Seven Candles and a Crucifix: The absurdity of Pope Benedict’s altar arrangement

Fr Ray Blake is a conservative priest-blogger in Brighton. In this thoughtful article he carefully and respectfully criticizes the arrangement recommended by Pope Benedict in The Spirit of the Liturgy and used in most papal masses.

The linked post provides a picture that illustrates the papal style and neatly captures the problem that Fr Blake has identified.

He puts it very well, I think, when he writes that

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?

I don’t share Fr Blake’s view that the Pope’s altar arrangement should be seen as a transitional form, a step toward a return to the Mass with the celebrant facing the apse and standing between the people and the sacred elements on the altar. His assumption is that removing the hardware on the altar necessarily leaves the congregation focused on the celebrant. ‘As absurd as I think [the papal arrangement] is,’ he writes, ‘it is far less absurd than placing the priest at the centre of worship, without the crucifix.’

This certainly doesn’t fit my experience. My focus at Mass, and I suspect that of many worshippers, is not on the celebrant at all, but on the altar and the vessels there, holding the body and blood of the Lord. If anything, the old style, with the priest facing the apse, creates more, not less of a focus on the celebrant.

Of course if you believe that the congregation is irrelevant to the Mass, then the priest facing the apse is just fine. Evelyn Waugh repeatedly spoke of this in his diaries, letters and articles:

The priest stood rather far away. His voice was not clear and the language he spoke was not that of everyday use. … When I first came into the Church I was drawn, not by splendid ceremonies but by the spectacle of the priest at the altar. He had an important job to do which none but he was qualified for. He and his apprentice stumped up to 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 Reid, ed., A Bitter Trial, Ignatius Press 2011).

For me, at least, the style that Waugh praises creates more focus on the celebrant, not less. Unlike Waugh, I have little interest in ‘the spectacle of the priest at the altar.’

I certainly agree with Fr Blake that Pope Benedict’s arrangement is an ineffective compromise. The candlesticks and crucifix clutter the altar, obscuring the sacred elements and – if the candlesticks are tall, as the pope seems to prefer – making the celebrant look as though he is peering out from behind the bars of a jail cell.

The signs and symbols of the eucharist are too important to be taken away from the people in the Tridentine mode; even less so by hiding them behind a tangle of candlesticks, microphones, bookstands, multiple eucharistic vessels and books. What is needed is not a return to celebration facing the apse but a renewal of the ‘noble simplicity’ prescribed by Sacrosanctum Concilium, with neither the priest’s back nor a lot of liturgical hardware as the focus of the congregation, but the body and blood of Christ.

Jonathan Day is a consultant and writer; he is also a member of the parish council of the Jesuit Church of the Immaculate Conception (Farm Street) in central London.

104 comments

  1. Agreed.

    I remember back during the early days of post VII that one priest laid a small crucifix flat on the altar in front of him in order that the sacred elements were not blocked from the view of the assembly. Apparently he felt that blocking the view prevented full and active participation.

    Possibly a compromise here. For those who insist on a crucifix how about laying it flat on the altar in front of the priest……

    1. The cross and candlestick on the altar are not absurd, i.e. laughably unreasonable, but they are clutter, i.e. a jumble of confusion and disorder better placed elsewhere.

      1. Two good sized candlesticks on an average Latin-style altar with perhaps additional floor candlesticks, one on either side of the lower step, often referred to as the Sarum arrangement, looks much less cluttered.

        When you add those dreadful altar cards to the six or seven candlesticks, with the tabernacle and the reliquaries placed between the candlesticks coming back into fashion again, the altar becomes one big junk shop loaded down with trinkets and unnecessary bric-a-brac.

    1. Precisely. Which means that any candles and crucifixes there should contribute to the overall flow of the liturgy and NOT become a spectacle unto themselves.
      I really dislike the “priest as ringmaster” style of presiding; but OTOH, while the priest is proclaiming the Gospel, the presidential prayers, and the EP done in our name, ISTM that there is a good way in which the focus *should* be on the priest-as-proclaimer, as mediator of that-which-is-being-proclaimed. As one of the four modes of the “real presence” of Christ in the eucharistic celebration, why shouldn’t the priest be such a focus? It’s because presiding should be done in such a way that the priest (paradoxically) makes the Word and prayers proclaimed the true center of our prayerful attention, that the priest himself does become such an important locus of what it means to have good liturgy.

  2. Well, just exactly what are those “things”. How much we all really, really love one another and are just itching to run out of this boxed-in building to take the spirit of fraternity into the world? Or what?

    I’m pretty sure the image of Jesus Christ in his dying agony is not a small chunk of contemplative meat, neither a candle erected around the holy sacrifice.

    1. They are externals, accidentals – and the very things which the “Reform of the Reform” and the “changes” wrought by the current pontificate are based on, and consist of.

      Externals, accidentals, dressing-ups: the Emperor’s new clothes.

    2. The state of my own soul.
      My love of God and of neighbor.
      The mystery of the Eucharist.

      None of which have anything to do with — and should not be affected by — the number of candles on the altar or the orientation of the crucifix.

  3. 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.

    This was a comment from Fr. Blake’s blog. I think it fairly typifies predispositional attitude through terminology, in this case “contra populum.” The commentor’s point about the altar as “barrier” to “unified worship of all God’s people” is exemplified by that same term. But the immediate question is raised by what the commentor doesn’t explicity mention or identify in the “symbiology”, who is being worshipped and how? To me that is an essential question with a simple, essential answer summed up by this term, “ad Deum.

  4. What seems to be missing is the prime importance of the altar as such. GIRM is very clear about this: candles and cross are its ‘appointments’, tucked into the end of the section entitled ‘The Altar and its Appointments’. Even clearer is the prayer of consecration in the Rite of Dedication of an altar:

    Make this altar a sign of Christ…
    Make it a table of joy…
    Make it a place of communion and peace…
    Make it a source of unity of friendship…
    Make it the centre of our praise and thanksgiving…

    Anything that distracts from this centrality is questionable. Obviously the offerings and the sacred species constitute the liturgical event for which the altar is consecrated. But the crucifix must not dominate the sanctuary to the detriment of the altar. The architectural function of a baldachino (or more accurately but confusingly, ciborium) is precisely to draw attention to the high altar in the church. Perhaps it should be seen more often in larger churches where the altar is diminutive in size in relation to the volume of the church space.

    1. Much as I hate to disagree with my friend John Ainslie, I cannot go along with the ciborium or baldachino. This is the equivalent of training a searchlight on the altar, and it srrongly implies that, similar to an operating table, nothing of any interest is taking place anywhere else.

