Nice View From the Deckchair

The inimitiable Father Z crows over a South Carolina priest going east. (That’s east as in ad orientam, not east into the Atlantic Ocean.)

I think Fr Z and other clergy do the Church great discredit in this emphasis. It makes the liturgy all about the priest: “Look at me! I’m turning my back to you to face God.”

At InsideCatholic, they’ve picked up the story, but I have to register a dissent.

Aside from this being a deckchair, Titanic, rearrangement kind of thing–if the liturgy is in such sorry shape as the traditionalists would have us believe–American Catholics have registered their support for two things practically any parish can do to improve the liturgy. Improve the preaching and the music.

A pastor can make a commitment to good liturgy by engaging a music director, or if he’s fortunate, throw all sorts of support to volunteer musicians: lessons, conferences, instruments, acoustics, etc..

The pastor himself might attend a preaching seminar. He might consult an acting coach to improve his voice and delivery. He might take a graduate class in Scripture or even learn Greek and Hebrew to brush up on the texts in their original languages.

Father Z’s approach strikes me as the worst of the 60’s: let’s tinker with the fringes of the liturgy, tell ourselves 95% of the people approve, and kick back with a good drink and a cigar on Sunday night.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Liturgy, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Nice View From the Deckchair

  1. Rob F. says:

    I’m glad to see that you think that “ad Orientem” is a minor issue. I hope this feeling is shared by other progressives, because that would mean not-so-much opposition to this restoration.

    There are of course, many conservatives who think that this is a much more important issue, that “versus populum” was a radical break with tradition, more radical than translation into the vernacular. I agree with them.

    I don’t think that many conservatives would disagree with you that preaching and music are important too. Fortunately, it’s not an either-or thing. “Ad Orientem” is quite compatible with good music and good preaching.

    I think you make a good point that making a big deal about the facing of the priest sends the wrong message, “it’s all about the priest”. Many conservatives agree with you in a way; I’ve heard many say that switching to “versus populum” in the 60’s made the mass all about the priest. It seems that we are faced with choosing one of two bad options, (a) keep the bad it’s-all-about-the-priest “versus populum” mass that we’ve become accustomed to, or (b) introduce yet another change to restore “ad Orientem”. Option (b) has short term negative consequences, obviously, but it will hopefully eliminate some of the long term negatives that option (a) would leave unaddressed.

    I’m not so sure that your Titanic analogy is quite apt. We hit this iceberg back in the 60’s, and we’re not sunk yet. Some of us even see some signs of improvement; it’s not all bad news. We can make things better one step at a time, even if some of the steps seem kind of small.

  2. Todd says:

    Thanks for the comments, Rob.

    With worship antiphonal or in the round, the priest’s orientation with regard to the people is largely irrelevant. In the round, people can choose to sit where they are facing the same direction as the priest.

    As for small steps, I’d encourage them too: a 50-minute session for a priest with a voice teacher or an acting coach, an organ lesson for a pianist, things like that. Things that one can build on.

    I think the Barque brushed the iceberg in the 60’s, yes, but probably the 1560’s. I don’t think tinkering at the fringes is the way to go. The inner spiritual orientation of clergy and other worshippers: that’s a better fix, but a much harder one than a few bulletin columns and switching sides of the altar.

  3. Anne says:

    I can’t believe that restoring “ad orientum” is a minor issue. Do you consider it a minor issue to turn your back on the presence of Christ? It certainly is a disrespect to those assembled but mostly to Christ’s presence in those gathered to worship. I’ve been around long enough to remember and I can still recall the rigidity of Tridentine way. I can’t believe that going in this direction will help us to promote Catholicism and keep young adults in the church. I hear trads say the days of experimenting with creativity is long over with this pope. They believe that bringing back the sacred means to rigidly follow the rubrics(as if they never were followed). I’m not saying that we are not without our liturgical problems but keep that line of thinking only if your goal is to drive people away. Maybe our problem is that Catholics,since the Council, who experimented and were accused of being too creative… just weren’t creative enough. Are we ignoring the Holy Spirit in all this? I’m thinking we are.

  4. PadreVic says:

    Maybe we should not be paying attention to the Holy Spirit at this point in time…perhaps the Holy Spirit guiding us in the past is good enough? ;-)

    enjoy Easter
    peace to all

  5. Liam says:

    For me, I am concerned about the shibboleth quality. That is, that some are making the direction of the priest an ideological signifier.

    Consquently, I would tend to encourage priests to use both approaches, to bleed this trend out of current liturgics.

  6. Gavin says:

    It makes the liturgy all about the priest: “Look at me! I’m turning my back to you to face God.”

    Facing the congregation is the innovation, not ad orientem.

    Anne, as a young adult, I’m tired of 22 years of looking at a priest and his personality. No one in my generation is won over by Fr. Friendly, we just think he’s a joke. Ad orientem helps to hide the priest and his personality behind the sacred office he (and he alone) carries out in persona Christi.

