Mass facing the people—a defense

To some readers of Pray Tell it might seem eyebrow-raising to be addressing this issue in the summer of 2012. But some of our friends continue to assert that we regular celebrators of the OF are laboring under a massive misunderstanding of the implementation documents of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

So let’s look at this issue again.

IGMR 2000 299. Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit. Altare eum autem occupet locum, ut revera centrum sit ad quod totius congregationis fidelium attentio sponte convertatur. De more sit fixum et dedicatum. 

The quod in bold is the subject of the following discussion. I’ve also italicized the words that differ in the various  translations. “Quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit” first appears in the 1975 text.

[GIRM 2011 final translation] 299. The altar should be built separate from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.

Moreover, the altar should occupy a place where it is truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns. The altar should usually be fixed and dedicated.

[GIRM 2002 provisional translation] 299. The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. The altar should, moreover, be so placed as to be truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns. The altar is usually fixed and is dedicated.

[GIRM 262 in the 1975 edition]. The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. The altar should, moreover, be so placed as to be truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns. The altar is usually fixed and is dedicated.

[GIRM 262 in the 1969 edition]. The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people.The altar should, moreover, be so placed as to be truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns. The altar is usually fixed and is dedicated.

About the two comments of Father Pasley that follow, I regret that the software of Pray Tell did not let Father Pasley italicize what he wanted to emphasize, something he said he added to one or more of the passages he quotes. “BLS” is Built of Living Stones. I could not find the post that Father Pasley cites but I did find this 27 April 2006 post on Fr. John Zulzdorf’s Blog – What Does The Prayer Really Say? [WDTPRS, mentioned below]. The following posts are my guess at how Father Pasley would have posted if he had all the WordPress posting tools at his command.

#9 by Fr. Robert C Pasley, Chaplain CMAA on July 15, 2102, at 7:32 A.M.

Dear Dr. Ford, 
Thanks for your comments on my post. I will respond to different comments separately. I would like to immediately draw your attention to the fact that facing the people at the altar is not preferred. The translation of GIRM 299 is faulty. I quote from an article posted by Fr. John Zuhlsdorf:

In the National Catholic Register of 7-14 April 2002, a statement was made that, according to the new GIRM, it is now preferable to celebrate Mass “facing the people.” If the Register is making this mistake, it would appear that there was some serious damage caused from the mistranslation of #299 used by the bishops. Let us look at #299. The last time we examined it at length was in the third article of WDTPRS for the 2nd Sunday of Advent in the year 2000:

Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.

The English version in BLS (above) is faulty. The translator failed to see that quod refers back to the main clause of the sentence. The bishops’ translator fell into the common trap of translating the Latin word by word, rather than reading the whole sentence. Their translator made #299 read as if there is a preference or even a requirement in the law itself to celebrate Mass facing the people. But #299 indicates nothing of the kind. That paragraph really says:

The main altar should be built separated from the wall, which is useful wherever it is possible, so that it can be easily walked around and a celebration toward the people can be carried out. (Emphases added)


I will continue in another post.

Paul Ford interjects here: Am I the only reader to find ironic Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s complaint, “The bishops’ translator fell into the common trap of translating the Latin word by word, rather than reading the whole sentence”? This is ironic on two counts: Word by word translation seems to be the order of the decade (Liturgiam authenticam is dated 28 March 2001); and Fr. Zuhlsdorf’s translation interprets the clause quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit as a relative adjective clause introduced by the relative pronoun quod, when the clause could just as well be a relative clause introduced by the conjunction quod, subordinating what follows (quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit) to the entire sentence that precedes (Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit). And this is the way the ICEL translated it in 2002 and agin in 2011. On such a neuralgic issue would ICEL not correct our misunderstanding? Father Pasley continues:

#10 by Fr. Robert C Pasley, Chaplain CMAA on July 15, 2012, at 7:34 A.M.

The quote [from Father Zuhlsdorf] continues:

This paragraph explains the distance of separation from the wall: at least far enough so that it can be used from either side, rather than just an inch or two of separation. The Latin doesn’t even hint that Mass must be said versus populum. It only provides that it can be. And that is not an absolute, either. What makes this very troubling is that on 25 September 2000 the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments issued a clarification (Prot. No. 2036/00/L) regarding #299 in the new Latin GIRM. That clarification says:

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in n. 299 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which the position of the priest versus absidem [facing the apse] is to be excluded. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:

Negatively, and in accordance with the following explanation.

