Saturday, August 31, 2013

Turning Around

St Augustine famously said to the people of Hippo, 'for you I am a bishop, with you I am a Christian',

I have been a priest for long enough to remember people who lapsed after the Council, as a seminarian I remember meeting a rather harassed mother who had been deserted by her husband. She spoke rather energetically about men and women behind desks who she had problems with, teachers, social workers, people at the council officers, people at the housing office, people at the post office where in those days she had cash her benefit cheque. She ended by "And even the bl**** the priest says Mass from behind a desk nowadays".

In the last few of posts I have been trying to compare aspects of the two forms of the Roman Rite, and although Mass maybe celebrated facing or not facing the people in both forms and the CDW have constantly reiterated the orientation of the priest is his choice in the Ordinary Form, in the same way as the choice of Eucharistic Prayers is his, it is perhaps the question of orientation that the marks the strongest rupture between the two Forms.

Saint Augustine's words highlight the two aspects of ministerial identity, one is a bishop (or a priest) first and foremost because one is a Christian, from and amongst other Christian people.

The years after the Council marked a change in many aspects of priestly life, indeed many of the main concerns of groups like ACTA seem almost wholly concerned about the dynamic between priest and people. The problem is that such groups start off from the premise that it is essentially a 'power relationship', in much the same way as the other categories mentioned above of teacher, social worker etc. The true spirit of the Vatican Council presupposes that priest and people are co-owners of the Catholic Faith, and yet the 20th century seems to be marked by division between those who have the 'traditional faith' or the faith of the catechism, and those who seem to question every aspect of it. There should be no distinction between the faith of the heirarchy and that of the man in the pew. On the contrary today often the heirarchs are portrayed as wishing to change or impose something on the received faith of the man in the pew, rather than increasing devotion or fervour they seem to mitigate it. It is perhaps significant that the leadership of many dissident groups are made up of laicised priests or professional lay Catholics.

It strikes me that the orientation of the priest marks a change in how priests were seen or see themselves. It marks a change of emphasis from something cultic to some governmental. It can be summed up in the use of the terms of 'priest' and 'president'. These terms are often are matters of contention when speaking of the liturgy, but more importantly they mark two very different ecclesiologies. Celebrating Mass facing the people speaks 'presidency' whilst celebrating facing the same direction as people speaks of 'priesthood', though when speaking of priesthood and using more traditional terminology 'offering the Mass' might be better.

The idea of a priest in Old Testament or pagan terms works on three levels, first it is about dealing with blood and entrails and the messier side of human life, he deals with sinners, his hands are filthy with touching that offered for sacrifice and with contact with those who want to offer sacrifice, he is comparable to a tradesman, a slaughterman. Secondly he stands with the people before God, he represents them in the Divine Presence, if he or his people cause God's anger, it falls first on him. His duty is to prepare the sacrifice but also his people but most importantly himself for the act of sacrifice. On the third level he enters the Holy of Holies to bring something of the Divine to his people but it is always something of God and never his own.

The idea of a President, is a modern form Kingship, there is gulf between him and the people. The etymology is he 'sits before', or above the people, his role is to rule and govern. Whilst a priest is essentially a servant of God and man, a President is the opposite. A priest is one who stands between God and man, he has nothing of his own to offer. The notion of presidency seems to be one who only has what is his own to offer, his teaching, his instruction, his rule.

Pope Francis speaks of the clergy 'smelling of the flock' he condemns 'clericalism'. One of the great failures of the post-Vatican II era is essentially a failure of leadership or even of government. Rather than celebrating a common faith with our people, praying with them, the role of clergy today has become one of teacher or administrator. It is precisely these areas of teaching the faith and administering government in the Church in terms of morality where we have failed drastically.