      Without dwelling on other liturgical foci such as chair, ambo or font, theologically what is taking place is taking place in the assembly. They it is who are the subjects of the celebration (and cf. CCC 1136, 1140); they it is who are transformed by it. It is the roof of the church building itself which acts as the ciborium or baldachino.

      1. I think that John summed it up by quoting from the prayer of consecration of an altar:

        “Make it the center of our praise and thanksgiving.”

        The font is-or should be by the entrance, the chair has little or nothing to do with the action of the liturgy unless one focuses on the celebrant who sits there, the lectern while important, is not really necessary, take for example those who read the lessons or epistle from the entrance of the sanctuary, or gospel from the center of the church, and the congregation are in the nave or body of the church, yet the altar is the place of sacrifice, the table of Lord’s supper, and preeminently, a symbol of Christ himself, what we all are there to gather around. (cf. CCC 1182, 1383)

        Trying to equalize all the liturgical foci belittles and confuses the liturgy. Remember, we don’t reverence the font, chair, or lectern, or see them as a symbol of Christ.

    2. Anything that distracts from this centrality is questionable.

      Speaking of which, yesterday I noticed that the presider, returning to his chair after his homily, bowed as his passed in front of the altar, but just before that he glanced, not at the altar, but at the tabernacle behind it – so that, for those paying attention, that was clearly where he was directing his bow 🙁

  5. Now celebrating both ways toward the people and toward the liturgical east in the case of the EF Mass and with a free standing altar in front of an older altar, I prefer the large six candles sticks to be a on reredos behind the altar-table and not directly on the altar. In addition to the six on the rerdos,we also have four rather magnificent floor candlesticks flanking the free standing altar. I’ve added a rather nice but comparatively small crucifix directly in front of the celebrant when celebrating Mass facing the congregation. It is a wonderful focus and helps the priest not to make it look like he’s proclaiming the prayer to the congregation. I’d prefer ad orientem, but I know that this would be a minority desire in my parish and diocese so I think our arrangement is rather nice and the crucifix does not block anything as people view the altar not directly from its middle, (no one sits in the middle of the main aisle) but rather from a slightly off-center view left and right. However, I do think the preoccupation with seeing the elements of bread and wine from the offering to the Communion is a bit overstated in the OF Mass. In the EF, seeing was only for the two elevations, the Ecce Agnus Dei and the Communion of the L/laity. I think our liturgical heritage in the Latin Rite is to understate liturgical signs rather than to exaggerate, although I recognize that liturgists, (not necessarily the liturgical books) are the ones who wanted to exaggerate everything, so much for noble simplicity.

    1. “I do think the preoccupation with seeing the elements of bread and wine from the offering to the Communion is a bit overstated in the OF Mass.”

      What you think, Father, is all very interesting though irrelevant to the issue in question. A sacrament is visible by definition. e.g. “Signum sacro sanctum efficax gratiae”

    2. True, Mary, but the action of the Sacrament includes Jesus death on the Cross (although in a sacramental, unbloody way at the altar) as the Sacrificial Victim for our salvation and the completion of the Sacrifice on our altars is the consumption of the Holocaust. The ministerial Priest, representing both Christ and the laity, but in the presence of the laity (in the East, he goes into the holy of holies behind the iconostasis) offers the Sacrifice “In Persona Christi Capitis.” The Consumption of the one Sacrificed, but risen and glorified under the form of the more palatable Bread and Wine, is like the marital act that makes Bridegroom (Christ the Head) and Bride (the Church–Priest and laity together with our Lord and who knows, maybe the more feminine vesture of the ministerial priest, including lace, could be a symbolic sign of the feminine nature of the Church seen in that sacramental) one in the Lord. It’s much more than just looking at the elements–that devotional aspect should be reserved for popular devotions such as adoration after Mass. During Mass, the actions of the Priest (keeping in mind who the High Priest really is) is most important–the Meal simply completes the Sacrificial Action of the Priest (keeping in mind who the Priest is, of course) and our inclusion in the Sacrifice that removes the punishment due our sins, both original and actual and thus opens for us the gates to heaven.

      1. Well, Fr. Allan, you have just given a nice pre-VII explanation and turned eucharistic theology upside down. But, then, that is what Southern Orders is alll about.

      2. What are you saying about pre-Vatican II belief is as though there is something corrupt about that. Is there a schism between Pre-Vatican II doctrine and dogma verses what came after Vatican II or is there simply too much theological emphasis after Vatican II on sign and symbol to the point of neglect of what these signify, our Lord, His High Priesthood, His Sacrifice and His gift to give us Himself to make us a part of His Church through our consumption of the Sacramental Signs of Holy Communion, which in reality is Him, not just Bread and Wine. In other words, Bill, you are a good example of what the Holy Father sees as the unfortunate division of the Church and her belief before and after the Council, the hermeneutic of rupture with dogma or doctrine if you will–very sad Bill.

      3. “and who knows, maybe the more feminine vesture of the ministerial priest, including lace, could be a symbolic sign of the feminine nature of the Church seen in that sacramental) one in the Lord”
        A.J. MacDonald.

        There you have it. A psychoanalyst would have a field day. A priest deliberately and consciously dressing “in a more feminine” way in order to preside at the sacred liturgy.

        Thank you for the insight into why certain presbyters choose to wear lace vestments. The word fetish springs to mind.

        Is it possible to draw conclusions about the correlation between a cleric’s (a deacon’s, priest’s, or bishop’s) liking to dress in lace and their place on the liberal-conservative spectrum? In other words, if we had more married clergy than we have, would the attraction for lace be even more of a minority taste than what it is?

      4. Mary, I had a married parochial vicar for almost 14 years and I know of several other married priests and they have no hang up with lace or other aspects of liturgical vesture as you do. You build straw men and it says more about you and your hang ups than anything else.

      5. Are you saying, Father Allen, that there are no married males with female dress fetishes or married male transvestites?

      6. ‘….maybe the more feminine vesture of the ministerial priest, including lace, could be a symbolic sign of the feminine nature of the Church…’ Father McDonald

        I imagine that line of thought explains the return of the cappa magna and other items of flamboyance in certain quarters and also the resistance to simplifying the dress of ‘priestly rulers,’ after the manner of their Lord who humbled himself and became obedient unto death.

  6. I prefer the priest celebrating Mass facing the apse, and have never thought of it as the priest being a barrier between me and the Blessed Sacrament – at least no more a barrier than the other people in front of me would be. The problem with it isn’t that the priest has his back to the people, but rather that many altars were typically quite far away from the congregation and it was considered fine to celebrate Mass in an almost totally inaudible manner.

    I’ve never experienced the “Benedictine arrangement” in person, so I can’t say how I feel about it.

    Perhaps neither way is better. I see ad populum as being intensely priest-centered while ad orientem is more communal in nature. It’s a shame ad-populum became such a “progressive” shibboleth that it must trump all else.

