In a recent interview with the French Catholic magazine Famille Chrétienne, Cardinal Robert Sarah repeats many of the usual arguments in favor of the priest celebrating Mass ad orientem (“toward the east”) rather than facing the people, Catholic Herald reports. You can read the story there and get up to speed on the main arguments.
Cardinal Sara is prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Vatican’s liturgy department.
One line from the cardinal caught my attention. The Second Vatican Council did not require priests to celebrate Mass facing the people, the cardinal correctly notes. But then he says:
As soon as we reach the moment when one addresses God – from the Offertory onwards – it is essential that the priest and faithful look together towards the east. This corresponds exactly to what the Council Fathers wanted.
Of all the arguments for ad orientem – and there are valid arguments out there – this isn’t one of them. Anytime anyone makes a claim about what the Council Fathers wanted, alarm bells should go off for all of us. The discussions of the fathers in the aula, and the things said in the documents they approved, witness a range of views. One has to be cautious about suggesting that all the fathers wanted anything unless the evidence supports the claim.
Furthermore, the Council fathers didn’t get into all the specifics of the reform of the liturgy. They left most of that to a future commission under the pope. The fathers approved a major paradigm shift – from liturgy as Carolingian clerical drama to liturgy as act of all the people – and then left open what the implications of that shift would be. No doubt some or many of the fathers didn’t yet have in mind all the possible implications of the paradigm shift. Nor did they need to.
In the decades before Vatican II, the practice of Mass facing the people was popping up all over. (Just as the Vatican II missal doesn’t require Mass facing the people, the Tridentine missal did not require Mass ad orientem). Churches were being built in the 1950s with the then-new practice in mind. In the reforms of Holy Week in 1955, the celebrant was now required to face the people at certain points – in the blessing of palms, for the new collect concluding the Palm Sunday procession, for the blessing of holy water – signaling that changes were in the works at headquarters. I can’t imagine that the Council fathers were unaware of all this. Nothing in the documents they approved suggests that they “exactly wanted” to curb the novelties and ensure uniform ad orientem henceforth.
Here’s an interesting aside. I was thinking about all this at Morning Prayer today – uh, even as I was devoutly concentrating on the Office – and pondering how ad orientem would work in our abbey church, which was consecrated in 1961. Here’s the floor plan, with the abbot’s throne at the top of the picture and the baptistery at the bottom.
As it is now, the priest at the altar at Sunday Mass faces the people in the nave. This means that the monks in the choir stalls are in a circle behind him. In effect, Mass is ad orientem for monks, at least for those in the choir stalls closer to the throne. I doubt the thought crosses the minds of any of the monks. It feels like we’re all gathered around the altar, and it feels right, even though the priest at the altar is not facing us.
If the priest were on the other side of the altar, facing the same direction as the people behind him in the nave, he would be facing the choir stalls and the monastic community. This wouldn’t work – it would feel to everyone in the nave like the priest was celebrating Mass with only the monastic community and ignoring the congregation. I suppose you could ask the monks to turn in their stalls to face the same direction as the priest behind them – i.e, toward the throne – but this would just be weird.
St. John’s Abbey Church is clearly intended for Mass facing the people in the nave. It is a good example of where things were headed in 1961, when the Council had been called but not yet begun.
On the other hand, there have been various voices from what we might call left, right, and center advocating or speaking positively about ad orientem, immediately after the Council and ever since. This includes, for example Joseph Jungmann (who was an architect of the conciliar reforms), Francis Mannion, and David Power. And of course Cardinal Ratzinger/Pope Benedict, who said a few decades ago that he favored the practice but did not favor switching things back because it would cause too much confusion.
Be that as it may: as we approach the celebration of Corpus Christi, let’s make sure that all our discussions are informed not only by accurate information, but also and especially by the spirit of the great sacrament of unity and love which is the Eucharist.
While Jesus was saying “take and eat, take and drink” was he facing towards or away from his disciples? When he was offering his sacrifice on the cross, which “direction” was he facing? How about at the table in Emmaus? We all know it would be centuries before a ritual was devised that allowed the priest to face away from the people, much less required him to do so. There is much evidence of free standing altars in days of old. While one can make a scholarly argument in favor of “ad orientam”, that practice makes little sense to the vast majority of Catholics who worship regularly. Otherwise, there would be a clamorous protest from the PIP. Those devoted to it wrongly claim to be Traditionalists. Rather they demonstrate a bias for an ecclesiology and liturgiology which locates the Divine only “out there” from whence he shall come again. Where two or three are gathered, there I am in your midst. My Father and I will come and make our dwelling place in you always. A lot is made of the beauty of Orthodox liturgies. Maybe so, but those churches have become stultified and are not growing.
I think re-orientation in your abbey church Anthony, would only make people feel ignored because they have already been accustomed to the priest facing them. I doubt that such an idea would have crossed the mind of people with the installation of retro-choirs in the post-Tridentine period.
Talk about caricatures…… transcendence and immanence don’t have to be a zero sum game, and I am sure that Christ and the Father can also dwell quite comfortably in an assembly that faces in a single direction. Really the direction in which Jesus was facing (whatever it was) is somewhat irrelevant to our praxis. I am not convinced that we know all that much about early ecclesial praxis either, and still less on whether any kind of uniformity prevailed. Free-standing structures say nothing. The truth is that the “vast majority of Catholics” have become accustomed to a particular practice, and thus change would be hard. Though perhaps no harder than for the “vast majority of Catholics” back in the 50s and 60s who had never seen it otherwise. My own experience is that, in many congregations, while a certain subset of people in the pews feel strongly and vocally about issues one way or another, most have other things they are more concerned about.
Facing the people and facing the altar are malleable positions onto which people project their own ideas. I remember reading an article from the 50s (or maybe early 60s) in Worship, where ad populum was promoted as fostering a distinctions between priest and people. The modern corollary is the egalitarian and communal dimension of ad apsidem that is emphasized in the present-day apologetic for that position. Of course, there are others who differ in how they perceive it and put diametrically opposite interpretations on each position.
From what I can tell it’s pretty obvious Jesus and the disciples were all facing the same direction – ad pictorem.
Fr. Jack: “While Jesus was saying “take and eat, take and drink” was he facing towards or away from his disciples?”
