Thursday, December 23, 2010

Turn towards the Lord!


On the first Sunday of Advent I devoted the sermon to explaining the history of the position of the celebrant at Mass, talking about the ancient Christian tradition of facing East to pray and then how that influenced the construction of churches and how even when a church was not constructed on an east-west axis then there was still value in priests and people facing the same way at Mass for the times prayers are addressed to God. I relied on the works of Mgr Gamber, Fr Lang and the Pope and quoted the passage in Spirit of the Liturgy which speaks of the disadvantage of creating an inward-looking circle at Mass and the advantage of having a attitude of looking out together to what lies ahead and above. (p.80 in Spirit of the Liturgy). I also quoted from Fr. Richard Simon, Pastor of St. Lambert Parish, Skokie, IL. USA, who said that he had had some angry responses to trying it. I read out part of his account of trying it for the first time. And then I carried on the Mass as usual. I had thought of introducing it at that Mass but at that moment it felt better to let people think it over.
The following Sunday I decided I would have to give it a go if I was to ever do it at all. I have been in this parish five years and it has always been in my mind to give it a try even though the church re-ordering was quite drastic and we don`t really have a sanctuary any more just a small raised platform with an unfixed wooden table for an altar. Afterwards I said that this was just an experiment and not to be alarmed if people found it strange. No-one said anything apart from in the sacristy afterwards when a couple of extraordinary ministers of the Holy Communion said they didn`t like it.
When I say Mass facing the people in this church I am facing east. I had mentioned St Peter`s in Rome and Gamber`s suggestion that the people faced east too. I had also mentioned that looking at the altar, and the celebrant, wouldn`t have been that interesting as there was a curtain drawn around the altar during the canon. From the disagreement I got after Mass it seems that my acknowledgement that I was facing east when facing the people but that there was still value in us all turning the same way to look towards the Lord especially in Advent hadn`t made much of an impression.

No-one said that they thought it helped them pray better but I suppose it was all rather new and these things take time. I know of two other priests in this diocese who do this for the Ordinary Form on a Sunday in their parishes although one has now reverted to facing the people. I have used it at school Masses with St Stephen`s school at Longbenton after explaining it to the children and staff and they seem quite happy about it. The Holy Father himself in Spirit of the Liturgy acknowledges that it will be difficult to re-introduce this practice since people have been through so many liturgical changes but he has given a lead of sorts in the Mass he says in the Sistine chapel on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord when he uses the original altar. ( See the picture above.) However with the new translation coming out next year change is in the air and so I thought the time might be ripe for this.
I had quite a number of supportive comments when I mentioned this on Facebook and one priest took the time to ring me up which was very kind. I recognise that people get angry about this because they feel excluded in a way but I think there are important issues at stake and I probably will have another try sometime next year and I`m thinking Ash Wednesday may be an appropriate time.

31 comments:

Sixupman said...

However did we manage before Vatican II? What surprises me is the age of my peers who took to the 60/70 changes without demur - I did not.

The Holy Name, Manchester, brought in Ad Orientem for all Masses, Sundays and weekdays [twice daily] before a side altar and how refreshing it is to have them brought into use - and excellent attendance.

Earlier this year, at Leyland, not only was Mass Celebrated Ad Orientem, but the Celebrant said the Words of the Consecration in Latin.

Dev Thakur said...

Hang in there Father! It may be subjectively difficult for people at first, but ad orientem worship is objectively more correct.

I will pray for your and your people.

Laura said...

I much prefer the priest t face East with the people. I hope you will be able to re-introduce this more and more. God bless your efforts.

Fr Simon Henry said...

Dear Father,
To offer a few words of encouragement.
I have offered Mass facing the same way as the people for a number of years now in this and in my previous parish. It did create difficulties (much more in my present parish than my previous one) and even with our Holy Father showing the way, I am still am considered very odd in some quarters for this clearly legitimate practice. I began on High days and Holy Days and then, as in your thoughts, went over to it all the time at the start of one Advent. Preparation and on-going catechesis is essential of course, but it is only over time that people begin to appreciate it. For example, when they go to a different parish one Sunday and then notice how different the whole atmosphere is when they return - more prayerful, less focussed on the personality of the priest.

It is interesting that in days gone by when we are told that the priest was the only focus of the liturgy and the people were "excluded" the priest never got much of a chance to look at the people for long periods (except when he was addressing them). Now that the aim is (supposedly) to focus less on the priest and "include" everyone else, the priest's personality is much more to the fore.

Even with my no-nonsense "do the red and say the black" on the odd occasion when I do celebrate facing the people, I can't help little gestures towards the people immediately creeping in - even though I am supposed to be addressing the Almighty.

Having moved over to be at one with the people in the direction of prayer, I would not like to go back - it enhances my own prayer and concentration and this "rubs off" on the people.

I would never want to go back to facing forward!

David O'Neill said...