    And liturgical Lutherans get it, as they do ad orientem also. My girlfriend (21, so also a young adult) is disgusted by Catholic opposition to ad orientem. As she put it so wisely, “what’s the problem? When he faces us, he talks to us. When he faces with us, he talks to God.”

  7. Anne says:

    Gavin your comment makes absolutely no sense to me.

  8. Tony says:

    I can’t believe that restoring “ad orientum” is a minor issue. Do you consider it a minor issue to turn your back on the presence of Christ?

    My priest is doing that now. He has his back to the tabernacle.

  9. Brendan Kelleher SVD says:

    “ad orientum” should no longer be an issue. It emerged as an historical accident and remained since it suited a particular set of theological suppositions.
    In the context of Vatican II and the reform of the liturgy it was never a major issue. Though I am sure that among your readers there are more than a few who see/believe or have been taught to believe that Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, and his liberalizing peers, was the source of all our problems, a reading of his history of the reform seems to indicate that he had the support of Paul VI. The Order of the Mass as we now have it went through numerous “experiments”, private and public, and was celebrated by both scholars and bishops before reaching its final form. There was no rush to reform and it was all based on years of sound scholarship. Before some of your commentators write they really need to read the history of the liturgical reform, the history of the Council and the follow up through the various Papal/Vatical approved commissions and committee, and of course read the appropriate documents conciliar and post-conciliar. (Please keep up your commentary on the various documents.)
    If your priest had his back to the tabernacle, why does that mean he has his back to Christ. As an earlier comment mentioned,the altar, the assembly, the consecrated Eucharist are all signs, symbols and or sacraments, in various degrees of Christ and his presence among us. None of this is new theology, and has been part of Papal teaching before Vatican II.
    As for Fr.Z, I rarely visit his site unless it is tagged from a site I regularly visit.I consider him and his ilk a great source of irresponsible mischief and unrest. On whose or what authority does he speak? What is his background? I sometimes wish his Bishop would bring him back to the USA and impose a period of silence on him. Just because he works out of Rome shouldn’t give his ramblings and comments undue and unwarranted credibility or authority.
    Listen to your Bishops, their liturgical advisors, and take full and proper advantage of all the wonderful resources you have at your disposal in the USA. There you will get good advice, and sound scholarship and theology.

  10. Rob F. says:

    Brendan Kelleher SVD said, “[ad Orientem] emerged as an historical accident”.

    I find this hard to believe. Of the twenty plus autonomous churches, (not to mention the Orthodox, Nestorian, and Jacobite churches) why is it that only the Latin church has a liturgy which allows “versus populum”? It seems to be an accident that occurs pretty consistently in widely divergent places.

    Note that I am not advocating abolishing “versus populum” altogether. The Roman rite is a unique one, and has allowed “versus populum” in the big Roman basilicas for a very long time. But it has also allowed, outside of those basilicas, the more common (and more natural?) “ad Orientem”.

  11. I think it’s pretty clear that ad orientem was not a simple historical accident (despite the view presented by Klauser et al.).

    At the same time, we are Roman Catholics, and it appears to me that Mass facing the people was the custom in Rome. Some folks act like this was a peculiarity of St. Peter’s, necessitated by the geography of the site, but from my informal survey I cannot think of a single first-millennium Church in Rome (with the exception of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, where the Byzantine Rite was celebrated) where it is possible for the priest to face the same direction as the people. There simply isn’t room on that side of the altar. So it seems to me, from my unscientific survey, that versus populum celebration was the norm in Rome during the first millennium.

    Folks in the 50s made a mistake in arguing that versus populum was a universal practice in the early Church. It seems to me that some folks today are making the similar mistake of arguing that it was virtually unknown.

  12. Gavin says:

    Just for the sake of discussion: for those of you who favor ad orientem but not exclusively, when do you think would be a suitable time to have versus populum?

    FWIW, I love the use of the iconostasis. Then again, the priest acts as deacon and the liturgy is in English. I don’t know how I’d feel about 100% Greek and the priest not talking at all, but I’d have to see it first. And I should add that I don’t think ad orientem should involve the “blessed murmur”.

  13. Rob F. says:

    Gavin asks, “when do tou think would be a suitable time to have a versus populum?”

    I really like the idea of an audible canon, so I think that “versus populum” is appropriate any time you don’t have a PA system. It might seem pretty silly and self defaeating if the priest were yelling the canon towards the wall.

    I also think that versus populum is appropriate where it has traditionally been required, i.e., in those old Roman basilicas.

    Your point about iconostases is well taken. I hear that in the Roman liturgy, there used to be a curtain around the sanctuary. In such a situation, “ad Orientem” would truly be a non-issue.

  14. IngoB says:

    I think we need to apply the insights of Blessed-to-be John Henry Cardinal Newman in “An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine” to the question of liturgy in general and the question of “versus populum” in particular. After all: “lex orandi, lex credendi” – if the latter undergoes development, as Newman so elegantly shows, then so must the former. And in general and on average over the centuries, it does so towards the better through the workings of the Holy Spirit. It is mistaken (and frankly, somewhat Protestant) to seek for some “purer” version of the liturgy in history – be it in the 1st century or the 16th.

