Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Orientation of the Mass

On Tuesday nights in Lent at St Mary`s I have started a Mass with priest and people facing the same way following the example of Pope Benedict in the Sistine chapel. This is the New Mass in English but it has given rise to some unfavourable comments. This video by Fr Fessio may help to explain what is going on and why Pope Benedict thinks it is an important aspect of the Mass to re-discover.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Father, Yes it is all about explaining what is happening and why. When this very topic came up after Mass one Sunday an elderly member of our congregation became irrate and said, " if the priest is going to turn his back on me like they used to do then I'm walking out for good"!! I said "Well, Fr. X is a very nice man and would never intentionally turn his back on you for any other reason but to turn towards the Lord". She said, "I never thought about it like that". I grew up in the post VII world, (only just, but with a lot of pre VII atmosphere still lingering!) but I get the strong impression that catechesis before VII was sometimes not up to much, not that it is today.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Anonymous, I agree totally. We need to explain it well. The other problem is sometimes that people have such fixed ideas that they won`t listen no matter what you say but we need to persevere.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous but not the above.

Does not strike me as cogent reasons and in fact reminds me of a more carnal view of God. The transcendent God is everywhere and not simply in the East as restricted to the rising sun as a symbol. Frankly it might even be an occasion of sin to recent converts from primitive groups in the third world who would take this more literally. I don't remember Aquinas getting caught up in these questions.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Anonymous 2, as I understand it the east is traditionally the direction towards which Christian prayer is made because it is the location of the rising sun seen as a symbol of the risen Christ. The historu is there. Fr Lang`s recent book explains it as does the capter in the Spirit of the Liturgy as mentioned by Fr Fessio. However I take your point about the matter of recent converts from primitive groups but was this a great problem in the past. I suspect as Anon 1 says that not much was explained about this in the past and maybe the whole reason for it had been forgotten. Thanks to recent research we probably know a lot more about the why and wherefore of the EF than before.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Fr. Fessio explains very clearly the thinking behind "turning towards the Lord."

But there is an obstacle.

People will not listen to what they don't want to hear.

I'm sorry to read Father has encountered some criticism.

Sorry, but not surprised.

Pope Benedict has come in for criticism for attempting to reorientate the liturgy.

(I wonder if he will give up on that account ? I doubt it.)

So, any priest trying to follow the Pope's example will meet the same criticism.

Oh well, at least one is in the same boat as the Pope.

But what I can't understand is how, in anyone's mind, the impoverished liturgical usage of the past 40 years can possibly compare with the rich liturgical tradition of many centuries.

Old Believer said...

Perhaps a good argument to employ in dealing with critics is that by returning to an Eastward position 'we are all on the same side addressing God.' One of ways of neutralising criticism from the 'modernist' camp is to argue the return to an Eastward position smacks less of clericalism: after all what could be more symbolic of clericalism and a distortion of roles than the priest using the altar as a barrier between him and the people?

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Can I make a second comment ?

"Old Believer" in my opinion makes a most excellent point.

Some people might say they don't understand , or don't agree with, turning towards the Lord, ad Deum, ad apsidem, because it's archaic, a return to the past, or whatever.

The same people can hardly disagree with the argument that when facing east, the priest and people are "all on the same side facing God".

No one can argue with this, because it's a fact !

Mass versus populum in fact means just that : the priest versus the people, with the altar in between.

The office desk can, and often does, perform the same function.
There is the man behind the desk, and the client/customer/patient in front of the desk.

The same principle applies with bar/shop/reception counters which also can be a barrier across which client/customer/patient faces barman/shopkeeper/receptionist.

It can feel very confrontational.

I wonder more people have not felt this when the priest faces the people across the altar.

Old Believer said...

Regretfully clericalism is a characteristic of the reforms and modern Roman liturgy in general.

Some years ago I was present at a Greek liturgy. The rank of the day was such that there was a gospel at Mattins, which in contempory Greek parish practice tends to precede the liturgy. The celebrant decided on this occasion to omit the prescribed gospel to speed things up. A group of Greek grannies promptly banged their walking sticks on the Iconostasis and made such a racket that the priest relented and gave them the gospel. Can one imagine that happening if a Roman rite celebrant missed out a commemoration?

Another example of clericalism can be found in the 1962 missal. In the old rite, in the absence of deacon and sub-deacon, on occasions when Flectamus genua and its corresponing Levate are sung then the latter is sung by the choir or a server. In the 1962 missal this is clericalised and Levate is reserved to the priest.

There needs to be a collective understanding that litury belongs to all of the people and is not the preserve of the ordained.

As to versus populum celebrations it also needs to be explained that this was not the result of the Council. Versus populum was becoming popular on the Continent throughout the 1950's. The American Jesuit Gerald Ellard published a series of books on the liturgical movement with some interesting, though unpleasant, photographs of versus populum in the USA during the 1940's and 1950's.

Dr. Peter H. Wright said...

Off this topic, but :

Father !
Have you seen the photos at Orbis Catholicus of the folded chasubles worn at the Pantheon ?
Never thought I'd live to see the day.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Dr Wright, yes I saw them. Fabulous! Not really 1962 but very good to see. I once owned a folding purple Roman chasuble that I acquired while at seminary from a seminarian who was a convert from anglicanism. It looked quite modern: maybe it was made in the
50`s and then not used. I don`t have it anymore.

old believer said...

Gosh those photos certainly make Lent more palatable! Now that is what I would call interpreting the 1962 missal (which of course states quite explicitly that planetae plicatae are no longer worn) in the light of Tradition and the best praeter legem customs.

The Italians are capable of doing such things in style. One wonders what next - perhaps a three-branched candle atop a reed on Holy Saturday and the delightful tone 5 setting of Nabuchodonosor rex?

Anonymous said...

Remind your congregation of pictures they see of the Last Supper.
Everybody is pictured on the same side of the table.

James M said...

Good on you Father for facing east. I wish every priest would do it in every Mass.

Why does anyone object to orientating every single aspect of Holy Mass toward God? There are still 23 hours left in the day for dance, group hugs and guitars.

Anyway, the very best thing we can do for ourselves is turn to God: that is part of His infinitely elegant Plan.

Fr Michael Brown said...

Thanks forthe helpful comments. It has felt odd saying the OF in English in this fashion but I believe it is important to do so to familiarise people with it. However no-one has said they are happy about it

Augustine said...

I really hope I'll be able to come this week! By the way, are there evening masses during Holy Week, because we're still at school until Maundy Thursday?

Fr Michael Brown said...

Augustine, there is Mass at 7pm on the Tuesday of Holy Week and then the Maundy Thursday Mass is at 7.30pm. Good Friday is at 3 although there is also a 1962 Good Friday at SS peter and Paul`s at 5pm. Easter vigil at 8pm.