Neither direction, probably. I’m sure I or someone else has mentioned this on PTB before. Quick recap:
In Hellenistic and Roman practice, formal dinners were arranged in the following format, usually referred as “lunate” since the arrangement for the benches of the diners resembled the Hellenistic cursive form of the medieval Greek letter σ, ς. This character resembles our letter “C” (like a crescent moon). Think of Cyrillic, for example.
So, there would be three benches arranged thus:
Food and drink would be arranged on small tables in the open section of the lunate.
The more important the person, the more likely he or she reclined on the center bench or on a side bench, but closer to the center bench. The most important person at the dinner reclined at the middle of the center bench. Subsequently, those who reclined on the ends of the left/right benches were less honored guests.
So, if Jesus were to have shown the Body and Blood to his disciples, he would have had to turn left and right. Those with Jesus at the center bench would have had to lean in and look left or right to see the Eucharist. The da Vinci Last Supper so many of us hold as an image of the Supper correctly captures the leaning-in of the disciples. However, da Vinci’s work not correctly represent the seating chart.
Even so, the da Vinci version, and renaissance representations generally, have had a marked impact on the western Church. I admire the Polish custom of carving a renaissance representation of the Last Supper into the fascia of the main altar. This pious representation, however, is not historical.
Btw (and today is Corpus Christi):
May he rest in peace and eternal light.
Anytime anyone makes a claim about what the Council Fathers wanted, alarm bells should go off for all of us.
It’s a pity that whoever interviewed Cardinal Sarah failed to challenge and ask him follow-up questions in this regard, especially since he had also spoken of “the letter and spirit of the Council” before making that “this is what the Council Fathers wanted” claim.
@ Karl Liam Saur #2:
That news made me so incredibly sad (that it surprised me).
May he rest in peace and eternal light.
Doesn’t saying that we all must face in one direction in order “to face the Lord ” imply that Christ is not present in the assembly of the baptized and in the person of the ordained minister? If it’s OK to face each other during the Liturgy of the Word, does that mean the Lord does not come in the proclamation of the holy scriptures? How does the Cardinal’s argument square with Sacrosanctum concilium #7, and Mysterium fidei #35-39?
I’ve often thought that it was the quiet low Masses before the council that influenced people against Mass being celebrated ad orientem. I can totally see how the priest whispering Mass and turned away would make people think they were not included. In contrast, Mass ad orientem *strongly* emphasizes the unity of the whole assembly and the people praying WITH the priest in a dialogue/sung Mass context. I’m not saying Mass facing the people does not have some good points, but I honestly don’t know how anyone could not find ad oriented to be at least equal to versus populum even if they do not personally prefer it.
I think if ad oriented were de-stigmatized (and it certainly seemed to be stigmatized after the council), that many people would find it preferable and prayerful – particularly in the context of the OF. I think as new generations see the practice with fresh eyes that it will become more common.
As with other matters (such as the “hermaneutic of continuity”), popular apologists for ad orientem aren’t always upto the mark on accuracy or factual information (an affliction which is, btw, not restricted to them).
But for me the question of what the Council Fathers did or did not think is a bit of a side issue (though not an unimportant one). I prefer to consider perhaps the larger question of why the Latin Church has embarked on this path that is different from all the other Churches (except those who have copied us). I may be wrong, but I think that there is a great body of material that shows that this particular aspect of the reform (as with others, such as the Anaphora of Hippolytus) proceeded from the twin pillars of archeologism (“this is what they did in the ancient Church”) and pastoral effectiveness. A few decades have allowed us to nuance some of these sweeping conclusions.
Sure, we can quibble about praxis in this or that part of the world in the first millenium – but why did facing East/apse become well nigh universal among the apostolic Churches (no offence to any Reformed bodies)? What are the (sympathetic) anthropological, sociological and theological factors that caused this? What does it say to pronounce negatively (I realize that some do not, but some do in arguing for the ad populum) on a universal practice of at least a millenium? Might there not be tinges of a certain modern superiority in this privileging of our modern position over all others? I think it is a tranquil consideration of this more fruitful avenue that has led even some modern liturgists (as you have noted Anthony) to look again the practice.
Of course, such reconsideration is not possible in wider settings given the associations that this position has with other agendas or views. That such is our ecclesial culture is, IMO, an impoverishment for which we can only blame ourselves.
Your post is excellent and I appreciate the nuance and the respect for others. I’ll try to respond in kind when I push back just a bit on two things.
There was some archeologism at work in the reforms (or call it ressourcement), but I’m uncomfortable with those (I don’t think you’re doing this) who say that the historical scholarship behind the reforms is outdated so the reforms are illegitimate, as if perfect scholarship is the bar. (What then about Trent thinking it was going back to the pristine norm of the fathers?) Hippolitus isn’t third century Rome, as some once thought – but neither does it need to be, to be a useful model or starting point for a modern day (heavily adapted) Eucharistic Prayer.
Secondly, I’m not quite as uncomfortable as you with our era, like every era, doing what we think is best, which means we think it is better than previous eras. Vatican II clearly thought some things had gone off the rails historically and needed to be corrected. I guess that’s an assumption of superiority in relationship to earlier eras, but some of that assumption is intrinsic to the acceptance of Vatican II.
Maybe clergy and people ought to stop trying to be more Catholic than the pope! It should be obvious that the Holy Father isn’t interested in this ad orientem stuff by the way he celebrates Mass…facing the people! Maybe we should be more concerned about just “doing the red and saying the black” rather than silly diatribes that are simply untrue! Why Sarah is the prefect is another question…
@Fr. Edward Seton Fittin, OSB:
Cardinal Wiseman, wherever he is, must be giving a standing ovation. I don’t necessarily agree with everything that Sarah said but surely a dismissal in terms of papal absolutism is not the way to go. I realize we’ve been on this bandwagon for at least 200 years, however…..
The last incumbent of the Chair of Peter said one thing, this one says another and who knows what the next will say — on any number of issues of interest to Catholics worldwide. Every incumbent has a different focus and different views. The reason, I think, that we as members of the Church continue to be interested and debate issues and don’t simply flip-flop with whatever the views of the current incumbent are (inasmuch as we accord them a certain respect and consideration) is because (pace Pio Nono), tradition and Tradition are concepts larger than a single figure who can be an embodiment of it insofar as he is guardian of it.