The problem I would suggest is one of authority; as a priest of a cult, authority comes from within the cult, as something God given. In the pre-Concilliar Mass the priest took off his chasuble and maniple to preach, in many places where Sunday Mass was on the hour and half hour he didn't preach at all, the sermon was reserved for the High Mass and or the evening service, which was not of obligation, of Rosary, Sermon and Benediction. Indeed the priest was ordained 'to offer Mass for the living and the dead'. The post-Concilliar priest is ordained 'to proclaim the Gospel', again a drastic change. The pre-Concilliar model sees the priest as giver of sacraments, a bringer of Salvation through the sacraments, the post-Concilliar model is that of herald of the Gospel or of the Kingdom of God. The pre-Concilliar model sees the priests authority coming from what he does, the post-Concilliar model suggests it comes from what he says.

'Doing' is something that can be learnt, it comes from the office, basically any fool can learn to perform rituals; 'saying' comes from personal skills, it is however intensely personal but it is on this personal level that we fail. The post-Concilliar period saw a movement away from ex opere operato where the concern was simply about the 'doing' of a rite, to ex 'opere operantis' where the concern is much about the 'doer', his style, his learning, his personal authority. The Church today faces similar problems Augustine found amongst the Donatist contagion, we are obsessed with, not so much the holiness but the personal qualities of individual ministers, a very heavy psychological burden is placed upon them to live up to it. In assessing priests and bishops, even popes our concern is not an objective concern about the office but subjective about personal traits. This is a decidedly Protestant quality and ultimately destructive to all that is Catholic.

What I have been trying to explore briefly and sketchily is does the re-orientation of the altar re-orientate our theology, our understanding of the relationship between God and Man, and ultimately the Church.


Amfortas said...

Spot on! And the more I think about it the more I understand what you're saying about the two lectionaries. This morning's first reading seemed to be an example of getting through scripture or cramming as much material into the year as possible.

gemoftheocean said...

As to your final question, in a word, NO. Either orientation you are facing the Eucharist and so are we. If I may hazard a guess, one thing they did wrong in the seminaries mid-late 60s and on was when they stopped being extremely particular re: instructions as to how the priest was to perform the rubrics, they got far TOO sloppy in not taking great care to inculcate the primary duty of the priest to be making contact with the Eucharist. i.e. NOT be "Father Personality" while performing the rituals required. If the priest's focus is ONLY where it should be, i.e. the elements at hand, then the people will also be focused where the priest is. For instance, the priest who looks around at the people after he says "This is my Body..." is essentially "playing" to those in the pews and this should NEVER be done, IMO. He should say the Mass (except at the sermon) as if NO ONE ELSE IS PRESENT except Him and God. (and save the server, but only in the perfunctory sense.) When I used to train kids to serve Mass, the very FIRST lesson before teaching them anything was a lesson on "deportment." I.E. how to walk in the sanctuary, how to act, and principally how "not to draw focus." A well served Mass was where everything was brought at the proper time, so the priest had to wait for nothing, and that otherwise they were not to be wallpaper. If they were keeping their focus where it should be, and not yawning, stretching, being out of place, or in a sloppy posture that was what to aim for, because then NO ONE would "notice" them. If they did things they shouldn't, it would distract the congregation from where they should be looking, i.e. at what the priest was doing, for the most part.

The seminaries seemed to get far too lax (to judge by some the products they turned out post Vatican 2) with regards to rubrics. A priest I know had been a priest for some 10+ years pre-NO. For ever after, until this present day, he still says Mass in a manner that he does things exactly the same way every time, he never does the "look around and make eye contact with the people to show what a great guy you are" bit. [Granted, sermons are different.] Though I love the Latin Mass, my own preference is for priest facing the people, because otherwise, certainly when I was a child, the priest could have been sacrificing a goat, for all I knew. When I do go to the TLM I try and sit at an extreme oblique angle.

Sonia Gable said...

I am a very new Catholic so my knowledge and experience are limited, but it seems to me that there are good aspects of both forms of the Mass. I see the priest as representative, not as presidential, but I like him to give a homily as it increases my understanding and helps guide me in living a Catholic life. I want him to offer Mass, give the sacraments and proclaim the Gospel – why should he not do all of these?

I think I would prefer the priest to face the same way as the people, but our local church is in the modern square style with a fixed alter in the centre in such a position that the priest has to stand behind it.

