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.


Lynda said...

Although ad orientem is better, I think if otherwise, it is good for the priest to face the crucified Christ while celebrating the Eucharist.

M. L'abbé Rafael Gonzalez said...

I agree. However, some courage is needed to go Ad Orientem. As a vicar my Cure' complains that I have to many candles and the cross is too big when I celebrate at the parish. He is right, yet I need to make clear that I am celebrating towards the Lord. Everytime he makes such a comment I remind him that I could celebrate "ad Orientem", after all it is allowed. He quickly changes the subject. I would celebrate in this way if it did not create a war with the Bishop. Unfortunately it would be the Cure' who would burden his displeasure.

Young Catholic in London said...

It is a matter of politics - those who would like to reduce the Mass and the sacrificial celebration thereof to a mere community exercise. The Church, in her wisdom, retains that the norm should be for Mass to be celebrated ad orientem, the problem is that we have become so self centred in the main that we have lost the true meaning of the sacred. Before great changes can be made, and they need to be - in order to restore life to those who turn up week in and week out without a thought to our FAITH, intense Catechesis needs to be offered in order to enlighten the hearts of the faithful. It is NOT enough for the pre-Vatican II generation to expect that their children receive the same exposure to Catholic Culture! Even more do we need the holy signs and symbols of the Church to guide us. In short I would agree with you, but the Benedictine arrangement is best thing to do if one feels constrained by the ill-educated populist agenda.

Fr Ray Blake said...

M. Rafael,
Yes, it takes courage to "turn to the Lord", Yes, "the Benedictine arrangement" is a step towards it.
And yes, it is very difficult for a vicar or a curate.

But according to the law it is the decision of the individual priest, it is not the concern of the bishop anymore than the "form" of the Mass is his choice.

Andrew Lyons said...

Fr. Whilst I actually agree with most of what you say I think it is important that the "Benedictine Arrangement' is a transitional stage. Ad orientem is still to sensitive an issue to be taken in one step, there are - sadly - too many people (priests and laity) that still have the ridiculous notion that the priest has his 'back to the people', a degree of patience is required together with firm catechesis on the position of the priest and people during the Holy Sacrifice. After all who 10 years ago would have dreamt that we would have come even this far!

ServusMariaeN said...

So what prevents the Holy Father from putting forth the Versus Deum orientation ? I mean if the Roman Missal rubrics assumes this posture what's the problem? Isn't it then problematic to be out of sync with the rubrics? or am I confused?

Doreen Robertson said...

Don't the parish or congregation get a say?

Peter said...

Father I recall that when the Pope went to France the question arose and his view (as indicated by Mgr Marini) was that attention should be on the crucifix rather than the celebrant. (see NLM / Le Figaro)
In some cases I have seen a crucifix flat on the altar for the priest to see and one behind him for the church as a whole.
Neither solution above seems wholly satisfactory.
See Fr Hunwicke on 2 Feb 2012 for a scholarly analysis.

Sharon said...

Read Feast of Faith for then Cardinal Ratzinger's view of the Latin Mass.

I don't have a problem with a double sided crucifix; it seems to solve a problem .

georgem said...

I'm afraid, Doreen, we didn't get to where we are today without the congregation - or rather a small percentage of the congregation - having a big say.

John Fisher said...

Yes I agree. Right behind everyone's shoulders in that photo is a splendid high altar. The new altar is odd and looks like an easter sepulchre. Yes Cardinal Pell had it imposed on the gothic sanctuary. He isn't really a man of taste and culture.
Yes the Benedictine arrangment is a sell out.

GOR said...

The short answer to Doreen’s question is: No, they don’t have a say!

The Church, through official pronouncements of the relevant congregations sanctioned by the Holy Father, determine how the Liturgy is to be celebrated. It is not within the competence of the laity - or individual clergy - to tamper with the rubrics laid down by the Church.

But with the advent of parochial ‘Liturgical Committees’ and the machinations of ‘Liturgists’ in recent decades, people have the impression that they can change, edit or mangle the rubrics at will. It is not ‘my’ Liturgy or ‘your’ Liturgy – it is the Church’s Liturgy and She, through the relevant authorities, sets the rules. It is up to all of us – clergy and lay alike – to respect and observe them.

It is not a choice. It is an obligation, rooted in obedience.

The Rev. M. Forbes said...

The Benedictine Arrangement is actuallyu, at Rome, the old norm. What is new is the placement of the Pope's chair before the Altar of the Confession. St. Peter's is not a cathedral and so no throne. In the old days it was very rare for the pope to use this altar. In the ordinary parish, he is celebrating ad orientem.

You think the double crucifix is a problem? Where I was an undergrad we had a chapel in the round. There was a three sided crucifix hanging from the rafters. Huge! On the back of the tabernacle there was a plexiglass crucifix for the priest. Ah, 50's modern!


Physiocrat said...

It certainly struck me as strange for the priest to celebrate mass behind a wall of brass.