The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account. First, the word expedit does not constitute a strict obligation but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum (detached from the wall). It does not require, for example, that existing altars be pulled away from the wall. The phrase ubi possibile sit (where it is possible) refers to, 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.”

Not only is Ad Populum not preferred, but the rubrics in the missal infer that the priest is facing the altar and tells him to turn towards the people.

I am sure that Father Pasley means that he infers that the rubrics imply that the priest is facing the altar and tells him to turn towards the people.

It is true that the Order of Mass says the priest turns toward/facing the people (ad populum [con]versus) six times (§1, §29, §127, §132, §139, and §141).

But in §1 the presider is standing at the chair; in §29 he has just returned from the side of the altar; in §127 and §132 he has been addressing the Lord Jesus; §139 he has just moved from a seating position to standing at the chair or at the altar; and §141 he turns his attention from listening to any announcements to giving the final blessing.

In Fr. Uwe Michael Lang’s Turning Toward The Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer (San Francisco, Ignatius, 2004), there is a preface by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.  Cardinal Ratzinger commented about the translation of paragraph 299 that “the word ‘expedit‘ (‘is desirable’) did not imply an obligation, but only made a suggestion” (9–10). A suggestion about what? The CDWDS gives five examples: (1) “It does not require, for example, that existing altars be pulled away from the wall” and (2–5) “The phrase ubi possibile sit (where it is possible) refers to, 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.”

What is desirable and preferred? That the wise presider get himself out of the way by directing his attention to the assembly, to the word, to what he is doing, and to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and that every other minister and the entire assembly be similarly focussed (cf. Fergus Kerr, O.P., “Liturgy and Impersonality” New Blackfriars 52 (1971).

 

 


28 comments

  1. RE: “[S]ome of our friends continue to assert that we regular celebrators of the OF are laboring under a massive misunderstanding of the implementation documents of the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.”

    Yes, indeed, all too often I see comments on this blog that want to ignore the fact that the people who signed the documents came home and implemented them. Let’s give them credit for knowing what they sweat over and finally signed. All too often the process they went through in order to produce the documents is ignored; the documents are treated as if they fell from heaven. Vatican II is an event, not just a set of documents. The documents can only be fully understood with the context of their origin in mind.

  2. Margaret Bick’sa comment is really important for this whole discussion: i.e. the “spirit of VII” etc.

    It was an event, in which documents were agreed. The core meaning of the spirit of Vatican II is that Pope John did not carry out reforms and updating from the top- documents issued and sent down. He called all the bishops together and had them freely agree to the documents that would come out. What happened at the first session was truly most significant.

    This is the biggest thing that the arch-consevatives dislike, I believe, because it meant the Pope did not decide everything. It is defined that the Pope can decide everything, but is it heresy for the Pope not to, but have the bishops do so with him? He actually makes decisions now with help- the curial bishops. Why not other bishops? Is that uncatholic?

    John XXIlI was indeed a real reformer- he called the bishops to form a body and make decisions! Yet- what venerable CONTINUITY that was.

  3. I don’t think it would be fair to say that every parish in the world that began celebrating Mass facing the people were misled since this took place from the top down and rather quickly. I think my home parish began to do so in early 1965.
    I think Pope Benedict has had the perfect compromise; celebrating Mass facing the people with the Benedictine arrangement, although I would prefer a low flung approach to the six candles and crucifix on altars for Mass facing the congregation. He has also encouraged and in fact modeled celebrating the Ordinary Form ad orientem. He hasn’t mandated anything but his style seems to be catching on here and there.
    The revision of the Ordinary Form Mass is happening more on the grass roots level, sometimes even pushing the boundaries of breaking out of the mold of the status quo for the OF to the sneering of others.
    In the south there are a tiny few parishes celebrating the OF ad orientem, St. Mary’s Church in Greenville, SC an early pioneer. Will it catch on in more parishes. I don’t know as I think most Catholics like Mass facing the people, but when exposed to the Ad Orientem and given the rationale for it are very open to it; at least that has been my experience. But I was embolden to experiment with it at a regularly scheduled Sunday Mass only because we’ve been celebrating the EF for five years now on regular basis that has exposed a goodly number of our parishioners to it, many of whom are converts and had never attended a Latin Mass in the Older Form, but have come to like and appreciate it, ad orientem and all. Time will tell if this trend will continue and it all hinges on the next pope and what his modeling of things will be. If he doesn’t continue Pope Benedict’s tradition, I think the reform of the reform will cool its heels for a while, but if he kicks it up a notch, who knows. We are at a rather major turning point. I suspect the trajectory will continue in the direction of the reform of the reform that really began in 1978 with the election of Pope John Paul II, only 14 years after the close of the Council.

