Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization

"Catholic Prayers for the New Evangelization"

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Laying the Foundations for ad orientem worship

Several weeks ago, Cardinal Sarah issued a fraternal challenge to priests to begin to catechize the faithful on the meaning of ad orientem worship, in order to prepare them for worshipping in this manner beginning in Advent 2016.  The Holy Father’s press secretary issued a clarification shortly thereafter, stating the obvious, namely, that the cardinal was not expounding new directives or rubrics.  There need not be any new rubrics because the Missal and GIRM already presume and allow for Mass being celebrated facing “East” – the altar, the Lord.  His Eminence knows the significance of turning toward the Lord and the value of this traditional posture in fostering the deeper devotion to Christ called for by the New Evangelization. 

Father Uwe Michael Lang, in his book Turing Toward the Lord, outlines the historical, spiritual and theological foundations of ad orientem worship.  From the earliest days of the Church, Christians believed that Jesus would return from the East and so that celebrated Mass facing in a common direction to the East.  Whenever and wherever facing compass East is not possible, the rich symbolism of facing together in a common direction speaks volumes about who we are and what we believe.  Together, we turn to the Lord Jesus, our savior and redeemer, for all that we need.  We look to Him, the object of our worship, when we adore and receive Him in the Mass.  Therefore, when we pray, it only makes sense that we should look at Him and not at one another. 

Unfortunately, because our Church has drifted from this important liturgical pillar in the last half-century, restoring it will be perceived as a “change” even though it is nothing new at all.  “Father Z” has expertly outlined the issues involved with this necessary liturgical development called for by Cardinal Sarah.  His words speak for themselves:

When the 2000 GIRM was issued (now usually cited as 2002 GIRM because it is in the 2002 Missale Romanum), a question was put to the Congregation for Divine Worship: Can a bishop, in his role as moderator of the Sacred Liturgy in the diocese, forbid ad orientem worship?

On 10 April 2000, the Congregation for Divine Worship issued an official response (Protocol No. 564/00/L) about GIRM 299 (my emphases):

This dicastery wishes to state that Holy Mass may be celebrated versus populum or versus apsidem. Both positions are in accord with liturgical law; both are to be considered correct.
There is no preference expressed in the liturgical legislation for either position. As both positions enjoy the favor of law, the legislation may not be invoked to say that one position or the other accords more closely with the mind of the Church.

In a nutshell, bishops can’t overrule universal laws, including rubrics.  Bishops cannot forbid legitimate options.

The rubrics of the modern Roman Rite, the Novus Ordo, the Ordinary Form, do NOT favor celebration of Holy Mass versus populum, so-called “facing the people”.

That said, one bishop after another is tumbling headlong into the trap laid in the purposeful mistranslation of GIRM 299.   More HERE.  Alas, most bishops these days did not have any training in Latin before, during or after seminary, including those trained after the 1983 Code of Canon Law laid down in can. 249 says that seminarians are to be be “very well-trained” (bene calleant) in Latin.

We are now beginning to see what damage can be done when clerics depend on translations.

The mistranslators, and those who are in the trap pit with them, say that GIRM 299 reads in such a way as to favor Mass “facing the people”.  The false, erroneous translation reads:

299. The altar should be built separate from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. …

No. That last clause, introduced by the relative pronoun quod, does not refer to the orientation of the celebration of Mass.  Rather, it refers to the first clause and separation of the altar from the wall.  And I refer everyone to the quote from the Congregation at the top of this post.

What does 299 really say?

Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit. …

The main altar should be built separated from the wall, which is useful wherever it is possible, so that it can be easily walked around and a celebration toward the people can be carried out at it.

Recently in the Diocese of Little Rock, the local bishop sent a letter to priests in which he says that he “expects” that priests will say Mass “facing the people” because of what GIRM 299 says.  HERE  He didn’t try to impose that, because, well, he can’t.  Bishops cannot forbid the legitimate option of ad orientem worship and impose Mass “facing the people” only.  However, they can torture priests who say Mass ad orientem in a thousand ways.  But that would be abuse of power.  And that would be something new, wouldn’t it!

Now I read that another bishop, in Davenport, IA, has written to priests. HERE  He cites, again, the erroneous English version of 299 and then writes: “To be clear, this is the posture [“facing the people”] that priests are to take when celebrating the liturgy (in the Ordinary Form) in the Diocese of Davenport.”

BTW… Bp.  Amos says that the “normative” posture is “better”. Why? Because the priest and the assembly are “facing the altar together”.  Ummmm….

While Bp. Amos’ language doesn’t seem to rise to the level of a formal decree, and the letter isn’t framed in a juridical form, the bishop takes a step beyond that of the Bishop of Little Rock.

The good news – if there is good news in this development – is that some bishops might issue preemptive statements like this because they think priests will listen to The Sarah Appeal™!

Here’s the deal.

It is surreal to have to write this, but we now have to defend ad orientem worship in the Roman Catholic Church!

To be clear, while we have to acknowledge that versus populum celebration is an option in the rubrics (as it also is and was in the Extraordinary Form), given our tradition, ecclesial realities today and, yes, rubrics, I agree with Card. Sarah and strongly believe ad orientem would be of great benefit to the whole Church.  

I and others, therefore, are left with the bizarre task of writing again and again that ad orientem worship cannot presently be prohibited.  And neither can be versus populum!  