I don't think one can ignore the personal qualities of the priest. Certainly my journey to faith was greatly helped through the personal qualities of the priest once I started attending my local church, though that was not the case upon my initial revelation which occurred in a big cathedral.

Londiniensis said...

Thank You, Father. Surely the "must read" Catholic piece of the week.

akp5401 said...

Excellent. It helps explain a lot to those of us who don't remember a time before the NO. I really think that allowing Mass facing the congregation was a disaster. (and I thought carefully before using that word. Sorry to anyone who is offended.)

gemoftheocean said...

akp -- I think it was honestly "unforseen inadvertant" consequences for those who had not thought of the ramifications. That generation of Catholic priests in the seminary had been so imbued with "proper focus" and attention to detail, I think they just "assumed" that future generations of priests would automatically be inculcated as well. -- perhaps in the beginning it did, those guys had likely served the latin Mass and knew how "precise everything was - but it surely did not occur to THEM, when their time to be be seminary rectors and the like that those who grew up with the NO were not likely to have encountered such a thing. For very thoughtful priests who were concious of not "having to play to the crowd" in fact, having to act as if a congregation were not present (in some sense) would be naturally avoided. HOWEVER, men who grew up without the rigidity of noticing the details of the rubrics to serve Mass, if they are the gregarious types may well by tempted by force of personality to to quite unwittingly throw too much of their own personality without being conciously aware of it. I suspect such things are not routinely cautioned against. All fine for personality to come through, inevitably in a sermon or coffee and doughnuts afterwards.., But best guard against elsewise. I suspect that in most modern seminaries, give the relative handful of seminarians, the powers that be don't want to come off as too "nitpicky." I remember reading somewhere that Icon painters strive to do copies of the famous icons WITHOUT putting their own personal style into it. I suppose it all comes down to the inclination of the particular priest, and how well formed they were in seminary, which depends on how they were taught, and by whom.

Catholic Coffee said...

"Mass maybe celebrated facing or not facing the people in both forms"
I was surprised to read this, I was not aware that the EF could be celebrated versus populum (i.e. not a N.O. in Latin but the EF). I have seen the N.O. celebrated where Fr. had his back to us once (and... well, I wished he hadn't. :( )

Like gemoftheocean, I also greatly prefer Mass celebrated facing the people. I do not consider it "from behind a desk" but rather being around a table with Christ at the head (the priest being alter Christi).

Here, in the UK in many places the Novus Ordo seems to have become mixed up with all sorts of liturgical "sloppiness" and paraliturgical acts. Up until very recently we were blessed with a parish priest for whom the EF is very important - and who celebrates the N.O. with the same reverence. A N.O. Mass celebrated with decorum and devotion, versus populum, so we can see and hear and be there gives more and allows more than a silent-canon priest-with-his-back-to-us Mass.

Pétrus said...


You said the following :

"As to your final question, in a word, NO. Either orientation you are facing the Eucharist and so are we."

I assume that you are aware Our Lord is present in the tabernacle behind the altar?

As an altar server I was taught to be careful when turning so that I never turned my back on Our Lord.

If the priest celebrates Mass versus populum he has his back to Our Lord in the tabernacle. I can't see how that can ever be a good thing.

William Tighe said...

Not to mention that "Mass facing the people" was instituted on the basis of profound historical ignorance posing as scholarship:

The Saint Bede Studio said...

Thank you Father.

Perhaps readers might find this article, which pertains to this subject, interesting:

George said...

Reminds me of the words a young liberal priest said to me several years ago, "when no one shows up for Mass, I don't say Mass. To do so would seem sort of foolish."

Unknown said...

Thanks, Father. Another great post. If the priest would face God when offering the sacrifice instead of putting himself in the role of a performer (the inevitable result of facing the people and turning his back on God), I believe we could recoup some of the ground lost with the N.O. It would, it is true, require a maturity that has been sadly lacking in many (most) Catholic churches these past 40 is so years.

gemoftheocean said...

