Viewpoint: Should Mass Be Celebrated with the Priest Facing Away from the People?

by Msgr. M. Francis Mannion

Cardinal Robert Sarah, the highest-ranking Vatican official in charge of the Church’s liturgy, recently caused a stir when he invited priests everywhere to start celebrating Mass facing away (my words) from the people beginning this Advent.

“Facing away from the people” is the easiest way of explaining what is involved. More technical terms are ad orientem (facing the East) and ad deum (facing the Lord), which we need not go into here.

What was the Cardinal’s rationale? Well, for most of the Church’s history, Mass was celebrated with the priest facing away from the people. This was the norm up to the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s. Then with the Missal of Paul VI in 1970 (the Missal we now have), there was a shift to the practice of the priest celebrating Mass behind the altar and facing the people.

Many scholars have argued that, in the early Church, Mass was celebrated with the priest facing toward the people, and that this is legitimately the post-Vatican II norm. However, because something was the norm one way or another in the early Church does not automatically make it normative for our time.

The more fundamental rationale for the practice Cardinal Sarah commends is a theological one: that the priest’s role is not to celebrate Mass toward the people, making the people the center of the priest’s attention, but toward God, who is beyond the assembly, and symbolized by the large crucifix behind the altar.

Proponents of this practice also argue that the concern is not to celebrate Mass facing away from the people, or to have the priest celebrate Mass with his back to the people, but to create a situation in which priest and people pray together in the same direction.

What is the status of Cardinal Sarah’s recommendation? It is simply a personal opinion, as he was not speaking on behalf of Pope Francis. Indeed, Pope Francis, through his spokesman, made it clear that he does not want to see new liturgical initiatives at this time, including Mass facing away from the people.

What is the value of Mass facing away from the people? It would remove the priest from the position of clericalism, that is, of the priest overwhelming the liturgy. And it would, in fact, make the point that priest and people pray together in the same direction. It would furthermore make clear that God is ultimately above and beyond the assembly.

What is the value of Mass facing the people? It makes for better communication between priest and people. It avoids the sense that the people are an appendum to the priest’s liturgy. Not least, we live in an age of democracy and respect for the individual, in which facing away from someone or some group is generally insulting.

In the interests of self-disclosure, I have on occasion celebrated Mass facing away from the people, in all cases in Italy, where there are glorious high altars and puny post-Vatican II altars. I did this after a brief catechesis with a group of pilgrims. I asked the people afterwards how this “felt,” and many were fine with it.

But all in all, I think Mass facing the people should remain the norm. As Cardinal Ratzinger said some years ago, it would be unwise to change the post-Vatican II practice now. It would cause confusion and irritation.

So, I will not start celebrating Mass facing away from the people on the first Sunday of Advent.

Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. Reprinted by permission of Catholic News Agency.

 

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56 comments

  1. You say “Proponents of this practice also argue that the concern is not to celebrate Mass facing away from the people, or to have the priest celebrate Mass with his back to the people, but to create a situation in which priest and people pray together in the same direction.”

    Exactly, which is why “Mass facing away from the people” isn’t a wise way to describe the practice unless you just want to purposefully make it sound bad and therefore shut down the conversation. Now, you do indeed treat the subject with fairness and sympathy, even though you ultimately side with Mass facing the people, but I would propose “Mass facing the same direction as the people,” or “Mass facing with the people” as less charged alternatives. There are other less sympathetic folks, for whom actively misleading people is not a problem, who would happily jump on board with a negative way of branding the practice because it acts as a convenient substitute for a real argument.

      1. @Todd Flowerday:
        Then simply use “ad orientem” or perhaps “liturgical east,” but otherwise we’ll need to settle on terms that are close to being accurate, even if they are not totally accurate. I would only ask that any such term be strictly neutral or positive, since that makes people open to real discussion. Anyone who can’t use positive terms for things they don’t like (that are not objectively wrong) simply isn’t worth listening to. Otherwise I see no reason why we shouldn’t describe versus populum as “Mass performing in front of the people” or “Mass with the priest’s back to God” (where a tabernacle is present) since both can be argued to be technically correct in some way, even though they are in fact wildly inaccurate portrayals that I dislike, even though I think ad orientem is in fact better.

        “Facing away from the people” isn’t accurate, even though it could be considered accurate in a dry technical sort of way, because the point is not for the priest to be away from the people. It also flies in the face of my own understanding and experience of the practice, which is that we are facing together. The priest isn’t away from anyone.