A humble PIP comment: as a traveler, this spring I stumbled into an ad orientem mass for the first time in my upper-middle-aged life. While there were many positive aspects of the liturgy, as celebrated in that quite singular parish, I did not find the ad orientem aspect to be one of them. Rather than feeling that we were “all together” praying to God, I had the sensation that we were “all together” praying to a spot about two-thirds of the way up the wall behind the altar. Perhaps this sensation diminishes with repetition.
Does ad orientem always mean facing the physical east as the Cardinal states? In my parish (and others with which I am familiar in our diocese) this would mean that at this moment the people would turn away from the altar to face east since the altar is on the west side of the building. When presiding I face the people and am, thus, facing east although the folks face west. Would he expect us to renovate or rebuild our church to accommodate this? Our church was built in 1922 on a 1902 foundation which means that for over 115 years, even pre-Vatican 2, the assembly, and until the Council the priest, face west. How does this physical reality inform the discussion? Is ad orientem about a common direction for prayer or a physical orientation toward the east?
@Fr. John Sauer:
I don’t think it’s that literal, John. Already in the later Middle Ages, any of the four directions could be declared “liturgical east.” Priest and people could all face the same direction (if the people weren’t wandering around or visiting side shrines while the priest did ‘his’ Mass), so it could have been called “ad orientem” even if it wasn’t East by the compass.
@Anthony Ruff, OSB:
I understand that in general. If he had said “ad orientem” I would not have commented. It was really his explicit mention of “east” that got me pondering. I have not had a chance to read the entire interview so in context it may read less literal and it was more of a shorthand for a common direction.
Has anyone done any study on the orientation of churches in the U.S. as the immigrants founded communities? It seems to me that many of our churches in the area were built with a westerly orientation. Just wondering if that is common or if it is regional or maybe even simply practical based on the topography.
@Fr. John Sauer:
Now that would be an interesting study, John. I have the impression that compass East had entirely broken down, and it seems like they went by where it fit best and what street it was on. Or maybe they thought first about the school and then made the church fit afterward! It’d be interesting to have such data, and you raise an interesting question.
@Anthony Ruff, OSB:
Correct me if I am wrong, but the three times I was in St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, I do believe the “main” altar was at the west end of the building. If so that is interesting. I seem to recall several other large basilicas in Rome where the main altar was not facing east.
@Fr. John Sauer:
From the 25th Anniversary book of my natal parish: (the translation is mine, following LA.) “After that (meeting) things moved quickly and the brotherhood purchased 4 lots for the building of the church. However, before approaching the bishop, it was found that the altar would be (in the) north and not (in the) east. Therefore, the whole brotherhood voted to sell the lots and look (for another) before going to the bishop.”
The background to this story is that a fraternal society was started among the immigrants and from that, a parish was formed where they could have a priest that spoke and understood their language and be able to have their traditions. They did find a new location where the church could be (and was) built, and oriented east/west. BTW, there are a Greek Catholic parish and an Orthodox parish within spitting distance of this church, which are also oriented (correctly) east/west. Interestingly enough, the “Irish” church from which they left when forming the new parish is oriented north/south, same as the original lots the brotherhood had purchased. They worshiped in a rented hall until their church was built. Also, they had to go to Washington, DC to the nuncio, as the bishop would not receive them. And finally, they retained the original lots, and built their own social hall on them, after the parish church was built.
Please let me make a rejoinder to my comment at #13. As PTB readers know well, I am a very strong advocate of ad orientem. Also, I agree with Fr. Ruff that while Cdl. Sarah’s concept is to some degree misplaced, certainly many novel arguments can be made for the measured and selective reintroduction of ad orientem into the Latin rite.
But enough with that. The canard that versus populum celebration “is like the Last Supper” must end. I have heard this from relatives. I suppose this falsehood was often told to the laity in 1965. And yet, I suspect this non-explanation has lived on for the duration of reform. Those who hold the reins of lay education (preachers, lay educators) should explain the rise of versus populum as a socio-cultural or theological-liturgical phenomenon, and not through facile statements about supposed historical events.
Fr. Ruff –
Has the abbey ever considered experimenting with the seating arrangements, inviting regular congregation members to “experience” the seats behind the altar? It might be fascinating to learn their comments, and you seem to have a physical arrangement where the experiment could occur.
We do a variety of seating. Lay people are in choir stalls for daily Mass. Sometimes a group of laity – eg a choir – are up in the stalls but the rest of the congregation is in the nave. Again, my sense is that for them, like for monks, the whole thing feels so right that it never crosses anyone’s mind that they can’t see the priest’s face during the Eucharistic Prayer.
My only experience at the Abbey is from the choir as a retreatant, so I would affirm it feels natural. In my last parish, the seating was antiphonal, but the music ministry was liturgical “west” as it were. Natural there, too.
My own hope is that the matter will soon be irrelevant. As long as priest and people orient themselves not to a direction outside of us, but to the center of the compass points, Christ himself.
The idea that “liturgical east” is any direction as long as it’s away from the people makes the whole thing feel even more bogus to me than it actually is.
I imagine at least some of the tension over ad orientem worship comes from the sharp differences over how it is described. People who dislike it almost invariably say things like “the priest has his back to the people,” or “he’s facing away from the people.” People who like it will say things like “he’s facing the same direction as the people, except when he’s speaking directly to them,” or “he’s symbolically leading the people forward, as a shepherd leads his flock,” or whatever. A similar contrast happens with opponents and proponents of versus populum worship. Proponents of a thing seem to assume the best intentions and most informed position for themselves and the worst intentions and most ignorant position for their opponents. Huzzah!
All too often on the extremes of either side, though, I am reminded in practice of Frank Herbert’s quotation from Paul Atreides in Children of Dune: “When I am weaker than you, I ask you for freedom because that is according to your principles; when I am stronger than you, I take away your freedom because that is according to my principles.”
Now that versus populum is the more common form, its advocates frequently seem to me hostile or dismissive of folks who prefer it (e.g. suggesting it is “bogus” to hold a position which is framed, of course, in the worst way possible). It should surprise no one that I prefer worship ad orientem; I grew up with a particular strand of Anglicanism, the entire movement having no tradition of silent canons or silent pews for Low Mass. Gregory Dix thoroughly criticizes that notion of Low Mass in Shape of the Liturgy.