      1. Jack, +1 to this. I saw this in the Episcopal Church before becoming Catholic, and in my mind, I never saw it as a back turned to me, but rather someone offering something WITH me to God.

      2. Contra and versus are more or less synonymous in this case. But Mr Wayne is missing the point, namely, that where two or three are gathered the Lord is present AMONG them, rather than somewhere out int the middle distance.

      3. Perhaps you could demonstrate how I’ve missed that point? Or is God not AMONG us when we all face the same direction? The idea that those who support ad orientem think God is in the distance (and not present among us) doesn’t seem well substantiated by facts.

      4. It’s simple geometry. All the Tridentinists are facing into the middle distance as if that was where God was primarily to be found.

        As Euclid might have said, if he had spoken Latin, “QED”.

      5. Or maybe the “Tridentinists” (does that make you a “Novus Ordoist?”) understand that the Mass, and what we do at it, can have multiple layers of meaning.

    1. I have heard some priests describing themselves as standing between the people and God, more or less funneling our prayers in the proper direction or giving them the added importance of coming through the priest. I suspect this description is rather mistaken, but it does explain why some of us feel that having the priest face away from the people puts more emphasis on the priest.
      I think a vain man could make himself the center of attention regardless which way he faces. A priest who makes a fetish of reading the black and doing the red can be as much a showman as any ad-libber.
      If I came to Mass and said my rosary while more or less ignoring those around me, I would be abrogating the communal aspect of the Mass. If a priest focuses on a man-made object such as a crucifix to the exclusion of those around him, is he not also abrogating that aspect? It is possible for every prayer to be perfectly audible and to have a priest who is saying Mass to himself.
      It was only recently that I realized that the term “Benedictine arrangement” referred to the current Pope and not to a long practice by the Benedictines. Even if he is the Pope, making a unilateral move to such a distinctive arrangement seem a little arrogant. Given all the problems in the Church today, making such a big deal over candle arrangements seems rather silly.

      1. Even if he is the Pope, making a unilateral move to such a distinctive arrangement seem a little arrogant. Given all the problems in the Church today, making such a big deal over candle arrangements seems rather silly.
        —————————————–
        Ms.Rauch, Thank you for having the courage to tell the
        emperor he has no clothes. To see the pope’s admirers picking up on the six and seven candle practice
        strikes me as even sillier. Monkey see, monkey do?

  7. Benedict XVI seems to have said that he personally prefers to be able to see a crucifix while celebrating versus populum, and so likes a crucifix to be standing on the altar facing him. If this is true, he clearly hasn’t grasped that the celebration is not about him or his personal preferences, it’s a celebration of the Church. He also appears not to consider the altar as the primary symbol of Christ and his sacrifice in the midst of the assembly.

    The placing of candlesticks on the altar is down to the lack of imagination of those around him who are responsible for liturgical environment.

    In both cases GIRM 117, 122, and 307-8 give the parameters: “on or near”, not just “on”.

    1. Does he like looking at a crucifix for aesthetic reasons or for spiritual reasons? It seems to me that since not just the laity but also the priest is worshiping God during the Mass, his “preferences” should have some effect on what’s going on.

      Moreover, the fact that he hasn’t imposed his personal view on the Church through some sort of legislation is strong evidence against your argument that he thinks the Mass is just about his own fancies.

    2. But what happens when the wall behind the altar is the North side of the Church rather than the East side as it is in at least two local churches. Does that mean that one cannot celebrate Ad Orientem?

  8. Agree with Paul’s comments. This again appears to be another polarized divide in how we approach eucharistic theology based upon our ecclesiology (yes, Fr. Allan, that dirty word, ecclesiology and in many respects, the difference between, as Fr. Ruff well analyzes, the First Spirt of VII and the Second Spirt of VII).

    Why is the personal taste of a Pope relevant on this point? Here is a recent article by John Allen – his first myth is called “Purple Ecclesiology”

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/all-things-catholic/three-myths-about-church-give-lent

    His point: “Purple ecclesiology” refers to the notion that the lead actors in the Catholic drama are the clergy, and in fact, the only activity that really counts as “Catholic” at all is that carried out by the church’s clerical caste, especially its bishops or pope. You can always spot purple ecclesiology at work when you hear someone say “the church” when what they really mean is “the hierarchy.”
    Would suggest that you can refocus Allen’s words to state “Liturgy”:
    – “Seeing liturgy through a purple filter is misleading, even if all we take into view is the visible, institutional eucharist of Catholic life.”
    – “Abandoning purple ecclesiology enables a wider focus on what the Catholic story of our time actually is. That story is not limited to whatever statement the U.S. bishops have made this week or the latest Vatican pronouncement on liturgical practice”

    Would argue that VII developed and ressourced our understanding and experience of the eucharist – the focus is on the action of the assembly thru word and sacrament (bread/wine at the table). Anything that diverts or covers up this focus is ancillary – whether that be candlesticks, crucifix, ad orientem, presider, fiddleback chasubles, etc.

    Paul well said. Fr. Allan, the bread and wine on the table are the central symbols – not two elevations or EF (in fact, VII changed this but you would never know this; “plastic hosts”…

    1. Bill, I don’t understand your last sentence. You sort of trail off without completing the thought:

      Fr. Allan, the bread and wine on the table are the central symbols – not two elevations or EF (in fact, VII changed this but you would never know this; “plastic hosts”…

      1. JP – would suggest that there were many VII liturgical/eucharistic reforms outlined but never implemented completely – e.g. use of eucharistic breads that actually are bread. PrayTell has often highlighted many other suggested reforms that have never really been implemented e.g. use of hosts from tabernacles. why?

        Fr. Allan – as usual, you change the subject. We are talking about the “latin rite” liturgies – not our brothers and sisters in the East.

      2. And on top of that, our Eastern rite brothers and sisters do receive the Precious Body and Blood of our Lord from Bread that is leaven and thus more “food-like” as you say Vatican II requires for our “unleavened bread” in looks, texture, and taste, although the consecrated Leaven Bread is placed in the Consecrated Wine and spoon fed to the Communicants but only by the priest has received in order to complete the sacrifice by His consumption of the Holocaust and then he leaves the confines of the holy of holies to give Holy Communion to the laity by spoon feeding them, which must really make you cringe! 🙁

  9. “Would argue that VII developed and ressourced our understanding and experience of the eucharist”

    But what does one mean, “our’? Yours? Mine? Whose?

    Honestly, looking at, speaking with anyone in my family in the transitional period from the old Mass to the new way, I don’t think anyone experienced anything like a change in “understanding”. They followed what they were told, or their understandings are all fragmentary and completely different. None would repeat anything like an understanding ever proffered here by anyone on PT.

