the liturgy, catechesis and formation of his parishioners.

    Perhaps more cross-pollination could be on the horizon?

  10. Fr. Newman: How pleased I am to hear from you. Perhaps I could give you a call and perhaps have a few sound bites from you for a future PODCAzT?

    Solidarity!

  11. henricus says:

    Would someone explain to me, if Fr. Newman is now experimenting with ad Deum worship, why he was so against the derestriction of the TLM?

    I have no reason to speculate on whether Fr. Newman was, indeed, “so against the derestriction of the TLM”.

    However, in both the run up to and the immediate aftermath of Summorum Pontificum, it seemed to me that perhaps some of those most interested in the “reform of the reform” were concerned that there might be counterproductive “competition” for commitment and resources between the implementing the extraordinary form and renewing the ordinary form (whereas I myself hoped they would be mutually supportive).

    My own devotion to the TLM is probably conspicuous, but I hope my post describing a visit to St. Mary’s (Greenville), at http://www.knoxlatinmass.net/StMarys06.pdf, suggests a very serious interest also in the reform of the reform, of which Fr. Newman’s parish is the best example that I have seen personally. In short, I felt that orientation ad Deum was the only missing brick in a truly wonderful example of what the “new Mass” can and should be.

    Consequently, Fr. Newman’s final remark on cross-pollination of the two forms as a result of Summorum Pontificum seems especially encouraging and heartening.

  12. Being neither “henricus” nor “anonymous”, let’s see if I can get the computer to put my real name down there.

  13. Carolina Geo says:

    “In short, I felt that orientation ad Deum was the only missing brick in a truly wonderful example of what the “new Mass” can and should be.”

    I have not been to Mass at St. Mary’s in quite some time, but it sounds from these accolades like they have also instituted Gregorian chant and a broad use of Latin in their liturgies there, as was called for in the conciliar and post-conciliar documents. Good job!

    I am curious as to whether the Mass is now celebrated at the high altar or at the free-standing altar. If the former, having the free-standing altar there would be a distraction. Just wondering.

  14. TerryC says:

    Before Summorum Pontificum I had long suspected that the strong support of what was to become the Extraordinary Order of the Roman Rite by the most orthodox faithful in the Church was actually hurting the chances to rein in the N.O. That is because both priests and faithful who would be most interested in supporting the Ordinary Form of the Mass in Latin, according to the rubrics, said ad orientem with the sacred music of the ancient Church were expending all of their attention on TML. These were the people most likely to push for an end to Liturgical abuse, for an end to the four hymn sandwich, and a broader use of Latin.
    Now that Summorum Pontificum has come, and the TML has become more available in some places (and at others it appears as if Summorum Pontificum had never been written)I am glad to see that I was wrong and that Father Z’s gravitational force is indeed causing positive changes to the Ordinary Form as celebrated in various places.

  15. Since we began our Conversi ad Dominum the Fifth Sunday of Lent at St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Peoria, AZ, we have had many new parishioners register. This was the culmination of a two-year period of catechesis. Parishioners who objected have found “refuge” at tradition-less parishes.

    May the Lord touch the hearts and spirits of those who desire to restore the Church to its noble work of right-worship.

  16. it sounds from these accolades like they have also instituted Gregorian chant and a broad use of Latin in their liturgies there, as was called for in the conciliar and post-conciliar documents.

    Indeed. See Fr. Newman’s 7/10/2005 bulletin at

    http://www.stmarysgvl.org/ourparish/2005-15th-sunday-of-the-year

    where, in preparation for increased use of Latin, he explained to the St. Mary’s congregation that Vatican II’s Sacrosanctum Concilium had called for the preservation of Latin and Gregorian chant in the Mass.

    And hence, he tells them, in the coming weeks and months “we will continue to use a bit more Latin at the Solemn Mass each Sunday to help fulfill the vision of the II Vatican Council for the authentic renewal of the sacred liturgy.”

    Even as we marvel at literally inspiring pastoral leadership such as Fr. Newman’s, we must wonder why it is so rare among Catholic priests and bishops.

  17. Nick says:

    I actually like the altar facing the people. It helps me know what is going on, and hence, help me participate in the Holy Mass. I’ve been to a Mass where the altar was facing away from the people and it really confused me. I had no idea what to do or what was going on. So in my humble opinion, I prefer the altar to be facing the people. However, if the Church dose away with altars facing the people, than I’ll humbly accept this, for I love our Mother and Teacher.

