Last July Robert Card. Sarah made a personal (not official) bid to priests to begin celebration of Holy Mass ad orientem, and that a good time to do that would be this coming Advent.
I hope many priests will do this, carefully, prudently, and with lots of catechesis.
Card. Sarah did not suggest anything against the law or tradition. He did not say to do this abruptly. He did not say that they had to. He did not suggest anything particularly unusual.
Some people went bananas.
“How DARE he say that! He can’t do that! This isn’t official! You have to ignore him because it isn’t official. You had BETTER ignore him if you know what’s good for you!”
In an ironic twist, I am now getting copies of letters from bishops (or someone in their chanceries) to priests which tell them that they must not say Mass ad orientem.
However, the letters are not truly framed according to the law.
They “lay down the law” but they don’t make law.
Can you imagine what the reaction would be were a bishop to say to priests that they shouldn’t’ say Mass “facing the people”? That they must say Mass ad orientem?
Sometimes bishops order things that can’t be ordered. The “order” might have a sketchy argument as support, such as “I’m the moderator of the liturgy in this diocese!” Then the bishop – or, more frequently, his stand in – will strongly suggest something to be done or not to be done according to his will or wishes or desires or hankering or preference or daily haruspicy.
One of my canonist friends wrote to me, “Bring back the good old days of diocesan laws that have the form of law.”
On reception of such a suggestive letter, however, the well-attuned priest will understand exactly what the bishop wants him to understand:
“Father, I write to you today in paternal solicitude and after deep, prayerful reflection. I don’t have authority to order this, but if you defy me I will lovingly crucify you. I will, pastorally, crack your bones and, fraternally, drink your much appreciated blood from the new mug made from your skull, which I highly value as a coworker in the vineyard. In fondness and in unity in Our Lord, and grateful for the your spirit of always willing collaboration in our shared ministry, I remain yours in Christ.
Bishop of Libville
As I mentioned, above, I received copies – from more than one source – of a letter in which it is strongly suggested that priests may not make any change whatsoever toward ad orientem worship. I also received a copy of a letter from another bishop which strongly suggests that priests shouldn’t do anything too traditional. No, really. There is no actual directive according to the law, because they know they can’t legitimately order something that contravenes universal law. But the message is crystal clear. Even though X,Y, Z are legitimate options that enjoy also the strength of centuries of tradition… don’t you dare do them.
If you do, I’ll hurt you.
We have a rule of law in the Church. Sometimes implication and bullying supplant the rule of law. That’s abuse of power.
Let’s turn the sock inside out. Let’s suppose that Fatty McButterpants’ classmate and fellow bishop writes to his clergy a soothing, pastoral letter in gentle language that, beginning Advent, they are all to start saying Mass orientem. A priest reads the letter carefully and then translates it into real language…
“I’m the moderator of the liturgy around here, and you, Fathers, will not say Mass any more facing the people. You must now say Mass ad orientem. Don’t give me that old song and dance about versus populum being a legitimate option. Around here I SAY WHAT GOES! Here are my thin reasons, which will make it look like I have this authority, but you know what will happen if you defy me… Non sacciu si mi speiu….
+ Antuninu Ruspa
Bishop of Pie Town
PS: And if you send this letter to Fr. Z….
The Sicilian phrase there might help get the point across.
Were a bishop to make such a requirement, people would go bananas. They’d shout, “He might be the ‘moderator of the liturgy’ in his diocese, but he can’t do that! Mass versus populum is a legitimate option!”
So is Mass ad orientem.
As a matter of fact, the rubrics themselves indicate that that is what the Roman Church does. Mass “facing the people” is a still relatively newfangled fad compared to ad orientem worship. Our Catholic identity favors worship ad orientem for Mass more than versus populum.
Remember: Somethings truly are within a diocesan bishop’s authority to regulate. Others are not. In the first case, they can issue a proper directive. In the second case, they can’t, and so they use other means. Sometimes they even make their preference (because that’s all it is at the end of the day) look official, by dressing it up with fancy language and references, and so forth.
The problem with trying to circumvent the law and legitimate options, the problem with getting your way by force, is that we wind up with no Church at all. Ignore the rule of law and we have chaos and violation of rights and of charity.
Far better is to make an argument, present your reasons, and attempt to persuade. “Here are my reasons for this. If you object or have concerns, let’s talk about them.”
Many who hold power today (for the time being – tick… tick… tick…) are quite simply terrified of ad orientem worship.
Many priests want to move in that direction, at a prudent pace and with lots of catechesis. When they do, they will be made to suffer by those who should have their back. Priests can, in fact, fight back with recourse to higher authority. That takes time, know how, help, and lots of pain. Meanwhile, bishops can hurt their priests in a thousand creative ways.
This is how battles go, dear readers. There is always tension and ineluctable suffering.
Let us together, as the clock ticks, now meditate upon the verse: “In the mean time there arose a new king over Egypt, that knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8).
The moderation queue is ON.