Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Ad Orientem Revolution has Begun!

Even before his election as the successor to St. Peter, Pope Benedict has been urging us to draw upon the ancient liturgical practice of the Church to recover a more authentic Catholic worship. For that reason, I have restored the venerable ad orientem position when I celebrate Mass at the Cathedral. (Bishop Edward J. Slattery, East Oklahoma)

Okay, it's only in one diocese - and then only in the Cathedral when Bishop himself celebrates mass, nevertheless, it shows what can be done when a bishop decides to use his own proper authority for regulating the liturgy in his own diocese. No need to wait for Vatican III on this, guys!

You can read his full article here.slattery(He looks a "let's do it" kinda guy, doesn't he?)


At Tuesday, August 25, 2009 6:27:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

Did Lutherans copy the Catholic change of orientation after the Council, as Anglicans did? Facing the people really does detract from the sacrality of the Mass: as one priest said, "It's not a cooking demonstration."

I am aware that traditional, liturgically-minded Lutherans are still very clear that the priest and ministers turn to the congregation when addressing them, as when the Scriptures are read and preached, and likewise turn to face the same direction as the congregation when prayer is offered to the Lord.

Contrast this with a young Catholic, who told me that he'd never realized that the priest prayed at all at Mass - he just thought he pronounced an unending series of exhortations. It is peculiar to read prayers toward the congregation as if they are the intended recipients, rather than the ones for and with whom the prayer is offered unto God.

How ridiculous it is that some priests turn the Consecration into a mime: "Take this (lifts host), all of you (makes sweeping gesture with it), and eat it..." - for these words are in the midst of a prayer to God the Father, the Holy One being addressed.

Oddly enough, the shift from the age-old ad orientem versus rests upon no real document - there was a brief excitement about liturgical historians about it in the fifties and sixties, but research has reconfirmed that it was the norm until, oh, 1969... - and indeed the very rubrics of the Missal still presume the priest faces East, with his people, not against them, since at certain points it still says "turning to the people" he ought say such-and-such.

It's such a sad canard to claim that the priest has his back to his flock: no, he leads them toward the Return of Christ in glory, which wonder is foreshadowed in the Mass.

As well, Catholic sensibilities find it odd that the priest facing the people has his back to the tabernacle, if this is centred and not shunted off to the side.

The priest stands at God's board as mediator, like a new Moses, as an sacramental icon and instrument of Christ the Priest: he is not meant to be an actor, comedian, or lame-duck president gamely smiling over a navel-gazing mob.

At Tuesday, August 25, 2009 5:18:00 pm , Anonymous Fr. Tim May said...

Traditional Lutheran church architecture assumes the "ad orientem" direction. Newer Lutheran architecture has been influenced by Vatican II and/or evangelical protestantism (for example, free-standing altars). Explanation given for the priest/pastor standing behind the altar and facing the people is mainly that of "proclamation" (and with some it is boiled down to simple communications theory).
In short, "ad orientem" is lauded by traditional Lutherans.

At Tuesday, August 25, 2009 10:25:00 pm , Anonymous Tony said...

... it shows what can be done when a bishop decides to use his own proper authority for regulating the liturgy in his own diocese.

Presumably just about every other bishop has used his 'proper authority' to allow for the priests to face the people?

Is there some mystery about God being 'more present' in the East than in the space between the priest and the congregation?

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 1:30:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Yes, when "facing the people" was introduced, this was done precisely on the authority of the local bishop. But this was a very long time ago (episcopally speaking) and today's bishops have simply inherited the decisions (made on a lack of of understanding the true liturgical importance of the 1900+ years of ad orientem celebration - an importance of which you, Tony, also seem to be unaware) of the past. Armed with a better appreciation and forty years of experience of the effect of the "westward" facing experiment, today's bishops are in a new situation to judge and compare the wisdom of the past and the present.

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 1:39:00 am , Anonymous Peregrinus said...

Question: Is the decision about orientation one which a bishop takes for his diocese or his priests, or is it one for the individual celebrant? If, e.g., my pastor wished to celebrate ad orientem in my parish church, would he need his bishop's agreement? (Or would it merely be prudent to seek it?)

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 2:15:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Actually, you are quite right. The individual celebrant needs no authorisation to decide to celebrate "ad orientem", as this was and remains the universal norm. What is required is in fact permission to celebrate from "behind" the altar - an authority which is given by individual bishops. Still, if a priest were to decide to do this regularly at Sunday mass in the Ordinary Form of the Rite, he would be prudent to preceed this with a great deal of education (similar to that which Bishop Slattery gave in his diocesan paper) and to get the support of his bishop in this decision.

