Benedict XVI: A Supremely Liturgical Pope

At Vatican Radio, Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, executive director of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), speak so of the liturgical legacy of Pope Benedict XVI:

“When the Holy Father spoke to his own clergy, the priest of the diocese of Rome for the last time, he said two very significant things about the Liturgy: Firstly he said that the Second Vatican Council was very right to treat of the Liturgy first, because it thereby showed that God has primacy. And in the Liturgy the most important consideration is adoration.  He linked this to the fact that he has desired that in the celebration of our Mass there should be a Crucifix on the altar.  So that the priest looks at the Cross and remembers that it’s the sacrifice of Calvary that’s being represented in the celebration of the Mass and that the people should look at the Cross rather than at the priest.”

Read the full report here.


  1. I don’t know that placing a consideration of liturgy first on the Council’s agenda necessarily indicates the primacy of God more than, say, a consideration of Divine Revelation, the Mission Activity of the Church, or the Pastoral Office of Bishops. In all of the documents from Vatican Two we recognize “firstly” the place of God in our lives, individually and corporately, whether in the context of liturgy, our call to evangelize, or the ministry of bishops in particular Churches.

    Regarding the the use of a crucifix on the altar, I have always understood, whether I am celebrating or attending, that the mass is the sacrifice of Calvary. I have not placed a crucifix on the altar in my parish, and on those occasions when I celebrate in churches that have, I do not find it to be a needed or even helpful reminder of what I am doing.

    In ad orientem celebrations, OF or EF, how often was/is it possible to fix one’s gaze on a crucifix. Even if there is a cross or crucifix carved on the tabernacle door, such would often be covered by a veil, no?

  2. Several months ago we found, stored away in a box, a beautiful altar cross, of the variet that lays on the altar. It took several hours of cleaning but now, on the altar, there it sits.

    Personally, it is a constant reminder, a clear focus in the true “why” instead of just the how.

    My father-in-law used to quietly say “My Lord and my God” at elevation. Now, as I make the numerous profound bows and genuflections to that altar, I hear those words and the significance and meaning becomes, once again, all too clear.

    It has made a marked difference … even to the altar servers.

  3. Find Msgr’s comments to be specious, at best. Paul VI was a *supremely liturgical pope*…..B16 barely scratched the surface; impeded if not rolled back VII liturgical directions; and by his MP created the dilemmas seen in the earlier posts which he then tried to buttress with his own *hermeneutic*. Doubt that historians will share that *title* with Msgr.

    This is an interesting approach to liturgy, Vatican II, and post Vatican II in terms of describing the liturgical needs of the people of God:

    J. Komonchak – *Christians without Backbones* –

    – “The metaphors give rise to thought. With the carapace one thinks of the defensive mode in which the Catholic Church confronted the successive waves that would produce the distinctively modern world. The result was what Congar called “the system,” always carefully distinguishing it from the Church itself, in which everything was already, to use a term that Congar often used pejoratively, ready-made. It was that carapace, that shell, that was revealed to have dissolved, flaked off, thus precipitating the crisis within the Church.”

    Would suggest that Summorum Pontificum manifests the *carapace* rather than the backbone of SC.

  4. “In ad orientem celebrations, OF or EF, how often was/is it possible to fix one’s gaze on a crucifix. Even if there is a cross or crucifix carved on the tabernacle door, such would often be covered by a veil, no?”

    The tabernacle door doesn’t really enter into it, because typically the altar card (or the pontifical canon) in the EF is immediately in front of the priest leaning against the tabernacle door. The center altar card typically has an image of the crucifixion on it.

    But the primary altar cross is not a decoration on the tabernacle or altar card, but typically a standing cross between the candles (it can also be mounted on the wall).

    That the people should look at the cross instead of the priest says far too little, I think. They shouldn’t look at the priest as personality (Fr. Bob, Fr. Jim), but they should absolutely look at the priest as alter Christus (and a fortiori the Bishop when he celebrates Mass.)

  5. I look at every person gathered to celebrate the Eucharist as alter Christus, made so by the water and Spirit of their Baptism.

    I look upon the priest in persona Christi capitis, the head of the Body gathered in the Spirit to offer the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to the Father.

    It’s also interesting to note that adoration as the primary consideration of the liturgy doesn’t seem to be supported by the Constitution. The official English translation (vatican website) uses the word “adores” once, and “adoration” never.

    1. @Alan Hommerding – comment #4:

      I share your sense of things here, Alan, with regard to the people who gather for the celebration of the Eucharist. When I preside, being aware of the presence of the community brings to my mind the “for you” emphasis of the Institution narrative.

      In addition, both the priest and people alike are invited to focus upon the bread and wine/body and blood during the celebration of the Eucharist. As Anthony noted in the comments on the “Bells” thread, the rubrics (both pre- and post-VII) indicate that the bread and wine are to be “shown” to the people, which implies that it is important that these be viewed as well.

  6. I think what most resonates with me is how the Holy Father invites us to experience liturgy as a gate to eternity and the transcendent truths, not merely a salve for the injustices here below, ‘where cross the crowded ways life.’ And yet, that kind of liturgical experience, I find, strengthens and confirms and renews in me the commitment to be more generous with time, talent, and treasure. Time and eternity meet in action. That is merely my personal experience, but it is one strong reason that I’m grateful for his Pontificate.

  7. I am grateful for the Holy Father placing liturgical renewal front and center and all aspects of it, not only looking toward the heavenly liturgy but also all aspects of the art of celebrating but within the context of the sobriety of our rite. Placing the cross dead center whether facing toward the people or joining them in facing the same direction is symbolic and powerful. But under this Holy Father, liturgy has become exciting and I doubt that praytell or other liturgical blogs would exist without him for it would be the old hum drum doldrums and we wouldn’t have first hand experience of the 1962 missal to compare to the Consilium reformed one which has been wonderful fodder for conversation. And having the two together makes it feasible that we’ll actually get a missal that Vatican II desired, not some post-Vatican II committee version of a missal rubber stamped by the pope at the time.

  8. While I’ve appreciated Benedict’s attention to liturgy, I’ve never been a fan of the cross on the altar. I feel it disrupts the trinitarian dynamic of the liturgy in which prayer is directed to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. Putting a crucifix on the altar and directing one’s gaze to it conveys the impression that we are praying to the crucified Christ.

    Although it sounds like an extreme statement, I’d rather that the Eucharistic Prayer be delivered ad orientem than put a crucifix directly on the altar.

    1. @J. Peter Nixon – comment #8:
      Although it sounds like an extreme statement, I’d rather that the Eucharistic Prayer be delivered ad orientem than put a crucifix directly on the altar.

      Oh, absolutely.

      I can’t help but feeling that Pope Benedict thought that urging a crucifix on the altar stood a better chance of being emulated than a strategy solely focused on urging ad orientem celebration.

      “A more important objection is of the practical order. Ought we really to be rearranging everything all over again? Nothing is more harmful to the liturgy than a constant activism, even if it seems to be for the sake of genuine renewal. I see a solution in a suggestion that comes from the insights of Erik Peterson. Facing east, as we heard, was linked with the “sign of the Son of Man”, with the Cross, which announces the Lord’s Second Coming. That is why very early on the east was linked with the sign of the Cross. Where a direct common turning toward the east is not possible, the cross can serve as the interior “east” of faith. It should stand in the middle of the altar and be the common point of focus for both priest and praying community. In this way we obey the ancient call to prayer: “Conversi ad Dominum”, Turn toward the Lord!” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, Part II, Ch. 3)

      But I would still have preferred to see him try.

