From a reader…
When I first started attending the TLM, I really struggled with Mass celebrated ad Orientem. However, the more I attended the TLM and Mass according to the Missal of Divine Worship (aka, Anglican Use), which in its early days even had the odd OF Mass celebrated ad Orientem, the more I got used to it.
Now I can’t stand Mass celebrated facing the people. It makes me feel very uncomfortable watching the priest, especially during those intimate moments such as the consecration (which our former FSSP priest told us is a type of consummation for the priest who is most especially acting in persona Christi at that moment, hence why the prayers are said in the first person narration, and that in the seminary, they are taught to “embrace the altar” when they lean forward. For that same reason), and when they receive communion.
I don’t want to see these things. These are very personal moments between the priest acting in persona Christi and God. They should be kept private and, dare I say, veiled from public eye. (There was a reason why nuns used to cover their faces with their face veil after receiving communion.) Now I spend most of my time at Masses celebrated versus populum with my eyes closed or staring at the floor so I don’t have to watch the priest.
I see no real value in Mass celebrated versus populum. Why on earth did they feel it necessary or even salutary to start offering Mass facing the people? I don’t like it. I wish it to go away sooner rather than later.
I think there are several factors for why the altars got turned around.
Before launching in, the great liturgical expert Klaus Gamber thought that turning altars around did more damage to Catholic identity than anything else after the Council. Also, I am leaving aside the blah blah that everyone has to add: “we have to admit that either way of saying Mass is okeydokey”. No. Both ways are legal and rubrical in both the Ordinary and the Extraordinary Form, but they are not “equal”. I’m not going to make any arguments for Mass versus populum here.
Reams of paper could be offered for each of these following points, so I’ll be telegraphic. Also, I’ll give you just a few.
First, there was a false “archaeologizing” going on at the end of the Liturgical Movement, the fruits of which were mixed. Some thought that if was done a certain way in ancient times, it was therefore “pristine” and, therefore, “better”. The problem with that is that Church matured and learned and changed according to her deeper insights. Also, the liturgical “experts” adhering like archaeologists to the pristine often got it wrong. They were wrong that in the ancient Church Mass was versus populum. Also, when it was shown that they were wrong, some abjured their false notions (such as the great Josef Jungmann), others, dishonestly, didn’t. Moreover, because the liberal iconclasts controlled the publishing back then, they didn’t allow the dissemination of arguments and opinions that clashed with their own progressivist agenda.
Second, there was a over-optimistic anthropocentrism sweeping the Church in the early days after the Council, just as it swept into the Council itself. Gaudium et spes is an example of this naive optimism. That document was criticized early on by the young Joseph Ratzinger who, in his commentaries on the Council documents, pointed out that a few paragraphs (which had been worked on by Karol Woytyla, brought to the constitution some saving Christocentrism to counterbalance its overly-optimistic anthropocentric leanings. In the sphere of worship, many liturgists made worship less about God and transcendence and more about immanence and about how wonderful we are. Worship became celebrations of ourselves. So, why shouldn’t we look at each other?
Also, the notions of Karl Rahner were much in vogue: sacraments celebrate prexisting realities. So, the enclosed circle, as Ratzinger called in in The Spirit of the Liturgy (UK HERE), is a good posture. Why open outward when what we want is already here. This was devastating also for architecture, as my friend Fr. Michael Lang of the London Oratory has explained.
There are other factors as well, but I’ll cut to the final, hardest one.
If everything is made immediate and “understandable”, and if all the hard elements are reduced to the lowest (easy) common denominator, and it everyone is turned in on themselves, distractions multiply and people don’t have to deal with their fear of death. Making Mass constantly easier by exposing every little thing and making everything audible wars against our stillness. Immediacy is an obstacle to the apophatic experience we need. Constant facial expression, loud voices, etc, reduces the opportunity for an encounter with Mystery to zero. I think that some people who imposed the changes (which the Council Fathers did NOT mandate) truly understood this and… they imposed them anyway… on purpose. The time of the changes was also the time of the sexual revolution. Holy Church was the only thing that could stand in the way of the descent into general immorality. And the most power means of Social Communication that the Church possesses is sacred liturgical worship, especially the Mass. The Mass had to be brought down in order to facilitate “liberation”.
Those are a few fast thoughts on a really complicated subject.