    I think we have to seriously consider that when we say “the Church” and “our understanding” we mean a very select and elite group- even an elite group of educated and actively interested laypersons that are not really themselves reflective of the masses,

    1. One criticism that I hear over and over again is that the bulk of the people expect to receive Communion at each Mass they attend. Indeed, if a priest can not be present, they still want and expect a communion service using reserved Hosts. Moreover, most people feel a greater sense of God’s mercy and do not feel a need for frequent personal confession except when they need extra help. Again, Baptism is seen more as receiving a person into the Church than of solely washing away Original Sin. Regardless of whether these things are good or bad I submit that these are examples of changes in understanding.

  10. The comments after the page linked to by this post show an interesting viewpoint. Someone asked: don’t the people in the congregation have a say? Several answered, basically, “no”; they talked about returning “ad orientem”, as they call it, and mentioned the difficulty of convincing people to do it; one added that careful catechesis would be required to get people to accept it.

    What struck me: where’s the joy?

    I see that commenters realize that people won’t like it, and that the whole challenge is to manage to impose it in spite of people’s possible resistance. It has the feel of a campaign strategy: how to make people go where they neither want to go nor will like to be.

    1. Clare,
      Thank you for bringing up the other combox as I did with my post. I think the point of the altar being a “barrier” in the “contra/versus populum” schema has been lost in this combox thread. As KLS noted also, to what degree does both the terminology and the schema become a mere shibboleth?
      So I return to my advocacy of the unequivocal “ad Deum. “And I will take the bumpy road- who are the “celebrants” of the Nuptial Rites? That’s easy! “The Bride and Groom” we all shout. Allowing for some enlightened parish experiences over two generations, what is presumably the normative posture of those “ministers?” Ad Deum, save for vows and rings. In this case then, is the presiding priest/witness still some sort of conduit for the sacramental action that occurs? Such as how the altar of the unbloody sacrifice functions for the service of Eucharist? Whether one calls it “ad orientem” or “ad altar(em?)”, how does “ad Deum” not unify the ministries of the faithful gathered in His Name and His ordained minister exactly?

      1. I think most people would say that the bride and groom are facing the altar as is the rest of the congregation. At the vows and exchange of rings, they may be facing the priest or each other. I’ve always seen confirmands lined up facing the bishop with their backs to the congregation as well. The key in both cases is that the people involved are either facing the altar with everyone else or facing the presider with everyone else.

  11. About a crucifix laying flat ==

    A friend had a crucifix on his wall, but the piece that attached it to the nail was loose, so he took it down and lay it on his bedside table.

    The next day when he returned home from work the crucifix was fixed and back on the wall. There was also a note from his maid pinned to his pillow: Dear Mr. Wade, Jesus didn’t lie on the cross, he hung on it”.

    In my experience many people want their religious pictures and statues to be as representational as possible, even including much detail. As one person put it, “It makes it look so real”.

  12. There should be only ONE crucifix in the sanctuary in my opinion. There was only one on calvary (that counted). Are all the extra crucifixes in the sanctuary those of the thieves on their crosses? 🙂

  13. “Where is the joy?”

    I had the experience of sitting in the pews for the last 2 months having broken a finger and unable to play the keyboard. What an eye-opening experience. From what I saw (and more importantly heard) there isn’t a much joy going on in the pews.

    1. This is a very important topic that I hope we discuss further. The finest homily I ever heard was given by Bill Murray at the end of Scrooged. When there is joy in the Mass, there is no need to command attendance. But to be complete, that Joy must be something we take back out into the World, not something that takes us out of the World. Whatever brings us to the Joy is good, but only insofar as it enables us to carry it out with us to bring to others.

  14. From my experience of the Byzantine Rite, especially the Divine Office and as celebrated by the Orthodox, its spirituality is far different than the Roman Rite, both the EF and OF.

    The extensive presence of Troparia in the Byzantine tradition, the many litanies, and the many prayers said by the Reader(s) give it a different flavor than the Roman Rite. It is easy to ignore all these and see only similarities to the Roman Rite.

    It is also easy to misread particular implementations of the Byzantine Rite in Orthodox churches as exemplars of the whole.

    Many ethnic communities keep a substantial amount of ethnic language, and look pre-Vatican II. However many Orthodox parishes have very little non-English, e.g. only a few times a year. Very similar to most OF parishes.

    If the Orthodox parish has few icons except on the icon screen, icons can look very much like a barrier between priest and people. If, as in the local Orthodox parish which does its own icons, the icons surround the walls of the Church one gets a very post Vatican II impression of being in the midst of the people of God and the holy mysteries.

    If the Orthodox parish has a choir which does the reader parts and sings the people’s parts, then it can seem very Pre-Vatican II. On the other hand, the local Orthodox parish distributes the English Propers for the people to chant, divides the readings of lessons and the many prayers among both men and women, especially the young. Yes, it still has altar boys who enter the sanctuary but women give out the blessed bread and wine after communion. It has far more and a much higher percentage of people running around doing things than most OF parishes.

    1. Jack, the Eastern Rite parish (Greek Catholic) of which my parochial vicar was the pastor (in Augusta, GA) celebrated the Divine Liturgy in English almost entirely but with a small amount of Greek, mostly the Kyries. And yes most of the members of this Church are Latin Rite Catholics who like the spirituality and ethos of the Eastern Rite. But as you say, their worship is extremely participative and more like the OF in that way but due in large part to the vernacular that is used (the same would occur if the EF were in the vernacular, which I hope it one day will be).
      The Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom uses every ministry possible, Bishop/priest, deacon, sub-deacon, cantor, reader acolyte and the congregation responses, incensing, etc. There is no such thing as far as I can
      ascertain of an “unsung” Low Divine Liturgy without all the ministries above and from what I understand there is normally only one Divine Liturgy per Sunday at the altar and none during the week but the Divine Office is very important then. I’ve always been fascinated by the distribution of the non-consecrated bread after the Divine Liturgy too and find its symbolism rather powerful, but yes, there is a different spirituality and theology present but the core beliefs, dogma or doctrine are there too that bridge the differences rather beautifully.

    2. The Greek Orthodox generally have larger parishes, e.g. 500 plus persons, retain their ethnicity and language more. The down side is that there seems to be less participation; they have lower attendance rates than we do.

      The Orthodox Church in America, mainly descendent from the Russian, have smaller parishes (100-200 persons) but many more of them. They have mostly lost their ethnicity and language. In fact over half their parish members, and half their priests are not cradle Orthodox. They tend to be highly participative and welcoming, and have higher attendance rates than we have.

      Locally the Lord have mercy is almost always in English, except when in a Liturgy which remembered all deceased members of the parish (the priest chanted their names!) they sang the Lord have mercy as a background in English, Slavonic and Greek (I guess for variety since it took about ten minutes!).