I have no trouble with an altar fixed at “liturgical east.” It makes points of reference handy inside churches that might be facing every which way, not unlike “port” and “starboard” on a ship, which are based on a fixed point of reference, namely the front of the ship, regardless of which way it’s going.
Que sera, Sarah?
At our cathedral liturgical E is NNE. I’d sure hate to miss the Second Coming by being off by just a few degrees in where I’m looking.
Honestly, it’s simply a convenient way to refer to the altar end of the church. That’s the east end. Many liturgical manuals have used the compass directions to describe where things are or which way people face: “The thurifer stands at the foot of the altar facing north…” Of course this can’t mean geographical north, as not all churches are oriented. Once you’re inside, the altar is east.
Fr Ruff: Furthermore, the Council fathers didn’t get into all the specifics of the reform of the liturgy. They left most of that to a future commission under the pope.
Well… yes, for practical reasons, the constitution itself would end up confined to generalities (with a few exceptions: e.g. SC 57, 89d, 109), but a glance in the Acta Synodalia at the various debates on the liturgy constitution show that there were plenty of Council Fathers who had plenty of ideas and suggestions for specific reforms.
For what it’s worth, there were a number of Fathers who spoke about the readings/Liturgy of the Word being proclaimed versus populum, but the possibility of the Liturgy of the Eucharist also being celebrated versus populum does not seem to have occurred to them (with the exception of two or three).
(The Acta Synodalia for the first two sessions of Vatican II can be found here, by the way.)
This conversation has baffled me for years – In the reformed liturgy laid out in the GIRM, Dedication of a Church and Altar, and hosts of building documents from various bishops’ conferences, the altar is given pride of place as the primary symbol of Christ in a church building. The documents clearly see ‘turning to the Lord’ as being oriented to the altar – not some geographical direction, or some other object, like the crucifix, or some architectural feature, like the apse. Visually speaking, this ‘versus altare’ orientation is clearer when the altar is somehow surrounded by ministers and people.
Rita Ferrone #20: “The idea that “liturgical east” is any direction as long as it’s away from the people makes the whole thing feel even more bogus to me than it actually is.”
Shaughn Casey #22: “Now that versus populum is the more common form, its advocates frequently seem to me hostile or dismissive of folks who prefer it (e.g. suggesting it is “bogus” to hold a position which is framed, of course, in the worst way possible).”
Shaughn, I wouldn’t dismiss Rita’s opinion. I would not regard her opinion as “framed” […] “in the worst way possible”, as you have remarked. On a more basal level, it’s important to remember that the orientation of apses to the east eventually declined in western Christianity, but not in many rites of Eastern Christianity (eg. the Byzantines, who to this day take care to orient their apses east). The “oriens argument”, which contends that despite the non-easterly direction of some church apsees ad orientem worshipers face an ideological east “of the rising Christ”, is a tenuous argument given plastic and historically mutable liturgical topographies. Does not the Pope, when celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s, face west towards the “oriens” of the eastern light from the doors? When topological east (ie. the “basilical orientation”) is lost in later church architecture, statements such as Rita’s has made are entirely valid because ideology alone cannot sustain.
Once I finish my novel about the philology of Roman agricultural manuals (zzzzz …), I would like to turn towards the cloud of questions which surround altar orientation. I have long suspected that the ideological skirmishes about altar orientation are primarily anthropological, even gendered in nature. This will be highly controversial, so perhaps a topological discussion is best for now.
Look at phrasing and word choice. I’m perfectly happy to discuss the topic; it can be done without assuming the worst of the other position, as phrases like “as long as it’s away from the people” imply. I’ll give an example of how words can shape the conversation. I was at Notre Dame du Paris a few years ago, and I saw the high altar there, lonely, majestic, unused, worn from long years of worship. They celebrated at what looked in comparison like a decorated refrigerator box, the fair linen draped across it. It depressed me. Now, one might describe the refrigerator box in a more flattering light to advance an argument. Fair!
If I am dismissive, it is of being so dismissive. I would happily debate how tenuous the argument is or how plastic & mutable churches are, conceding that we’re on opposite sides of the iconoclasm spectrum. 😉 I don’t think eagerly yanking down reredos, altars, and rails was the pastoral or charitable thing to do. It vexes me that the same folks who had no qualms with gutting churches are now suddenly concerned about pastoral sensitivity when a parish or community want those elements of Catholic heritage back.
At Mass, I prefer ad orientem because of the clearer semiotics. When the priest or others in the altar party talk to me, they turn to me – for preaching, for salutations, for lessons. When the priest intercedes on my behalf to God, he turns “toward God,” as it were. It’s less clear if they’re all staring at me the entire time from across the altar. Mass emphasizes Christ in the consecrated elements, and so I find it appropriate. It makes less sense to me at Mattins, etc, which emphasize Christ in the midst of us. No one would dispute that about the Office. I’m not inflexible here; I actually don’t mind Benedictine Arrangement, as it re-emphasizes Christ in the consecrated elements, not Priest as Center of Attention.
Ahem: Mass does not emphasize Christ in the consecrated elements! This is a truncated Eucharistic theology. The Real Presence of Christ, which I fully affirm, is never an end in itself, and the consecrated elements are never an end in themselves. Aquinas was clear on this point – they are signs that are meant to lead us to greater realities.
I increasingly believe that putting the consecrated elements in their proper context, and relativizing them with respect to what is more important, requires of us more faith, not less. To do so makes us more Catholic, not less, because we’re closer to what the great tradition has always tried to say (in inadequate human language).
This point is very challenging to get across, for I’m sure it feels to some people (I don’t know if this applies to you, Shaughn), that the more we emphasize the elements in isolation and treat them like relics to be venerated, the more reverent we are.
@Anthony Ruff, OSB:
Fr. Anthony and other theologians out there:
Arguments for and against celebration “ad orientem” seem to be Christological in nature, either focused on the Second Coming of Christ or the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic elements or the assembled Church, suggesting that the liturgy is primarily Christocentric rather than Trinitarian-Theocentric.