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 2:17:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

I will add though, that as far as I know, the local bishop could recind his permission for celebrating from "behind" the altar, thus requiring all priests in his diocese to adopt the "ad orientem" position. Again, it such a requirement would need to be made in a very prudent manner to encourage priests to comply!

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 2:31:00 am , Anonymous Tony said...


You seem to be implying that every other bishop (except Bp Slattery presumably) suffers from a lack of understanding or made their decisions about orientation by 'inheritance'.

Bit of self-serving logic there don't you think?

Is it possible that some ... most ... almost all Bishops made a decision for facing the people that was intended and based on their understanding of liturgy (which may be different to yours)?

By your own admission, Slattery seems to be the only one who is 'marching in step'.

... today’s bishops are in a new situation to judge and compare the wisdom of the past and the present.

You mean one bishop and why is the situation 'new'? I'd guess that a significant number of bishops (and an even higher number of Cardinals) have a strong memory of pre-VatII orientation.

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 3:28:00 am , Anonymous Louise said...

Basically, the whole "facing the people" deal (as a norm) was a big mistake and should never have been adopted. Good to see someone making an effort to reverse the decision.

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 5:55:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...


Not to I wish to be intemperate (forgive me), but it is more Catholic to realize, as the latest revision of the rubrics of the Missal state, that in a smaller (read typical parish) church (or chapel) the best place for the Sacrament is centred - whereas in a really big church (read Cathedral or collegiate church) it is just as appropriate, and, more important, in continuity with tradition, to have a special and noble altar and chapel of the Bl Sacrament.

There is a good reason why the faithful like to see the tabernacle in the middle, not thrown off to one side as if it were a relic or statue fit only for old women.

Do you note the rubrics and the insistence of Canon Law (look it up) that the faithful should, upon coming into church, reverence the sacrament by genuflecting? Obviously, if the tabernacle is shoved away and downgraded, so will the correct response to it: to hail and adore Christ present in His Sacrament.

If the Mass is said ad orientem, it is fitting to see the reserved sacrament at the Eastward end of the church, since it is in veiled mystery the presence of Christ amongst us, Who in glory shall come again, Whose great works we remember and Whose Advent we await with eagerness and trembling.

It is particularly upsetting to sensibilities to see the priest turn his back to the Sacrament.

The devotion to the altar came first; by an obvious process of paying due honour to the Sacrament, over time it came to be co-located with the altar. Now, one obvious lesson of the postconciliar reforms is that some things are irreformable without real loss and the encouragement of heterodoxy: because taking the tabernacle away can scandalize and confuse the faithful.

If Mass is said eastward, how easily all these issues square with each other: all face east together, and the mysterious presence of Christ even outside the Mass is shewn intimately linked therewith by having the place of reservation closely united with the altar.

There is nothing sillier than having a blessed sacrament chapel with no altar!

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 6:12:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

We ought have a hunger for the Mysteries!

How well this is cultivated when Mass is said ad orientem!

The Liturgy of the Word is celebrated "usward", since it is God's message to His beloved.

Then, in response to this, we give thanks in the supreme fashion...

The priest advances to the altar, and there arranges the elements he sets apart from profane use for their utter transformation...

He turns to us all, as we rise, such is the urgency of his request: Pray that this sacrifice be acceptable! We all cry out that this be so, for the glory of God and the good of all His holy Church.

He glorifies the Lord... we sing the song of all the armies of heaven...

(Since he enters into the Great Prayer, he does not, nor ever has, turned to us even when singing "Lift up your hearts" - his very posture makes us look to the East with eagerness.)

All of drama is encapsulated in this: in this the Great Prayer, he acts in the person of Christ, Who is the Invisible and Only Priest - and lifts up high for us all to behold and worship the Holies, for what was mere bread and watered wine has become the Flesh and Blood of Him Who is our Life, offered for us all.

This first elevation (or pair thereof) is for us to recognize Christ come in His Mysteries, so the focus is on adoration.

The priest commemorates the great works of God in Christ, and offers the Victim for living and dead... at the end of the Prayer, he makes a joint elevation: Through Him, with Him, in Him [Who is present as Victim], all glory and honour are unto God!

This second lifting up, as the rubrics specify, is not for us to look at: rather, it is a gesture of offering. (Neither here, nor at the twofold elevation earlier, may nor should the priest turn to the people.)

Without turning, the priest leads us all in the Lord's Prayer...

The priest turns from the altar only twice more until giving out Communion: first, to bless us with the Peace of Christ; second, to call us to come receive the Body of Christ! Lord, we are not worthy!

If, as the rubrics have always provided, and as seems better to express the unity of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest likewise prays the Prayer after Communion at the altar, he only turns to the people again at the very end of the Mass, to bless them and send them forth.