      2. @Jack Wayne:
        I do not have a strong brief against ad orientem; I deeply dislike the shibbolething of orientation.

        That said, I would say that certain promoters of it get in their own way, as it were, when their painstaking photography of the EF is focused nearly exclusively on the actors in the sanctuary, and treat the congregation as an occasional visual appendage. For people playing orientation badminton on the Internet, that rather common feature of traditionally-oriented blogs is an unhelpful factor.

  2. I’ve a genuinely curious question on this topic, which will take some getting to.

    At Masses celebrated ad orientem, I quite honestly don’t pay much attention to the priest during the Canon of the Mass. Rather, I’m busy praying the prayers along with him in my hand Missal. I’ll look up during the elevations, with the customary devotions, and go back to praying the prayers. I’ll look up again for the “Ecce, agnus Dei” and “Domine, non sum dignus,” and again go back to my devotions. At the altar rail (or not), again, I’m not paying much attention to the priest. Depending on the context, I either receive on the tongue or receive a blessing and go on my merry way back to the pews to pray more. The priest’s role is important, certainly, but as a part of the drama of the Mass, rather than someone I should be staring at intently. I never really grasped the clericalism argument about ad orientem; the priest just fades into the flow of the liturgy, for me.

    Now, this prayerful focus is possible at Masses celebrated versus populum, and I know many priests make it clear that their focus is radial, Christ-centered, as Todd describes. I have witnessed others staring out at me and making eye contact, and it is wildly distracting.

    What do most parishioners focus their attention on? Are they gazing at the elements of bread and wine as they are variously consecrated, elevated, broken? Or are they focused on the individual priest intoning the words? Or something else? At that point in the liturgy, regardless of the orientation or form, I’m honestly too busy to be looking about, and so I don’t know the answer.

  3. This has to be one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen on this blog:

    “‘Facing away from the people’ is the easiest way of explaining what is involved. More technical terms are ad orientem (facing the East) and ad deum (facing the Lord), which we need not go into here.”

    Everyone I know who understands worship eastwards would not dream of describing it as “facing away from the people.” Rather, we are all facing the Lord together. With his opening gambit, Monsignor is essentially admitting that modern man has no sense anymore of cosmology, symbolism, awe, or the transcendent. If this is true, we should just pack up shop; liturgy is no longer possible.

    1. @Peter Kwasniewski:
      Speaking about one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen – what a solution from Peter:

      http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2015/04/imbuing-ordinary-form-with.html?m=1

      Quoting – “The “continuity principle” is as follows: whenever given a choice by the rubrics, one should always do that which is most in continuity with the preceding tradition.[3]” Appears that all historians, experts, etc. agree that the apostolic period celebrated house eucharist around the table of the Lord – thus, the presider faced the table and the community.

  4. What if….. the tabernacle was placed on finely decorated type of pedestal in front of the altar… between the priest and people, still giving it prominence but allowing both priest and people to face it in prayer? Or what if….. an appropriately sized crucifix (one that would also be venerated on Good Friday) were placed in a similar position?

    1. @John Swencki:
      Mainly because the celebration of the Eucharist already has a primary element: bread and wine. Certainly not the reserved sacrament, which has a place outside of liturgy, but not in it. Not at all. Most people I know prefer an appropriately sized crucifix over the altar, or alternately, in a shrine.

    1. @Ben Yanke:
      Ah good, Ben has settled the issue once and for all. We may as well close the com box, no further discussion is necessary on this topic.

  5. As I have said on another thread, I am reasonably convinced that ad orientem might gradually re-assert itself as the predominant posture. When will this happen? I am not sure (for ardent versus populum supporters: probably not in any one of our lifetimes.) But liturgy turns eccentric patterns which, if we were to have a macro view of history a few centuries from now, would surprise us greatly.

    I have probably mentioned the fact that the Church of England experimented with a diversity of presider postures, usually according to the tradition’s vacillation between Reformed and Catholic liturgy and theology. Again, we do not have the pleasure of analyzing future macro liturgical-theological developments. Yet the macro developmental history we can view points to great diversity of postures in western traditions.

    Those who consider versus populum and its attendant assembly theology as in saecula saeculorum amen might be surprised that fourth and fifth generation progeny might consider a celebrant’s turn to give a greeting from an altar fixed to the apse to be quite commonplace. Will what we cannot know of the future give us anxiety about the ressourcement and reformation project right now?