    3. I think you’ve put your finger on the reason why so many evangelical Protestants have been drawn to the OCA and the Antiochene Orthodox church in recent years, and why we haven’t seen the same movement by these groups to either the EF or the OF of the Catholic Church. Of course, the papacy is a stumbling block,but these groups make a point of identifying other reasons why they’re drawn to Orthodoxy.

      They almost always menntion the Byzantine liturgy’s strong emphasis upon the scriptural underpinnings in the offices chanted in the vernacular, the scriptural imagery of the troparia and hymns (St. John of Damascus especially), the interaction between the priest and the people liturgically, and the riveting effect of what the priest is doing and saying in English behind the screen.
      I would add the enhancement of the chant together with strong visuals–brightly colored frescoes,mosaics, the silver and gold lamps and chandeliers, and the power of certain acoustical effects when you have one or more priests chanting behind the screen. I’ve seen southern Baptists and Methodists, not to mention Catholics and Anglicans go into a state of delirium from experiencing those effects one never sees in an EF or an OF liturgy.

      1. I think you’ve put your finger on the reason why so many evangelical Protestants have been drawn to the OCA and the Antiochene Orthodox church in recent years, and why we haven’t seen the same movement by these groups to either the EF or the OF of the Catholic Church. Of course,

        I see no reason to think we haven’t seen similar movement. They haven’t made as big a mark in the Catholic Church because here they are fish in a big pond, not fish in a little pond. But Jimmy Akin, Scott Hahn, Francis Beckwith, Richard John Neuhaus, etc. etc.? There’s certainly plenty of Protestant converts in our own day.

  15. From Jonathan Day’s article: What is needed is not a return to celebration facing the apse but a renewal of the ‘noble simplicity’ prescribed by Sacrosanctum Concilium, with neither the priest’s back nor a lot of liturgical hardware as the focus of the congregation, but the body and blood of Christ.

    I don’t go to Mass to look at the ciboria and chalice(s) on the altar. I do not find that the sight of the consecrated species provides me reassurance that Christ is present. Rather, the Mass as a whole, and my participation within it, is more reassuring than looking at a Host. If anything, an emphasis on seeing the consecrated elements hearkens back to what some might consider superstitious practices. Did not the elevation matter more to many medieval western Christians than the entire Mass? The frequent medieval obsession with the elevation arguably impoverished the Mass, as the entire eternal drama was condensed into two discrete points in the liturgy.

    We postmodern Christians might not fully understand why ad deum, ad orientem (or similar) resonated with Catholic and reformation tradition Christians of an earlier age. Perhaps the Concilium’s decision to endorse Mass facing the people was predicated on a society already moving towards consistent visual interaction as a prominent component of media discourse (i.e. films, television). I do wonder how Christians in a pre-cinema and pre-televised world would have critiqued or defended the long-standing custom of the priest offering the Mass facing the altar. Perhaps few before the late 19th and 20th centuries critiqued the older practice given its long-standing custom. Or, perhaps ad deum least conflicted with pre-mid 20th century patterns of public communication.

    1. My understanding as a PIP was that the change to the priest facing the people was less a matter of concentrating on the elements but to restore an understanding that included the Mass as a meal, with all of us around the table. As such, it is not something we are watching, but something that we are part of.

      1. re: Brigid Rauch on March 4, 2012 – 5:01 pm

        I apologize for painting Mr. Day’s response in a rather reductionist light. I don’t doubt that Mass facing the people has indeed fostered a greater sense of participation in the Mass for many Catholics. I don’t at all support a return to the older custom exclusively, though those parishes which desire a return to ad deum worship should be permitted to do so.

        Even so, an estimation of liturgical posture though the experiences of a few recent generations is but a sliver of Christian history. I merely fear that discourse on altar orientation tends to include only the perspectives of very recent generations. Would research and commentary on pre-“modern liturgical movement” attitudes on altar posture necessarily change today’s practices? No, because the widespread changes in orientation after 1964 are often consonant with the way in which persons communicate today within greater society. Yet a fuller understanding of altar orientation from before the last century might illustrate why a minority of Roman Catholics prefer ad deum worship and lend a historical basis for their aspirations.

      2. I’ve seen churches in Europe where the celebrant facing the apse is surrounded by members of the parish. In some cases, small children are invited into the sanctuary to sit on the steps and stand with the priest. They take up places on all sides of the altar, but the priest celebrates facing away from the nave.

        In a theater in the round construction, the seating arrangement effectively creates congregational participation. So, does the celebrant in this case still need to face them?

  16. Regarding Brigid Rauch’s response @ 5:01pm-
    Thank you for acknowledging the post. But your response did not “deal” with the premise I posed regarding official ministerial function and posture. Obscuring posture of confirmandi with ministerial function vis a vis two distinctly different sacramental offices only serves to delay answering my essential question. Why is it “easy” to accept the “ad Deum” orientation of the ministers of matrimony, yet so “difficult” to accept the same orientation of the alter Christus who confects the Eucharistic sacrament?
    I fully realize I’ve entered (willingly) KLS’s shibboleth zone, but I’m really looking to be schooled here. Where am I “off” in my comparison, ritually or theologically?
    Thank you, Jordan, for advancing the obvious terminology, ad Deum.

    1. Of course, ad Deum is wonderful, because it applies both when the priest and people surround the altar and when they are aligned together on just one side…

      I would venture that the visuals of the first are stronger than the second, but that in many pre-modern buildings, the acoustics of the second (if you are using a proclamatory chanting voice into the curve of a hard-surfaced hemispherical apse, you can actually be heard better in the nave than if you face the nave) were stronger than the first (perhaps until the ministers saw diminished returns in the effort to proclaim aloud a language that fewer and fewer people on the other side of the rail understood and thereby slid into mumbling more of it)….

  17. Okay, Liam, I’ll bite: why are the visuals stronger with priest ad populum? Acoustics have little to do with visuals, either in the EF or OF.

    1. Eschatological (just as much as looking East): Generally, heavenly imagery is considered in the form of circular orientation; and the Eucharistic banquet is a foretaste of the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb.