This is very fitting and very moving, attesting to the sublime mysteries being brought to us from heaven on high.

This is the modern Mass offered up in continuity, as the Pope recognizes to be the more perfect way.

(Cardinal Hume noted that such ad orientem celebrations, as at the Brompton Oratory, is really much more in accord with what the Council Fathers desired. Too much not in consonance with the Council was railroaded through, to the peril of souls.)

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 6:20:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

There is also, in the Fore-Mass (as the earlier liturgical movement writers called it) a pertinent movement across the sanctuary, from the right of the altar (as seen from the nave) to the left thereof:

1. Initially, the priest venerates the altar in the centre (just as, upon entering the sanctuary, he genuflects to adore the reserved Sacrament, as the liturgical books have always and still specify).

2. He then goes to the chair, which - pace those who enthrone it behind the altar - is better on the right, and leads the penitential rite there, and there prays the collect (perhaps facing the altar).

3. The focus then shifts to the lectern on the left: there the lessons are read for us. (If there is a deacon, he is blessed on the right, carries the Gospel from its throne on the altar, and reads it on the left also.)

4. The sermon can well be preached, not from the lectern, but from the chair - as is especially fitting for bishops, but as priests may do.

5. The Creed and intercessions can be led from the right at the chair; the deacon (or reader of the intercessions in his absence) can be on the left.

Then, to the central altar!

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 6:25:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

Recall, Perry, that even if the people stand for the Eucharistic Prayer, the rubrics of the Missal have always and still specify that all kneel - even the deacon(s) - for the Consecration, as a sign of adoration.

Notitiæ has advised that, for those unable to kneel owing to infirmity or whatnot, the proper posture is to bow profoundly at this point.

Compare this to the "lazy Mass" I often see here in my hometown: the congregation SIT right through the Preface and Eucharistic Prayer. This is so poor and disrespectful.

Here in Australia, the bishops have ruled that we should all kneel for the Prayer and so forth: disobedience is wrong.

The new edition of the Missal declares that, where the custom of kneeling throughout is kept, this is praiseworthy - sentire cum Ecclesia!

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 9:23:00 am , Anonymous Joshua said...

A curiosity on kneeling: before the Council, the posture of the people at Mass was a matter of custom rather than prescription; gradually, over time, kneeling had come to be more and more common, for the very obvious reason that - as the New Testament shews - it is the posture of prayer and adoration. Fear those who would dissuade one from kneeling!

But in any case, the posture of the ministers and those in choir was regulated by the rubrics and ceremonial - sometimes bizarrely to modern sensibilities: for instance, those in choir ought kneel during the Canon UNTIL after the Elevation of the Chalice, when they ought stand!

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 9:36:00 pm , Anonymous Schütz said...

Well. Thanks for all that, Josh. A lot to take in, but just goes to show ya that there are solid thoelogical, historical, canonical and liturgical reasons for the ad orientem orientation.

And the only reason behind versus populum is "I think its nicer".

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 10:53:00 pm , Anonymous Louise said...

"I think it's nicer" is the only argument that counts these days, David!

At Wednesday, August 26, 2009 11:12:00 pm , Anonymous Tony said...

And the only reason behind versus populum is “I think its nicer”.

That makes three suggestions as to why versus populum is the norm by my reckoning:

1. Bishops passively inherited it
2. Bishops didn't have the spine to change back to the 'proper' way, and now
3. They (and, I guess, most Catholics) think it's 'nicer'.

I am disciplined, mentally tough,
trained and proficient in rational thinking and argumentation.

Then you'd know about straw men I'd wager!

At Thursday, August 27, 2009 3:27:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

You're not a troll, Tony. Trolls lack your rationality and general politeness.

At Thursday, August 27, 2009 8:47:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Yep. In that ball park.

At Thursday, August 27, 2009 8:52:00 am , Anonymous Schütz said...

Let's just say Josh has provided more than enough evidence.

If you want more, go read Ratzinger's Spirit of the Liturgy or Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer by U.W. Lang.

All the arguments brought forward in favour of "versus populum" that are not built upon spurious historical and theological and liturgical grounds amount to "it's nicer". Or rather "it isn't nice for the priest to turn his back on the people". That isn't a rational argument, and so I don't pretend it is.

At Thursday, August 27, 2009 6:05:00 pm , Anonymous Tony said...

Thanks for your concern Joshua, but maybe your remarks are best directed at those who engage in ad hominem and the host of this blog who ramps it up a notch?

At Thursday, August 27, 2009 7:04:00 pm , Anonymous Joshua said...

David, being the host of this blog, is in absolute control thereof! ;-)

Louise I think is easily annoyed...


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