  6. Am I alone in thinking that this is tired ground. People now have access to their preferred style of liturgy. Both are licit. Do we need to continue trying to convince the others that we are more licit than them?

    1. @Alan Johnson:
      You are not alone. With this and most things we argue about liturgically both sides overstate their case. If people on either side see a problem of unity in a Church that uses a variety of liturgical posture, then I think our concept of unity needs more work than the things we seem to count as priorities.

  7. Throwback for the sake of throwback and change for the sake of change are equally sad and sterile surrogates for genuine faith.

  8. Hmmm. “Ad Deum” – toward the Lord? It must be a comfort to know exactly where the Lord is “located”. “Ad orientum” – toward the east. That certainly simplifies things. So God isn’t everywhere, as the old Baltimore Catechism claimed, or in the people of God gathered in prayer, or in us as members of the Body of Christ. All transcendence, no immanence? Because immanence, incarnation, embodiment can be so messy.

    1. @Glenn Lamb McCoy:
      Odd, the Baltimore Catechism was written when ad orientem was more or less the exclusive practice, and people didn’t see a contradiction at the time. Are you suggesting that people today are incapable of experiencing multiple symbols at the same time?

      When push comes to shove, I’m kind of in the same camp as Jordan. We don’t know how the Latin rite will evolve, and anyone who honestly thinks “towards the narthex” will forever replace “towards the apse” will likely be proven wrong. I think the further we get from the initial implementation of the liturgical reform, the more we will get a clearer picture of what practices from it are truly valuable.

      One of the things these discussion, as of late, have taught me is that the most ardent defenders of “versus populum” lived through the reform and found the change deeply meaningful in a way someone from my generation likely never will. I also notice how strongly most “traditional” practices are associated with the overall culture and climate of the Church and world of the 1950s – so much so they seem to be inseparable from that time for some people. I think that is why some always compare the EF/ROTR to “turning back the clock.” I can say that I have no desire to “return” to a world I never lived in and which had a lot of flaws – I only want to press forward using what is valuable from the past. Even if ad orientem were mandated tomorrow, or the OF were suppressed and all-out replaced by the EF tomorrow, we wouldn’t end up with the clock being reset to 1962 – we would have something totally different. I think ad orientem will re-assert itself more and more as it is seen more for its own merits and less for its associations with the past.

  9. Peter Kwasniewski : This has to be one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen on this blog: …With his opening gambit, Monsignor is essentially admitting that modern man has no sense anymore of cosmology, symbolism, awe, or the transcendent. If this is true, we should just pack up shop; liturgy is no longer possible.

    Finally, a recognition of the reality being discussed! Modern man does not have the same sense of the cosmos as previous generations. We walk on the moon! The symbolic significance of “heaven” has changed, with the new horizon firmly outside the physical universe.

    Abandoning this symbol need not mean abandoning all symbolism, awe and transcendence, though some have abandoned the church for that reason. Our prayer needs new metaphors to reflect this change in cosmology. portraying God as present in our midst seems like an appropriate choice for the Eucharist. It promotes an idea of God that truly transcends our reality rather than just one who is “distant.”

  10. I agree with Jack’s earlier comment: let’s come up with strictly neutral terms here. And I would propose language relative to the building rather than the participants: “facing the narthex” vs “facing the apse”, rather than the loaded terms “facing the people”, “facing away from the people”, “ad orientem”, etc. There can then be separate discussions about the symbolic valence, liturgical appropriateness, etc., of these directions.

    Peter, your claim that nobody in your network of liturgical cognoscenti would dream of describing the priest facing the apse as “facing away from the people” suggests either that you operate in a small and exclusive circle, or that you are being disingenuous. There is plenty of traditionalist polemic out there — and I’m sure you have read it, and probably written some of it as well – commending precisely the fact that the priest is facing away from the people, because this is supposed to make the Mass more transcendent, less personal, etc. For example: in 1964, Evelyn Waugh wrote in his diary:

    When I first came into the Church I was drawn, not by splendid ceremonies but by the spectacle of the priest as a craftsman. He had an important job to do which none but he was qualified for. He and his apprentice stumped up the altar with their tools and set to work without a glance to those behind them, still less with any intention to make a personal impression on them.

    From A Bitter Trial (Ignatius, 2016).