How is the question of bodily orientation of priest and people informed by the high Christology articulated in Sacrosanctum concilium, in which Christ himself is the principal actor in the liturgy? It seems to me that this ought to be the point of departure for considering various plausible modalities of spacial configuration.
@Anthony Ruff, OSB:
I found myself running out of characters and had to be brief. I would hope you agree, though, that Mass has different points of emphases than the Office. I would be alarmed if someone wanted to preside at the Office ad orientem, for example. They are not an end unto themselves; all of the sacraments are meant to empower us to do something in response to them, not a box to be checked until next time.
No worries. 🙂 I don’t resent a priest facing toward the altar or toward East anymore than I resent the person in the pew in front of me. It’s that balance of horizontal vs vertical, ultimately, where these disagreements come from. As a chaplain, I’m focused on my brothers and sisters in Christ all day, every day. Vertical focus on God during Mass recharges my batteries to keep doing that.
Sure, Mass is Mass and Office is Office.
Just focusing on Mass: the question of what direction the priest faces should be taken up within a comprehensive Eucharistic theology, and a distorted emphasis on the elements will not help us answer the question.
I wouldn’t push the Mass/Office distinction too far, though – the great scholar of the office Fr. Robert Taft, in his LitPress book, demolishes the distinctions made by Gregory Dix and argues that the paschal mystery is at the center of all Christian prayer and liturgy – Mass and office alike. See his last chapter on the theology of the office.
@Anthony Ruff, OSB:
It’s completely fair to want a fully thought out Eucharistic theology. We can only stab at it in bits and pieces here, for better or worse. I tend to think of both Mass and Office as a continuing cycle of sin –> grace –> faith. Confession, absolution, praise. Domine, non sum dignus, communion, thanksgiving. That should all be grounded, as you say, in the Paschal mystery. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Agreed! Well put, Shaughn.
Let me say that I adhere strongly, but not exclusively, to the Tridentine doctrine of Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice. I have some difficulty with the “presider model” of liturgy, which sometimes places an excessive emphasis on the baptismal priesthood even to the detriment of the celebrant. I support ad orientem only because it more clearly demonstrates the alter Christus, the priest acting in Christ the Head.
Shaughn #36: “I would happily debate how tenuous the argument is or how plastic & mutable churches are, conceding that we’re on opposite sides of the iconoclasm spectrum. I don’t think eagerly yanking down reredos, altars, and rails was the pastoral or charitable thing to do.
Iconoclasm frequently accompanies significant liturgical change. Think of England under Edward VI, or Oliver Cromwell’s total war on Irish Catholicism. I would not think of the immediate postconciliar iconoclasm as an decisive or even conscious repudiation of the Tridentine era. Rather iconoclasm is sometimes the unfortunate result of utter liturgical confusion.
I do not consider my liturgical aesthetic as iconoclasm, but rather the removal of any distraction which might distract from an intense intellectual participation in the Mass. A tendency towards emotionalism and solipsism has manifested itself in popular culture only to subsequently infect worship in many traditions. Mass, then, must be refocused to the intense joy of the mind. I am able to do nothing without the saving hostia. What could I, a mortal, contribute to the entry of the ex nihilo God in his glory other than my share in the eucharistic offering?
I can see where you’re coming from on distractions, I think. It’s ultimately why I prefer the EF; there are far fewer distractions. Having said that, we were not made to be pure logos, and I think the liturgy and hymnody of the church bear this out. Consider Stabat Mater Dolorosa, so often used during Lent.
“Who, on Christ’s dear mother gazing,
pierced by anguish so amazing,
born of woman, would not weep?”
The Exsultet and the Regina Coeli, too, virtually demand an emotional response. With regard to what you can offer, I’d recommend some of St Irenaeus, who argues that we offer things to God to demonstrate our love for Him, and blend it with a bit of CS Lewis. Lewis says no parents think they come out ahead when they give their children money to buy their parents gifts, and yet the children are able to show the love they have for their parents. I think those emotions can be explored without them descending to mere precious sentimentality.
You are quite right that we give of ourselves at Mass. We offer gratefulness for the holy sacrament, repentance and reparation for our sins, contrition for personal hatreds and injustices perpetrated towards others etc. Certainly the sequences and hymns elicit fruitful emotions which direct the mind towards the mystery of Christian life. My favorite sequence is the Veni Sancte Spiritus; I look forward to Pentecost every year simply to hear the panoramic hymn of Christian life and death. The Golden Sequence tells us how to live and how to die in the Lord’s embrace.
I object to behavior which is fundamentally disingenuous, or is not intended to be disingenuous but nevertheless is expressed with a plastic effect. I understand that some people (salespersons, for example) do have to persuade, and persuasion in this case often requires some lying and behavioral plasticity. However, parading catechumens and conversion candidates around a church for each state of progression, and clapping for them, strongly suggests insincerity. If a person desires chrismation or reception into the Church, he or she should desire this for its own sake and not exclusively for the sake of a community’s [feigned?] approbation. If a person requires flattery as a vehicle for entrance into the Church, than he or she might wish to consult with a spiritual director to discern whether or not reception into the Church is appropriate.
I never advocate cruelty or scorn. And yet, for all Catholics, the love of Christ and his holy sacrament of Mass cannot be imparted through catechism or adulation. The beauty of the sacrament is realized in the mind and heart. There it grows in the presence of grace. An encounter of Christ in the silence of Low Mass is a deep immersion into the abject emotional and intellectual nakedness of fallen humanity as compared with the eternal cleansing fire of ὁ παντοκράτωρ, neque ex voluntate viri.
OK I know I’m walking a tight rope here but what is it in the east that Church goers are supposed to be watching. The sun? The Resurrection? The Archdiocese of New York? Rome? Jerusalem? Japan? The Moon during some seasons?
Or is it that Catholics all face east because it’s east – no other reason?
in my native yorkville, st ignatius faces west, st vincent ferrer, st jean baptiste, and st john nepomucene face east, st joseph and OLGC face south. these were all built in the later 1800s (i’m pretty sure). i think you just built to fit the lot you got.
Cardinal Sarah says that this is “essential”. “ESSENTIAL”! So, it is part of the essence of mass; ergo a mass without this “essential” element is not a true mass. Ergo all the masses in St Peter in Vaticano (where the faithful regard ad occidentem) from antiquity until now are all invalid masses! This is the logical conclusion!