Catholic coffee: Agree re: the silent canon. If there is one thing about the EF I would change is to make the offertory prayers-> UNSILENT. The people should have the opportunity to hear it, as well as see it. I can remember Fr. Tim F. (his Hermaneuticalness) once complaining about concelebrated Masses, and was it really kosher or fair for the priest to not have the elements in his sight or be far away at one of those huge diocesan Masses. The LEAST the EF folks can do is have a discreet overhead cam with streaming video so one can log in with an I-PAd. It might be nice to make an app to do that. On one side have the text of the Mass (with options for Latin or vernacular or both) where the user turns the page - and on the other side of the I-pad have the streaming video -- which of course could have several views. :-D [Dons flame retardant suit.]

gemoftheocean said...

Petrus, It's possible to locate the tabernacle at a prominent side altar which does not get foot traffic in front of it, or the priest's back. and I don't mean in a "Let's play SAR to find the tabernacle" kind of "game" either.

Long-Skirts said...

gemoftheocean said:

"The LEAST the EF folks can do is have a discreet overhead cam with streaming video so one can log in with an I-PAd. It might be nice to make an app to do that. On one side have the text of the Mass (with options for Latin or vernacular or both) where the user turns the page - and on the other side of the I-pad have the streaming video"

God have mercy!!!

This is a magnificent truth you have written, Fr. Blake, and I'm sure painful for you to write. May Our Lord and His Blessed Mother help you and keep you fighting always for the WHOLE Faith!!!

(or "fool me once, shame on you")

Daily Mass
In uniformed plaid
Then suddenly
Adults went mad

Priests danced round
Nuns turned hip
Fathers, mothers
All jumped ship

Michael rowed
His boat ashore
Through the Sanctuary

Garfunked too
Jesus loves you

Jesus Christ
God is dead
So who You are?

Mourning pills
Eat the Bread
Grace Slicked-souls
Will feed your head

All were Virgins
Female Ghost
Feminist boast

Tell what's happening
What's the buzz
Bishops do
What never was

But one Bishop
Stood up straight
Great man-Mitred
Gainst the gate

Great man-Mitred
Took the Cross
Plugged the hole
To stop Priest loss

To this day
Green fields, no dream
From Catholic families
Vocations stream

And along the
River banks they line
Rosaries in hand
For both Tibre and Rhine

We believe in God
The Virgin...the Creed
If this flow continues
Your waters will bleed

But not with Christ’s
Most Precious Blood...
A mitred-muck
Of sin-scabbed mud!

gemoftheocean said...

William, Mass in the great Roman basilicas was always been said versus populam. Which "historical ignorance" were the pope pandering to, exactly? Frankly, it's a good thing Jesus Christ did not have the first Mass on Holy Thursday with a "silent canon" or with his back to the apostles.

[Hint: historically, at some point each and every element of the Mass was "new/innovative/shocking."

I can see why some of the overly fussy rubrics were changed, frankly because the initial reason for the rubric in the first place has become superfluous. Why, for instance, when the style of the chasubles became so cut down was it still necessary to retain the lifting of the chasuble? The lifting of the chasuble became necessary in a time where the older heavier gothic style chasubles were in use. At some point the custom of holding the chasuble was "new." And of ALL the things in the canon to say aloud, WHY oh WHY, might one ask is the line "nobis quoque peccatoribus" said out loud? Because of initial VERY BRIEF necessity. About the 7th century the subdeacons used to line up at a point across from the priest with bags which held Communion which was to be distributed and taken to those ill people who could not attend Mass. That line, said aloud was to warn them that "hey, get ready guys with those bags, we're just about at the point where you people need to line up with them." But that custom of the subdeacons lining up only lasted for about a century. But 13 hundred some years on, that line is STILL said aloud to accommodate a practice which has been out of date for well over a millenium.

It interesting, ritualistic and all that and a bag of chips, but one can see why it was reformed for the sake of utility.

I wonder, if when they started to elevate the chalice (which had started some 200 or so years roughly after the element of the Body of Christ) how long the wheezing and whining about that "new/innovative/shocking" custom went on, lest the "simpletons in the pews" mistakenly worshiped the chalice itself, rather than that which the chalice holds.