  18. Susan Peterson says:

    Franzjosf,

    Fr. Z has made it very clear he does not want your question to be addressed in this thread. Fr. Newman has done something very good; he is not to be criticized for something else he has not done. Let it alone. This blog has many other threads for discussing the extraordinary form.

    Everyone else, in my previous comment I asked for help answering the two people I spoke with who objected to ad orientem celebration. Please tell me what you would say if talking to an ordinary Catholic who made these objections. Please! I will have an opportunity to renew at least the second conversation just two days from now. I could really use some help planning my answer.

    Susan Peterson

  19. Franzjosf says:

    Susan: Ah, I think you’re right. I didn’t realize that the red post above was Fr. Z’s intervention. I thought it was Janice quoting from another thread; nevertheless, I respectfully disagree. It’s like giving awards for stopping at stop lights.

  20. mariadevotee says:

    Susan, If you follow that lady’s logic one step further, then the priest, as persona Christi, is facing himself, which is a logical impossibility. Her conclusion is incorrect, in that we are not God, we are creature to His Creator. We can be called ‘the people of God’ but again, we are not God. You could try to explain that the Church, in a way has, like Christ, a human and a divine nature. Her human nature would be the flawed human persons who make up her members but on the other hand, as the spotless Bride of Christ, she is wholly without blemish. I think rather than try to poke holes in her logic (where to start???) you would be better off by reading in the Catechism 748 and on to see if you can glean some phrases that would help. At the end of the day, you probably won’t change her mind with reason, chapter and verse. A smile and a “you know, I just don’t think so” may end up being your best response. Stay relaxed and loving. God bless your apologetics!

  21. RBrown says:

    I have heard several lay people say they “don’t like that thing where the priest has his back to the people.” I tried hard to say that the priest and people were facing God together. The first response I got was “God is everywhere.”

    If we follow their reasoning that God is everywhere, then they should have no problem with ad orientem celebration–He would equally there if the priest was facing the people.

    But of course, they’re not interested in whether God is everywhere but rather in wanting someone to trigger their emotions.

    BTW, JRatzinger pointed out that versus populum celebration undermines participatio actuosa because it makes the priest the center rather than Christ Himself.

    I didn’t have a good way of explaining liturgical east to this person, whose primary experience of worship is in a “church in the round” where the pews circle the altar. The other person said to me that the priest in facing the people is facing God, since the people are the church and the church is Christ, and Christ is God…… I haven’t yet quite recovered from my astonishment at this! My first thought for an an answer was that the Church is the Body of Christ, but Christ is the head; we aren’t, all by ourselves, Christ. Another thought was to say that we are indeed being sanctified to share the divinity of Christ, but first of all most of us have not got very far on this road, and second of all, there remains a distance between the divinity we can share in and the absolute divine being of God. (As in the old story of the important comma change, not “God is other people.” but “God is other, people.”) I intend to try to address this with this woman when I see here again this coming Friday. I would appreciate any help with what to say to her.
    Susan Peterson

    You’ve been given another version of the old We Are Church nonsense.

    It is appropriate that the members of the Church face Christ Who is the Head and Who is assumed into Heaven.

    Anyway, I am reminded of the line (from I think, Chesterton): Love is not two people gazing at each other but rather two people together gazing into a fire.

  22. Ann Koch says:

    The priest, in persona Christi, is standing in as the visible head of the body of Christ. So, to make the image in the people gathered for Mass correct, using her own argument about the “body of Christ” being the people gathered, then why would you sever the head from the body by putting a large stone table where the neck ought to go?

    I’m sure my comment had holes in it, but when someone starts saying that facing the people is facing Christ’s body, then I get wiggly about that severed head….

    I’m submitting this but my comments make me squirm, comments welcome!

  23. TJ says:

    Why do you think turning our altars around after Vatican II was the most damaging this to our identity? Do you honestly believe that the eary Church prayed that way? My scholarship on the subject would not support your hypothesis. The early communities worshiped in house churches eating together around a common table and cup. Some times I wonder about all these reforms people are pushing these days and wonder if they’ve actually taken the time to read a book or study the history of the liturgy in order to make informed and intelligent comments. May God continue to bless you and all those in our wonderful Church.