      1. @Richard Malcolm – comment #12:

        Under Benedict XVI and John Paul II we’ve seen a steady movement against the central place of honor, the original emblem of the Lord’s presence, not a crucifix or a cross, but the altar itself. Which sadly seems to fall into the background once again as it did in the days of building high retables and elaborate eucharistic stages for supporting a shrine for the exposed Blessed Sacrament, or the towering tabernacle on the altar itself ,or directly behind it in the reredos.

        Now both the altar and the cross or crucifix are being lost in the shuffle to build screens and elaborate backdrops of one kind or another.

      2. @Dunstan Harding – comment #35:

        Hello Dunstan,

        Under Benedict XVI and John Paul II we’ve seen a steady movement against the central place of honor, the original emblem of the Lord’s presence, not a crucifix or a cross, but the altar itself.

        In the first place, with respect, I don’t see how one negates the other – that a renewed emphasis on the crucifix necessarily diminishes the altar. Secondly, I’m a but puzzled that you attribute any such motive to John Paul II, who, whatever else he was, was not motivated to issue any demands or even model architecture or rubrics of the altar in the way that Benedict XVI has.

        Now both the altar and the cross or crucifix are being lost in the shuffle to build screens and elaborate backdrops of one kind or another.

        Again, I don’t see how a “backdrop” of sacred art negates the altar’s importance. The assumption that it must seems to me at risk for a kind of functional iconoclasm (unfortunately of the sort too often on display in church sanctuaries and renovations of recent decades) where absolutely any kind of sacred art or ornamentation is seen as a distraction from the altar and the Eucharist offered on it. Even in the relative few churches (at least that I am aware of) where there has been a move to more traditional iconography and architecture, altars are still being kept as freestanding and quite prominent, not as retables.

        As for screens, I am not sure what you mean by this. Rood screens? I’m not aware of these making a comeback. But I welcome clarification on this point.

        All these things notwithstanding, I still advocate for a return to ad orientem celebration by the celebrant, at least during the Eucharistic Prayer, wherever sanctuary architecture makes this possible, for the reasons ably advanced recently by Uwe Michael Lang. It seems a cleaner solution than the “Benedictine arrangement.”

      3. @Richard Malcolm – comment #47:
        What you diagnose as “functional iconoclasm” is more likely an American underappreciation for the arts coupled with a pragmatism for parish brick-n-mortar, particularly schools. Two illustrations:

        One American archdiocese practically made it a policy for new (suburban) parishes to construct a school first, so as to garner the maximum number of parishioners. And later, build the church. A pragmatic, and slightly cynical approach, where the liturgy is concerned.

        One parish I served had an “imported Italian marble” altar. Much concern was expressed that we “preserve” it when renovating. It turned out to be 1/2″ marble veneer glued to “Italian” concrete.

        Quite often “iconoclasm” is a necessary updating of furnishings and art. And if there is serious concern about the clutter of candlesticks, crosses, vestments, and such, then perhaps the Real Presence isn’t quite enough for some Catholics with said concerns.

      4. @Todd Flowerday – comment #48:

        Hi Todd,

        What you diagnose as “functional iconoclasm” is more likely an American underappreciation for the arts coupled with a pragmatism for parish brick-n-mortar, particularly schools.

        When I see designs like Massimiliano Fuksas’s Foligno church, or Richard Meier’s Jubilee Church in Rome, or (to take a plain U.S. parish church) St. Malachy’s in Burlington MA, I know this isn’t just about limited budgets and pragmatism. There are aesthetic and theological principles at work here that explain why so many modern Catholic churches are so relentlessly austere. And my concern was that Dunstan’s conceptions about sanctuary art detracting from the altar seemed to be a manifestation of those principles. But perhaps I have misunderstood him.

        I think you *can* do “beautiful” on a budget, even “traditional beautiful.” A Pugin masterpiece (say) is surely beyond the typical struggling suburban parish, but that doesn’t justify brutalist designs. Something else is justifying them. Something first enunciated by F.A. Reinhold as early as the 1950’s.

        And if there is serious concern about the clutter of candlesticks, crosses, vestments, and such, then perhaps the Real Presence isn’t quite enough for some Catholics with said concerns.

        That’s an unfair snark, Todd.

        I’ve seen quite beautiful traditional masses offered in in the woods, after all.

        But we are sensory creatures. Art can and does have a role in teaching, drawing the soul to the divine, and giving glory to God, and that understanding has informed church architecture, East and West, from the beginning until the mid-20th century. Churches need not be Baroque sensory overloads, but neither should they be effective iconoclastic statements. It is another kind of condescension, too, to assume that Catholics are too easily distracted from Christ truly present by sacred art.

        A beautiful or even ornate reredos can be a complement, not a distraction from the altar.

      5. @Richard Malcolm – comment #50:
        “There are aesthetic and theological principles at work here that explain why so many modern Catholic churches are so relentlessly austere.”

        I think many churches can be interpreted as such, but given that the move to pragmatism began ca 1945, I suspect it’s more about saving a buck or two. I’ve seen parish budgets for over thirty years from the inside. I know what a struggle it can be to devote resources to good liturgy–and most of these are parishes that have hired a professional liturgist. I can only imagine places where there is no advocate for ars celebrandi.

        “That’s an unfair snark, Todd.”

        No, I don’t think so. Not in the climate where the intelligence and often the very faith of the laity is routinely called into question.

        “It is another kind of condescension, too, to assume that Catholics are too easily distracted from Christ truly present by sacred art.”

        Perhaps. But one altar is a far better representation of Christ than six candles.

      6. @Todd Flowerday – comment #52:

        Hello Todd,

        I think many churches can be interpreted as such, but given that the move to pragmatism began ca 1945, I suspect it’s more about saving a buck or two.

        I don’t deny that this is part of the calculus. I know what a struggle it can be.

        But I think it’s usually a secondary consideration when we’re talking sanctuary design and ornamentation.

        No, I don’t think so. Not in the climate where the intelligence and often the very faith of the laity is routinely called into question.

        Let’s just say that there’s a lot of that going around. You might say it’s “ineffable.”

  9. Focus more on some statue more than you do the very body and blood, and all the people of God gathered… well, maybe this does fit BXVI and his liturgical-alikes.

  10. He may have micro-managed some fiddle-faddle of liturgical antiquity, but this hardly equates to being “supremely liturgical.” I tend to think that JPII was far more liturgically minded by worshiping according to the best the reformed liturgy offered received in continuity from the ministry of Paul VI. Benedict himself reduced his tridentitism to nostalgia saying the pre-conciliar rite was more ’emotional’ for him. This hardly touches upon the essence of the liturgy. Emotionalism piqued by props is not anything supremely liturgical.

  11. I quite understand that many people writing on this blog do not share Pope Benedict ‘s vision of the liturgy as he has celebrated, understood and taught it while pope. In this short interview, I tried to offer something of a quick overview of some elements of his magisterium and praxis.

    In relation to his comments to his diocesan clergy re the crucifix on the altar, I imagine he was thinking of this point from the GIRM:

    308. Likewise, either on the altar or near it, there is to be a cross, with the figure of Christ crucified upon it, a cross clearly visible to the assembled people. It is desirable that such a cross should remain near the altar even outside of liturgical celebrations, so as to call to mind for the faithful the saving Passion of the Lord.