Getting Ad Orientem accepted by the congregation is a matter of good catechesis. This is where the priest has to exercise his duty of leadership. It is not a matter of giving the "congregation a say". The Catholic church is not a democracy, it is a school.

Evagrius said...

"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."
That's certainly true. I also agree, Fr., that the Benedictine Arrangement feels like an uncomfortable compromise.

"it is a far cry from the Missal of Pius V"

Mmm. How does that go with the EF Missal Ritus Servandus V, para 3, Fr.?

"ad Deum" worship is, I think, the better option, but I am nevertheless cagey of dogmatising this; most of the major Roman basilicas, after all (San Clemente is a key example), have altars which, facing "ad orientem" also face "versus populum".

I note Fr. Hunwicke has also written on the subject:

David said...

The Catholic church is not a democracy, it is a school.

The problem is that a great many evils can be perpetrated with that excuse.

John Grogan said...

Few will remember that immediately after the practise of Mass facing the people was introduced, In Italy, at least, forests of tall candlesticks and crucifixes rose on the new altars, effectively blocking the view of the people. This was quickly seen to be impractical and low, saucer-shaped candlesticks holding thick candles replaced them. All the Pope has done is return to the earlier custom, using slightly taller candlesticks but re-creating the same division.

What, in the illustration you have chosen is absurd is the panel on the altar showing the dead Christ defying gravity. It is preposterous. Should this have seen re-considered, the figure would be lying down beneath the altar. Isn't this Sydney Cathedral in Australia?

epsilon said...

It's not just the direction! - I was at Mass in a certain London oratory last Saturday night where the priest remained ad Deum with the people. There were no lay readers or extraordinary ministers, Thank God! However, the priest read the readings and gave the sermon as if he was in a rush to get to see a football match or something!

The fact that anyone would even ask whether lay people should have a say shows just how much secularisation has taken over the Church. Even priests and bishops should be made to realise how shallow the faith is for many people now. If a priest or bishop isn't prepared to be obedient about saying Mass in the most devout way then he should be given a certain length of time to adjust or leave the Church. I know this might sound very drastic and maybe naive, but in my experience the priests who are resistant to any form of reversal from the post VII liturgy changes are also the priests who are unwilling to even mention abortion as one of today's ills (never mind evils), contraception, etc, and who basically are preaching heresy in the way they "loosen" the rules (including downplaying the Sacrament of Confession) and conduct their own lifestyles.

John Fisher said...

The way in which the Papal altar over the burial place of St Peter is orientated is against the norm. In the diocese of Rome where a church had a confessio stair cases leading down to the martyrs burial place. If the church did not face East but West as is the case in St Peter's the altar was placed facing East however it faced up the nave. It is because of the design decisons made when Constantine built the Old St Peter's. How to get an altar over St Peter's tomb yet place stairs in front as well. The solution was to place the pope on the other side of the altar. If you go under St Peter's to the neocropolis you can see altar upon altar built over St Peter's grave.
The Pope in his chapel faces the other way (ad orientem). He also faces that way in the Sistine Chapel.
Some assume it is some special papal thing. Rather it is a peculiarity. It cannot be said it is Mass facing the people since the congregation faced East as well when the Orate Frares was said. The facing EAST was the important thing.
I've seen paintings of specially erected Papal altars such as one when the Pope visited Vienna in the 18th century. It is also arranged like St Peter's. However it is based on a misunderstanding.

Joseph Shaw said...

Someone on Pray Tell called it 'the caged celebrant' arrangement. I have to confess he had a point...

Fr Ronan Kilgannon said...

The argument that the altar when the priest facing the people is a barrier between him and the people is new and a little odd. It used be argued that altar rails were a barrier between the priest and people, but I won that argument and the church in which I serve in still has them. I though the idea of a 'free- standing' altar was that priest and people were gathered around it - even if the latter were in the pews. I have a small chapel where I offer Mass 'ad orientem' (in fact it is ad occidentem') but in the parish church I follow now common practice, and without the Benedictine arrangement because the brass candlesticks look better beside the tabernacle on the high altar. I think that the arguments for a complete return to the former practice in the Latin Rite have to be stronger than the ones presented above.

Wendell said...

@ Gor

The priest who is replacing our chaplain while he is on sabbatical needs to read your post.

When I asked Fr. Loose-Play the honest question concerning his justification for habitually omitting the Penitential Rite, he said that it always brings him down (depresses him). To which I responded with a gentle reminder from Sacrosanctum Concilium 22. His subsequent response was "I'm the priest", followed by a glib "I'll take your comments under advisement".

Auriel Ragmon said...

Try what the Eastern Christians do.
Priest faces the same way as the people most of the time. Altar is free standing and can be censed from all sides. It works, even when an iconostasis is in the way of seeing everything that goes on (which probably you don't want to see, given the antics of certain altar boys).

Rdr. james morgan

Anonymous said...

Maybe an icon screen , or better yet,a Coptic set of screens with closed doors separating the people from the priest would be even better. Not only are the antics of altar boys to be hidden, but some of antics of celebrants should be too.

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