  4. Since 1970 how many times has the CDW clarified paragraph 299? Does anyone know?

    What part of four decades in which the CDW has tolerated Mass facing the people do conservatives not understand? Do we know of any instance since the Council in which the CDW has made it a point to condemn or has forbidden Mass facing the people?

    There are adult Catholics who have never known Mass to be celebrated any other way, but ad versus populum. In Germany and other parts of Europe Mass has been celebrated this way at least since 1945.

    Get over it. Either direction has become established custom and it is abundantly clear there is a history of tolerating one or the other form of celebration.

    I couldn’t care less if the celebrant is suspended by chains from the roof of the ciborium magnum peeking from behind a hanging pyx , presiding from atop a rood screen, or is standing on his head at the north or south side of the altar, with or without his maniple. Maybe it’s time to move beyond this discussion to much more important liturgical issues facing the liturgy in the west than Mass facing the apse.

  5. Both versus populum and ad orientem are completely valid. To ask which is better purely in the abstract–without considering which posture better serves the genuine needs of the priest and congregation at the specific time and location–is futile.

  6. Am I right in assuming that the text of the GIRM (like all other Vatican documents of the last fifty years) was worked on in Italian before it was translated from Italian into Latin? If that is the case then perhaps consulting the Ordinamento Generale del Messale Romano might be helpful.

    In the (original?) Italian:
    299. L’altare sia costruito staccato dalla parete, per potervi facilmente girare intorno e celebrare rivolti verso il popolo: la qual cosa è conveniente realizzare ovunque sia possibile.

    Compare this to the Latin (translation?):
    299. Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.

    1. @Rom Kiul – comment #6:
      What?!?! Do you mean to imply that Latin isn’t heard spoken 24/7 in the halls of the Vatican; that no one thinks in Latin well enough to compose original documents in it but rather that people think in a modern language, write in a modern language, then translate those documents into Latin to be translated into modern languages?

      Well, at least they use Italian rather than an obscure language like English spoken only by the inhabitants of one small place!

  7. I think it was Gordon Truitt who first pointed out that the primary symbol of Christ in the midst of the assembly is the altar. When priest and people face the altar, therefore, no matter from which direction they are facing it, they are all facing in the same direction: the direction of Christ.

    That seems to be a far more compelling argument than everyone facing the east in expectation of a parousia which may still be many eons away, despite what St Paul and many others since his time have thought, and which may not come from the east in any case.

    1. @Paul Inwood – comment #8:
      The altar remains the central focus when priest and people face it together. I think the liturgical east is about the “common movement forward” as opposed to the “self-enclosed circle” we see too often.

  8. This entire discussion reminds me of rearranging the deck chairs as the Titanic sinks. As more and more people leave the Church, it is good to know that which direction the priest faces will apparently have little to do with the outflow. At least those who remain will have a burning issue to dwell upon. It is unfortunate that the Gospel writers did not address the issue of Christ’s orientation at the Last Supper which could have truncated this entire dispute.

    1. @RICHARD IMBROGNO – comment #9:
      I think the discussion of the direction the priest faces is a stand-in for many, many deep disagreements about thea nature of God and of our relationship with Him. I think the people who are leaving are leaving because they see an institution moving to favor an understanding they themselves oppose.

    2. @RICHARD IMBROGNO – comment #9:
      Maybe we need to recognize that people leaving the Church in growing numbers may, at least in part, be indicative of a certain non-reception of the post V2 liturgical reforms as implemented through the 1980’s. Discussing this possibility along with other contributing factors would seem to be both logical and pastoral. Implementing further progressive styled reforms would seem to be unhelpful considering both their impossibility (OS & RS) and impracticality due to the way similar reforms have accompanied the rapid decline of adherants in those denominations among our separated brethren who have.

