Brother Thom has some suggestions

He’s telling me to get my hands on a copy of this week’s New Yorker, which is not online. Sez he: I just read Peter Boyer’s piece on Benedict in the New Yorker. You really should get it. Excellent snapshot of orthodox Catholicism in America, with lotsa sympathy for the likes of Chaput and Burke. The conservatives, for once, come off in the press has sound and sane, and the liberals (McBrien and Curran) sound like cranky flakes.
Whod’a thunk? :-)

Btw…I must hasten to point out that where I am to the right of center, Thom is moderately left of center, but even he is getting tired of the McBrien’s and the Curran’s and the press’ adulation of them based on…well, based on nothing more than the fact that they are so frequently dissenters. Because I’d wager that most – not all but most – newsfolk who talk to McBrien have no idea about anything re Catholicism, and are simply eager to talk to the ‘liberal’ voice.)

So, I will have to go get a New Yorker, if I can find one here in the reddish suburbs.

Thom also pointed me to this somewhat interesting article from the LA Times, about the idea that Altars in Catholic Churches may once again be flipped back to their original positions.

Some Catholics considerably younger than my grandmother never have reconciled themselves to what may seem to non-Catholics like a trivial dispute over furniture arrangement or, at best, a sort of Christian feng shui. But the debate over the placement of the priest at Mass is a variation on debates in many faiths between traditionalists and innovators, between those who emphasize the this-worldly nature of religion and those who are content to see dimly, looking to another world.

Where does the new pope fall along this divide? In his 1999 book “The Spirit of the Liturgy,” the future pope ruefully recalls how Mass “versus populum” (toward the people) established itself after Vatican II even though Pope John XXIII’s reform council hadn’t directly decreed the change. The new arrangement, then-Cardinal Ratzinger sarcastically observes, was thought to be “compatible with the meaning of the Christian liturgy, with the requirement of active participation.”

Yet, Ratzinger goes on, the preference for the priest facing the people at Mass was based on an exception — the way Mass was celebrated at the pope’s own Basilica of St. Peter. The altar there is at the west end of the sanctuary, although, traditionally, Catholic churches were suppose to place the altar against the east wall so priest and people faced east (and, metaphorically, God) when they faced the altar.

I got no problem with turning the altar and the priests back around. Funnily enough, Thom and I were just saying the other day (and remember, he is LEFT of center) that we’re tired of so much focus being on the priests, who seem to feel, since they are facing us, that they have to PERFORM. Just say the prayers, give us the Mass, without the drama, Fathers, and we’ll be very happy.

The priest used to face the altar because during a sacrifice, that’s what one does. Having the priests back to the assembly kept the focus on the sacrifice itself, not him, as he led us to a moment. It wasn’t broke. It didn’t have to be ‘fixed.’ This article, in between some stupid and gratuitious swipes here and there, actually does a good job of explaining how and why the altar flipping happened, even though it was NOT recommended by Vatican Council II.

Meanwhile, Reuters tells us that Pope Benedict XVI is busy building bridges…he has reached out to French Protestants, pleasing them.

Pope Benedict extended an olive branch to some of his harshest critics at the weekend, sending a cordial message to a French Protestant church and saying he wanted to work toward the unity of all Christians.

The message to a synod of the Reformed Church of France in the southern city of Aix-en-Province was the first papal note ever sent to the French church’s annual assembly and met with surprise and approval, according to local media reports.

The Protestant Federation of France — of which the Reformed Church is the largest member — stood out among the well-wishers after Benedict’s election on April 19 by bluntly expressing its concern about him and demanding “a sign of ecumenical openness.”

It recalled he had dismissed Protestant denominations as “not proper churches” in an official statement in 2000 when he was Vatican doctrinal overseer Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The Vatican message to the synod said the German-born Pope “cordially salutes all participants of the Reformed Church of France and assures them of his prayers.”

Since becoming Pope, Benedict has made frequent statements supporting inter-religious cooperation, a shift of emphasis from his earlier drive to assert a superiority of Catholicism.

“This is an important signal,” Pastor Marcel Manoel, head of France’s largest Protestant church, told Europe 1 radio. “Being German, he understands Protestant churches well.”