    1. @Msgr Andrew Wadsworth – comment #14:
      And yet from an artistic and realistic point of view, at most papal liturgies the cross upon the altar is hardly “clearly visible to the assembled people.” It is a devotional item facing the celebrant, obscured by the episcopal candle, and so out of scale to be invisible to the assembly. In fact, the spirit of this directive was more truly fulfilled when Piero Marini placed a large scale crucifix near the altar that could actually be seen by all. That the crucifix must be in the face of the celebrant so that all are ‘turned to the Lord’ is a rather arbitrary reference in actual praxis. It is either effectively seen or not. Which is the point of the celebrated liturgy and its arts – not some invisible theological/liturgical idea.

    2. @Msgr Andrew Wadsworth – comment #14:
      You skipped over #306:

      306. For only what is required for the celebration of the Mass may be placed on the altar table: namely, from the beginning of the celebration until the proclamation of the Gospel, the Book of the Gospels; then from the Presentation of the Gifts until the purification of the vessels, the chalice with the paten, a ciborium, if necessary, and, finally, the corporal, the purificator, the pall, and the Missal.

      Of course, this from Fr. Z:

      “So, Ratzinger suggests that even in those places where Mass is still going to be said “facing the people”, the Crucifix should be placed on the altar between the priest and people so that It becomes the common point of focus … not the priest himself. In that case, it seems to me that the image of the Crucified could be either way on the altar.

      However, I would prefer that it be turned so that it is toward the priest. Why?

      The role of the priest at Mass is of such importance that it is desirable for him to be firmly anchored in his focus on the Lord, and not on himself. This proper interior orientation of the priest will affect the entire ars celebrandi.”

      (which just goes to show that even Fr. Z is a *cafeteria presider* when it comes to rubrics but he did preface this by saying he had read Ratzinger’s Spirit in the Lirugy)

      Here is an interpretation found on Zenit in 2006 and using the writings of Msgr. Peter Elliott – later modified in 2011, of course, given B16’s style – these are posted on the EWTN library (hotbed of liberalism):

      “Taking our cue from Monsignor Peter Elliott’s liturgy manual, we might add that the crucifix should be located on, next to, immediately behind or suspended above the altar. It should be visibly related to the altar as viewed by the people.

      As Monsignor Elliott comments: “The liturgical crucifix is not primarily for the private devotion of the celebrant but is a sign in the midst of the Eucharistic assembly proclaiming that the Mass is the same Sacrifice as Calvary.”

      Thus, strictly speaking, the altar crucifix is in relationship to the altar, and not just to the priest, and for this reason the “corpus” is usually turned toward the the altar.

      An altar crucifix can be somewhat off-putting for the faithful who can see only the reverse of the cross. This is a relatively new problem as, before the liturgical reform, the whole assembly, priest and people, faced both altar and crucifix in the same direction.

      For this reason the best solution appears to be either the large crucifix permanently behind or above the altar.

      If this is not possible, then the very flexibility of the norms would allow for a processional cross, or a larger but movable crucifix on a stand, which is placed near the altar in such a position that clearly relates to the altar while remaining visible to the faithful.”

      In the same vein – one could question the Benedectine candle arrangement:

      307. The candles, which are required at every liturgical service out of reverence and on account of the festiveness of the celebration, are to be appropriately placed either on or around the altar in a way suited to the design of the altar and the sanctuary so that the whole may be well balanced and not interfere with the faithful’s clear view of what takes place at the altar or what is placed on it.

      1. @Bill deHaas – comment #17:
        GIRM 306, 307, and 308 need to be read together, rather than in tension. Just because GIRM 306 does not mention the candles or cross does not mean that GIRM 307 and 308 err in saying the candles and cross MAY be placed on the altar.

        Or have you brought up GIRM 306 to some other end?

      2. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #19:
        JP – again, your nit picking missed what I was saying.

        Cross can be placed on the altar – but my response was to Msgr’s comment which was cross with corpus turned to the presider. Suggested that this was not intended by 307 (and in fact was explained that way prior to 2005 when these GIRM came out in 2002. And elobarated on that point using two other speakers)

        Candles – did not say that they could not be placed on the altar – in fact, copied/pasted that #… point is very clear which suggests that the Benedictine arrangement hinders the other GIRM rubrics which clearly state that candles should not obstruct what happens on the altar or be so large, tall, big that they mask the symbol of the altar; bread and wine, etc.

        You really do take things out of context to try to score points. Take a break.;

      3. @Bill deHaas – comment #22:
        Bill, please believe me that I am not attempting to score points or nit-pick. You brought up GIRM 306 at the beginning of your comment, suggested Msgr may have “skipped over it”, and never referred to it again. I read your whole comment, and you never mentioned #306 again, which refers to everything except the cross and candles, which is what the remainder of your comment was about.

        I did not address your commentary on #307 or #308, not because I didn’t read them, but because they are not what I’m asking you about. I’m asking you about why you quoted #306 to Msgr.

        I also ended my comment by asking you if you quoted #306 for some other reason that I did not grasp (because, as far as I can tell, Msgr didn’t quote #306 himself because he wasn’t talking about the things #306 mentions).

        So, why did you quote #306 to him and suggest he had overlooked it? I really don’t know. I’m just interested in knowing why.

      4. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #36:
        Okay, fair enough, JP. I may have not been clear in my intent or writing. Msgr only posted one article (to both your point and mine that you have to read multiple articles in context and in tension)

        Thought I had conveyed that (guess I didn’t). Thus, I added other articles about altar, cross and then candles to highlight what you underline (you MAY).

        So, why did I highlight #306 – IMO, the #306 talks about what belongs on the altar – basically, the required and minimal in order to ressource and re-establish the centrality and meaning of the altar (as Fr. Dennis and Todd state well above). Yes, this is in tension with #308, etc. but it seems, IMO, common sense would see that the tension of these articles is such that placing large, too many candles on the altar negates the earlier article; the same approach with a cross or crucifix – too large, or the ridiculous – two corpuses, etc. negates the earlier article.
        So, to clarify – yes, a decision could be made for various pastoral reasons to go ahead and place candles/cross on the altar – but taking into primary consideration that they must not take away from the assembly’s ability to see and participate or to overshadow the altar. IMO, the tension of these articles is such that this approach placing other things on the altar is the least desirable – there are other better alternatives.

        Hope that helps. (really thought that your comments could have been better addressed to Msgr’s original post)

  12. We had an extensive discussion of Pope Benedict’s preferred style here.

    I argued — following a very conservative priest-blogger — that the altar in Benedict’s papal Masses comes across as cluttered, a mess of candles, crucifix, communion vessels, microphone and books. The celebrant appears to be either hiding from the people or peering out from behind the bars of a prison cell. Others saw it differently.

    I’m not sure what it means to say that Pope Benedict is “supremely liturgical”. More “liturgical” than Popes John XXIII and Paul VI, who gave us the Mass most of us use today? More than Pius XII, who gave us Mediator Dei and the new rites of Holy Week? More “liturgical” than Pius X, who did a lot to encourage Gregorian chant, encouraged lay participation and became known as the “pope of the Blessed Sacrament”?

    Not sure.

  13. Ugh.

    “The center altar card typically has an image of the crucifixion on it.”

    Behold the laminated cardboard of the cross, on which hung …

    But more central, “And in the Liturgy the most important consideration is adoration.”

    I think we can say this was central to the Holy Father, but it is an incomplete rendering of Sacrosanctum Concilium 7.