    1. @Jonathan Day:

      Jonathan: “I agree with Jack’s earlier comment: let’s come up with strictly neutral terms here. And I would propose language relative to the building rather than the participants: “facing the narthex” vs “facing the apse”, rather than the loaded terms “facing the people”, “facing away from the people”, “ad orientem”, etc. There can then be separate discussions about the symbolic valence, liturgical appropriateness, etc., of these directions.”

      Jonathan, I admire your call to a less divisive terminology of altar and celebrant orientation. Yet this question, as with so many other socio-anthropological questions, necessarily contain biases. The question of celebrant posture is not similar to a question of pure science, such as a differential equation or a physics theorem. The celebration of the Eucharist is indelibly human, and can never be separated from inevitable human biases.

      1. @Jordan Zarembo:
        Which is why an old literalist like me finds “ad orientem” (hardly ever) and “all facing God” (we all are whichever direction we face) less than honest ways of describing what is going on – obfuscation, more like.
        Whereas “back to the people” to my mind is bang on the money as the most literally true.

  11. Jordan, of course we are subject to biases. I’m simply looking for a way to describe a given celebration without begging the question of whether it is better or worse in some respect.

    “The celebrant recited the offertory while facing the narthex. He was looking away from God and toward the people.”

    Two assertions: one fairly neutral, one much less so. Nothing wrong with either one. But it is useful, if we are to avoid silly polemic and the “tired ground” that Alan speaks of, to separate them.

  12. Maybe it’s the holiday weekend, or maybe the tropical storm is causing lack of oxygen, but it seems that a lot of smart liturgical people are thinking in very odd ways. There are 3 things I see that seem overlooked. (1) We teach that Christ is present in the elements of his Body and Blood, in the assembly, and in the priest. Why would we make it difficult to see these things? Liturgy is not just about hearing, it is about seeing. You don’t have to go very far back from the front of the church for the actions in Ad Orientem settings to be obscured by the presider’s body. Is he extending his hands? Raising them? Blessing the bread with a sign of the cross? Who would know? (2) When the presider says “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body which shall be given up for you” he is not addressing God but the assembly (as themselves and representatives of the larger world). Who speaks to people without looking at them? And this is a profound point. Transubstantiation is not a divine parlor trick. The bread and wine become Body and Blood for the people…for their salvation. (3) I hear again and again “The priest has become a talk show host, chatting with the people instead of proclaiming and presiding over sacred mysteries.” (“The Mass is ended, go in peace. Thanks be to God. And have a nice week everybody.”) If you think carefully note that this issue never appears during the Eucharistic prayer (certainly not in my experience). It’s the province of the opening and closing rites. So the Eucharistic prayer Ad Orientem gains nothing in this respect. And would one expect the priest to proclaim “The Mass is ended, go in peace” facing away from the people? In short the solution and the problem miss each other by a wide margin. Finally, to all those who worry that somehow Versus Populum does not actually pray to God, how would you imagine our Jewish brothers and sisters pray their Seders? Facing one another around the table, do they not offer profound prayers to the same God?

  13. Frank Ferrone: (2) When the presider says “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, for this is my Body which shall be given up for you” he is not addressing God but the assembly (as themselves and representatives of the larger world). Who speaks to people without looking at them?

    I’m pretty sure he is speaking to God, not the people. In speaking to God, to be sure, he is recounting what Jesus said to a particular group of people (the disciples in the Upper Room), but he is most definitely speaking to God.

    Now if you’re a (traditional[ist] sort of) Lutheran, when the pastor recites the institution narrative he is speaking to the people, which is why in his German Mass Luther had the verba chanted to a Gospel tone, rather than the collect tone he had specified in his revision of the Latin Mass.

    1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
      Fritz, to your point about whom the priest addresses in speaking the institution narrative, formally of course the whole prayer is addressed to God. But isn’t the simplicity of this answer complicated somewhat by the teaching that the words of the consecration are uttered “in persona Christi”? In other words, if we are to understand the utterance “this is my body” to be spoken in persona Christi, then should we not see the whole sentence in that way? I suspect that both are true: it is a narration, recounted within the great prayer offered to the Father, yet it is also a “re-presentation” to the faithful of Christ’s action and invitation in real time. If this is true, we do appropriately hear those words being addressed to us (not only to the disciples in the Upper Room), and we do not merely “overhear” them being recounted to the Father in a prayer the priest speaks on our behalf.