I'm not saying by any means strip away all custom, or even change the two customs I mentioned -- it's all interesting as to why this or that is done -- but just realize that at some point all customs were "new" and change isn't automatically evil/bad.

Pétrus said...


"It's possible to locate the tabernacle at a prominent side altar"

Do you think this is a good thing?

I would like to know if you still think Mass versus populum is preferable when the tabernacle IS behind the altar?

BTW, I don't know what SAR means.

William Tighe said...

"Mass in the great Roman basilicas was always been said versus populam."

Yes, because in those Roman basilicas Mass versus populum is also Mass ad orientem; so that supports my case, not yours. Also, all of the non-Roman rites of the Catholic Church (save for the Maronites, for whom being Catholic seems to mean imitating everything good or bad that comes from Rome) either maintain the traditional practice of ad orientem or else, as in the case of the Chaldeans, have taken the decision to restore it.

"Frankly, it's a good thing Jesus Christ did not have the first Mass on Holy Thursday with a "silent canon" or with his back to the apostles."

And exactly how do you think that the seating at the Last supper was arranged? Not as in the Leonardo da Vinci imaginary painting, but probably in a sigma-shaped table at which all those present faced in the same direction.

You would be well-advised to inform yourself about the matters concerning which you so often write; and perhaps you might begin by considering hos the Church has always regarded St. Paul and his writings (as "inspired Holy Scripture").

George said...


You made me think of something else this morning, after reflecting on your post.

The post-Vatican II Church has traded piety for knowledge.

I know more about the Faith than certainly my great-grandparents did. I'm a lay Catholic. Not a religious. I can talk at length about Double Effect, Baptism of Desire, Proximately Sufficient Grace. My great-grandparents would have looked dumbfounded certainly if I attempted to talk about these topics with them. There lives, however, were more pious than mine. Their daily routines revolved around the rosary and stations of the cross, daily. Their decorum at Mass compared to my family's would put us to shame. When did being a serious Catholic become all about learning theology?

It's been several years, but I remember several occasions when some Catholic friends (less traditional than I) trying to get out of some theological discussion with me would say something like, " well, there are only X number of things I must believe in order to be a Catholic in good standing." This happened to me maybe 3 times, always with folks that I'd describe as "conservative" Novus Ordo Catholic. The number of things which must be believed would be either 5 or 7. I've heard both. Anyway, I'd always come back with the question, "Well can you name those 7 things?" And of course they'd struggle to start listing anything. And then I'd say, "If you must believe these 7 things in order to be a good Catholic, why don't you know them?"

Anyway, I bring this up because I think it generates from this same spirit of knowledge -- that living the Catholic Faith is all about assenting to a list of principles. My great-parents would be utterly confused by this understanding of Catholicism.

Frankly, I think Protestant converts to the Faith have made this problem even worse. Especially in the case of the American Church were former Protestants play such major roles in running the big Catholic apologetic apstolates (e.g. Catholic Answers, EWTN, etc.) They bring from their Protestantism, especially the ones from the Reformed Theology background, this obsession with knowing the right list of theological propositions.

Anyway, thanks (as usual) for sparking many deep thoughts!!


Supertradmum said...

Why are you teaching in the seminaries?

umblepie said...

Interesting to see that out of a total of 13 comments, 5 are from the same person who prefers the priest to offer Mass facing the congregation!To suggest as 'gemoftheocean' does, that "my own preference is for a priest facing the people, because otherwise, certainly when I was a child, the priest could have been sacrificing a goat, for all I knew" is just unacceptable! There are such things as prayer books in which the Mass can be followed. I'm sorry 'gemoftheocean', but you have suggested nothing that persuades me of the merits of the priest saying Mass facing the congregation.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Yes, and I have been thinking about the changing nature of Saints, today's seem to be about ideas rather that supernaturalness.

Fr Ray Blake said...

In the great basillicas, the Pope faced the same direction as the Papal Court, by whom the Rites were witnessed. In Bramante's Greek Cross design for St Peter's there was as much room for foreign ambassadors as for ordinary laypeople.