A cardinal can not use the language in a manner so irresponsible.
What is the practical significance of these presumably-non-magisterial words from the Prefect?
Chapter IX of the General Instruction states that the local bishop regulates the diocese’s liturgical life and the layout of worship spaces; and also states that the national conference of bishops regulates the gestures and bodily postures of the faithful – a set of people which presumably (and perhaps humorously :-)) would not include the priest, but the assignment of this authority to the national conference still seems notable if we are trying to discern where the locus of authority resides for determining the priest’s orientation.
To be sure, any formal liturgical change or adaptation proposed by a national conference would need to be confirmed by the Holy See, so perhaps Cardinal Sarah’s views could be thought significant as a clue to how he would try to influence his dicastery to decide the matter – if indeed any national conferences were contemplating that, say, ad orientam be either required or prohibited – or for that matter if there were anything in the Missal to revise on this particular subject.
I think we can deem this interview to represent Cardinal Sarah’s personal views, and after giving them the respectful attention we’d owe to the opinions of any of our sisters and brothers in Christ, I think we can safely and officially file them away and go about our liturgical business.
Jerusalem, in expectation of our Lord’s return there in glory.
I didn’t think it’s East because of Jerusalem. Do churches east of the Holy City “point” west? We use the rising sun as an icon for the risen Son, the light that sweeps away the dark night of sin and death. Every morning we pray “the dawn from on high shall break upon us.”
The OF provides the celebrant and the community a myriad of options for each Mass–perhaps most significantly in the options available for the Eucharistic Prayer. These options can set very different “tones” for the liturgy, as of course choices for music settings, preaching, vestments, incense, decor, etc., etc. all do as well.
So why not allow altar orientation as simply one more option, one more variable available to the celebrant and the community to craft the tone of specific celebrations? Architecture wouldn’t allow this flexibility everywhere, but many free-standing altars could easily be used in an “ambidextrous” fashion without needing to get out a sledgehammer.
I was at mass a couple of sundays ago in a church where the altar had been moved forward on to a platform, but where the old altar steps were still in place. During the EP the servers knelt on the steps behind the priest facing the back wall of the sanctuary with their backs to the celebrant. Presumably the Cardinal would think they were the only ones who got it right.
They also sang a Marian hymn as the recessional on the solemnity of Pentecost. But thats a whole other bag of monkeys.
“The “oriens argument”, which contends that despite the non-easterly direction of some church apsees ad orientem worshipers face an ideological east “of the rising Christ”, is a tenuous argument given plastic and historically mutable liturgical topographies.”
Thank you, Jordan, for saying much better than I did what I actually meant by “more bogus.” The arguments made for ad orientem are generally that it was a universal practice in the ancient church — a contention firmly debunked by Robin Jensen’s excellent paper, published in Worship — and that the spirituality of eastward-facing is superior to the alternative. When “eastward-facing” turns out to be a construct to support an existing practice rather than an actual eastward orientation, I find that argument weak. I must add that I have never known anyone who was old enough to have lived in the liturgical dispensation before the reforms who regarded the placement of the altar as an aide to an eastward-facing spirituality of expectation of the Second Coming. No one I’ve ever met thought of it that way. So the thought that we have “lost” this precious spirituality of the rising sun doesn’t pass the plausibility test for me either.
Shaughn, I agree that much rhetoric surrounding this topic is superficial, and I apologize for my too-brief comment that suggested a merely unreflexive dismissal. I’ve read about this subject in numerous sources pro and con, and remain unconvinced that the arguments pro are actually as strong as the supporters of this practice claim they are.
FWIW, I doubt that most people ever think of the spirituality of 90% of what we do liturgically. But isn’t that precisely the goal of intensive approaches – understanding more deeply aspects that the liturgical form and rite have preserved but which have not been appreciated? I would argue that (to a certain extent) this preservation is one of the characteristics of ritual and liturgy that connects different ages and prevents devolution into a rationalistic, completely malleable set of actions that changes with each generation. On the flip side – how many people today have any kind of spirituality based on the priest facing them? I would think not many, at least without some kind of probing.
I need to go back and re-read Jensen’s article so please correct me if I’ve got it wrong: from what I remember, it contested the position of the altar within early church buildings and whether the laity would actually (turn and) face geographical East, even when this conflicted with the orientation of the building. But in fact, IIRC, she did point out that such configurations were open to the priest facing either to or away from the apse, and even cited some evidence for the priest facing the apse. If anything, I am inclined to think that the Eastward position became symbolic early on.
I think that just establishes a stronger argument for the fact that an ancient practice was changed. Going back to what I wrote earlier (and to your response, Anthony): it seems that when introduced, there were (if I might co-opt an image) 2 pillars on which this rested: a clear presumption of a widespread, ancient, historical precedent and pastoral effectiveness. Now that we see more and more that -in the very least – the precedent was not so widespread, and furthermore basically died out aside from isolated cases. Thus the “pastoral pillar” has come more and more to bear the burden of supporting our current change of praxis. The question then, IMO, is whether pastoral reasons alone can justify unilateral change to fairly universal practice
Joshua, I would not agree that the spirituality of eastward facing is there but unnamed. We Catholics simply don’t have directional prayer priorities, as the Muslims do for example, and it would take a huge effort to inculcate them. Why has no one ever complained about churches facing in directions other than east? Why is there no mention of the rising sun in catechetical and devotional literature? It may exist for a few writers, but it’s not at all widespread. Compare this to the other feature of the pre-Vatican II church arrangements, which figured hugely in the Catholic imagination: The tabernacle was on the altar. I daresay the “reason” most people thought the priest was turning away from them was so as to not turn his back on the Blessed Sacrament. Now, happily, the Blessed Sacrament on the altar is the focus, rather than the adoration of the reserved sacrament. I can only applaud that as a healthy development of primary over secondary concerns.
As for Jensen, her conclusion is that the most you can say is that you cannot say. A fine scholarly conclusion. What the ardent proponents of ad orientem have been saying, however, (and she names them), is that you CAN say that it was the most ancient and universal practice. If you can’t say that, it’s a different ballgame.
