by Cody Maynus
Most Pray Tell readers are likely aware of the recent kerfuffle over the celebration of the Eucharist ad oreintam. Cardinal Sarah of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments pledged his support, seemingly suggesting that all priests should reorient their liturgical posture. Cardinal Nichols of London contradicted his brother bishop and suggested that priest continue to celebrate versus populum (with support from the Jesuit Father Antoni Spodaro by way of several tweets.)
The recent discussion about the orientation of the liturgy is not reserved only for Roman Catholics. Anglicans, too, are taking their part in the conversation. Although Cardinal Sarah and his preferences do not having juridical bearing on Anglicans, our shared participation in the Eucharist makes this conversation an important one for us also.
My point of entry into the conversation comes by way of the Covenant, which is the blog affiliated with the Living Church Foundation, a consortium of Episcopalians who identify as “communion-minded and –committed Anglicans from several nations, devoted to seeking and serving the full visible unity of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”
Prompted by Cardinal Sarah’s request, the Rt. Rev. Daniel Martins, 11th Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield (Ill.) penned a defense of the liturgy versus populum titled “Facing into the Eucharist.” He begins by acknowledging that he “could not have imagined he day when celebrating the Eucharist ad orientem…would be considered cutting edge, nouveau, très chic.”
The Rev. Dr. Matthew S.C. Olver, who teaches liturgy and pastoral theology at Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Nashotah, Wis., offered a counter-point at the Covenant titled “Further Facing into the Eucharist: A Friendly Response to Bishop Martins,” which incidentally is an update of “The Orientation of Preparation,” an article he wrote exactly one year previously.
“Sound sacramental theology requires us to make the connection between the common and the holy as clear and robust as we can,” writes Bishop Martins. “Eucharist is more than a meal, but it is at least a meal. The phenomenon of liturgical practice – what the event looks like and feels like to a participant – must not obscure that connection.” To this argument, Fr. Olver responds, “The Eucharist is only a meal because it is first and most fundamentally a sacrifice.”
The arguments made by Bishop Martins and Fr. Olver are not new, nor would they surprise most Roman Catholics. They are important, however, because they highlight that dialogue in one tradition impacts and is impacted by the dialogue in other traditions. While neither Cardinal Sarah nor Cardinal Nichols have anything officially to do with the way the Episcopal Church celebrates the Eucharist, their conversation matters. Anglicans and Roman Catholics do not yet share perfect communion, but what we do share is the centrality of the Eucharist in our lives in community and our lives in Christ.
It’s clear that there are a number of great (and not a few awful) arguments about our posture during the liturgy. I remain hopeful in spite of – perhaps even because of – these arguments. They reveal to me that, while Anglicans and Roman Catholics are not united in perfect communion, we both hold the Eucharist as central to our lives in community and our lives in Christ. Since the Eucharist is central, it follows that the way we celebrate Eucharist matters. Whether our priests are facing the altar or the people, what matters is that we are making the conscience choice to keep facing God in the Eucharist who, as Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in The Spirit of the Liturgy, “is the rising sun of history.”
Cody Maynus is an M.A. in Monastic Studies student in Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary.