Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Give us few good reasons


On NLM there is an extract from the newsletter of an American priest:

Often we hear the different Masses described in the media with something like, "the Tridentine Mass is celebrated in Latin with the priest's back to the people, and the New Mass is celebrated in English with the priest facing the people." This is an oversimplification that is not accurate.

The New Mass can be celebrated in Latin at any time. And, as was our experience when we went to Europe for World Youth Day two years ago, it sometimes happens that it is also celebrated in English, but not facing the people. Ultimately, it is not the language or the direction the priest is facing that is the important thing. It is the ritual being followed, in other words, what are called the rubrics. The New Mass has greatly simplified rubrics compared to the Tridentine Mass.

However, the issue of which direction the priest faces is important, historically. In Judaism, the direction of prayer is always to face Jerusalem. For Muslims, the direction of prayer is always to face Mecca. For Christians, especially for Catholics, the direction of prayer has always been to face the East. I wonder how many of our people even realize that. And why might that be important?

It was to the East that Jesus ascended into heaven. And the angels present that day told the apostles that He would return in the same way that they saw Him going up. Therefore, Catholics always prayed facing the East as a way of waiting for the return of the Lord in glory. And the priest stood with his back to the people, not turned away from them, but leading the entire congregation in prayer. He stood at their head, so to speak, leading the assembly in worship of God.

Contrary to popular opinion, Mass facing the people is a totally modern invention. It was not the way Mass was celebrated in the early church. and the disadvantage of Mass celebrated this way is that we can too easily forget that the entire Mass is a prayer to God, led by the priest. The danger is that the community can too easily turn inward on itself, rather than facing and anticipating the coming of the Lord.

Peace,
Fr. Szada

NLM suggests the obvious that Fr Szada has been reading Ratzinger's "The Spirit of the Liturgy" and Lang's, Turning Towards Lord". Now, can anyone give me any good reasons why Mass should ever be celebrated facing the people? Like most priests that is the normal way I celebrate Mass, once a week only, on a Friday evening, I turn towards the Lord. The only reason I offer Mass facing the people is because that is how everyone else does it. Even the Missal seems to think I should be facing the same direction as the people, it says, "He turns towards the people and says: Pray brothers and sister...".


The Instruction in the Missal says something like,

".... the altar should be freestanding, so that Mass may be celebrated facing the people, which is always desirable."

When the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship was asked explain this, they said it was the altar being freestanding that was always desirable, not Mass facing the people.


So, why do we do it?

Does anyone know why it became almost universal?

23 comments:

Chris said...

I've been thinking about this too, and it's quite tricky. I would suggest that facing the people in some respects emphasises that the priest is in persona Christi - that it is Him ministering to us. I'm not sure it really washes though.

Moretben said...

Thanks for this, Father. My own opinion (for what it's worth) posted at The Undercroft.

http://theundercroft.blogspot.com/2007/09/versus-norma.html

gemoftheocean said...

H'mmmm.... in St. Peter's even pre Vatican II -- Mass seems to have been celebrated "pro populo." A check of Fr. Finegan's [sp?] formerly of Valle Adurni, shows this in the John XXIII coronation Mass. Granted, there is a LOT on the altar...but he's still facing the people in the main body of the church.

IMO, I'd rather have the priest face me so I can see what's going on. Given he's holding The Body of Christ in his own hands, I can't see that he's "turning his back" on God.

Benfan said...

Implicit in the implementation of VII was a drive to remove any differences which would prove a stumbling block to seperate christian communities. Differences that were seen as not integral to the faith that is! An oversimplistic/ignorant view of form, symbol and sign was probably the main driver. I suppose with hindsight these errors are always more clear in the present than they were at the time. Now that we know the damage and if there is no obstruction then should priests not turn again to the Lord? It might feel a little uncomfortable to be in a minority but someone has to start the ball rolling. I see you have aleady done so. How have you found the Friday experience both for youself and your parishoners? Did you prepare them for it?

Anonymous said...

The Instruction in the Missal says something like,


".... the altar should be freestanding, so that Mass may be celebrated facing the people, which is always desirable."


When the Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship was asked explain this, they said it was the altar being freestanding that was always desirable, not Mass facing the people.


And of course the CSDW issued an instruction as soon as they were infomred of the unfortunate translation to the effect that the Missal should be amended to read: ...the the altar should be freestanding, which is always desirable, so that Mass may be celebrated facing the people, ."

anne-marie said...