  9. Paul – Thanks for your comments on this article. I too was somewhat shocked at how the “translator word for word translation” is now considered faulty. Where is Liturgicam Authenticam when you really need it? And thanks, too, for reminding us the the primary symbol of Christ in the assembly is the altar. We do believe that Christ is present in the assembly, in the Word proclaimed, in the priest and in the bread and wine. Less we forget, we are all baptized as priests, prophets and kings (sorry Bridget, I’ve not been able to come up with more inclusive language terms, despite my best efforts). The eucharist isnot something the priest does on his own – private masses – along with private mass chapels – though often quite beatiful – are a thing of the past and no longer used. While the ordained priest has a definite leadership role, I can’t help but think he gives voice to all our prayer – in the EP, but also the other prayers at mass, to which we assent AMEN.
    I continue to be dismayed by folks who continue to think that the renewal that occurred at Vatican II seemed to drop in out of the air, or worse, was something created after the Council by the “spawn of Satan” – the Concilium. For those who cling so much to “tradition” how about clinging to the fact that liturigical renewal has roots much deeper than the 1950’s. Try Solesmes and Prosper Gueranger, Maria Lach and Maredsous as places of liturigal renewal BEFORE the turn of the century not to mention the Eucharistic congresses that occurred in the first half of the 20th century. I never thought I would see the day when one would have to defend mass facing the people. It’s hard to imagine versus populum has been mistralated all these years and all the popes, bishops and priests, have fallen for this bad translation. I mean, really, those who really want it, you have SP. Be happy, you have what your whining and foot stompting all these years has got you. Aren’t you happy with that? Plus, at no extra charge, you given us a poor translation…

    1. @Tom Kostrzewa – comment #11:
      Tom: masses without a congregation do continue to take place in the OF as well as the EF – you may be creating too great a dichotomy between the pre and post V2 Church and that may explain part of your seeming disappointment today. The role of the priest celebrant has not really changed, evidenced by the fact that the EF and OF are two manifestations of the one Roman rite and because private masses continue to be offerred in the post V2 OF.

  10. (Just to finish) – you’ve given us who worship in the OF a poor translation of Mass texts – more akin to your EF worship. I mean, enough already. I keep wondering, what’s next? Are we going to start referring to Protestants as heretics and burning them at the stake? (I’ll take a Presbyterian, over easy, sauce on the side.) Or maybe we’ll join hands with the “evangelical” pastor in Auroa, CO who claims that only Christians who died in the movie attack are in heaven. Those who have not professed faith in Jesus Christ as their savior and Lord are damned to hell.
    We talk about the EF and ad orientem almost ad nausaem here. I keep thinking back to the Tridentine rite masses I served as an altar boy, as well as those I attended growing up. The reality was, the mass consisted of the priest and the organist saying stuff back and forth to each other – and most of the time the priest didn’t wait for a response from the organist. We could follow along IF we had an English/Latin missal, but most of us were content with our rosaries and devotionals. We spoke of “hearing mass” and those grand and glorious pontifical masses (a la Cardinal Burke) did not occur in most parishes. I knew a priest who prided himself on saying a low mass in 14 minutes. Another priest remembers at his first parish assignment, he led the rosary while the pastor said Mass.
    In the end, the bottom line of all of this is really about power – who has it, who doesn’t and who wants it back. Where is the “power” in an EF mass? It’s in the priest, leading the passive people as he offers the sacrifice of the mass. He’s entered into a sacred place (Godforbid a lay man enter – women, forget it) dressed in lovely satin and lace, surrounded by minons of altar boys (no girls there, either).
    In the ordinary form, the power is not only in the priest, but in the gathered assembly (where Christ is also present) and instead of leading a passive group, the priest presides over an active and participating community. Ugh – enough of a rant…

    1. @Tom Kostrzewa – comment #12:
      I often get the impression that many people judge the EF from real childhood experiences while judging the OF by a yet unrealized ideal of it.

      Your last paragraph could easily describe many modern-day EF Masses. Also, rushed and unparticipative OF Masses are very common.

      I think both directions can be good. Facing towards the people is nice since it lets the congregation better see what the priest is doing. Facing with the people is good since it is very communal.

  11. For most of Christian Orthodoxy, these discussions about ad populum are meaningless. Westerners have strayed very far away from Christian tradition. What could solve the problem for everyone would be to erect a traditional iconostasis in front of the altar with the Royal Doors closed during the Mass. Ordinary mortal eyes are not meant to watch the Sacred event on the altar as if an entertainment anyway.

    1. @Victor Wowczuk – comment #17:

      Hear! Hear!

      Bring back the rood screen! The liturgical reform after Trent was too radical.

      Or we could address the problem of ordinary mortal eyes from the opposite direction, as in the prayer from the second scrutiny:

      Lord Jesus,
      you are the true light that enlightens the world. Through your Spirit of truth
      free those who are enslaved by the father of lies.
      Stir up the desire for good in these elect, whom you have chosen for your sacraments.
      Let them rejoice in your light, that they may see,

      and, like the man born blind whose sight you restored,
      let them prove to be staunch and fearless witnesses to the faith,
      for you are Lord for ever and ever.