      1. @Rita Ferrone:
        I appreciated Fritz Bauerschmidt’s reminder that the entire Eucharistic Prayer is addressed to the Father. The narrative of institution itself, with its “he gave you thanks” (and variations) indicates the Father by “you.” So what about the Lord’s words addressed to the disciples? They also speak to “you,” but the second-person address to the Father governs. These words are spoken by the priest not as from himself but as from Christ; as I speak them, I often remind myself that they are being spoken to me as well as my people–and in the prayers as a whole I am recalling to the Father this new covenant by which we all live.

      2. @Michael Slusser:
        I think you are agreeing with me in a both/and view of who is addressed by these words. Are you? I applaud your identification with the recipients of the message.

        [By the way, I enjoyed the crab story, and “elbow action”!]

      3. @Rita Ferrone:
        Thank you – thought his remark was off the mark also. Face it, Eucharistic theology and even ecclesiology from VII frames the setting of the eucharist as a meal, period. Folks can argue about how various cultures, time periods, etc. may have gathered, stood, sat around a table but in the 21st century it is clear what the meaning of *meal*, *table* means. And when you add in communication with a community, etc. the Tridentine liturgy is not the future.
        Agree – this ad orientem pre-occupation is tiresome. Ten years ago it was an argument around the term, sacrifice…..but, now we understand that sacrifice was liturgically celebrated and demonstrated via community meals (not the Tridentine opera).
        It just appears that some look for issues to argue against the reforms of VII -sad.

      4. @william dehaas:

        You may wish to check out all the references to the Eucharist as sacrifice in the VII documents, Lumen Gentium in particular contains a number of references to the “Eucharistic sacrifice”.

  14. well, I thought the title of the post was a brilliant stroke. it certainly sets the tendentious language of the other party in high relief.

  15. Frank Ferrone:
    The contemporary Seder would indeed be prayed by people facing one another around a table. There’s a significant body of opinion that would say that at the time of Our Lord there would have been nobody sat on one side of the table at all as it would have been reserved for the service of the dishes. And, since we’re invoking the example of our elder brothers and sisters in the faith, there’s no shortage of synagogues where people face each other across a central aisle or the bema and then turn to face the Ark for prayer…in fact, ad orientem is not at all unusual for the readings either.

    More generally, both versus populum and ad orientem have historically been adopted in the Roman Rite for centuries – surely if we took the heat out of this debate, it could, would and should be a legitimate option that priests varied as much as they vary eg the Penitential Rite.

    “In the history of the liturgy there is growth and progress, but no rupture. What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.”

  16. Frank Ferrone ‘actions in Ad Orientem settings to be obscured by the presider’s body’
    There is a story, probably apocryphal, of a Methodist lady, long ago, who concluded from her one experience of Mass that the ceremony involved keeping a live crab from getting away from the centre of the altar.

  17. James Dunne: my point was just to say that versus populum could pray to God as well as Ad Orientem, not that all faced together (in any direction) was ahistorical or incorrect. I see much commentary that versus populum is somehow praying to each other or being distracted from “real” prayer.

  18. I recently ‘attended’ a Sunday liturgy where the priest faced ad orientum. Tears rolled down my eyes. Yes, it was very ‘irritating’ and very distracting. And where, pray tell, is the Presence of the Lord during the celebration of Eucharist? In the Crucifix? Or at the Altar of Sacrifice, the Body and Blood, in the form of bread and wine? And what about the dialogues during the liturgy? It was crazy, that the priest turned like a coo-coo clock for the Mystery of Faith and then again for the Doxology. And if I may quote from Friday’s reflection in GUTD, “…a diminishing community simply hanging on to what they’ve done for years isn’t an act of hope–it’s an act of despair.” Let’s get with the program. You can’t put “new wine into old wine skins.” We can’t bottle up into old wine skins the Spirit who was released at Second Vatican.

    Oh, and does one think that Jesus had his back to Mary and the Apostles?!

  19. Isn’t the main point to remind ourselves that Jesus is the center of focus at the Eucharist? So how do we do that? Posture? “Elbow action”? Vesture? Latin?
    Or is it something else, something deeper– that we make it our intention to see Christ in the breaking of the bread, regardless of language, orientation or whatever. That our aim to see Christ supersedes our desire to be edified or satisfied.