    Adoration may well be the primary response of Joseph Ratzinger. But the worship of God is far more expansive than that: praise, lament, petition, profession of faith, and experience of the Real Presence.

    Msgr Wadsworth illustrates for me the poverty of the reform2 ethic. It’s not that I disagree with the element of adoration in the liturgy, but that the focus on it, almost the fetish for it, is such an impoverished expression. It is a problem for the post-conciliar Church not because it might veer to a piety in which most Catholics don’t feel at home, but because it demands too little. Be spectators. Watch the important men do the important stuff.

    The next pope may further marginalize things with other liturgical choices. Even if he were not to undo some of the “Benedictine” clutter, it has been made clear that the central arguments of liturgy revolve around the pope’s personal choices. What a state to be in!


    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #18:
      Todd – agree completely. You have articulated the heart of the discussion. The EF is an early and incomplete expression of the eucharist as explained by the council fathers.

      It is much more significant than thinking you can change, add, subtract or mutually enrich by taking sections (some secondary or even accidental e.g. last gospel, foot of the altar prayers) from the earlier mass. That exercise, at its core, rejects the council fathers documents and experiences of what the church is; who the people of God are; and what eucharist is.

      Will post again from an earlier post:

  14. I”m compelled to ask those who have already commented on the altar crucifix, corpus facing celebrant, who is ad populum: have you actually experienced as a celebrant or a PIP this posture and decorum. All I can attest to is that I have, in the OF, a number of occasions. And the comparison, particularly at the epiclisis, has for me revealed a profound difference, particularly in comparison to a celebrant who never visually references the sacramentary, has most of the orations memorized and his visage towards the congregation seems omnipresent. It is famiiar, which for some might seem appropriate and welcomed, but which also invites a lulling of focus and pondering if it’s all too personable. It makes a difference, for the positive.

    1. @Charles Culbreth – comment #20:
      Sorry, Charles – my experience is the opposite. In fact, presiders who must squint and bury their heads in the missal, who have no gestures except overextending the bread and cup at the institution, and rarely make any attempt to include the assembly – which SC and VII re-interpreted as one of the four core meanings of eucharist – “The Council felt that in 1963 it was also important to emphasize the relation of the Eucharist to the Unity of the Body of Christ.” or “VII makes connection between eucharist and initiation. Trent did not do this” or “There was an important evolution in the various drafts of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. Chapter 2 was first titled “The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” In the approved text this becomes “The Most Sacred Mystery of the Eucharist.” This is a significant change.”

      Ths touches on the heart of the discussion – the EF reflects an earlier and, in the judgment of the council fathers, an incomplete understanding of the eucharist. That is why the liturgy was reformed.

      “Lex orandi legem credendi constituit.” The way we pray determines belief. This axiom which played such an important role in the early Church is once again dear to the heart of contemporary liturgists and catechists. We start with our experience of Eucharist. And we all realize that the way we pray the Eucharist has changed radically in the past 50 years. This different experience of Eucharist leads to a different theology of Eucharist. And since eucharist builds up the body of Christ; praying the eucharist determines communal belief”

  15. “So that the priest looks at the Cross and remembers that it’s the sacrifice of Calvary that’s being represented in the celebration of the Mass and that the people should look at the Cross rather than at the priest.”

    It is more than the sacrifice of calvary. The eucharistic prayer is an anamenesis of all of salvation history, culminating in the death and resurrection of Christ. This body of Christ, together with its head-Christ- is celebrating the eucharist in real time. I don’t know why you would need a crucifix on the altar unless you think that the eucharist is somehow a historical reenactment of calvary.

    1. @Mike Burns – comment #21:

      Well it is, in one sense, a participation in the eternal reality of calvary.

      Further, while it is many other things as you rightly note, I am not sure why they would prevent a crucifix being present.

    1. @Cameron Neal – comment #23:
      And we have now sunk to the ridiculous.

      VII – eucharist is Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter combined. Eucharist is a mystery that reveals the Trinity (not just Jesus on the Cross); etc.

      As Todd said earlier – comments that reflect the *poverty* of the ROTR movement.

  16. I find it “interesting” in many discussion about the (altar) cross, that so little is mentioned about the altar itself being a significant symbol of Christ in the body of a church (as we see by reading the prayer of the dedication of the altar [“Make this altar a sign of Christ…”] or GIRM 298, 303). The Ceremonial of Bishops prescribes bowing before the altar when passing it (no. 72), but nowhere mentions any reverence toward the cross (except for incensing it). It seems to me that too many people “remember” a rubric from the 1570 Ritus servandus (II, 2) which prescribed a bow to “the altar, that is the image of the Crucified One placed above it” (et Altari, seu imagini Crucifixi desuper positae, profunde se inclinat), thereby suggesting that the Crucifix was the primary “image” of Christ, rather than the altar (cf. Preface of Easter V — Christ is the “priest, altar and Lamb”).

    If we regained what seems to be the older tradition of seeing the altar as the primary symbol of Christ (this is why the altar is kissed or bowed before), discussions regarding placement of a cross may, in fact, fade away. Since everyone (assembly and its ministers) faces the altar (the primary symbol of Christ) at a “versus populum” Eucharist, why is another symbol of Christ in close proximity to (or upon) the altar really needed?

    1. @Dennis Smolarski SJ – comment #27:
      Great for pointing this out. I always wondered the same when Benedict seemed to think everyone needed to be peering at a cross which no once could see, when in fact the liturgy documents are clear that the altar is a unique symbol of Christ. If the ordered ministries and the assembly are gathered around the altar at their ‘center’ then all are ‘turned to the Lord’. It is an obvious clue that the RotR don’t actually understand liturgical signs or value them. And that the altar is nothing more than an inconsequential stand for antique objets and tabernacles for them.

      1. @J. Thomas – comment #30:
        the RotR don’t actually understand liturgical signs or value them

        I think that’s a gross exaggeration. They may think different of certain liturgical signs, or seek (whether rightly or wrongly) the strengthening of the symbolism by a multiplication of those signs — candles, cross, and altar all represent Christ, for example — but I do not think it likely that they fail to understand or even value liturgical signs.

      2. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #38:
        Good point, JP but go back to #29 from Todd. His point better explains what some of us experience in terms of what Mr. Thomas is saying.

        Just go to Allan’s blog and you get the impression that some of the imposition of the EF is exactly what Todd is talking about.

    2. @Dennis Smolarski SJ – comment #27:
      I had asked before, in another post, if the average layperson is aware that the altar is a symbol of Christ. We recognize Christ as the sacrifice, and as the one offering the sacrifice, but is Christ as the altar of sacrifice ever explained, or even mentioned, to Catholics? I think the altar, of those three, gets the least attention, in my experience.

      1. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #37:
        JP – good question….can remember when this was an important and primary liturgical and education goal. Conveyed via homily using scripture; conveyed via bowing, actions in presider, minister behaviors and intergrated into trainings for EMs, lectors, servers, choir, sacramental preparation classes.

        Yes, would agree that we have moved away from this emphasis – wonder, is this because of changes and de-emphasis in liturgy in seminaries; because current priests being ordained lack good basic liturgical education and, in some cases, the little time they have in coursework for this is diverted to things such as EF training? Mutual enrighment? IMO, this whole discussion about two forms of one rite can be seen as creating *unintended consequences*. Or, are you suggesting that folks today want to move away from this re-emphasis or never received it? So, we just abandon one of the ressourcements of SC?