  12. Shane – #16- I don’t think it’s that easy to chalk up folks leaving the church – even in part, to the renewal of Vatican II especially with regard to the liturgy. I think most folks who didn’t like VII have pretty much left – some time ago, as a matter of fact. The decline in church attendance has to be seen in light of so many social and economic upheavals and changes that have occurred in the last 50+ years. The civil rights movement, the whole protest era of the 60’s (for those of us old enough to remember, and those even older who participated) were whatshed events. I suspect there are whole books, and probably courses, that talk about all of this in depth. My own thought is that when the idea caught on that it was not a sin to miss Mass on Sunday (I’m not saying that was officially ever taught but the idea is certainly prevalent), people began exercising their options. You could add in to the mix the growing number of college and post college, who were not simply going to pray, pay and obey. Throw in the cultural shift of Sunday being just another day of the week with tons of things to do – shop, eat out, lay around the house, taking the kids to baseball, football, etc., and it’s easy to see who being inactive in one’s parish, or leaving the church, can occur.

  13. Victor – I don’t erecting an iconostatis would really work in the Roman rite (though I personally would love to see all those icons and candles, smell the incense, etc.). The reason I say it probably won’t work is that we have this bug a boo about “full, active and conscious” participation. (Of course we could have an infinite number of posts on what FAC participation means – perhaps we already have?) Your last line: “Ordinary mortal eyes are not meant to watch the Sacred event on the altar as if an entertainment anyway” would be a bit problematic – at least for me because of the Incarnation (which of course I know you all believe in). It’s because of God in Jesus becoming one like us in everything except sin, that our mere mortal eyes – well, really, our mere mortal very selves – enter into and celebrate the liturgy. I do see your point about entertainment. I suppose lots of folks come to Mass to be entertained – a sort of passive participation, let’s see what Father has to say today, kind of thing. When someone makes a mistake at liturgy and later apologizes, I find myself saying, “Hey, it’s liturgy – the work of the people – not a broadway production.” (Usually the first thing I say is, “Off with his/her head! That’ll teach you for making a mistake!” Just joking.) But I can’t help but wonder, though, shouldn’t liturgy entertain? Not like a broadway production, but as a thing of beauty and grace, with the various liturgical colors and seasons, liturgy does appeal to the senses – sight, smell, hearing and taste. Through all of them we are drawn ever more closely into the life of the Trinity. Liturgy is more heart than head, more sensorial than cerebrial. But I think you can talk to that point more from the Orthodox tradition than I ever could.

  14. “I think the liturgical east is about the “common movement forward” as opposed to the “self-enclosed circle” we see too often.”

    The so-called circle is very much a part of our understanding of church architecture, especially that the faithful are surrounded by images of the saints.

    There is something to be said for the notion of pilgrimage in the Christian life, and that clergy and people facing the same geographical direction speaks to that in some way.

    But then again, we don’t need to allow metaphors to drive the celebration of liturgy.

  15. On Iconostases, the Separation of the Clergy and Laity, and facing East (#17-21).

    1. Historically the Iconostases was a low barrier between imperial court officials and the people for the purpose of crowd control similar to barriers during a papal mass. These barriers were low e.g. the embrace of peace could be made across them.

    Like altar rails, mosaics on floors of many of the earliest churches, raised platforms in many Eastern Rites, and rugs in many Eastern Churches, they all separate the area of the clergy from the area of the laity. They are not always located at one end of the building. They often project out into the area occupied by the laity, who surround them on at least three and sometimes four sides.

    2. It took a long evolution for the crowd control barrier to assume its modern form (L. Uspensky, says that the iconostasis acquired its classical form in the 16th century, when it became one of the most important parts of the Orthodox church). The details of its evolution are a matter of much controversy.

    3. The Eastern churches I like most are square or Greek Crossed shaped, do have not pews, much of the action of the liturgy takes place on a rug in the midst of the congregation, and icons surround everyone.

    Our local Orthodox church is almost square, with icons on all walls (but it does have pews which means a little too much action takes place in the front of the church). The effect is one of standing in the midst of the heavenly court and of the Divine Mysteries is particularly strong when the priest goes around the whole church between the pews and walls incensing all the icons and then the people. When he incenses the icons we all face in the direction of the icons that he is incensing. If there were no pews he would be incensing us from the carpet at the end of the icon incensation. This happens often.