  24. RBrown says:

    Why do you think turning our altars around after Vatican II was the most damaging this to our identity? Do you honestly believe that the eary Church prayed that way? My scholarship on the subject would not support your hypothesis. The early communities worshiped in house churches eating together around a common table and cup. Some times I wonder about all these reforms people are pushing these days and wonder if they’ve actually taken the time to read a book or study the history of the liturgy in order to make informed and intelligent comments. May God continue to bless you and all those in our wonderful Church.
    Comment by TJ

    In so far as you’re such a scholar and so interested in reading books on the question of ad orientem celebration, I recommend JRatzinger’s The Spirit of the Liturgy. Your concerns are treated on pages 74-84.

  25. Habemus Papam says:

    The Reform Of The Roman Liturgy by Monsignor Klaus Gamber: Chapter XIV The Altar Facing the People: Questions and Answers

    First Question; what about the situation in the early Church? Didn’t the faithful all sit together with their Leader at “The Lord’s Table”?

    To answer this question we have to draw a distinction between the celebration of the Agape, the Communal Meal of Love, and the celebration of the Eucharist, which in the earliest times of Christianity followed the Agape meal, but later preceded it. I discuss this point in detail in my book Beracha.
    During the first centuries, when the number of the faithful in a community was still small, the seating order used during the Agape meal carefully followed the order used during the Last Supper-which is not surprising, considering that at the time, this was part of common table etiquette anyway. This seating arrangement can also be discerned from the foundations of a number of early Christian church houses excavated in some rural Alpine regions: there is the relatively small room located in the centre of the building, approximately 5 meters by 12.5 meters in size, and at its centre is a stone bench of semi-circular shape, designed to accomodate 15 to 20 persons. These findings have been presented in a detailed and comprehensive study that appeared under the title, The Patriarchy of Aquileia and the Bavarian Church.
    In the towns where larger numbers of faithful needed to be accomodated during worship, several tables would be set up. The bishop and the presbyters would sit at one table, while the faithful, seperated by sex, would sit at the other tables. There is a referance in the Letter to the Galatians (2:11-21)where the Apostle Paul reproves his brother apostle Peter for having, in Antioch, sat down together at the table with the Christians of Jewish origin, purportedly avoiding the tables of the Christians of pagan origin.
    While during the communal meal-the Agape-people sat at the table, during the celebration of the Eucharist the people got up and stood behind the celebrant at the altar, as specifically prescribed in the Didascalia Apostolorum, a Church procedures manuel of the second and third century, a manual which also instructs the faithful to turn toward the East (II 57,2-58,6,in the Funk edition).
    During the following stages of development, the communal meal is discontinued (since about the fourth century)and the tables disappear. At that point, the faithful were sitting on benches placed along the walls of the church chamber and the wooden altar table now becomes an altar made of stone.

  26. Future Priest says:

    As a future priest (one year away from ordination), I plan on celebrating Mass “ad Deum” but am a little confused as to the times when the priest is to face the people during the first half of Mass (the Liturgy of the Word). The GIRM states that the celebrant faces the people after making the sign of the cross at the beginning of Mass (GIRM 86), but it makes no further mention of facing the people until the Orate Fratres (GIRM 107).

    Does this mean that the celebrant is to face “ad Deum” for the Collect, the Kyrie, the Gloria, the Creed, and the General Intercessions? If the celebrant’s chair is oriented toward the people, does he say the Collect and other prayers facing the people or would he turn and say it facing “ad Deum”? What about when the chair is placed behind a freestanding altar or in front of it as some parishes have it?

    Any clarifications will sure be appreciated greatly.

  27. Fr D says:

    Try this:
    If we believe that the Tabernacle (properly located behind the altar – or at any rate centrally) contains the real presence of Jesus Christ (ie. our God) then surely one ought never to turn one’s back on Him. Even in human terms, it is rude to turn away from someone when speaking to them! “Principled” proponents of versus populum celebration are sending out the subliminal message that the human is more important than the divine. Or that the presence of God is as much within the Assembly as within the Tabernacle. Ad orientem celebration safeguards against this ancient misunderstanding.

  28. Stephen says:

    Now that Pope Benedict XVI has seemed to reintroduce how a Solemn Pontifical/Papal Mass is celebrated I was wondering if he has started to wear the Subcinctorium?