I don't know why.
But I have never like the Mass being said AT me. It feels wrong and it doesn't make sense because I'm not an audience.

Andrew said...

You might want to try reading this online book by the late Michael Davis: Barbarians Have Taken Over

Anonymous said...

Every time I go to Mass, I long for the priest to turn round, to lead us in prayer to God, and I'm not particularly a traditionalist. I absolutely agree about the risks of the community turning in on itself. I seem to recall that Cardinal Ratzinger suggested that one solution might be to place a crucifix on the altar – i..e, in cases where it was impractical to face east – to avoid this.

Fr Ray Blake said...

In ST Peters and the other Roman Basillicas, apparently everyone turned with their backs to altar, I find that rather difificult to believe. But from the videos of the Papal Coronation put up by Fr Sean, the Papal Court all seemed to have faced east standing behind the Pope, the area from the Altar of the Chair, in the apse, to the High Altar was where "the action" was. In a way it was a Church within a Church. The Nave was for the most part ignored. Remember too, St Peters was originally a Greek Cross.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Friday night, and other few times when I have faced the same direction as the people really doesn't shock people, it just seems pretty natural.
I have from time to time preached about the East as being the direction of the prayer, the place from whence Christ will come, the theology of our East window etc.

We do have a crucifix on the altar, and Sundays and Solemnitites six candles on the altar.

Henry said...

Which end of the church is the altar at St Peter's?

hermione hollis said...

What I like about you Fr Blake is that you seem to be a born again traditionalist. I sometimes find the traditionalism of your peers affected.

Your grasp of tradition seems based on having seen (or should that read been) the future and understood it to have "sucked".

Fr Ray Blake said...

At St Peters the altar is in the crossing.

Ma Beck said...

Gem,
A couple of quick points:
Many Roman basilicas were built with the altar at the west end. I know St John Lateran (the Pope's "parish") is one, and it's not unlikely that St. Peter's is one.
I have heard a couple of theories as to why, but, whatever. The point is, that's how they were built.
I've seen photos of the priest up at the altar and he looks as though he's versus populum; however, he's actually ad orientem, and in fact, there was a time when all the people would turn their backs to Father (or His Holiness) as soon as Mass began so that they, too, were correctly oriented.

However, it would have been entirely possible to snap a photo of the celebrant facing the people. It happens several times during Mass - the priest doesn't constantly remain ad orientem.
Of course, it's not about him "facing the tabernacle" or not, it's about him facing liturgical East, the new Jerusalem, from whence Christ will return one day.
(As one of my priests so eloquently stated, the celebrant is leading the people towards the returning Christ.)
I can only see one photo from the site you are talking about, and I actually found that one on Father TIM Finigan's blog. (He was linking to the other site.)
Since I can't comment on the photos I can't see, I will just note that the photo I see is not of the Mass - it's the coronation itself, which takes place mid-Mass.
However, a quick google of "Pope John XXIII Mass" (select "Images" above the text you put in) will bring up several photos of his Masses, all of which are A.O.
[Gets an idea. Goes to Youtube.]
Yes, indeed, Pope John XXIII's Coronation Mass was celebrated ad orientem. What a COOL bunch of videos, too!

Mater mari said...

A priest friend of the Archdiocese of Westminster compromised as follows:
those parts of the Mass directed at God were said ad orientem; those directed primarily at the people (the Scripture readings, for example) were said facing the people.
I feel that one of the dangers of the priest facing the people is that for some, of a particular personality, there appears to be the temptation to play to the audience.

Nathan said...

+ JMJ +
Greetings, Father--

I have wondered the same for years--it's perfectly licit to say Mass ad orientem, yet (outside the TLM) it's almost never done.

It's easy, then, for a layman to tell a priest, "Father, just do it--say the Mass ad orientem." Undoubtedly, the spiritual benefit to the faithful would be enormous.

However, at least here in the States, priests whom I've asked about ad orientem tell me that to do so would get them in trouble with the local ordinary. In trouble not because of any liturgical violation, but because it would be the result of parishoners and other clergy complaining to the bishop that they were "turning back the clock," "undermining Vatican II," or some other inaccurate claim.

To many priests, it seems, the price is pretty high, and not worth fighting.

Let's pray that the implemenation of Summorum Pontificum will make it less costly for priests to say Holy Mass ad orientiem.

In Christ,

gemoftheocean said...