I went back & read Jensen again. I simply could not see it as a particularly rousing argument for ad populum. What Jensen takes issue with is the oft-repeated claim that people turned East in prayer, & that in doing so, they turned their backs (or part of their bodies) on the altar. But she makes a distinction between turning East and facing the apse. Further while saying that the position of the altar lends no clue one way or another – true enough, it is freestanding – she notes extant mosaic evidence that gives “strong, but not necessarily decisive, evidence that the celebrant faced toward the apse during the eucharistic prayer”. Her main point, of course, against Gamber et al, is that the people stood in the middle aisle & faced the altar. From what she has written, and admitting that freestanding altars could allow for celebrations facing the people, I do not see quite how this destroys the proponents of apse facing celebrations. All that it does is say that they are wrong in suggesting that people faced literal East. The article seems to suggest is that the symbolic understanding of “turn to the East” was far earlier, and understood in terms of facing the altar (“Laity may have turned toward the east to pray, or simply understood such a direction as symbolic.”).
I would not contest that most people saw ad orientem as facing the tabernacle (or cross, on side altars). But I would argue, given that the position predates the tabernacle, (and more so the tabernacle in that position) that is a case of transferred understanding. Just as the East as a focus of eschatological expectation is transferred to the altar as a symbol of Christ, so in later ages it is transferred to other things such as images of Christ and eventually the Eucharist itself (yes, I know no one considered the tabernacle as “East” – but both Eucharist & East have Christ as referent). I would consider this as evidence of prayer being seen as directional, albeit in a much more limited sense (i.e. not geographically tied)
The article isn’t a defense of versus populum. What it does is demolish the claim that directional worship or ad orientem can be said to be the universal ancient practice — a frequent argument, and made in recent times by some very high profile writers.
The mosaic evidence provides some support for the existence of apse-facing worship in the ancient church, but no proof that it was universal.
In the last paragraph of your comment, re the tabernacle, I think you are mixing two categories. One is in relationship to “holy things” — reverence for a relic or an image or whatever “holy thing” it may be, including the consecrated species, requires us to face it — the other is geo-orientation: an orientation within the cosmos (sun, earth, sky, the moon and stars, etc.). Architecturally, you can lay these values on top of each other, but when you separate them, clearly the priority is given to the thing not to the direction, no? It seems dubious to me that the thing is honored for its directional location, and then absorbs that geo-directional meaning into itself and can move, which I think is your argument? I guess you could propose this as a hypothesis, but it would take some work to establish it.
Please, can you indicate what is the name of the Robin Jansen’s paper which you quote, and where can I found it? I’d like to read it! Thanks!
@Juan Enrique de la Rica Barriga:
It’s in the March 2015 issue of Worship. Pray Tell published a summary of the article in a post at that time. I am copying it here:
Recovering Ancient Ecclesiology: The Place of the Altar and the Orientation of Prayer in the Early Latin Church by Robin Jensen.
“This essay addresses certain current contentions that, from the earliest days, altars were universally located in areas of the church and restricted from the approach (and even view) of the laity and, moreover, that prayer would have been consistently directed to directional East. Instead, this essay argues, on the basis of archeological evidence, that early Christian altars (especially those in the West) often were located well into the center of the church nave and that little documentary evidence supports the directional orientation of prayer, particularly in non-oriented worship spaces. Based on both textual and material evidence, this essay concludes that the laity more likely surrounded the altar during the Eucharistic liturgy and even approached it to receive communion. Such a reconstruction corresponds with Augustine’s argument that the bishop should not regard himself as a mediator between God and the people or physically separate from his congregation during the sacrament.”
Btw, if one were to decide that “East” = Jerusalem, the direction most folks in the eastern USA would be facing would not be their immediate east but something more like northeast – the great circle to Jerusalem being in that direction…..
Thank you, Father, for pointing out that there are good and strong reasons for ad orientem worship, which was the way in which Masses were predominantly offered for 95% of our liturgical history. (And if anyone says the early Church did not view the Mass as a sacrifice, they are obviously ignorant of the many texts we possess from the early centuries that testify to that Catholic truth.)
If we could re-orient the priest so that he, together with the people, was facing eastwards for the holy sacrifice, this alone would introduce the momentum necessary for abolishing liturgical abuse and overcoming substandard practice. The liturgy inevitably turns from man-centered mediocrity to God-centered greatness.
In response to your last sentence, I never tire of repeating: humans do not have to become less for God to become more. It’s not a zero-sum game.
And note: Mass as sacrifice is a distinct issue from the direction the priest faces. No one at this blog, nor anyone else I know of for that matter, is claiming that the priest should face the people because the Mass is not a sacrifice.
@Anthony Ruff, OSB:
And, of course, let’s skip over the old, rushed, private masses going on at different side altars in the same church; sometimes with one server; bell ringing; etc. Or those who never really learned to read or pronounce latin well; the lack of scripture beyond a very restricted list; the sermon disconnected from the readings; the centuries when very few participated in receiving the eucharist; the magical belief system that too many were fixated on; the lack of singing or even music; the extreme focus on *accidents* rather than on * the core meaning* of the eucharist.
And, yes, I totally agree with theologians who have studied and researched the reality that within the meal context, we, as church, celebrate sacrifice.
As has already been implied further up this thread, and has been mentioned in several others in past years, when the priest from one side and the people from the other are all facing the altar, the primary symbol of Christ in our midst, they are de facto all facing in the same direction — towards Christ. End of argument.
I could believe that if it were true in any context outside of church, Paul. When I sit at dinner at a table for two, I am focused on the person seated across from me, not what is on the table. When I am sitting in my boss’s office, I am focused on him, not the contents of the desk that separates us. When I am at Mass celebrated versus populum, it far too often feels like a Sunday morning edition of Late Night, with Your Host peering at me and conversing at me across his desk / table, not veneration of God in our midst, on the altar, or anywhere at all. In those moments, I just look down at my pew missal because it’s less distracting.
Except that the altar is just that – a symbol. The thing with symbols is that they have to be readily perceived and associated. Furthermore, they are not immediately apparent to the uninitiated. Despite all the reverence shown to the altar, how many people truly associate it as a symbol of Christ s oppose to e.g. a special table, a reliquary (for those who know that relics may be present), etc. ?