    1. @Jack Rakosky – comment #22:

      The big issues here are
      1. how to configure the clergy and laity without promoting clericalism and
      2. what physical building shape (temple) is the best icon (image) of the true Temple , i,e, Christ and his people.

      Many religions of the world have temples with sacred areas, reserved for priests, and some face particular directions. Christianity is not another religion, a better paganism.

      Rather Christ and we, as the body of Christ, are the true Temple, where at all times and places worship in spirit and truth takes place.

      The Eastern Churches which I like are a good physical icon of the Christian temple where Christ and the whole heavenly court and Divine Mysteries are present in and surround his people on earth.

      Only the vertical direction counts. Christ has become incarnate in the Divine Mysteries, took flesh and made us his Body, in order that we might be raised and ascend to the Heavenly heights with him.

    2. @Jack Rakosky – comment #22:

      A very good resource on the Iconostasis is contained in

      See Julian Walter, AA, The Origins of the Iconostasis Eastern Churches Review (vol. Ill, No. 3. 1971) made available with permission on the NLM website in four sections

      http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2011/08/eastern-churches-review-origins-of.html

      and

      http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2011/08/eastern-churches-review-on-origins-of.html

      and

      http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2012/04/eastern-churches-review-on-origins-of.html

      and

      http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2012/04/eastern-churches-review-on-origins-of_24.html

  16. Fr. Fergus Kerr: What is desirable and preferred? That the wise presider get himself out of the way by directing his attention to the assembly, to the word, to what he is doing, and to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and that every other minister and the entire assembly be similarly focussed

    I used to be really obnoxious with regard to “facing the people” — completely opposed. I have made my peace with versus populum for the most part. However, I do find that versus populum celebration introduces a new variable that’s not present in ad orientem celebration. I’ve found that when “facing the people”, some celebrants/presiders try to make an highly demonstrative eye contact with the assembly. It’s almost as if these priests are delivering an press conference statement rather than first attending to the holy mysteries. For some reason, I find this discomforting. Perhaps this is because I struggle with eye contact myself.

    The import of social interaction gestures, such as eye contact, varies significantly between cultures. The cultural sensibilities of an assembly must be respected. I also recognize that many Americans have been reared to consider frequent eye contact to be a sign of forthrightness. Even so, I am not sure if Mass is supposed to engender trust between the presider and assembly. Is not the eucharist itself the center of worship and the deposit of our adoration and trust?

  17. Good points, Jordan – and Jack. Yesterday I heard Bishop Leonard Blair interviewed on Fresh Air in NPR, sort of a counter point to the interview with the president of the LCWR. I actually only caught the last 15 or 20 minutes, but in it, he talked about some of the reasons why the RC church does not ordain women. One of them, apparently the biggest in his opinion, was that the priest represents Christ as the bridegroom, and the church the bride. Bishop Blair quotes St. Paul on this, though he seems to not be aware of Paul’s words about “In Christ, we are no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female….” But clearly maleness is needed to represent Christ at the altar, since Jesus was a male.
    I offer this simply as a counter point to your post, Jordan. If we believe Christ is present in the assembly, in the proclaimation of the Word, in the celebration of the Eucharist and in the person of Christ, somehow the person of the priest does enter in, especially when facing the people. Among other things, Jesus was all about person to person contact. Something does happen when the presider makes eye contact with members of the congregation. There is a connection, I would say – sometimes painful for one or the other, or both, but a connection nonetheless. I don’t think we should require presiding ministers to leave their personhood at the door, as if their human uniqueness should not enter into the celebration of the eucharist. OTOH, the liturgy is no any one person’s show, so there is a delicate balance one needs to find.
    I also wanted to let you know how much I enjoy and welcome your personal honesty as well as wisdom on this blog. I appreciate that you are not “defending the faith” (either left or right) but share your knowledge and experience with us. I don’t sense in any of your posts that you have an agenda you feel the need to get across, and I always look foward to your posts. Pace, Tom K.

    1. @Tom Kostrzewa – comment #26:
      This is going a bit off-topic, but I cannot resist a response to the idea that because St Paul used the analogy of a bridegroom with a bride to describe the relationship between Christ and the Church that means that there can be no women priests. It is a preposterous category mistake to abuse analogies in this way.

      Jesus used a lot of analogies in his own teaching: the vine, the gate, good shepherd, mustard seed, yeast etc. If someone said that because Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to wise and foolish virgins waiting for a bridegroom to mean that only those who have never had sex can enter the kingdom of heaven you would know that they were talking nonsense. So why do intelligent people make category mistakes of this kind to produce silly arguments against women priests?

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