An OLIVE branch, eh? Inneresting! :-) Well, as long as everyone is happy, that’s what I always say!

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Mark

    I’m confused. Is a priest “in persona Christi” or not? And if he is, should we not engage him face to face rather than focus our attention on an inanimate crucifix behind, above, or on the altar (no matter how much I love crucifixes)?

    The problem isn’t which direction the priest is facing — A less-than-good priest is not going to make the Mass anymore solemn or Christ-focused by turning his back on us, and a great priest doesn’t detract from the Mass by facing us. If you have a good priest, you will see Christ up there celebrating the Mass and consecrating the bread. If you have a less-than-good priest, you will see just an everyday guy, or worse, not at all in the person of Christ. The answer is better priests, not which direction he is facing. We are not Muslims after all, who must face Mecca when we pray.

  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    Very well said, Mark. I’ve always thought that this business of being “ad orientem” was nothing more than pious legalism substituting for genuine faith. It does nothing to advance knowledge of the Gospel among Catholics who need it more than they realize.

  • Ellen

    In the book, In This House of Brede one of the nuns says that a priest facing the people is giving a performance. One facing the altar is leading the congregation to God – and traveling that path as well.

    I have no srong feelings either way, as long as the Mass is said with reverence.

  • TheAnchoress

    I agree Ellen…my feeilngs are not strong on it. Reverence is the key.

    Isn’t In this House of Brede just one of the greatest books, ever? :-)

  • Mark Curley

    I find always it interesting that when the talk comes to whether the priest should face *with* the people as opposed to “opposed” to the people (pun intended), that the arguments of “what does it matter” and “pious legalism” come up. Yet, try to make the change and you hear plenty of pious legalism against the more traditional way and the traditional symbolism.

    One thing that’s missing from mass is much symbolism – yes, the old symbolism but moreso any symbolism.

    It seems that people are missing the symbolism of “ad orientem” as being in union and leading the people. Perhaps it’s the misuse of the pejorative “with his back to the people”, or is it something deeper – a rejection of any and all symbolism which might teach a deeper form of the faith than that which they are content with. Much like a teenager taking offense at being corrected by a parent.

  • Darrell

    Half the table of Apostles was looking at Jesus’s face when he did it first. I would also think that none were looking at his back… Either way, the worshipers are facing to the East. And praying along typically.

  • Gerald Augustinus

    There seems to be an International Federation of Catholic Cranks – you know how there there’s this half dozen malcontents you saw on every network after John Paul the Great died and Benedict XVI was elected? It’s the same in other countries – in Germany there’s the insufferably self-important Hans Kueng, the oh-so-softspoken Eugen Drewermann, excommunicated Ute Ranke-Heinemann (“The Pope is not erotic”) – in Austria there’s a former priest named Adolf Holl who’s made a career of bashing the Church for some 30 years now and a journalist named Alfred Worm who’s never had anything good to say about the Church.

  • Sigmund, Carl and Alfred

    Off topic, a bit. What do you make of Fr Thom Reese’s ‘resignation’? Is there a bit of telegraphing going on here?

  • Joe H

    One of the good things about being Catholic is that we have a magisterium that makes these decisions based on extensive knowledge and tradition. As a good Catholic, I am very comfortable in their decision and that when they explain it, like everything else, it will make sense. Coming from a protestant church, we had no final say on what is right or wrong about anything. We who live in a world apart as lay people, it is nice to have this amazing solid source to help us on the path.
    On Fr Reese, he is one of many Jesuits that need to find new lines of work outside writing and teaching.
    I hope our new Pope does not spend too much time trying to please dissidents because they do not want anything other than their changes which cannot happen.

  • Walt

    Great! Let’s go back to the Latin Mass (better yet Aramaic). Turn the altar around. Then find a nun to lead the congegation in the rosary during Mass since we can’t see what the priest is doing and don’t understand him anyway.

    I was there and don’t want to go back.

  • Darrell

    Fr Reese was asked to leave by the readers. He chose to imply that the new Pope was somehow behind his resignation. What more do you need to know about the man? Maybe there’s a spot open at the LA Times?