      Also, surrounding the triclinium (guests and host on three sides, servants working the fourth side)

      1. Liam,
        I’m not quite sure how one can argue for the ad populum from a visualization of the eschatological POV of the Wedding Supper of the Lamb? I’m not particularly up on my Scott Hahn or the details of Rv.19 at the moment, but is there a citation literally for your visual assertion? Or even more important, despite a scriptural allusion, aren’t we really limited to imagination and speculation? I know there are throngs of worshippers present, processions, specific rituals, etc., but it’s not like we’re given something to ponder like Leonardo’s “Last Supper” is it really? But, I again would appreciate being schooled otherwise.
        In the interim, and the in-between convergence of Mass then, we (made in His image; commanded to see His Son in each of our fellows) which posture affirms those realities within both the sacramental and eschatological contexts more fully? Which posture would visually affirm both the priestly role of the assembly and of the priestly celebrant with a sure continuity?
        I know you accept these as genuine questions, not with hidden agenda.
        I don’t quite understand why there are some projections and leaps of logic that suggest many folks would be peachy with the “royal purple” attitude of elevating and even sequestering the priest-celebrant away from us hoy polloy, if only because of historical precedence or sister-rites in other communions.
        Since this is a forum in which comprehension and reason are valued, obviously for me ad Deum makes eminent sense and is pretty much all I would lobby for as I will likely finish my career and life singing Mass in the OF. Again, your eloquence, Liam, is much appreciated.

      2. Charles

        Citation? Citation is not needed to validate such a widespread imagining of a spherical heaven, with God at its center. I refer you to Dante as a popular reference. I am not going by the same tit and tat ask for citation to the naval imagery of the basilican nave, though I will note that the imagery was a post-hoc rationalization for adaptive re-use, as with much else here. The central focus idea was more easily developed in the parts of the Roman world that were more economically dynamic (that is, the East; in the era before the development of the iconostasis and sequestration of sanctuary – the liturgical action was centrally located under the dome; and even in the West, the appeal of this imaging was never completely lost or superseded) and could afford more innovative building programs, unlike the other parts where adaptive-reuse was more the model.

        Your questions are genuine, but I think fed from too much time on certain blogs.

        Just to clarify: I personally *prefer* the what we have come to see as the customary basilican arrangement (mostly for what tend to be practical acoustical advantages, though results vary place by place). I just happen to think that the attempts to de-legitimate the surrounding-the-altar imagery are as creaky as the attempts to de-legitimate the customary arrangement – a lot of post-hoc overthought rationalization. I don’t wish to feed that cycle.

  18. Jack Wayne :

    Which is something I like about ad orientem (or facing the apse) – it emphasizes that the priest is part of the People of God.

    Only comments with a full name will be approved.

    It’s disturbing to hear Catholics bashing the celebration of Mass facing the people because in their view the liturgy is directed AGAINST God. As if God dwelt permanently in the apse, or that this is bad liturgical practice, with no historical foundation to it, wielding their books by Father Uwe Lang and Monsignor Gamber, attacking liturgy ad versus populum as something the Lutherans invented.

    The pope’s often quoted remark about the community celebrating itself is the kind of nonsense traditionalists pounce upon to justify the celebration of Mass ad orientem. There are loads of reasons, quite apart from Luther’s practice, or Benedict’s preferences, which can justify celebrating towards the apse.

    I’m sure the day is not far off when a celebrant will be presiding at mass from the confessio/martyrion beneath the altar, designed and constructed of course by a Duncan Stroik. With the bronze gates closed and oil lamps flickering away as the priest chants the collects, preface, and eucharistic prayer. Out of sight entirely.

  19. In my parish the priest and the people form a circle. The people stand or can sit behind the celebrant who faces towards the apse. The parishioners are located on the north, south, and the eastern side of a cube-shaped altar raised by three steps and placed under a bronze and marble ciborium.

    On Sundays and feasts the altar with antependium doesn’t have six or seven (Benedictine-style) candlesticks. No candles ON the altar at all. Just two seven branch gilt menorahs, one on either side of the altar, burning beeswax in fourteen small glass lamps.

    The cross San Damiano is suspended from a chandelier, or a corona under the ciborium. The cross is just the right size, proportional to the size of the altar. Simple, straight-forward, rich looking, but not gaudy.

    Our pastor has bi-ritual faculties and he’s used his training in and love of things eastern and western very well and to good advantage.

  20. I never really understood the claim that candlesticks block what happens on the Altar. It would seem the head in front of me does this more so. You can’t see sitting in the back of most Churches anyway. From a point further back in a Church I think the candelsticks and crucifix help to orient our thoughts and to focus on where it is resting. The Altar. I think the Benedictine Arrangement works and if not would prefer Ad Orientem. I know what goes on at the Altar and do not need to see every movement and have never felt I was “blocked” from participating because of Ad Orientem. In fact, I have felt that my participation gets siderailed during Versus Populum. All too often the Priest does or says something that distracts me from the Altar and the moment of Transubstantiation. Looking at the back of a vestment may seem boring but as a result my focus flashes back to the Altar. When looking at a Priest eye to eye or face to face one tends to focus for a longer period of time of what that expressions may mean or lead to.

  21. Thanks for many (pro multis, which might or might not mean ‘for all’) thoughtful points raised in these comments.

    I have deliberately resisted terms like ‘ad orientem’ and especially ‘ad Deum’ because, as Charles Culbreth suggests, the terminology conveys strong preconceptions. Is a priest standing with his back to the apse not also praying ‘ad Deum’? And therefore I plan to stick to ‘facing the apse’ and ‘facing the narthex’, to make the terms as neutral as possible.

    There is little doubt that, for many centuries, the laypeople were largely irrelevant to the action of the Mass. A large church or cathedral would have multiple altars in use at any given time of day, with ‘private Masses’ constantly being celebrated, and people frequently received hosts consecrated at Masses that they had not personally attended. In The Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas Merton describes his time in Cuba:

    …I could find my way quickly to any one of a dozen churches … almost as soon as I went in the door I could receive Communion, if I wished, for the priest came out with a ciborium loaded with Hosts before Mass and during it and after it – and every fifteen or twenty minutes a new Mass was starting at a different altar.

    I think one of the good fruits of the postconciliar reforms and the liturgical movement that preceded them was a restored connection between priest, assembly and Mass. The priest facing the narthex helps strengthen that connection, and I think that alone is a good reason for preferring it.

    1. re: Jonathan Day on March 5, 2012 – 9:40 am

      Jonathan: I think one of the good fruits of the postconciliar reforms and the liturgical movement that preceded them was a restored connection between priest, assembly and Mass. The priest facing the narthex helps strengthen that connection, and I think that alone is a good reason for preferring it.

      Perhaps a median exists between the example from Thomas Merton you have mentioned previously and the almost singular focus on the assembly found in certain churches.

      My pastor considers a church to be a place of worship in the presence of God at all times. In his view and mine, worship is not only present when a liturgical assembly is present. Both the assembly and individual prayer have a place within the parish life. Devotional prayer (novenas, Holy Hour) can even take place while Mass is said somewhere else in the church. Not all prayer in the church must conform to an assembly model.