      2. @Bill deHaas – comment #43:
        is this because of changes and de-emphasis in liturgy in seminaries; because current priests being ordained lack good basic liturgical education

        I would expect priests are still being taught that the altar is a strong symbol of Christ.

        diverted to things such as EF training

        And I’m pretty sure the altar is a sign of Christ even in the EF. I do not think this loss of knowledge of the altar as a sign of Christ can be attributed to the EF vs. OF debate.

        My question is, why don’t more people-in-the-pew know that the altar is a sign of Christ? Possible causes:

        * They were never taught it by whoever should have taught them?
        * A priest never once explained it or mentioned it?
        * Genuflecting to the Sacrament in the tabernacle supersedes bowing to the altar?
        * Bowing to the altar (done by ministers before entering the sanctuary) was misunderstood as bowing to something else or someone else?
        * People don’t connect the liturgical act of bowing to the altar as an indication that the altar is a liturgical sign of Christ?

        I desire people to acquire (or restore) this understanding of the symbolism and sign value of the altar. That’s why I’ve written about it before, drawing on Scripture, the GIRM, (pseudo-?) Ambrose, Rev. Danielou SJ, Rev. de la Taille, SJ, catechisms new and old, a consideration of what happens on the altar during the liturgy, and a consideration of Christ as our mediator with the Father.

      3. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #45:
        The writer’s principle: show, don’t tell. This applies well and often to liturgical “catechesis.” A priest can say all he wants about the symbolism of the altar, but if it becomes a prop to hold the Missal for the collects, or another ritual book before baptism or a wedding, or isn’t reverenced, or is cluttered with other objects–then his actions might betray his best attempts at preaching.

        As for your comment on genuflecting, everybody knows that is an action done before entering a pew. It certainly has nothing to do with the tabernacle at all. Right?

      4. @Jeffrey Pinyan – comment #45:
        JP – all good points but let me add….you might be shocked and dismayed by the actual liturgical knowledge that candidants being ordained actually have.

        Do you know often you have a newly ordained with classmates who spend weeks planning their first mass as EF with all kinds of latin chant, etc. but none of them have had more than two years of what we once would have described as high school latin. And it you were to ask them the meanings of the TLM/EF – historical and liturgical history – you would get a blank look.

    3. @Dennis Smolarski SJ – comment #28:
      Fr. Dennis – well said. If you go to post #17 by Jonathan and click on his one word link – you will find that Paul Inwood made these same points in earlier posts.
      Thanks to John Francis Robert for the prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours – again, example of SC ressourcement (in the classic French sense) and taking from our 1st century and Patristic periods (rather than fixating on the neo-Thomism period)

  17. There is a liturgical indulgence in some quarters to attempt to fill in the blanks, the silence, and the words left unsaid.

    I am aware of clergy who have inserted at any and every opportunity their own words into the Mass: homilies before the Penitential Rite, too many post-communion explanations. These practices are rightly criticized, and often by traditionalist-leaning Catholics.

    In the same family of behaviors would be those placing massive candlesticks, altar crosses, and other objects into the liturgy. The elements of the Eucharist seem not enough. The symbolism of the altar insufficient. Some clergy seem to express the need to fill things in visually. It’s not at all different from intrusions on silence–those multiple preaching moments, the awkward attempts at humor, the over-explained worship experience.

    In many instances, it’s a lack of trust. People have felt stung by my characterization of the “Benedictine” altar arrangement as a fad, but there’s no doubt in my mind it is. It and many other fussy practices satisfy the human need to fill in the gaps. And not let Christ speak in them.

    1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #28:

      There is a balance to be struck here. Neither a golden palace nor a bare school hall make a good place to celebrate mass.

      Where the balance is would seem to hingle on how you unpack something like “noble simplicity”. It is not mere simplicity, nor is it a lack of simplicity.

  18. I fear that many of you are missing the point – in choosing to include significant comments about the liturgy in his final address to the priests of the Diocese of Rome, Pope Benedict reveals the internal reasoning that explains some aspects of the liturgical praxis that has been evident in his pontificate. This seems to be the last utterance in his concern for the need to correct certain aspects of the ‘ars celebrandi’ that are evident in many celebrations of the Eucharist. While it is fair to say that there is a lack of agreement in the reception of this aspect of his thought, perhaps we can all agree that an on-going consideration of these questions, in many ways prompted by our reading of Sacrosanctum concilium and the GIRM, is desirable? I think he would certainly hope so.

    1. @Msgr Andrew Wadsworth – comment #33:
      It seems clear that many of us get the point Pope Benedict tried to make, but we would not endorse the position.

      One of the priests I work with adds quite a bit to the celebration of Mass: one or two mini-homilies, signations with the host and chalice, pinching fingers together even before the consecration, multiple bows/genuflections to the altar, tabernacle, and great cross, and more. I understand this is part of his personal piety. and to an extent I can excuse his foibles as a sincere effort to be prayerful at Mass. It helps that I know the man. But it is not ars celebrandi.

      The pope is somewhat different. More clergy imitate his foibles than copy my associate pastor. I don’t find Pope Benedict’s view to be in any more alignment with ars celebrandi than my friend. I think there is both letter and spirit of the Missal that supports this criticism. My own sense is that this pope has aimed too low. Clutter and fussiness is not ars celebrandi.

      “(Is) the average layperson is aware that the altar is a symbol of Christ(?)”

      If they were paying attention to the community’s preparation and to the rite of dedication of an altar, possibly yes. How many communities observe the anniversary of their parish’s dedication as a solemnity? Now, this is a topic of catechesis I would have loved to have seen tackled by the Holy Father.

  19. Excerpt from the second reading, Office of Readings, Monday, Second Week of Lent, “From the Catecheses by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop:

    “Moses struck the rock and brought forth streams of water; Christ touches his table, strikes the spiritual rock of the new covenant and draws forth the living water of the Spirit. This rock is like a fountain in the midst of Christ’s table, so that on all sides the flocks may draw near to this living spring and refresh themselves in the waters of salvation.

    Since this fountain, this source of life, this table surrounds us with untold blessings and fills us with the gifts of the Spirit, let us approach it with sincerity of heart and purity of conscience to receive grace and mercy in our time of need.” LH, II, 161.

  20. Todd Flowerday : Ugh. “The center altar card typically has an image of the crucifixion on it.” Behold the laminated cardboard of the cross, on which hung …

    So are you opposed to holy cards too? Other devotional images?

    There are four churches in Manhattan where the Latin Mass is regularly celebrated. None of them use laminated cardboard altar cards. If a Church near you is, it’s probably because they haven’t had the money to buy better ones. I’m sure you’ll chip in to help them have a more dignified liturgy, right Todd? Altar cards are frequently excellent works of art.

    1. @Samuel J. Howard – comment #49:
      No, and most definitely no.

      But the depiction of a cross on a two-dimensional mass-produced piece is ilustrative of what is wrong with the reductionist approach to liturgy.

      As a matter of fact, I’ve served parishes in guiding them and their search committees to find worthy artists to create worthy works of art. My current parish employs a great cross between the altar and font, and the priest, while facing east, faces this cross.

      A hand-drawn altar card: that might be worthy. A holy card for a believer to contemplate at home–we provide these for our parish works of art–very worthy. But a duplication of what should be visible to all: this is lazy spirituality.

