Thursday, February 23, 2012
The Absurdity of the Benedictine Arrangement
I don't normally criticise the Pope but the "Benedictine arrangement", a crucifix facing the priest between candlesticks, doesn't work. Having argued very effectively in "Spirit of the Liturgy" for the priest and people together to face the image of the crucified Christ and having also argued, successfully, for them together to face the (liturgical) East, he then suggests that a crucifix is placed between the priest and people.
I can understand his fear of yet another round of liturgical changes, because his basic thesis is the liturgy is a "given" developing slowly through the ages rather than being in constant flux, he is aware of the pastoral and spiritual damage caused by changes being imposed by dictat, even by the reigning Pontiff.
My main dislike of contra populum celebration is that the altar becomes a barrier between priest and people and the altar which should be a focus for the unified worship of all God's people separates the priest from the people. The Benedictine arrangement is a reductio absurdum of this separation by emphasising the separation further with crucifix and candles and perhaps even flowers and relics, it is a far cry from the Missal of Pius V which calls for such things to be placed, not on the altar but on the gradine behind the altar.
The Missal calls for a crucifix rather than a cross to be on the altar, and yet the "Benedictine arrangement" calls for a crucifix to face the priest, unless one is to get the theological nonsense of a double-figured crucifix the people are faced with a Christless-cross and are left to view the priest, who has turned to be visible to the people, made less than visible by a standing crucifix. The cross becomes everything the cross is not meant to be, it divides and it obscures rather than unites and reveals.
In most churches we are often faced with the further absurdity of two crucifixes: one for the priest and one for the people, invariably the priest is sandwiched between the two. Again it is a source of division rather than unity, at the incensation which should be incensed, the priest's crucifix or the people's? When there is no tabernacle present which should be venerated, should the priest venerate "his" crucifix, and if so isn't it somewhat absurd to venerate the obverse side rather than image of the crucified?
Our main Mass has been celebrated has been celebrated ad orientem for the last few months and from yesterday so have weekday Masses, at least for Lent, we are turning towards the Crucified, two of our Sunday Masses are celebrated contra populum with the Benedictine arrangement. As absurd as I think it is, it is far less absurd than placing the priest at the centre of worship, without the crucifix. I can only think the Pope realises that it is indeed absurd and is transitional.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake