Do you remember the Monty Python sketch about the funniest joke in the word? It was so funny that it would kill you. Even just seeing a couple words of the joke on paper would put you in the hospital.
If you have been reading this blog for a while you have seen my opine that when priests learn the older form of Holy Mass in the Roman Rite, they are never the same thereafter. Even when they get a taste of the Novus Ordo celebrated in continuity with the older form of Mass, they are affected.
A friend alerted me to this from the blog of Rev. Know-it-all, the alter ego of Fr. Richard Simon, Pastor of St. Lambert Parish, Skokie, IL.
My emphases and comments.
A reflection on Liturgy celebrated “ad orientem”
Instead of the usual “Rev. Know it all” this week, I would like to share some reflections on a recent experience. At the end of a conference on the Church Fathers, I said the ordinary form of the Mass, the so called Novus Ordo, in the English language. [Nota bene.] It was no different from any other Novus Ordo Mass, with one exception.
For the Offertory, Canon and Our Father I faced the altar, not the congregation. I said the opening prayers form the presider’s chair, where I remained for the readings. I wore a microphone as usual. I then read the Creed and the prayers of the faithful, went down to receive the offerings of bread and wine, and then went to the altar directly, not going around behind it. The deacon and I turned to the congregation at the prayer “Pray brethren..” I next turned to the congregation at the sign of peace and then again at the “Lord, I am not worthy…” After the distribution of Holy Communion I returned to the presider’s chair and finished the Mass as usual. The music was very simple, very little organ, mostly plain chant in English, some Latin used in the ordinary parts of the Mass, all prayers and readings in English. I had warned the congregation that I would do this one time only as part of the conference that we were having at the parish. I faced away from the congregation for about 14 of 55 minutes, all told.
I did it as an experiment. I suspect that the Council Fathers of Vatican II never envisioned Mass facing the people. I wanted to know what the Mass of Vatican II would really be like, some English, some Latin, Gregorian chant, unaccompanied singing and a balance of facing toward people when addressing them and facing the altar with them when addressing the Father. I think this is what is called in the rubrics of the Missal when it indicates that the priest should face the people six times during the Mass: [Which leads to the question: "Why, therefore, not do it all the time...?"]
1)When giving the opening greeting (GIRM 124).
2)When giving the invitation to pray at the end of the offertory, “Pray brethren” (GIRM 146).
3)When giving the greeting of peace (GIRM 154).
4) When displaying the Host and Chalice before Communion and saying: “Behold the Lamb of God” (GIRM 157).
5) When inviting the people to pray before the post communion prayer (GIRM 165).
6)When giving the final blessing (Ordo Missae 141).
The fact that these rubrics exist, seems to assume that the priest is facing away from the people at some time during the liturgy.
After Mass, comments were varied. Some people loved it, most didn’t like it, some were infuriated. In particular I got angry fingers in the face, from someone who said that “the Pope had sent a letter to all priests telling them that they had to face the people.” How do you prove something that never happened? Rome has never said anything about having to face the people during Mass. One must do so only six times. It is one of the great mysteries of our times why, overnight, most of the altars in Catholic Churches were turned around. [The late great liturgical scholar Fr. Klaus Gamber said that the turning of the altars was the change that did the most damage after Vatican II.]
I, however, wish I had not said Mass facing away from the congregation, and not because of the anger directed at me. I am a Catholic priest. I am used to people being angry with me. I wish I had not said Mass in what I believe to be the posture assumed by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, because it was one of the most beautiful experiences of my priestly life. You cannot imagine what it was like to say words like “we” and “our Father” and “us” while standing at the head of a congregation that was turned together in a physical expression of unity. No matter how one might argue to the contrary, it is impossible to say “we” while looking at 500 people and not be speaking to them.
The Mass is a prayer addressed to the Father, and despite our best intentions, we clergy address it to the congregation at whom we are looking. You cannot help it. The human face is a powerful thing. Last Saturday night I realized for the first time that I was part of a family of faith directed toward the same heavenly Father. I felt as if I was part of a church at prayer. It was not my job. It was my church. I never realized how very lonely it is to say Mass facing the people. I am up there looking at you. I am not part of you. For 13 or 14 minutes. You weren’t looking at me. We were looking at God.
I love the Tridentine Mass, or as we are supposed to be calling it now, the “extraordinary form.” I think that the Holy Father has been very wise in allowing its revival for those to whom it is meaningful. Its sense of solemnity is very beautiful and enshrines an essential dimension of the mystery of worship. I taught Latin for about 25 years, I understand the complex rituals of the old Mass. They mean a lot to me. Still, I don’t think that we should return to the exclusive use of Latin. I think the Council Fathers were right to simplify the mass.
WDTPRS KUDOS to this Fr. Know-It-All.
Keep celebrating ad orientem, friend.
We need an altar revolution. We have to take back our proper orientation.
Pray for the Holy Father, who is helping us back to continuity in our worship and our identity.