I think it is for this reason that Ratzinger made his much-rubbished suggestion for a crucifix as that kind of center. Not to suggest that there are not other symbols of Christ, or to downplay the consecrated Eucharistic elements – but because like all images, it bears a similarity which can be readily identified with the ‘original’, even by the uninitiated. IMO, it was really a version of the same argument at the Iconoclast controversy over the depiction of Christ vs. the Eucharist being the only truly ‘icon’.
It may be a bit of a cheap shot, but if anything I think that half of the posts have demonstrated that the priest facing the people is exactly about that: *facing the people*. That is why people feel excluded, ignored, etc. if the priest has his back to them. Nobody thinks at an ad populum celebration – “oh he is facing [a symbol of?]Christ and I too am facing the symbol of Christ” – although I grant that they may advert to the significance of a structure being in their midst.
I still wonder Christ himself seeks to be the focus of the liturgy, either immanently or eschatologically. Of course, we look to his Coming in glory, and of course, he comes to us in the flesh in Word and Sacrament, and present with us in the Eucharistic species, and in the person of his minister, and in the assembly of God’s Holy People when it prays and sings, but is that Coming and Presence the ultimate focus of liturgical worship? Or is it a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father and intercession for the redemption and life of the world offered through Christ, with Christ, and in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit? What does THAT look, sound and feel like in terms of enacted relationships, internal dispositions, and spatial orientation?
Suggest repeating Fr. Anthony’s insight from above:
“Just focusing on Mass: the question of what direction the priest faces should be taken up within a comprehensive Eucharistic theology, and a distorted emphasis on the elements will not help us answer the question.”
Our eucharistic theology, IMO, can best be taken from Luke’s Emmaus story – gather, tell our story, break bread, go on mission. The shape of our communal sacrament is a MEAL. (of course, you can say that for some, *going to communion* is the central point)
Our communal eucharist is an *action* – not an object. VII shifted us away from individual act to a communal action. (and yes, realize that some still have not understood that transition or movement) So, eucharist is much more than just receiving communion. And so, VII emphasized the meal action (why placing a crucifix on the altar makes little sense); why all facing in one direction makes little sense for whatever reason you want to assign – east, Jerusalem, the kingdom of God, etc. Our posture and movements point to our shared meal – not just eating; not just receiving. Do people immediately associate the altar/table to Christ? Well, do people immedidately associate our scripture readings with the word of God?
Suggest that we can find folks on a continuum – but, to stop or go backwards because some don’t get it?
I am not sure why most of what you say need be in opposition to anything I’ve said. Granted, again, I don’t have the same experience of a silent Low Mass that some do, but my sense of the communal act is shaped by parts said in community — for me, at least, the Confiteor, the Gloria, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and other bits and pieces like the Agnus Dei, Domine non sum dignus, the reply to the orate, fratres, and so on. For me to not be worshipping in communion, I would have to be willfully sitting there in silence for huge swathes of Mass, despite everything going on around me — which I have seen quite often at Masses under the present and previous translation. As I’ve said before, whether at an EF or an OF Mass, I am far too busy the entire time praying the prayers along with the priest and engaged in the various devotional acts. (I still don’t care for hand holding during the Lord’s Prayer, though. Blech!)
Shaughn, thanks for your irenic tone at the outset of this comment! It’s good to seek common ground and not pick a fight by emphasizing differences.
It is my understanding that the Jewish people have had a liturgical orientation in prayer since the time of Moses. It is their tradition to face toward the temple when they pray as they direct their prayers to the Lord. Their synagogues are all oriented toward the temple in Jerusalem. And the whole congregation faces with the rabbi towards Jerusalem when they pray. Knowing this, it’s quite natural to think the disciples wondered what direction they should face when they pray. Especially since the temple on earth was displaced by the sacrifice of Christ, who entered into the true temple not made with hands in the heavens. It is this temple that is our focal point when we pray. To this temple Christ ascended from the mount of Olives, east of Jerusalem. And from the eastern sky he will return, “as lightning flashes in the east and goes to the west so shall the coming of the Son of Man be.” Jesus will return from the east. The rabbis used to say that the sky is red in the east as the sun rises because the light from the sun is reflecting on the roses in paradise. For paradise is in the east. And the sky turns red at sunset because the sun passes over the entrance to the fires of Gehenna in the west. This wide spread custom then appears to originate naturally from apostolic times. It seems that the point is to have a common direction of prayer toward the Lord in the temple. For Christians it is the true temple where Christ ministers toward the east. Even if facing eastward isn’t possible for topographical reasons; a common direction in liturgical prayer can still convey a sense of direction outward toward the Lord in his temple in heaven.
@Fr. Steve Hartley:
Jesus did not choose Temple worship as the model for his disciples. The Last Supper was set in a home with a family gathered around a common table.
Though the main course had been ritually slaughtered at the Temple on the day before.
I think Jesus joined the table and the altar when he handed a vessel containing his blood to the apostles. Only priests were allowed to collect the warm blood of the sacrificial victim into the gold and silver vessels which were then poured out upon the altar. Not to mention that the sacrifice of Thanksgiving in Leviticus chapter 7 takes place in the temple and is completed at the sacrificial meal where the offering must be completely consumed. If the Sacrifice of Thanksgiving corresponds to the Eucharist, then Jesus did in fact join the table and the altar.
@Fr. Steve Hartley:
True. But Jesus also took worship by human beings into a whole new universe: his own love and adoration of the Father.
Let me recommend, on the question of the altar as table, the article by Professor Thomas O’Loughlin “At the Lord’s table” from Music and liturgy:346 (= 38,3) November 2012, pp.10-13. This is freely available for download at https://www.academia.edu/12289302/The_Lords_Table
Along with the direction of Liturgical prayer during the anaphora we should also consider the Christian tradition of the catechumens facing the west and renouncing Satan and then turning east to profess their faith in the Holy Trinity before baptism. Then we have the custom of the Christians placing a cross on the eastern wall of their homes. And not to forget the custom of burying the dead facing east to await the return of Christ. If the parousia is anticipated in the Eucharist, it would be natural to face east to joyfully greet the Lord when he comes.
True indeed brother Todd. It is his very life, unblemished before God, that we offer to the Father and truly enter into their communion of love in all its iminence and transcendence.