Most of what we see in St Peter's today was done in the Papal chapels.

John Nolan said...

The shift from 'priest' to 'presider' was given official sanction in the decree 'Inter Oecumenici' of October 1964. I shall not comment on whether this was a shift from a Catholic to a Protestant concept, since enough has been written on this already. However, it did imply a change of orientation, and from this point on, versus populum became the norm. There wasn't time to reorder sanctuaries, so tables were put up before high altars. This had an unfortunate resonance in England, since the communion table was very much associated with Cranmer, as indeed was the vernacular liturgy.

Gemoftheocean, I really think you should do a bit of background reading before sounding off. The Roman basilicas had the altar above the 'confessio' or tomb to which the faithful had access, and since the traditional orientation of Christian prayer was towards the east, the celebrant was behind the altar and facing the main doors which opened to the east. The faithful, who would have been in the side aisles turned towards the east at the "conversi ad Dominum". Only when people started filling the nave and not turning could the Mass be said to be versus populum, and this was an aberration.

Also, Gem, I assume your comment at 11.50 was meant to be facetious. If not, and some of your other comments seem to confirm this, you really have a lot to learn about liturgy. Your heart is in the right place, but if there was ever one example of why women should have NO PLACE WHATSOEVER in the liturgy, you furnish it.

gemoftheocean said...

John N. = Guys like you are the biggest problem with the EF traddy types, IMO. YOU would be a good bet to be on the "Kleenex on the head patrol" trying to hand out Kleenex or ugly pepto-bismal colored cheap mantillas to women who came in an EF mass without a head covering. Your "men know everything and women should shut up" attitude is precisely why it can be a turn off for many. People like you are why I seldom bother reading a certain website that is rather popular, simply because that priest lets guys like you get away with murder with your disrespect of women. Yes, I "do facetious" -- and YES, I HAVE "read extensively" you have told me NOTHING new.

As for Paul, yes, what he wrote about a lot of things is "inspired" but sorry, his "opinions" on social conditions of the day and social norms as he wanted them to be are NOT "gospel." They are HIS OPINIONS - he even says so himself. I find his "reasoning" on a lot of these things are lacking in logic and reason. Frankly, I don't know that the men of the day liked him either -- starting with the two disciples he told to go get circumcised to go preach. Like he couldn't find any former Jewish men to do that, or do it himself? They should have told him to go take a hike. I don't have to kiss his patootie regards his opinions on the social structure 2000 years ago. And I refuse to do so.

Petrus: FWIW, I think if a priest DOES say Mass facing the people, it's preferable to have the tabernacle at a side altar, for the reasons you cite. Let's not forget in the pre-Vatican 2 basilicas, the tabernacle was often reserved at a side altar. In most parish churches with a little care, it would probably be better to do so, so that the priest doesn't have his back to the altar. [SAR = Search and Rescue, sorry, I should have spelled that out, and I was internally debating that!]

Unknown said...

"In assessing priests and bishops, even popes our concern is not an objective concern about the office but subjective about personal traits. This is a decidedly Protestant quality and ultimately destructive to all that is Catholic."

Spot on!

Long-Skirts said...

John Nolan said:

"Your heart is in the right place, but if there was ever one example of why women should have NO PLACE WHATSOEVER in the liturgy,"


Too many cooks
Spoil the broth.

Too many women
Cause priest sloth.

Too many women
Lost their troth.

Too many women
Frolicking froth,

Flame to moths…

Winter Altars
With holey cloths.

Pétrus said...


You didn't actually answer my question. In a Church where the tabernacle is behind the altar do you think it is best to celebrate ad orientem or versus populum?

Catholic Coffee said...

William T.: "And exactly how do you think that the seating at the Last supper was arranged?"
William, are you suggesting that during the most important moments of the Last Supper the Lord had his back to the apostles and a.) He spoke the words left to us in the New Testament in a language that was no longer spoken at the time; or b.) He did not even say the words aloud (=silent canon)?

Fr Seán Coyle said...