    Nobody’s going back. Some people are just upset at the Pope’s hardline, pro-Catholic views, and they’re setting up another straw man. The LA Times has great compassion for the goat worshipers and Wiccans presently taking offense at the Pope’s existence.

  • Joseph D’Hippolito

    To those of you who have a strong opinion on the position of the priest with respect to the congregation during the Mass, let me ask you the following:

    1. How does his position enhance your understanding of Christ’s atonement for human sin?

    2. How does your position enhance your understanding of transubstantiation, which occurs regardless of the priest’s position?

    3. How much “mystery” is really necessary for faith to be energized?

    This is why I consider the whole issue to be one of pious legalism. So many Catholics have focused on liturgical rubrics that they’ve forgotten the Man behind those rubrics. Besides, many Catholics are spiritually dying because pastors, bishops and DRE’s have become more infatuated with intellectual fashion and promoting political and personal agendas than in communicating the faith seriously. Why are RCIA classes so uniformly bad? Why isn’t Scripture, let alone Aquinas or Augustine, taught on the parochial level in a manner that people can understand and apply to their own lives? It’s because Catholicism has lost its First Love — or, perhaps, that First Love has been buried under an avalanche of irrelevancies. Is reversing the altar or the priest’s position seriously going to remedy this situation?

  • William Bloomfield

    I would encourage those levying charges of “pious legalism” against Pope Benedict XVI to first read his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy.”

    It is tremendously arrogant for those who have not studied the topic (and I realize that all need not be passionate about such things) to so dismiss centuries of Church liturgical tradition, as well as the thoughts of one of the 20th Century’s greatest theologians.

  • William Bloomfield

    Cardinal Arinze, Prefect for the Congregation of Divine Worship, explains the need for liturgical norms in a recent speech. Here’s the link.

  • me2ewe

    I have to say I grew up with the current practice, so I can’t say for sure how it “feels” the other way. But I do like being able to see what the priest is doing as he handles the elements and offers the sacrifice. It makes it much more immediate and real to me. I do feel as though I participate. (I realize liturgical norms aren’t to be based on personal feelings, but this is just my two euros’ worth!)

  • http://none JMC

    I grew up with the Latin mass, too. When it changed…Well, I don’t know how it was done in other dioceses, but in the diocese of Brooklyn, what happened first was that the Tridentine mass was still celebrated, but in English instead of in Latin. The ubiquitous Misalette hadn’t been invented yet; our parish had the prayers and responses printed on legal-size card stock. The priest still faced the same direction as the congregation. A year later, the alter was turned around, and the Novus Ordo mass—the one we know today—was ushered in. I was a kid when it happened, but even then, something just didn’t seem right. It took me forty years to figure out what it was. Has anyone else noticed the scarcity of words like “holy” and “sacred” in the prayers? “For our welfare and that of all His holy Church” became “For our good and that of all His Church.” “He took bread in His sacred hands” became “He took the bread…” (I note that the former still exists in one of the Canons, but not many priests use that version these days, at least not in my experience.) The absence of words and symbolism has had a profound effect on the level of faith in many people. Fewer than half of Catholics in the United States believe in the Real Presence. If you think I’m seeing connections where there are none, I strongly recommend a book called “The Ottaviani Intervention.” It’s a review of the Novus Ordo Mass written by Cardinal Ottaviani in the early 1960s, or possibly in the late ’50′s, I forget which. It was a time when this Mass was first being developed, some time before it was actually put into use. His words have turned out to be frighteningly prophetic.

    As for the symbols—I once knew an atheist who had, on occasion, attended Tridentine masses and Novus Ordo masses. Her observation was that the symbolism in the “old Mass” conveyed a very rich sense of the sacred that was missing in the “new mass”—and she didn’t even know what the symbols meant. It’s a phenomenon that leads me to believe that certain symbols have meaning to all people on an instinctive level. You don’t have to know what they stand for to know that something very special is being represented by them.

  • TheAnchoress

    JMC – I have long been bothered by the absence of the use of words like “holy.”

    I told my brother that we used to call it “holy mass” “holy communions” “holy rosary” to discontinue that did something to our minds, I think.