      It is true that the priests in my church say all Masses, OF or EF, facing the altar. This preference undoubtedly influences its worldview. Even so, the parish thrives regardless of its understanding of the role of the assembly and its altar orientation preference. My experiences in this parish lead me to conclude that the relatively recent notion of “assembly”, and by extension Mass facing the people, are not absolutely necessary for the sanctification of worshipers. Perhaps persons of our time understand the Mass better when the priest faces the people because of the unique social anthropology in certain current cultures. This preference is value-neutral, but also not universal either now or throughout Catholic history.

      1. Jordan, I would never claim that the priest-centred practices of, say, the late Middle Ages were inherently wrong, or that the more modern integration of the assembly should sweep away everything that went before it.

        Equally, I don’t at all subscribe to the silly story that nothing changed from roughly +33 through +1960, whereupon altars were turned round, the vernacular was introduced, priests started giving communion in the hand and everything went wrong.

        The integration of the assembly with the Mass has ancient and patristic roots. It is something to preserve and treasure – hermeneutic of continuity, anyone? That is why I think it is wrong to call for an exclusive return to celebrations with the priest facing the apse, or even for this to be the normative model.

      2. re: Jonathan Day on March 6, 2012 – 4:44 am

        Certainly, no altar orientation is of greater value than another. Both “facing the altar” and “facing the people” are historical practices which have entered in and out of practice at different points in Christian history. Perhas both orientations were in use at the same time in a particular place. I was remiss in not affirming this point, and thank you for your correction.

        I also regret writing in my previous post “perhaps persons of our time understand the Mass better when the priest faces the people because of the unique social anthropology in certain current cultures”. This is not a fair judgment for me to make, as I can not and should not make cursory statements about anthropology or culture. The CDW responsum Prot. No 2086/00/L (Adoremus translation, EWTN website) provides a less biased perspective:

        The clause ubi possibile sit [where it is possible] refers to different elements, as, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc. It reaffirms that the position towards the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier (Cf. the editorial in Notitiae 29 [1993] 245-249), without excluding, however, the other possibility.

        (my bold)

        In my view, the point I have bolded highlights that the choice of altar orientation resides within the decision of each church community. This choice is highly subjective and based on multiple perspectives. This choice should be respected regardless of personal biases.

    2. I think one of the good fruits of the postconciliar reforms and the liturgical movement that preceded them was a restored connection between priest, assembly and Mass.
      ——————————–
      Another “fruit” of the Council was raising our awareness of
      what the ideal altar is. Concentrating on only the essential, but most important items: the communion vessels, the book of the gospels, and the sacramentary.

      I think the bare, unvested altar popular today is, in some instances, a powerful icon, particularly where natural lighting is pouring down on an elevated block or table of stone. However, a more traditional vested altar representing Jesus as priest and celebrant of the mysteries is still a much more powerful icon. Without the mass of candles and other needless decorations on the altar’s surface.

      This is where the ciborium or altar canopy helps to magnify that image without piling on the candlesticks and cross. While drawing the eye, especially where the ceiling of the church is quite high. The ciborium is also useful for connecting the altar to eucharistic or eschatological themes contained in the apse and/or dome.

  22. I return to my advocacy of the unequivocal “ad Deum. “And I will take the bumpy road- who are the “celebrants” of the Nuptial Rites?

    Bumpy indeed! Ad Deum is unequivocal only if God is not omnipresent. It describes every orientation. If you worship the rising sun, worship toward the east. If you worship God who dwells among us, worship toward “us.” Ad Deum is meaningless in a discussion of physical orientation.

    And as to the nuptial question, who are the priests at the Eucharist? Everyone, but the ministerial priest is there to enable the common priesthood. Perhaps the minister facing the couple atnuptials is a good paradigm for understanding the priest facing the people during the Eucharist.

    1. Thank you, Jim, as I am NO theologian nor have I played one on TV!
      And I appreciate your precise language of worship directed towards us. But I don’t see as how that mystery negates either orientation on the part of the ordained priest celebrant. In my response to Liam above I think I advance a POV that physical orientation does indeed mean something in riutal action to senscient beings in this realm worshipping their creator in a realm we cannot yet experience or comprehend. Could you elaborate?
      As to your nuptial response, I take your point. But at the sacramental moments of the nuptial rite the couple remains the principal party, no? But I can envision a Trinitarian paradigm in your schema. Thanks.

    2. “Orientation toward us” is how we orient ad deum if we believe God dwells among us. It is an example of how equivocal and ambiguous the phrase ad deum is I don’t think it negates anything except using ad deum to describe only one orientation. It can describe any of them. So if physical orientation is important, and I believe it is, ad deum does not work to identify it.
      In a field of sunflowers each is properly described as a sunflower and “the sunflower” does not specify a particular one. In a world where God is omnipresent ad deum describes every direction, and specifies none.
      We worship neither on this mountain nor on the one in Jerusalem, but in Spirit and in Truth. John 4.

      I am not a theologian. Nor am I a priest, as someone identified me elsewhere. I am just expressing my opinion, which could be wrong. My apologies for not expressing them better.

  23. Jack, +1 to this. I saw this in the Episcopal Church before becoming Catholic, and in my mind, I never saw it as a back turned to me, but rather someone offering something WITH me to God.

    I also first saw ad orientem in an Episcopal Parish. A VERY liberal one with a female priest, in fact. Never understood why some Catholics have a hangup about it.

  24. Back to the original topic here… for all the fuss about the crucifix that the pope seems to want facing him for the eucharistic prayer, I have watched a few papal liturgies and the pope gives his crucifix not even a passing glance.

  25. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that the reforms of 1962 were to a large extent ment to restore the sacred liturgy to the glory of the Fathers pre 1000AD. How does this fit into our conversation about orientation? What about ecumenism and the orientation practiced in the eastern and Anglican churches and ecclesial communities? What about inter religious diologue and the traditional litirgical orientation of Judaism and Islam?

    1. I agree that inter religious dialogue could be an important part of the ad orientem discussion. Jews face toward Jerusalem, Muslims toward Mecca, but Christians worship “neither on this mountain nor on that, but in Spirit and in Truth, as Jesus told the Samaritan in John 4. Ad orientem does not distinguish the Christian faitn clearly, but seems like a false irenicism so we look like other religions.

      It can also be an issue in dialogue with indigenous religions. It is possible that ad orientem is a good way to inculturate the liturgy, recalling the hope of the rising sun and traditional ways that more rural or nomdic peoples have experienced the dawn. That is part of why it got adopted to begin with, and it might still function that way today. The invention of the light bulb makes this less likely, but it is still possible.