I seem to recall you tried this a couple of years ago. What was the response then? Like 'Sixupman' I recall pre VII but we accepted the changes because we were an OBEDIENT church & we did what the Pope, bishops & priests TOLD us to do. Nowadays we seem to have a situation where many bishops either ignore or circumvent papal edicts & congregations tend to be of the opinion that what they want is all that matters.

As we now have so many different 'norms' it is difficult for congregations to accept a change to "their" norm.
Keep trying Father

Fr D said...

Father, I've been doing this every day for the last 18 months in my Military Parish here in Germany.

Before introducing it, I spoke about it for a couple of weeks during the homily and I made available Bishop Slattery's very helpful explanation of the practice.

The only comments I have had have been positive. The soldiers like it, I think, because it gives a better sense of transendence and sacrifice. My young families seem to like it as the parents can teach their children to look for the elevation and recognise Jesus made present on the altar.

If I were in a "normal" Parish in the UK, I think I'd be tempted to introduce ad orientem at the Solemn Mass and let people experience it in this way. I would do everything up to the Offertory and after Holy Communion from the Chair and the rest from the altar.

I think the reality of the situation is that most of the People don't really have any strong feelings, either way.

You could try explaining that, apart from anything else, ad orientem is much less stressful for the priest - and see if people understand that aspect any better!

Fr Michael Brown said...

Sixupman when you say Leyland I don`t suppose you mean the Benedictine parish where our bishop emeritus lives?

Fr Michael Brown said...

Thanks to Dev, Laura and Fr Henry for words of encouragement. David, I did have an extra evening Mass in Lent a few years ago, once a week, which was an Ordinary Form Mass `ad orientem` but the only people who were coming were Latin Mass people. This was the first time at St Mary`s in a regularly scheduled Mass and certainly first time on a Sunday

Anonymous said...

Sixupman is quite right.
All Masses at the Holy Name, Manchester are Celebrated Ad Orientem. The size of the congregations reflect the huge popularity of this change.
Perserve Father.

Fr Simon Henry said...

Fr Michael,

I think the Leyland parish must be mine. I've never heard of it being offered there. It's not really possible to offer Mass ad orientem at St Mary's Benedictine parish as it is a circular church - with tiers of benches that look down on the altar. "I shall go down to the altar of God"?

Anonymous said...

Dear Father Brown,please persevere with your attempt to reintroduce Mass Ad Orientem. Part of the recovery of a correct understanding of the Mass and a sense of the sacred will surely require this and i'm a recent convert to it after reading the arguments in its favour and experiencing it first hand at a parish where the priest always says his weekday Mass in this way in the small chapel he uses instead of the main Church. He turns to the people at certain points in the Mass which i understand was part of the original rubrics for the Novus Ordo. Its much better when everybody faces the same way and focuses on the Lord instead of gazing at eachother, and gets away from the idea that the Mass is a sort of entertainment or "piece of theatre" to use the Pope's expression. Sadly some priests who say Mass facing the people give in to the temptation of making themselves the centre of attention by putting on a kind of performance. I'm finding this increasingly irritating and long for the time when all masses are said ad orientem, though the change will need to be explained as it seems that most people are ignorant of the reasons for it. Looking further into the future i hope for a return of the practice of kneeling to receive communion, and the reintroduction of more silence into the Mass. If these further changes were made i think we'd have gone a long way toward the reform of the reform which Pope Benedict apparently favours.Though i have been raised on the Novus Ordo,recent attendance at some extraordinary form Masses have convinced me that much has indeed been lost, but it would not in my opinion be too difficult to recover the situation. Priests like yourself, by doing what you are doing are making a start and this is the only way its going to happen. I can't see the Pope trying to impose any changes at the moment though he seems to be trying to lead by teaching and example.

Sixupman said...

Re Leyland:

It was the famed Fr.Henry's beautiful 'utilitarian' church [redolent of a period of rapid expansion] who has already posted here. However, the Celebrant, on the occasion to which I refered, was a locum. His sermon was so good, I was prompted to congratulate him. Actually, I had misunderstood the time of the TLM -old age catching up.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Just a thought on St Peter's which is so often quoted as being an example of orientation ad populum: Mass was offered primarilly for the Papal Court which was gathered between the Altar of the Chair and the High Altar, thus when the Pope ascended to the High Altar the principle members of the congregation were behind him.

In the days before electronic amplification those in the nave would have both heard very little and apart from the papal procession and the glimpse of the Pope at the altar during the Preface and Canon, they would have seen hardly anything.
They would certainly not have participated in the Liturgy of the Word.

Indeed St Peter's was a pilgrimage church, most of the big events, like Papal coronations took place elsewhere, such as the relative seclusion of the Sistine Chapel.

Augustinus said...

Please persevere, Father. In time, acceptance will come - not least because most young priests clearly see the theological benefits of facing East, and they will be the PPs of the future.

Like another commenter, I too get the impression that most of the congregation either wouldn't notice, or would not be too concerned.