    But just as with theology then, not every change is a legitimate change merely by virtue of being a change. Newman certainly did not argue for the rule of arbitrariness and current taste in dogma, and neither can the liturgy truly develop in such a fashion. Just as with doctrine, development must clarify and improve what had come before, and even discover what was already hidden in it, without however simply “inventing something new”. There has to be an *organic* development. That, and nothing else, is appropriate for a Church which is truly *alive*. (And note: natural development is largely from the state just prior, not from some state much further back.)

    The problem with the post-VII mass is not that it *is* a development of the “Tridentine” mass. Trads asserting that any change to it must be evil are sorely mistaken. The problem with the post-VII mass is that it *is not enough* of a development of the “Tridentine” mass. The post-VII mass made a leap – and it really was a bit too far. “Reform of the reform”, rightly understood (i.e., as I understand it… ;-) ), is the attempt to re-establish continuity.

    I think “ad orientem” was a true development from more uncertain beginnings, in line with a better understanding of the role of the priest. Hence it will be restored to a large extent sooner or later. However, we can see the post-VII wholesale move to “versus populum” as a necessary correction – wrong not in correcting, but rather in *over*-correcting. I expect that we will see some sophisticated combination of both emerge as best practice eventually, with “ad orientem” dominant simply because it is more appropriate symbolically in more parts of the mass.

    That is for me “reform of the reform”. It’s unfortunate that the war between rad trads and rad progs will likely delay it by a few more decades. I think though that in this time is working more for the rad trads. The prog-dominated Church is rather ill in the developed world. The closer to death it comes, the more likely that radical trad cures will be accepted (by whoever is left).


    P.S.: Nice to see you outside SoF, FCB.

  15. Gavin says:

    Rob: I’d prefer 100% ad orientem I suppose, but I think it’s better to do versus populum with a freestanding altar (and as you said a basilica). I’ve seen ad orientem with a freestanding altar, and I don’t like it. It seems unbalanced. And I don’t much care for the “Benedictine” arrangement, but that’s another issue.

    As for your suggestion about the PA system, what about singing? One traditional purpose of singing is it’s easier to hear. I’d be curious how that would work out, but I’ve never seen it done that I can remember. (of course, good luck finding a priest who will chant the canon!) At the Orthodox liturgies I’ve been to, the priest recites those parts marked as “silent” in a normal speaking voice and then chants those marked as “aloud”. It provides a nice contrast: you can still hear him on the “silent” parts, but the sung parts have more emphasis. But ultimately I’d say the canon should be heard, and “shouting at a wall” doesn’t do it.

  16. FrMichael says:

    “…and kick back with a good drink and a cigar on Sunday night.”

    75% of the priests I know could provide a better explanation about the wisdom of a good drink and cigar on Sunday night than about their orientation at the altar on Sunday morning.

    Just an aside… hope it doesn’t sidetrack the discussion too much.

  17. Brendan Kelleher SVD says:

    A delayed response, to some recent comments on this thread. A review of history seems to indicate that ‘ad orientem’, an import from the Franks, fixed altars, and the placing of the tabernacle in the middle of the back wall of the sanctuary all belong to a period stretching from the 8th to the 10/11th century, that also saw a high Christology, a stronger emphasis on the mystery of the Eucharist, accompanied by a decline in both popular participation in the Mass, and particularly a reluctance by the laity, on the grounds of unworthiness, to receive Holy Communion. Call it the result of a swing of the pendelum, an unbalanced theology that lost a sense of the full meaning of the mystery of the Incarnation. But whether we can call it healthy organic development is surely open to question.
    The beginnings of the liturgical movement, that saw fruit in VaticanII, can be traced back to scholarship undertaken in the 19th century. Was it a step too far? For those unprepared, those who never saw it coming, maybe so, but it has allowed the faith to find a voice in languages and cultures wider than the narrow confines of Europe and the west. Some see impoverishment, others see a new depth and richness. I certainly don’t hear a rising swell for ‘ad orientem’, from where I am. But then the ‘wide world’ of the web can give the impression that a wider consensus exists than a closer examination reveals, pace the web and media take on Benedict XVI’s recent visit to the USA. The diversity of comments in a recent issue of ‘The Tablet’ point up both the relative sucesses and the missed opportunities – no women, no contact with the growing Hispanic and Asian presence in USA.
    So as I read the various comments in response to the postings on Catholic Sensibility,I give thanks that I live in a cross-cultural, multi-national (13 separate nationalities) community that continually gives me a window on a wider world than that lived in by some recent contributors. Witness, Sharing, Celebrating are central to contemporary missionary life, and the whole Church, East and West, North and South, from the rising of the sun to its settting are called to move beyond timebound expressions of our faith, which are rally no more than ongoing explorations in faith, to a fuller expression of catholicity.

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