  20. I know I’m flogging a dead equine by drawing attention to the problematic and polemical (yes, polemical) manner of framing ad orientem as “facing away from the people.” But since it’s being used yet again here, apparently the whip has to remain to hand. It might be the easiest way for Msgr. Mannion; but if it is, it’s an easy temptation which should be resisted.

    I appreciate Msgr Mannion providing his own understanding of the issue, and an attempt to at least consider both sides of the argument. As a strong advocate of the merit of restoring celebration ad orientem, I would just add this: It may be true that “we live in an age of democracy and respect for the individual, in which facing away from someone or some group is generally insulting.” If so, however, it underlines how much more important it is for the Church to be firmly countercultural. No one but the Church is so well positioned to counteract the hyper-individualism of our solipsistic age – if she will but take up this burden.

    1. @Richard Malcolm:
      I have no problem at all in using “ad orientem” when it accurately describes the direction the celebrant is facing, no matter what his direction relative to the assembly might be.
      I take issue when it is used as a euphemism for the priest having his back to the people.

  21. william dehaas : @Rita Ferrone: Face it, Eucharistic theology and even ecclesiology from VII frames the setting of the eucharist as a meal, period.

    I’m afraid Jay has a point here: I am afraid that it is just not tenable to say that “VII frames the setting of the eucharist as a meal, period.” “Eucharistic sacrifice” as a term of art is expressly employed five times in Lumen Gentium and once in Sacrosanctum Concilium, and discussed as a sacrifice at several other points in both documents. See more specifically: “The ministerial priest, by the sacred power he enjoys, teaches and rules the priestly people; acting in the person of Christ, he makes present the Eucharistic sacrifice, and offers it to God in the name of all the people.” (LG 10) “And: “They exercise their sacred function especially in the Eucharistic worship or the celebration of the Mass by which acting in the person of Christ (67*) and proclaiming His Mystery they unite the prayers of the faithful with the sacrifice of their Head and renew and apply (68*) in the sacrifice of the Mass until the coming of the Lord(179) the only sacrifice of the New Testament namely that of Christ offering Himself once for all a spotless Victim to the Father.” (LG 28)

    In fact, the words “meal” and “banquet” do not appear at any point in either document, though of course it is permissible to use this as another, secondary gloss in describing the Mass.

    Likewise, the same is true of Paul VI’s 1965 encyclical Mysterium Fidei, issued during the final weeks of the Council: The Mass is described as a “sacrifice” no less than 33 times; he also describes as a “Paschal banquet” – but only twice.

  22. By all means, *please* irritate the people. They *need* to be irritated. Their comfort has gone on long enough. As to “confusing” them: that will not be the case if the Priest actually engages his flock with a bit of prepared and well-considered catechesis. AMDG.

  23. Bill, I agree with Richard that it is a serious oversimplification to say that “Eucharistic theology and even ecclesiology from VII frames the setting of the eucharist as a meal, period.”

    There is not a zero-sum split between “sacrifice” and “meal”. A good number of ‘progressive’ and ‘conservative’ theologians, before and after the second Vatican Council, indeed right back to the New Testament, would strongly assert that the Eucharist is both a meal and a sacrifice, and many other things: a memorial of the Lord, sacred medicine, the bishop united with his people, etc.

    I don’t see any reason why we need Latin to describe the direction the celebrant faces. Few have enough Latin to understand the underlying syntax of ad orientem — for example, that orientem is in the present tense, or that ad often conveys not only direction but also motion. The starkness of English “facing God”, implying that God is not present in the assembly, slips away under the churchy sound of ad Deum.

    Richard writes that the term “facing away from the people” is ideological or polemical. Perhaps it is, though no more so than “facing God”. But there are plenty of traditionalist sources – I cited one earlier in this thread – that hold up “facing away from the people” as a positive in and of itself. So it’s not unworthy of debate.

    1. @Jonathan Day:
      Jonathan – think you misunderstand what I have stated – which I stand by.
      Never stated that it was either/or – in fact, agree with your statement and historical summary.
      What I meant to say – it is a sacrifice in terms of the meaning but we do liturgy as a *meal* to convey this meaning of sacrifice.
      Fr. Anthony appears to not like me linking or quoting repeatedly from Thomas Richstatter but to your comment:

      http://www.tomrichstatter.org/eEucharist/e41theol.htm

      Key section:

      The Mass is a sacrifice because it is a meal.