It can be hard to get the orientation of the videos BUT for one thing: don't forget as you enter the door of St. Peters the altar is under the dome -- BETWEEN the people and the high altar, in the vids you can clearly see the area where you would descend into the area BENEATH the altar. The pope enters through the main body of St. Peters, goes AROUND the area of the grotto and ends up facing....THE PEOPLE. Now it may well be that "all the 'important' people" are behind him, and when he turns in the Mass, he's turning TO them...but the fact remains that for the most part he IS facing the main body of the church.

If there's one thing I just don't like, it's Mass with the priest's back to me. Do that, and I want to install an overhead cam and have a blackberry so I can see what's going on. Either that or sit in one of the "arms" of a basilica.

The first Mass WAS said "around a table" *reclining* no less. And I'm just throwing caution to the wind here, but I don't think Jesus said "Peter, open your mouth and tilt your head back so I can put the Host in." I don't think God cares a whit if we receive Communion in the hand or on the tongue, as long as we are free from mortal sin and have the right interior disposition. It is a fact of biology that our bodies digest the Host as we would any food.

Ttony said...

I asked my curate if he'd celebrate Mass ad orientem one Sunday. He said that he'd rather not be reported to the Bishop until he had his own parish. (This is a Cruel See.)

Moretben is completely right: the day the Pope celebrates publicly facing the Lord, the mood will shift.

pelerin said...

I have just watched a 45 minute film on Youtube entitled Reform or Revolt: The Mass of Pope Paul VI.
It is an American documentary and chronicles changes in the Mass over the years. What was surprising was an example of Mass celebrated facing the people in 1945 - long before Vatican II. The film shows that several of the things we think are post Vatican II
do in fact date from earlier years.

Az said...

"and in fact, there was a time when all the people would turn their backs to Father (or His Holiness) as soon as Mass began so that they, too, were correctly oriented."

Sorry, but this is not a "fact" but scholarly conjecture. Even Fr. Lang, author of 'Turning Towards the Lord', is not entirely persuaded by this argument. It doesn't help the cause to present conjecture as fact.

Moretben is probably correct in suggesting that papal practice has been the key factor in persuading the faithful to accept celebration "versus populum". I just can't imagine what it was like to have to live through that dramatic change in the 60s & 70s.

Anonymous said...

It is worth noting that the priest whichever side of the altar he stands on is 'facing the altar'. It is the altar that is the 'gate of heaven', 'the awesome place' of the Presence of the Lord. So taking that into account the direction East or West or North or South by the compass is not the important thing -- but facing the Lord is.

Commentator said...

Might I suggest that the really important thing is unity of direction between priest and people? The priest should lead, not confront. When I'm in the bus I want to see the driver's back, not his face (sorry, Moretben!).

William Tighe said...

For a short, but concise and convincing, historical and liturgical study of this question, see "Eis anatolas blepsate: Orientation as a Liturgical Principle" by M. J. Moreton, *Studia Patristica,* vol. XVIII in Three parts, ed. Elizabeth A. Livingstone (Oxford, 1982: Pergamon Press), pp. 575-590. Prebendary Moreton (b. 1917) was Professor of New Testament at Exeter University until his retirement and still serves at St. Mary's Steps, Exeter, of which he was Vicar for many years.

"Gemoftheocean" is wholly mistaken about the Last Supper. Most likely the Lord and his disciples all reclined along one side of a curved or sigmoidal-shaped table, with the other side being kept wholly free for bringing and removing dishes and goblets. So, if the example of the Last supper is relevant, it supports the priest and people facing in the same direction.

In addition to the recent works of Fr. Lang and the former Cardinal Ratzinger, the book *The Christian Altar* by Cyril Pocknee (1962) is worth reading as well. The belief of Dom Gregory Dix, in *The Shape of the Liturgy* (1945) that in "the early Church" the celebrant faced the people over the altar is probably the single worst mistake in that brilliant and inspiring, but uneven book. Even Fr. Josef Jungmann, by the time that he published his magnum opus, *Missarum Solemnia* (The Mass of the Roman Rite) in 1949 had come to acknowledge that the idea that "Mass facing the people" was "the primitive practice" was a mistake.

Finally, one may note that while some of the non-Byzantine Eastern Catholic Churches adopted the practice of versus populum celebrations in the 1970s (the Maronites and the Chaldean Catholics -- and, I have heard, the Ethiopian Catholics), against the entire and unbroken liturgical traditions of their churches, the Chaldean Catholics, at their November 2005 synod, determined to cease celebrating versus populum and return to ad orientem. May they be an example to Latins and maronites alike!