Some years ago, when on a school visit to a local shrine associated with our Martyrs, Mass was said in the old chapel and could only be offerred ad orientam. When asked about the experience, every child said that they hadn't noticed anything strange about it!

Father Gary Dickson said...

Father,

As you know I have been celebrating all Masses ad orientem for some years now, by which I mean the Novus Ordo. Yes, there are those who feel agitated by it, but on the whole most folk simply accept it and some truly like it, even those who do not like the 1962 Form. Of course there are always going to be those who feel that if they can’t see the priests face they are being ignored, buyt that is simply –and extremely- poor education.

I would say I helped in the introduction of the versus apsidem/ad orientem orientation by catechesis in which I focused on the theology and history of the orientation, relating these to the rubrics of the 1970 Missal which presumed ad orientem from the Offertory (or Preparation of the Gifts) onwards. I did not quote Ratzinger at all because mention of his name makes the blood of some people reach boiling point – at least of those who will not have the hermeneutic of continuity, being wedded to the hermeneutic of rupture and the ‘brave new Church’ they were told Vatican II had introduced; a Church where Tradition as a source of Revelation is quietly but firmly rejected.

I would not go back to celebrating facing the people because I find it truly impossible not to be self-aware when doing so. The versus populorum orientation intrinsically contains an aspect of performing for the people’s edification rather than interceding for their sanctification. This is shown in concrete form when the celebrant holds out/shows the gifts to the people at the words of Institution, an action which cannot be anything other than a conversation with the people rather than prayer to the Almighty. It is a communication and social nonsense to face away from the person one is addressing in order to face those for whom you are interceding. Can you imagine a High Court judge being happy to be spoken to by a defence lawyer who directs his words to the defendant? Even the defendant is likely to be irritated by such an anomaly and demand that his lawyer engage with the Judge. It is sad that our people are not showing the same acuity in regard to the liturgy. Do keep up the effort.

umc said...

Carry on regardless Father, what we, the congregation, prefer should be of little interest. God is all that matters. Bless you for your courage! It is so hard to get people to understand the deep need for reverence to the blessed Sacrament, and our body language is all we can use when we should be silent in front of Him, Hope your Christmas is blessed and holy.

Ursula

Anonymous said...

Good on you Fr! Slowly but surely ... once people 'get over' the shock of change, the many advantages of ad orientem speak for themselves.

Rubricarius said...

In your case Dr. B. I would say forget ad orientem and face (compass) West - cheaper than knocking down St. Mary's and re-building it.

A happy Christmass!

Richard S Rainbow said...

Although Rubricarius said: 'In your case Dr. B. I would say forget ad orientem and face (compass) West - cheaper than knocking down St. Mary's and re-building it' I must suggest that the latter suggestion is better than the first

Fr Michael Brown said...

Ah Richard, is that why we never see you any more?

Richard S Rainbow said...

Maybe! But, not many people ask that question. Rather more ask about St Mary's and the possibility of re-building.

Richard S Rainbow said...

Maybe! But, not many people ask that question. Rather more ask about St Mary's and the possibility of re-building.contell

Richard S Rainbow said...

Maybe! But, not many people ask that question. Rather more ask about St Mary's and the possibility of re-building.

Richard S Rainbow said...

Maybe! But, not many people ask that question. Rather more ask about St Mary's and the possibility of re-building.

1569 Rising said...

Wasn't it Dr Josef Goebbells (propaganda minister of the Third Reich) who maintained that for something to be believed it had to be repeated several times?

Has Mr Rainbow taken a leaf out of the Dr's book by repeating his last post 4 times?

I actually quite like the "homely" feel of St Mary's.

Fr Michael Brown said...

No Richard, I`ve not heard anyone apart from myself suggest that the answer to the liturgical difficulties at St Mary`s is the bulldozer whereas I`ve heard quite a few wonder what ever happened to Richard Rainbow.

Richard S Rainbow said...

I can't say that 'quite a few' have enquired directly to me! And please do let your followers know that I sent my last message once only; was the blog editor having a day off?

Fr Michael Brown said...

I got four copies by email. I published one and it turned into four again.

1569 Rising said...

So, it wasn't the fault of the good(?) Dr Goebbels. He, after all, is long gone to the Great Bunker in the sky.

Of course, wisdom from Richard is worth repeating ad nauseam.

Richard S Rainbow said...

If 1569 Uprising has a few quiet moments would he perhaps reconsider his statement: 'I actually quite like the "homely" feel of St Mary's.'?

Interested observer said...

Highly interesting. What about just doing it all the time, regardless, and just ignoring complaints. Wouldn't they just get used to it after a few years? It's a pity they ever had to change it in the first place. If they had never known anything different, they wouldn't be complaining. Interestong the schoolchildren have no problem with it, but then they aren't set in their ways like adults. More interesting the teachers don't mind. Are your parishioners just an awkward bunch, or just choosing to take it personally, or something? As you say, there are far more important things. I like the thought of all facing the same way - outwards.