It is unfortunate that the poor English (and Italian, etc.) translation of GIRM 299 lead unsuspecting bishops and priests to think that worship versus populum, “is desirable whenever possible.” It was this very confusion that lead to the submission of the question, the dubium,  to the Congregation some 16 years ago and, consequently, to the official response which I quoted at the top.  Back then, the Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (who was not acting merely as a private citizen, btw…) made clear that, according to the law, Holy Mass in the Novus Ordo could be celebrated in either position.

Two final points.

Confusion flows from the poor English and Italian translation. However, the French, German and Polish managed to get it right!

FRENCH: (299) Il convient, partout où c’est possible, que l’autel soit érigé à une distance du mur qui permette d´en faire aisément le tour et d´y célébrer face au peuple.

GERMAN: (299) Der Altar ist von der Wand getrennt zu errichten, so dass man ihn leicht umschreiten und die Feier an ihm dem Volk zugewandt vollzogen werden kann. Das empfiehlt sich überall, wo es möglich ist.

POLISH: (299) Ołtarz winien być zbudowany w oddaleniu od ściany, aby łatwo można było obchodzić go dookoła i celebrować przy nim w stronę ludu. Wypada go tak umieścić wszędzie, gdzie to jest możliwe.

But I, friends, don’t need translations to be able to read 299, and neither should any other priest or bishop of the LATIN Church.

Next, way back in 1969, when the first Novus Ordo Missal was released, the 1969 GIRM 262 (the predecessor of 2002 GIRM 299) said:

262. Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit.

The main altar should be built separated from the wall, so that it can be easily walked around and a celebration toward the people can be carried out at it.

Note well that the pesky quod clause, which has caused such confusion in the 2002 version, is absent.

So, you might be asking, WHY was that quod clause inserted into the 2002 version?  It was probably an attempt – ham-fisted – to curtail the wide-spread destruction of existing altars that was going on.  There is NO LEGISLATION that requires that existing altars be reworked or destroyed or detached or chopped off or … anything.  That quod clause expresses a suggestion that, if it is possible, altars should be constructed far enough from the wall that they can be circumnavigated and Mass can be said from either side. That’s it.

Fr. Z’s position: All things being equal, ad orientem worship is superior, but both ad orientem and versus populum are provided for in the rubrics of the Ordinary Form. Attempts to forbid ad orientem worship today are based both on erroneous scholarship from decades ago that promoted versus populum worship (later repudiated by some of the scholars who proposed it), and on bad translations of present day liturgical legislation (which were subsequently clarified the Congregation for Divine Worship).

Celebrating the Holy Mass in a common direction and assuming the posture of adoring Christ together will orient our lives, beyond our worship, more perfectly around Him, without whom we wither and die.  Until our fellow clergy are ready to accept this development which will be so beneficial to the Church, there are three things we can do to lay the foundations:

1.         Teach.  There is no wrong time for catechizing the faithful about the mysteries of the faith.  Using Fr. Lang’s book and other writings of recent popes and scholars on the subject, each priest can catechize through homilies, bulletin inserts and adult faith formation classes about the fundamental orientation of the Christian life and its liturgical expression: turning toward the Lord.

2.         Make visible the Holy Cross.  As Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out in his book Spirit of the Liturgy, placing a Cross and its accompanying candles on the top of the altar reminds the priest and the people not to gaze at each other but to gaze together at Jesus.  “True love consists not in gazing at each other but gazing together in a common direction.” – Antoine de Saint Exsupery.  With the Cross at the center of the liturgical action, everyone will be encouraged, even subtly, to look at Jesus and ignore the rather insignificant face of the priest.  Then, the priest can feel comfortable doing what is right while praying, namely, looking at God when speaking to God.  The celebrant should never stare out into the congregation during the Gloria, Creed, and Offertory/Eucharistic Prayers.  He should be looking at the altar, the Cross or the Eucharistic elements.  When addressing the people, he should look up or turn around to speak to them.  This common sense practice will help to quietly form the people to see Jesus as the object of their worship and keep they eyes fixed on Him. 

 3.        Use the Prayers of the Faithful to promote turning toward the Lord.  Saint Augustine and other Church Fathers speak of the custom of the early Church, that a minister would announce to the people after the homily: “conversi ad Dominum!”  Turn to the Lord!  The people would then face East with the priest.  This is the message at the heart of Cardinal Sarah’s call to celebrant Mass ad orientem.  It only makes sense that the priest should be leading us together in a common direction toward Christ.  No one wants the bus driver to be looking back at them while driving them to their destination.  In the introduction and concluding prayer to the Prayers of the Faithful, priests can use the words “turn toward the Lord” in such a way as to restore this ancient call to worship and to instill in the hearts of the faithful a sense of clarity about what we are collectively going to do next in the Mass: worshipping and receiving the living Christ.  For example, at the introduction one might say: “Let us turn toward the Lord and offer Him our prayers in peace and confidence.”  At the end one might pray, “Heavenly Father, God of infinite love and tender mercy, hear the prayers of your people.  As we now turn to the Lord Jesus to adore and receive His Body and Blood, bestow on us the grace to love you above all else.”  This is open to interpretation and adaptation but the basic concept is to incorporate the idea of transitioning from the Liturgy of the Word, which is essentially a dialogue and teaching experience, to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is an experience of adoring Christ together and receiving Him in Holy Communion. 

Taken together, these three simple practices will shape the congregations entrusted to our care to
understand more fully the authentic meaning of the worship of God in the Holy Mass.




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