  21. It’s all about priority, symbolism vs real presence.

    The altar may “represent” Christ but it is not Christ.
    The candles are symbols but they are not Christ.
    The crucifix on the altar is a symbol but it is not Christ.
    The Eucharist on the altar is NOT a symbol but it IS Christ.
    Therefore, in the presence of Christ all the other symbols and representations, although expensive, are all distractions in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist on the altar. And none of this stuff, in my opinion some of it is expensive junk, should obscure or prevent anyone from fully viewing or participating in the Eucharist.

    I do not genuflect or bow to symbols ie an altar, ambo or crucifix. However, I do genuflect to the real presence of Christ in the tabernacle.

    1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #55:

      Better check the Church teaching on that. The Altar IS Christ.

      And besides, even if you ignore that teaching, the GIRM instructs you to bow to the altar. Why would you disobey Church teaching?

      1. @Sean Whelan – comment #59:
        While I share your sentiments about refusing/neglecting to bow to the altar, I feel that the expression “the altar is Christ” needs to be nuanced.

        “At the altar the memorial of the Lord is celebrated and his body and blood given to the people. Therefore the Church’s writers have seen in the altar a sign of Christ himself. This is the basis for the saying: ‘The altar is Christ.’” (Dedication of a Church and an Altar, Introduction, 4)

        “Some Fathers even hazard to say that the altar ‘is’ Christ, a statement which is true in a sense but which today needs to be nuanced so as to avoid causing an erroneous parallel between the symbolic presence in the altar and the substantial presence of Christ in the Eucharist.” (Zenit, 2004-06-01)

        A large collection of quotes on this matter are in this article at

        St. Ephraem: “He (Christ) is the altar and the lamb, the victim and sanctifier, the priest and the food.”

        St. Cyril of Alexandria: “He (Christ) is the altar . . . and High Priest.”

        Eusebius … calls the altar by the surprising name of “the only begotten altar.”

        John Belethus: “The body of Christ, the true altar, we believe to have been covered with His own water and blood on the cross.”

        Hugo of St. Victor: “The altar is Christ on which we offer not only the sacrifice of our good works, but also our prayers.” … “The altar signifies Christ without whom there can be offered no gift to the Father that is pleasing to Him.”

        Durandus of Mende: “The stone (altar) represents either Christ Himself (according to the teaching of the Apostle ‘Jesus Christ Himself is the chief cornerstone’) or His humanity.”

        Thomas Aquinas: “The altar signifies Christ. The material altars are called altars by analogy with the unique altar of Christ.”

      2. @Sean Whelan – comment #59:
        Sean can you give me that particular teaching by which I am bound ?

        Sorry Sean, but you better check church teaching…
        From The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1182 “The altar of the New Covenant is the Lord’s Cross (cf. Hebrews 13:10) from which the sacraments of the Paschal mystery flow….. The altar is also the table of the Lord, to which the People of God are invited.”
        “para.1383:….. the Christian altar is the SYMBOL OF CHRIST himself…

        You also ask: Why would you disobey Church teaching?
        Because it is against my conscience to bow to an inanimate man made object. I bow or genuflect only to Christ in the Eucharist. Period.

        You might want to read about symbolism at
        The man made altar is NOT Jesus Christ. Symbolic yes, but not His body,blood,soul and divinity.

      3. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #65:

        Then why do we pour water on it, coat it with sacred chrism, clothe it with a white garment, and incense it?

        Whether or not it is Jesus, it is NO ordinary table. Read the preface for the dedication of an altar. It is the table of sacrifice. The GIRM says that you bow to it. Doesn’t say bow only if you feel like it.

      4. @Sean Whelan – comment #66:
        Ah, talk about diversion.
        YOU stated and I quote: “Better check the Church teaching on that. The Altar IS Christ.”

        I asked you to show me that church teaching, to date no response from you. Rather than responding you bring up the GIRM (which incidentally doesn’t state the altar is Christ).

        I even quoted the Catechism that stated the altar is NOT Jesus.
        I do not bow to symbols.

        You’ve pulled debate trick #2 ” The Bait & Switch: When a claim is made and your opponent refutes it (altar is not Christ), don’t try to respond, simply change the subject.”

        You remind me of a traddie who scolded and humiliated an elderly gentleman who was supposedly required to genuflect on both knees when leaving Eucharistic adoration but didn’t. Small “t” tradition takes on an importance greater than large “T” tradition.

        Whether you like it or not B16 is gone and hopefully that type of attitude will be relegated to the ash heap of history.

        Btw, still waiting for your “church teaching” you mentioned …..

      5. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #67:
        Whether you like it or not B16 is gone and hopefully that type of attitude will be relegated to the ash heap of history.

        I don’t see what Benedict XVI has to do with a myopic scolding traddie and Sean’s overzealous appreciation for the Christ-altar symbolism.

        Still, bowing to (and kissing) the altar is a long-standing tradition in the Roman Rite. It’s attested to the Ordo Romanus Primus, for example.

  22. Though I did not read every post word for word, I think it is important to remember what Cardinal Ratzinger wrote about in Spirit of the Liturgy. Summarizing his view, Ratzinger’s main argument was that the personality of the priest came to dominate the liturgy after the reforms following the Council. The challenge for many of the people at Eucharist was that they focused on the priest’s “style” or manner of celebrating, or presiding. For Ratzinger, the Mass celebrated “facing the people” reinforced this, and hence he called it the self-enclosed circle where the community focuses on itself and its self-discerned identity. In many places was forgotten the fact that the Mass is our participation in Christ’s work, but it is Christ’s offering that we share in. That saving work, in the tradition, is mostly aptly represented by the crucifix itself. The crucifix is a constant reminder that the altar is a symbol of Christ crucified. Of course the shape of the altar, that it is also a mensa, that in some places it also even resembles a sepulchre shows us that the altar is capable of multi-valent meanings. But our Roman tradition does place an emphasis on Christ the sacrificial victim. The failure in the post-vatican II era is not necessarily the official liturgy in the books, but certainly we see failure in the many places it was implemented. The failure is especially seen in Church construction in the post-Vatican II era, and numerous renovations. The altar has so shrunk in some places as to be a glorified credence table! Ratzinger’s point about the crucifix is only the first step, which Benedict was carrying out as Pope. His reform is meant to be a transistional one aimed as compromise, breaking the self-enclosed circle, but leading to a reintroduction to the near universal custom of “ad orientem” celebration. The Cross focuses us again on Christ and not the priest and not the assembly. It must not be forgotten that Spirit of the Liturgy begins with a potent reminder that the Israelites made their golden calf which is the constant temptation we all face – making God in our image.

    1. @Rev. Bryan J.B. Pedersen – comment #56:
      Sorry, Fr. – Ratzinger’s opinion in The Spirit of the Liturgy is just that – esp. his belief that the personality of the priest came to dominate the liturgy post VII and that styles, rubrics, architecture led to a self-enclosed circle. Only in his mind.

      What his comments indicate on the one hand is the constant (or should I say – continuity) of ars celebrandi. The TLM or EF esp. prior to VII was a eucharistic theology that depended upon Neo-Thomistic categores – in which the cleric *confected* the body and blood of Christ. This incomplete and narrow Tridentine Rite forgot the Apostolic and Patristic influences which saw the eucharist as sacrfice, meal, assembly, and Mystical Body of Christ.

      Scroll up to comment #25 for a more complete response.

      And really – *glorified credence table*..let’s exaggerate.