Thank you, Father Ray, for your stimulating posts about the celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

I was ordained in December 1967 when the Mass had begun to change, especially with the widespread use of the mother-tongue, as the Council allowed. For some years now I have been celebrating Mass ad orientem when this has been possible, though in most situations where I find myself it’s not. Until I read The Spirit of the Liturgy by the then Cardinal Ratzinger in 2005 I thought of the priest offering Mass ad orientem as celebrating Mass ‘with his back to the people’. I have never used that expression since and point out to those who do that it is incorrect. All face the same direction. For centuries this direction was the East, nature itself providing a powerful symbol of the Resurrection.

When the priest celebrates ad orientem he will never be ‘“playing” to those in the pews’, as gemoftheocean puts it in her first comment. Bishops and priests who look at the people during the Eucharistic Prayer forget that that prayer is directed to the Father, not to the people.
I would agree with gemoftheocean that, in a sense, the priest should celebrate Mass as if no one else was present. I think that celebrating Mass ad orientem makes this much more possible.

I recently concelebrated at a Mass in the church in the parish where I grew up in Dublin. The sanctuary was remodelled many years ago and the altar in the middle of the sanctuary is the front of the old altar. The altar rails have long since gone. At this remove I see the remodelling of so many sanctuaries as a form of vandalism, though this was never intended. I also see fewer and fewer people attending Sunday Mass and most of those who do are not young. I wonder if there’s a connection between that reality and what was done to the Mass and church buildings after the Council.

With regard to the tabernacle, I’m all in favour of having it in the centre as it was everywhere in the old days for the purposes of adoration and reserving the Blessed Sacrament for the sick. But I think that the Blessed Sacrament perhaps should be put in another tabernacle while Mass is being celebrated so that the focus of everyone will be on the Sacrifice, on the bread and wine becoming the Body and Blood of Christ during that Sacrifice. It would also remove confusion about anyone having ‘their backs to the Lord’ during the celebration of Mass.

And I also think that one of the most serious aberrations in the celebration of Mass, an aberration that goes back centuries, is ‘tabernacle Communions’ where, in effect, a Communion service takes place within the Mass and Holy Communion is removed from the context of the Sacrifice. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal (GIRM) strongly suggests that the people receive Holy Communion from what has been consecrated during the Mass. It is somewhat ironic to pray ‘give us this day our daily bread’ as we prepare for Holy Communion during Mass when the priest then goes to the tabernacle to take out ciboria with hosts that have been consecrated days or even weeks before.

But whether the priest celebrates Mass in the OF or EF, ad orientem or versus populum, whether he uses Latin or the mother-tongue, if he is totally focused on what he is doing, leaves out all the ‘Good mornings’ and ‘You’re all very welcomes’ and other such verbiage, those present will be more readily drawn into an awareness that they are taking part in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

George said...

Most every Catholic has one aunt or sister that's a certain way.

They are almost always "unfettered."

Highly opinionated with a certain worldview, which transcends politics.

The modern American archetype of such women is Maureen Dowd.

God love 'em!

Lepanto said...

I could do without a homily full stop. The contents of some are so heterodox that the resulting surprise/shock and irritation cause me to be distracted for the rest of the Mass.

Anonymous said...

Dear Father Blake,

I think I might speak for a number of people in remarking that GEM OF THE OCEAN has rather too much to say in these columns.

Thank you.

Jacobi said...

Sadly, orientation is one of the major liturgical ruptures, attacking as it does the Ordained Priesthood, “in Persona Christi”, and the concept of Sacrifice.

There are other ruptures commonplace today, such as the downplaying of the Real Presence and, even the concept of sin, in the absence of which Christ’s Death and Resurrection was somewhat unnecessary. These ruptures in the current New Mass liturgy are all implicitly or explicitly doctrinally misleading.

You rightly point out that this is essentially a crisis of authority, a rejection of the teaching of the Magisterium of the Church established by Christ for the redemption of Mankind.