      Twenty years ago, when the images of Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday began to gain prominence in catechesis regarding the eucharist, there were many Catholics who worried that we were loosing Good Friday. Some looked upon “Mass as a meal” as replacing “Mass as sacrifice.” However, this is not an “either / or” situation. The sacramental sign (the external, visible element) which we celebrate is a meal. The meal is the sign of the sacrifice.

      I never thought much about the “meal” aspect of the Mass (the Holy Thursday image) when I was a child. I remember that very few people received Holy Communion at weekday Masses, and on Sundays in my parish Holy Communion seemed to be reserved for special groups who went to Communion once a month (the Holy Name Society on one Sunday and the Altar Society on another). But because Good Friday was the dominant (and nearly exclusive) image out of which I understood the Mass, the number of people going to Communion was not an issue. After all, no one went to Communion on that first Good Friday on Calvary! My devotion to the Sacrament was shaped by the image of kneeling at the foot of the cross, gazing at the sacrifice of Jesus, and expressing gratitude for so great a love and sorrow for sins which caused so great a suffering.

      Holy Thursday: the Shape of the Eucharist Is That of a Meal”

      Research- link to: The Eucharist in the West, Edward J. Kilmartin, S.J.

  24. On ‘hyper-individualism’, one could as easily argue that a traditionalist celebration can become even more ‘hyper-individualistic’ than a progressive one: the individual worshipper, unrelated to anyone else in the assembly, looking “through” the priest to the tabernacle. No exchange of the peace. Me and Jesus. And then there’s the potential for individualism and narcissism on the part of the traditionalist priest, come to re-reform his erring congregation into “proper” worship, sporting his most recently acquired biretta and maniple, gathering photos of “liturgical eye candy” to post on his blog, etc.

    Now, with very few exceptions I don’t think that traditionalist worshippers or priests are individualistic or narcissistic. The internet – perhaps the strongest driver of modernity out there – tends to make the exceptions look bigger than they are. I wrote the above paragraph in an aggressive and – yes – polemical style, simply to illustrate that these symbolic valences are rarely simple.

  25. As far as the Church of England, they are split..literally!
    The Episcopal branch faces the people while the Anglicans are beginning to reverting back to ad orientem as they revise their liturgy.

  26. Jonathan Day : On ‘hyper-individualism’, one could as easily argue that a traditionalist celebration can become even more ‘hyper-individualistic’ than a progressive one:

    I think you are on to something here, Jonathan, but I think important distinctions have to be drawn. Individualism in theological outlook is a different question than individualism in liturgical praxis. In the former, the pathology targeted typically is that of an individual conscience given priority over the teaching of the Magisterium, the influence of post-Enlightenment rights-based lines of thought. If individualism is a danger in progressive liturgy, it’s more in the form of the individual creativity of the priest or liturgist.

    That said, it is hard to deny that the praxis of the traditional Roman Rite and its uses (certainly outside religious order uses, of course) more broadly serve individual piety than is the norm – even the normative – in the Pauline Missal. And that has been true going back to the Middle Ages. In that period, in fact, lacking pews, worshipers could and did freely circulate about the church during Mass, moving about as the Spirit or their bodies compelled them. Those tired could take a break. Those wishing to pray quietly could disappear to a side chapel. Those especially moved could stand closer to the front. One still sees this more frequently in most Eastern Catholic Rite liturgies, in fact.

    Some of which of course is what many mid-century Liturgical Reform Movement advocates were reacting against; they felt that the communal aspect of the liturgy had been too vitiated, perhaps in part due to operatic approaches to the Mass in the Baroque era. Even there, however, I think the problem emerging was more passivity than hyper-individualism.

  27. william dehaas : @Jonathan Day: Jonathan – think you misunderstand what I have stated – which I stand by. Never stated that it was either/or – in fact, agree with your statement and historical summary. What I meant to say – it is a sacrifice in terms of the meaning but we do liturgy as a *meal* to convey this meaning of sacrifice.

    I don’t want to belabor the discussion or run you to ground, but I do want it to be clear what the three of us (certainly me) were responding to in your post. You said: ““VII frames the setting of the eucharist as a meal, period.” And you didn’t offer any qualification to that.

    I appreciate that you’re now offering some qualifications. I think that even the qualifications are still in some way problematic, even in just the context of the conciliar documents (and those from Paul VI at the time); but it’s perhaps best to let the conversation drop at this point. There is at least a common acknowledgement that the Mass remains, even in the wake of Vatican II, to be understood in some fundamental sense as a Eucharistic sacrifice.

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