  23. The altar cross and its’ importance has also been obscured somewhat by the ceremonial changes to the Mass. When a priest celebrates the classical roman rite it is clear that the altar and the altar cross is the main point of reference. The server also experiences this, because regardless of whether the tabernacle is also reserved on the altar, the servers always genuflect as they cross from one side of the sanctuary to the other side. Why do they genuflect even when the tabernacle is absent? Because the altar and its Cross represent Christ crucified. In the older liturgy the priest, before turning to face the people to offer the noble greeting “Dominus Vobiscum” kisses the altar each time. As he offer the orations, as he says “Oremus” he bows toward Christ, represented by the Crucifix. It is not the tabernacle he bows to but the image of Christ crucified upon the altar. (Smorlaski S.J. mentions this as an aside positing that the altar itself is sufficient -but I would maintain that the primary symbols also need supporting symbols. In this way the secondary symbols are like a flying buttress – remove the supporting symbols and understanding of the primary symbols crashes down just as the stone ceiling of a gothic cathedral would crash to the ground without the flying buttress). The many gestures and secondary symbols constantly buttress the meaning of the primary symbols especially in Christian worship. Altars exist in other religious traditions, but the presence of the Altar cross and other symbols clearly defines the meaning of the Christian Altar. The Altar cross in particular is like a flying buttress for the proper understanding of the Christian Altar. In addition, that the priest bows each time even turning his body toward the cross as he says “Oremus” just before he begins to address God on behalf of the people in the various orations reinforces that Christ is the priest, the beloved and crucified one addressing the Father. It is a sad reality that the stripping of the altars has led in many places to a great loss of understanding and belief in what is actually happening in the Liturgy. Pruning can be helpful, but in many places this pruning was too deep.

  24. I’m about to commit heresy here for some of you. As a lurker rather than a regular contributor I apologize in advance.

    My understanding is that the first millenium of our family the church understood “the Body of Christ” to be rooted in the people. The emphasis on the bread came around 1000 – 1200, a very corrupt time in our history that spawned a very fruitful and contentious 13th century. Those of you better versed in history than I can attack or back those statements as you see fit.

    But scroll back on these 60 postings, and I think you’ll see a pattern emerging. We are arguing over whose symbol is better than the others. Is it the altar? The cross? The candles? The bread? The intincted bread? Both species? Bluntly, a God who was stingy enough to care about this, to punish someone who “didn’t do it right” is much too stingy to be God our Abba, our Dada.

    Let me pull back on that a second. Symbols are important, and the discussion shows that we need to recapture them. But the main symbol of Christ needs to be us, in our lives, living out the faith, undertaking the sturm und drang of these types of interactions to find that each of us is trying to portray a beautiful Jesus through the cracked mirrors of our being. When liturgy feeds that, in Latin or English, God is glorified. When inanimate symbols take precedence, become a “must have” in any form, we’re blowing smoke up God’s skirt and I’ll assume He rolls His eyes. And understands and forgives. If this is “too horizontal” for you, let me humbly suggest that you may have stumbled into an idolatry that does not serve the Body. The symbol we must have is us, in all our lack of love.

    PS At the risk of syncretism, let me say that it feels like all who come here believe, and thanks to all of you for teaching me to look for the faith in your words.

    1. @Matt Connolly – comment #61:
      I don’t think that’s an accurate history in your first paragraph, in that it’s an anachronistic read-back to discern a development based on later controversies. The treatment of the sacramental elements even for much of the liturgical practice for the first millennium for which we have detailed history indicates that the transformation at the altar was understood in a way that is in harmony with how we now understand it, albeit without the systemic theological explanation that later developed. Indeed, it’s often when someone decides to systematize an understanding, but in a way that strikes most other members of the family as not getting it right (Arius in the 4th century, Berengarius in the 11th, for example) that we find a push towards more theological detail, which becomes a legacy we can’t quite elide.

      Anyway, the more salient difference between the era of antiquity/late antiquity into some point in the early medieval era (this occurred earlier in the West than the East) and the eras thereafter was that the sacramental (and liturgical) participation of the people became relatively rare. The sign of the people as the Body of Christ consequently became more notional, and the liturgy developed accordingly. This issue of praxis is, IMNSHO, more important than the theological developments: it’s about who we are and what we do, which is in the end more important than what we think about who we are and about what we ideally ought do/not do. But it’s easier to churn out words about thoughts than about being and doing, and those words pile up as the centuries roll. Trent even recognized the problem in words, but we had to wait for over 300 years for Pius X to pick up the ball that Trent left on the ground, and we’re still working things out (I don’t believe even Pius X fully understood the implications of picking up that ball, and it’s a good thing, because others before him who may have probably lost courage because of that fuller understanding).

    2. @Matt Connolly – comment #61:
      Matt = to support your analysis and to counter Karl’s comment: Workshop October 19 2002

      Key points:
      – The Church is never more authentically and visibly “Church” than at Eucharist because the eucharist “is the outstanding means whereby the faithful may express in their lives, and manifest to others, the mystery of Christ and the real nature of the true Church.” (Constitution on the Liturgy, 2)
      – At the turn of the last century, the Mass was described as “the words of consecration with prayers before and after.” This definition was pretty much in harmony with my experience of the Mass in the years before the Council. Recall the emphasis given to this “moment”: the choir stopped, the rosary stopped, the servers moved, the bells rang, the priest assumed a new, more solemn and mysterious posture and tone of voice, etc.
      – The Second Vatican Council spoke of the Eucharist as having two parts: Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist – with introductory and concluding rites. We are to “be instructed by God’s word and be nourished at the table of the Lord’s body.” (Constitution on the Liturgy, 48) “The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. (Constitution on the Liturgy, 51) In the following years we learned that the “introductory” rites are more than “introductory” – their purpose is to gather the assembly into one Body. And the dismissal is more than “Goodbye.”

      I teach that the eucharist has a four-fold shape: Gathering, Storytelling, Meal Sharing, Commissioning – Emmaus story.

      – We remember the entire Christ event: all God did to save us. This is why the Story Telling is so important; without familiarity with the story, we have nothing to remember. this language is preferable to “making the event present to us” and much more preferable to repeating Calvary in an unbloody manner.

  25. Dale, Sean: split the difference, friends. Rite of Dedication of an Altar, number 4:

    “At the altar the memorial of the Lord is celebrated and his body and blood given to the people. Therefore the Church’s writers have seen in the altar a sign of Christ himself. This is the basis for the saying: ‘The altar is Christ.’”

    “Sign” is somewhat stronger than “symbol,” and suggests a somewhat deeper-than-casual ontology.

  26. Yes, it is a sign or symbol (CCC 1383) but it is not Christ.
    Church writers have written that it is a sign but there is no church teaching that states we have to believe it is Christ Himself. For God’s sake that would sound like we believe in animism, similar to Folk Christian/ Catholics in the Philippines.

    Jeffrey, as far as B16 goes, he gave voice to those myopic traddies, gasoline on fire, don’t believe me then google those uber conservative/traddie sites. Some proudly bragged that they threw JPII under the bus. We had some of these “temple police” in our parish, they were real pariah’s.

    The altar is not Christ, if it is Christ then a man made object now is God? The next logical conclusion it that if it is Christ, then it is God, then it is worthy of worship. Sorry, not me. I believe in the real presence of Christ, in the Eucharist, not in the altar.

    1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #72:
      The Rite is the authoritative source for this teaching, as it alludes to the Patristic imagery and views. Sign and symbol are not interchangeable words. CCC 1383 is not quite congruent to RDCA IV, 4. I’m setting aside the Catechism on this one.