  26. At least the absurdity of the pope’s altar arrangement has helped us to comment on the absurdity of salvation and God’s action in the Liturgy to save us, even if there isn’t very much participation by the laity, or they can see the elements or the face of the priest, God in an absurd way saves us by making His Passion available to us at every Mass and when we receive Holy Communion worthily, He strengthens the bond that keeps us firmly rooted in the Church that He has given us for our salvation.
    “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

    1. You are using God’s action to justify the exclusion (“non-participation/not seeing the elements”) of Christ’s faithful and slipping it in to pious meandering and a coating of mawkish spiritual muttering which, if it had a point, no one would most likely wish to disagree with.

      At least it’s a change from the absurd attempt above to portray male ministers of religion choosing to wear more feminine clothing as something other than what it really is.

      1. Participation does not need to involve seeing the elements, as truly fruitful participation is first and foremost interior. You do not have to (and sometimes its detrimental depending on how it is presented) see anything to participate well.

        What is with the hangup on so-called “feminine clothing”? I assume you are speaking of cassocks, lace, capes, etc. Is it really that such things are “feminine” or is it that its a very tangible sign that the “bad old days” are making a come back?

        If we want to be childish about such things, pretty much the whole liturgical “wardrobe” is “feminine” or “campy” no matter how much polyester, velcro, ugliness and other gawdawful things are invovled.

  27. Your questions are genuine, but I think fed from too much time on certain blogs.

    Actually, not really Liam, more from CMAA colloquia experiences. But thanks for the psych-eval! 😉
    Back to topic, thanks Jan-
    Speaking of CMAA colloquiums, we celebrated an OFEnglish Mass at CUA/Basilica I think in ’06 at which my CA. friend, Fr. Jeff Keyes presided. Only two altar candles and a prominent crucifix, Fr. Keyes ad nave. Despite B16’s “appearance” to you, Jan on EWTN, Fr. Keyes’ disposition and attention during the preface and EP was intently focused through the crucifix to assembly (I hope y’all appreciate the verbiage) and the effect was indescribably reverent and intense (in a good way.) So, to my PTB chums you’ll call my ad Deum, the six candles, but I’ll raise you the power of the altar crucifix standing before the celebrantpresiderpriestguy.

  28. The reason why Pope Benedict XVI’s altar arrangement is “ridiculous” is because it tries to maintain the old arrangement while keeping the innovation of facing the people. Celebration facing the people as an end in itself should be, for all practical purposes, done away with.

    After attending the TLM almost exclusively, along with some Eastern Catholic DL’s sprinkled in there, I simply do not see the attraction to the altar facing the people. There is no real historical basis for it (when altars did ‘face the people’ there was no intention of making it easier for them to see or for the priest to be all ‘pastoral’ and sensitive) and the theological basis for it undercuts the emphasis on primary emphasis of what the Mass is-a propitiatory Sacrifice. Historically, veiling and barriers were de rigeur-whether that was with curtains, rood screens, the iconostasis, communion rails, etc. etc.

    The recent introduction of towards the people celebration was a sort of teaching gimmick at best, but it also has wrecked havoc on the perception of many Catholics as to just what the Mass really is supposed to be. It is not that a celebration facing the people is necessarily “bad” but overall it isn’t a good move and its de facto introduction to practically all churches has not been a good development.

    1. Speaking of what is not a good development is to see the new
      EF altars now becoming very popular in some places . Just as they looked in so many Catholic churches in the years before the Council.

      We’re seeing once again a return of altars loaded with flower pots, framed altar cards, statues, relics of questionable authenticity stuck between the candlesticks, with “the Benedictine” arrangement of six candles on the back gradine which GO UNLIT during a low Mass. Just as two or four smaller candles are lit for the low Mass/Missa cantata.

      That discordant arrangement for the Tridentine altar came in for a lot of criticism by liturgists down through the years before the Council. The altar becomes a large display case loaded with all this junk. While the larger candles remain unlit during Mass.

      Would you have a banquet and light two candles, but leave the candlelabra on the dining room table unlit? An altar like this only invites opposition to the worst of the pre-Vatican II practices. Now seemingly coming back into vogue with full force.

      1. What is so bad about this? To a degree, I agree with the conclusions of the old Liturgical Movement towards the “liturgical altar” in which the reredos is not seen as the standard, but the emphasis on the altar is highlighted with things like a baldacchino or tester. However, I do not see altar cards, statues and relics as “junk”. Auctorem Fidei would proscribe such an opinion if taken too far. Furthermore, I believe there is an office in Rome that determines if relics are authentic, not you or me.

        That the “big six” aren’t lighted during a Low Mass makes perfect sense to me, its an example of “progressive solemnity”. Since Mass is not a merely a banquet, your point with the dining room candlelabra doesn’t follow.

        Basically, I can see what they were getting at with the original Liturgical Movement, but that can be taken too far. Trying to focus development towards a slightly different way (especially when it was to be more faithful to the rubrics and liturgical prescriptions) is fine but when the whole previous development over centuries is thrown out, major injury is done.

    2. “Celebration facing the people as an end in itself should be, for all practical purposes, done away with.”

      It is the People of God who celebrate. Your demand is therefore contradictory, anomalous, negative, elitist, unscholarly, untheological and unliturgical.

      1. What, do you think the clergy don’t belong to the People of God? Are we chop liver? Your premise is false and therefore your conclusion as well.

      2. “…Since Mass is the unbloody re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice on Cavalry…”

        That’s not all it is.

      3. Your theology of sacrifice is also defective, partiuclarly, your attempt to differentiate that of the presiding presbyter from those of the rest of the congregation. They are not different sacrifices.

        They are not different sacrifices, but that doesn’t mean they’re not different, it just means that there’s a different kind of difference.

    3. Don’t forget that at St Peters in the Vatican at least, the pope always (probably) has faced the people (east, in that ‘occidented’ basilica.)

  29. Andrew Czarnick :

    That the “big six” aren’t lighted during a Low Mass makes perfect sense to me, its an example of “progressive solemnity”. Since Mass is not a merely a banquet, your point with the dining room candlelabra doesn’t follow.
    Basically, I can see what they were getting at with the original Liturgical Movement, but that can be taken too far. Trying to focus development towards a slightly different way (especially when it was to be more faithful to the rubrics and liturgical prescriptions) is fine but when the whole previous development over centuries is thrown out, major injury is done.

    Only comments with a full name will be approved.

    Quite the contrary, the Mass is THE banquet and should be treated as such. Progressive solemnity can be achieved any number of ways. By adding more candles as needed, flowers, festive paraments, more incense etc. I don’t think it’s accomplished by keeping large, prominent candles unlit during Mass unless they’re to be lit at some point later in the liturgy, as in the Dominican rite. That usually isn’t the case. Two, candles on the altar itself were sufficient for any Mass, and was the rule throughout most of the pre-reformation era.

    Rome, by the way, as it demonstrates in so many ways, has a terrible record of authenticating relics. One of the reasons why Pope Paul VI dropped the requirement for continuing to use them.

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