And it Makes Hippies really mad. Or… Facing God.

Conversi ad Dominum

This call by Saint Augustine, Turn to the Lord ! is the “battle cry” of a growing movement to restore the facing towards East / toward the Lord, ie facing in the same direction as the congregation, at least as far as the Liturgy of the Eucharist (speaking of the Novus Ordo) is concerned. Pope Benedict XVI. is the most popular exponent of this great movement. He wrote the introduction to the seminally important book Turning Towards the Lord by Father Uwe Lang of the London Oratory. Next to its link, some more great books. Turns out Father Lang is a regular Closed Cafeteria reader – he admitted to it in a very nice email 🙂

And also The Heresy of Formlessness (Ignatius)

In addition to the high quality of the people in favor of what is generally referred to as AD ORIENTEM, there is the fact that “Call to Action” types usually loathe it. While turning towards East is desirable, it’s often not possible. However, turning together towards the Lord is the essential element. This mainly applies to the liturgy of the Eucharist, so scared parishioners would still have the priest face them for quite a bit! 😛

I’ll write about the historical background of this another time, for this post the focus will be on theological arguments.

First, an excerpt from Pope Benedict’s foreword to Father Lang’s Turning Towards the Lord

To the ordinary churchgoer, the two most obvious effects of the liturgical reform of the Second Vatican Council seem to be the disappearance of Latin and the turning of the altars towards the people. Those who read the relevant texts will be astonished to learn that neither is in fact found in the decrees of the Council.

It is true that later GIRMs expressed that facing the people was “desirable” but it has never been made mandatory, according to Pope Benedict. In addition, by now it is painfully obvious that the “spirit of those liturgists” has failed. A reform is clearly necessary. Some say that in olden days the focus was wholly on the sacrificial character of the Mass. Well, be that as it may, to me it seems far more fatal that today, especially among the “spirit of Vatican II” crowd, the meal character is by far the most emphasized aspect.

Now for some fascinating, highly instructive quotes that Father Lang cites in his truly convincing book:

The direction of prayer should point towards the transcendent addressee of prayer. Hence the question of the focal point of the presidential prayer needs to be considered seriously…If the common direction of presider and congregation, in turning at prayer towards Christ, who has been exalted and is to come again, disappeared completely, it would be a regrettable spiritual loss.
– Andreas Heinz –

Father Lang himself writes

The constant face-to-face position of priest and people expresses a symbolism of its own and suggests a closed circle. The ideal of the Christian Church is not a circular building with altar, ambo, and sedilia in the centre. It is not mere accident that samples of this type are hardly found before the second half of the twentieth century; the celebratio versus populum tends to diminish the transcendent dimension of the Eucharist to such an extent that it generates the notion of a closed society. The communal character of the liturgy is no doubt important, but it is only one aspect of the liturgy.

The danger is that the congregation can become complacent and entertain a misconceived autonomy, thus disconnecting itself from the other assemblies of the faithful and from the invisible assembly of the saints in heaven, so that the community would just be in dialogue with itself. This betrays not only a deficient ecclesiology but also an erroneous concept of God. Half a century ago, Henri de Lubac warned Christians to be on guard “against the present tendency to absorb God into the human community.” Today, we are threatened by what Aidan Nichols calls ‘cultic immanentism’, ‘the danger of a congregation’s covert self-reference in a horizontal, humanistic world.”

As a glimpse on the historical treatise of this subject, here Pope Benedict in Spirit of the Liturgy

In no meal of the early Christian era did the president of the banqueting assembly every face the other participants. They were all sitting, or reclining, on the convex side of a C-shaped table, or of a table having approximately the shape of a horse shoe. The other side was always left empty for the service. Nowhere in Christian antiquity could have arisen the idea of having to ‘face the people’ to preside at a meal

In addition, the popular depicting of the Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci is incorrect – the place of honor was the seat on the right. This was also the way it was depicted in churches and Catholic art before that time.

Monsignor Klaus Gamber, considered by Pope Benedict to have been a liturgist of unsurpassed quality, wrote in The Modern Rite

According to the Catholic conception of the Mass, it is more than just a communal meal in memory of Jesus of Nazareth. The decisive element is not the way that the community spirit is made effective and experienced, even though that should not be underestimated, but the community coming to offer service to God. The point of reference must always be God, and not man. For that reason, from the outset, the turning towards him in prayer by all those present and no turning to face each other by priest and people. We must draw the necessary conclusions and see the celebration “turned towards the people” for what it really is, an invention of Martin Luther.

Zing! It really is very instructive that the most ‘progressive’ and dissenting people are opposed to ad orientem the most.

Again, Fr. Lang:

Pastoral experience over the last four decades can teach us that the understanding of the Mass as both the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Church has diminished considerabl, if not faded away, among the faithful. I do not want to suggest that the sweeping triumph of the celebration versus populum is the only reason for this deplorable development. But the emphasis on the meal aspect of the Eucharist that complemented the celebrant priest’s turning towards the people has been overdone and has failed to proclaim the Eucharist as a ‘visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands)’ – Council of Trent.

Max Thurian wrote in Notitiae, the organ of the Congregation for Divine Worship

The whole celebration is often conducted as if it were a conversation and dialogue in which there is no longer any room for adoration, contemplation and silence. The fact that the celebrants and faithful constantly face each other closes the liturgy in on itself. On the other hand, a sound celebration, which takes into account the pre-eminence of the altar, the discretion of the celebrants’ ministry, the orientation of everyone towards the Lord and the adoration of his presence signified in the symbols and realised by the sacrament, confers on the liturgy that contemplative atmosphere without which it risks being a tiresome religious disquisition, a useless community distraction, a sort of rigmarole.

Yes! I’ve been calling this type of liturgy the ‘spirituality of accounts’, and I just found out that there is a German book called “The Council of the Accountants”. This author, by the way, also dislikes putting the celebrant’s chair right behind the altar.

Another pest wrought on the Church following Vatican II was the disfiguring of historic churches by putting those unfortunate people’s altarts in front of the gorgeous high altars. If lucky, they matched them in style, something that often didn’t happen. And, often the high altar was torn out completely and replaced with a slab. If only we could sacrifice those people on their people’s altar !

From an editorial in Notititae, Congregation for Divine Worship:

The principle of there being only one altar is theologically more important than the practice of celebrating facing the people.

As a photographer it doubly outrages me. My definition of the people’s altar: the thing in the way of the beautiful high altar. Something newer churches woefully lack – a high altar. All we get is a table. Whoopee. And if you’re really out of luck, hippie Jesus is waving from the cross above. Such degeneration in so short a time would be unbelievable had it not really happened. It’s as if these accountants of faith had gotten together and said, “let’s see, how can we screw ourselves as hard as possible.”

I’ll end this post with the more civilized words of Father Lang:

Reclaiming the common direction of prayer seems most desirable for the liturgical life, and hence, for the welfare of the Church. In this liturgical gesture the Church turns to her source of life, the risen and ascended Lord, whose return she desires and expects.

(and it makes the old hippies really mad)

posted by Gerald Augustinus

~ by Dom Gueranger Society on February 5, 2008.

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