      Bread and wine are human-made objects, just as surely as an altar is. We don’t worship grain, grapes, paper, priests, or people, but we acknowledge a certain mystery when these are associated with the Real Presence. Hence we treat some objects more reverently than others.

      I honor the pictures I have of my wife on our wedding day, and the band she placed on my finger. But these are representations of a deeper sacramental reality.

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #73:
        While I think Dale has a point that the eucharist is Christ in the way that an altar is not, I also think that the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, broadly interpreted, authorizes showing reverence to human-made objects that have an iconic role in worship and devotion. So I kiss the altar at the beginning and ending of Mass, I kiss the Gospel book at the end of the reading, and I “kiss” my fellow Christians at the greeting of peace. None of these are Christ in the sense that the eucharist is, but all have some sort of iconic relationship to Christ that warrants veneration.

    2. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #72:

      I think this topic, first raised by Dr. Dale in no. 55, probably should have a thread of its own. And it’s ever so much more important for our salvation than history’s ultimate judgment as to whether or not Benedict 16, of happy memory, made a positive contribution to the liturgical life of the Church.

      So much is involved in Dale’s comment and what flows from it, for instance, the “signs” used in sacraments and sacramentals; the modes of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and the other sacraments (Aren’t they all “real”?)

      Catholics have been taught to push back whenever someone says, “I believe holy communion is only a symbol of the Body and Blood of Christ.” As a consequence, some wrongly – IMO – confuse “only a symbol” with the “outward signs” of the sacraments, of which the Baltimore Catechism speaks.

      An altar is a sacred sign, bread and wine are sacred signs, a touch is a sacred sign, water and oil are sacred signs. How is a sign “different” when used in a sacramental or in a sacrament? What does it mean when we say a sacrament “effects what it signifies?”

  27. Jeffrey, as far as B16 goes, he gave voice to those myopic traddies, gasoline on fire, don’t believe me then google those uber conservative/traddie sites. Some proudly bragged that they threw JPII under the bus. We had some of these “temple police” in our parish, they were real pariah’s.

    Dr. Rodriguez, you don’t have to mince words or be subtle here, we’re among friends. I would really love to hear some citations or even quotes illlustrating braggadoccio that some “threw JPII under the bus” please. If not, could you name some of what you consider the “uber conservative/traddie” sites for us all?

  28. My point concerns the comment made that the altar IS Christ. This is different than being a sign of Christ. If you read my comment I take the position that the altar is not Christ HImself, to treat an inanimate object as Christ is to deify it and that is, in my opinion, too close to animism for my comfort. I am not talking about calling the altar a sign of Christ, or treating it reverently.
    This is different than the Eucharist in which the bread and wine before consecration are symbols but after the words of consecration are no longer bread and wine but actually the living Christ. An inanimate altar, despite the ritual of dedication, is not “turned into” or somehow transubstantiated into becoming Christ.
    Todd, yes we treat certain objects reverently that are associated with the real presence but those objects themselves are not Christ. They are sign, symbol, representations and a whole hierarchy of descriptions but they themselves are not Christ anymore than the tabernacle, ciborium, paten are Christ.
    At baptism we all undergo a sort of “altar dedication”, we are washed w/ water of baptism, anointed with oil to seal the Holy Spirit and our priesthood. St. Paul goes so far as to state that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. But despite the Chrismation and the fact that we are living temples of the Holy Spirit I am not the Holy Spirit and I am not Christ. We are “new creations in Christ” but we are not Christ Himself. Should we treat each other reverently? of course, should we treat the altar with reverence? of course, but not because it “is” Christ but rather what happens during Eucharist and its relationship to the real presence but not because the altar is Christ in and of itself.

    If I were to meet any of you, from Bill deH to Allan J and everyone in between, I would shake your hand, hug you, greet you as my brother or sister “in” Christ but there should be no profound bows at the waist….

  29. A source for this idea was part of the liturgy this past weekend:

    All ate the same spiritual food,
    and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them,* and the rock was the Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.

    I wouldn’t want to figure out how sign, symbol, and hermeneutics fit here, but the altar IS Christ as surely as the Rock is.

    The Rock—how faultless are his deeds,
    how right all his ways!
    A faithful God, without deceit,
    just and upright is he!
    Dt 32:4

    1. @Jim McKay – comment #79:
      Er, Jim, you better read it again:
      “…for they drank from a SPIRITUAL rock that followed them…”

      You state ” the altar IS Christ as surely as the Rock is.”

      Only if your altar is spiritual, because in that scripture passage you quote, the Rock that followed them was spiritual.

  30. Re Todd at #81

    What the patristics wrote is not scripture, just because they said it or believed it doesn’t mean it’s gospel truth.

    Saint John Chrysostom’s Eight Homilies Against the Jews:

    “The Jewish people were driven by their drunkenness and plumpness to the ultimate evil; they kicked about, they failed to accept the yoke of Christ, nor did they pull the plow of his teaching. Another prophet hinted at this when he said: “Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn heifer.” … Although such beasts are unfit for work, they are fit for killing. And this is what happened to the Jews: while they were making themselves unfit for work, they grew fit for slaughter. This is why Christ said: “But as for these my enemies, who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and slay them.” [Luke 19:27]”.

    Clement of Alexandria didn’t like men dying their hair and sex with a pregnant women was not good for the offspring.

    There’s more but I will leave it at that. Many were good and holy men and most died for the faith but not everything they wrote is gospel.

    1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #82:
      Yes, the hermeneutic of complaint: the rejection of everything by one person or movement because of the error by or even just the disagreement with one aspect. Genesis supports polygamy and taking concubines, therefore the entire Bible is untrustworthy on anything it says about marriage–seen that argument.

      I’ve already cited from the Rite of Dedication of a Church and Altar, chapter IV’s praenotanda, that Church teaching lies somewhere between what you and Sean have presented.

      There isn’t any more from me. But it’s been an interesting discussion. It supremely illustrates the Ratzinger/Benedict principle: the failure of discussion and the sweeping minimization of people disagreed with.

  31. Whoa there Todd. Please, no sweeping generalization or minimization.
    I don’t accept everything written in non scriptural writings and suddenly I am jettisoning Genesis and the discussion is shut down?

    I enjoy the discussion, and I always learn something from everyone regardless if I agree or not. Isn’t that the point of “scholarly” discussion, to examine all points of view and come to your own conclusion?
    As far as the Ratzinger/Benedict principle, that applies to you as well as to me right?

    1. @Dale Rodrigue – comment #84:
      Of course it does, my friend. And I share your concerns about the possibility of idolatry. We certainly do not worship objects, be they large pieces of stone or particles of consecrated bread.

      My main concern is that we not become too dogmatic in our approach, and especially with personal biases.

      At any rate, your initial beef was with Sean, and I attempted to present a middle way, informed by the witness of the saints via the Church’s liturgical tradition. And it seemed you then transferred your beef to me. Just observing …

      1. @Todd Flowerday – comment #85:
        Todd, I hope I didn’t transfer my beef to you, that was not my intent and if I gave you that impression I sincerely apologize.
        I was simply explaining that using patristics for the “altar is Christ” (by others, not you) is a tenuous argument primarily because what the Patristics wrote is not scripture and they were products of their time. Some of what they wrote is not even accepted by the Church. Unfortunately, some of what they wrote has been used to justify some very awful stuff.
        I always learn something with every post. I even cracked open Summa Theo. last night at midnight to look up what T.A. said about it……. and I learned some things I didn’t know about. It also helped me fall asleep too!
        Best Regards!

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