But every problem has a solution and in this case it lies firmly in the hands of our priests. It is Benedict XVI’s “Reform of the Reform”, the re-sanctification and restoration of the liturgy and in particular, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass back to at least the 1969 Pauline Mass, but even more to what Sacrosanctum Concilium called for, and that included a specific instruction that all current rites, including the Mass of John XXIII, be preserved and fostered.

p.s. I trust you now say the Mass, (both forms), “ad orientem”?

Anonymous said...

Father, re. Your comment on saints at 4.16 'ideas rather than supernaturalness'. I later read, quite by chance in Huxley's After Many a Summer (1939):

'Perhaps there's something intrinsically wrong with fat. For example, there isn't a single fat saint - except of course, old Thomas Aquinas; and I cannot see any reason to suppose that he was a real saint, a saint in the popular sense of the word, which happens to be the true sense. If Thomas is a saint, then Vincent de Paul isn't. And if Vincent's a saint, which he obviously is, then Thomas isn't. And perhaps that enormous belly of his had something to do with it.'

Ideas over saintliness? I don't know, I just found it entertaining.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I leave the decision to my sacristans, as it is an option, but they all seem to have decided to arrange the altar 'ad orientem'.

Hermit Crab said...

Aggiornamento@2/9/13 7:53 am

"If to be fat be to be hated, then Pharaoh’s lean kine are to be loved." [Henry IV part 1]

ps: We now need a Counter-Aggiornamento, just as our fathers needed the Counter-Reformation.

Jacobi said...


You obviously have sensible, middle of the road, mainstream, orthodox, sacristans!

mark said...

When still a Cardinal, Pope Emeritus Benedict suggested a simple remedy for those (including himself) who saw some problem in the priest facing versus populum. He suggested the placing of a cross on the altar, which would serve for all as the 'interior east of faith' and as the 'common point of focus for the priest and praying community'. In this way all face Our Lord.

Prior to reading this article, I had never seen the altar compared to a 'desk'. Just when you'd thought you'd heard it all!

May I add that I like and value gemoftheocean's contributions.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I think that arrangement was suggested by BXVI as an interim one, it has been unkindly referred to as 'a priest in a cage', it doesn't really work.

Catholic Coffee said...

Fr. Séan, if all face the same way then the priest is with his back to the people. The expression we should forgo is not "with his back to the people" but in many cases "ad orientem". I have seen a very devout priest for whom I have a lot of respect celebrate Mass in the EF in two churches. In one it was towards the west and in the other it was towards the north (which is actually really bad, celebrating Mass facing towards where light never comes from, if we are into this kind of symbolism).

Seeing the manner in which some people behave during Sunday Mass; and how a priest has no privacy after his own communion in the OF with a group of EMHCs and servers staring into his face from up close makes me understand why priests would prefer to celebrate with their back to everyone. But couldn't this be out in the open, instead of calling it "ad orientem"?

"When the priest celebrates ad orientem he will never be ‘“playing” to those in the pews’.
Neither will devout priests, Fr., when they celebrate versus populum.

Damask Rose said...

George at 11.02:

"Reminds me of the words a young liberal priest said to me several years ago, "when no one shows up for Mass, I don't say Mass. To do so would seem sort of foolish.""

Ties in exactly with what Fr Ray said about the priest being sacrificer interceding before God.

I don't know if this priest's attitude comes from his upbringing, his seminary training or the prevailing attitude in his diocese, but some priests don't seem to know what a priest is.

How terribly sad.

So this priest, because no-one's turned up, won't say a Mass for the Holy Souls, the people of the parish, his fellow priests and/or bishop, the Pope, his family, himself, or not even for Jesus, just for the love of Him.

John Nolan said...

Catholic Coffee

If you're going to be pedantic, then 'ad apsidem'. And we're talking about the Roman Rite of Mass, not the Last Supper, so refectory customs of the ancient world are irrelevant. Some scholars are of the opinion that Our Lord used Hebrew, not Aramaic, when he instituted the Eucharist.

The Lord’s descent into the underworld

At Matins/the Office of Readings on Holy Saturday the Church gives us this 'ancient homily', I find it incredibly moving, it is abou...