Are We Walking to Heaven Backward? A Pastoral Consideration of Liturgical “orientation.”


#1

From the Archdiocese of Washington's blog, by Monsignor Charles Pope:

Some years ago the theologian Fr. Jonathan Robinson wrote a commentary on the modern experience of the Sacred liturgy and entitled it, The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backward. It is a compelling image of so much of what is wrong with the celebration of the Liturgy in many parishes today.

While Fr. Robinson certainly had the celebration of Mass “facing the people” in mind, his concerns are broader than that.

Indeed, we have the strange modern concept of the “closed circle” in so many modern conceptions of the Mass. Too often we are tediously self-referential and anthropocentric. So much of modern liturgy includes long lists of congratulatory references, both done by, but also expected of the celebrant.

Instead of the Liturgy being upwardly focused to God and outwardly toward the mission of the Church (to make disciples of all the nations), we tend today to “gather” and hunker down in rather closed circles looking at each other, and speaking at great length about ourselves.

We have even enshrined this architecturally in our modern circular and fan shaped churches that facilitate us looking at each other, and focusing inwardly, not up or put. The author Thomas Day once described Modern Catholic Liturgy as, “the aware, gathered community celebrating itself.” [1]

In the ancient orientation or “stance” of the Mass that was ubiquitous until 1965, the focus was outward and upward. Though disparaged by many in recent decades as the priest “having his back to the people” even this description shows the self obsession of the modern age. And to those speak this way about the liturgical orientation of almost 2,000 years, the answer must come, “The priest does not have his back to you. Actually it is not about you at all. The liturgy is about God. And the priest, and all the faithful are turned outward and upward to God.”

Go read the rest!


#2

Selfishness is a disposition of the heart, not a result of seating arrangements.


#3

The Mass is our attempt to follow Jesus's mandate to re-enact the Last Supper in His memory. The Last Supper was a Pascal meal. The Apostles sat around a table with Jesus at their centre. Over the centuries we have managed to change this from a gathering to a queue with the priest speaking to God and the rest of us lined up behind him. The Second Vatican Council put Christ back into the centre of our celebrations rather than confining Him to the East Wall.

Anyway, my church was built with the West end facing East.


#4

Msgr. Pope offered good reflections. I'm all in favor of a unified orientation, with Christ leading the way forward.

Dan


#5

I think that how we walk during the 23 hours that we are outside of the Holy Mass is more likely to determine our eternal destination than how we orient ourselves during the One Hour of Mass.

And when you think about it--who cares how we walk to heaven? Backwards or forwards--the important thing is getting there!

Have you ever observed little children walking with their families? Half the time, the child is walking backwards, sideways, on his toes, on his hands. Does it matter? Jesus Himself said to be like children. As long as we're "with the family," we'll get there.

Think of a marching band--their leader walks BACKWARDS to be able to conduct the band and give them instructions.

Compelling arguments can be made for both orientations based on their profound symbolism. For what it's worth, the "gathering together" orientation is probably more historic than the "all face front" orientation. I think we need to respect both orientations, and thankfully, at this point, we are allowed to serve at Mass at the parish that does the orientation that is most meaningful to us.


#6

There is a great tradtion in monastic communites to face each other as a community, as a family really, during the liturgy. This tradition is as old as the Church.

Far from being "self-centered", it is an expression of the monastic value of fraternal service to each other.

Msgr. Charles Pope has an awsome blog. I have followed him for many years. From the article being discussed:

I realize that a post like this will generate considerable controversy. But remember that this is only a discussion. I do not argue for sudden or radical shifts in our liturgical stance, only that we should continue to discuss it and explore various options.

That's all I am doing, pointing out that monastic communites have faced each other for many, many centuries as families who serve each other in a "school of love." Our Catholic parishes could do with more of this, not less.

-Tim-


#7

[quote="TimothyH, post:6, topic:336849"]
There is a great tradtion in monastic communites to face each other as a community, as a family really, during the liturgy. This tradition is as old as the Church.

Far from being "self-centered", it is an expression of the monastic value of fraternal service to each other.

Msgr. Charles Pope has an awsome blog. I have followed him for many years. From the article being discussed:

I realize that a post like this will generate considerable controversy. But remember that this is only a discussion. I do not argue for sudden or radical shifts in our liturgical stance, only that we should continue to discuss it and explore various options.

That's all I am doing, pointing out that monastic communites have faced each other for many, many centuries as families who serve each other in a "school of love." Our Catholic parishes could do with more of this, not less.

-Tim-

[/quote]

I really like your monastic comparison. Unfortunately, I think this issue will remain unresolvable, with each side holding onto its mental image of what worship should be, the everyone facing (liturgical) east behind the leadership of the priest model, and the circle / family model. I find it odd that most Catholics (hopefully) could explain why we have "closed" Communion, but that some insist that a liturgical posture gathered around the altar of sacrifice with Christ in the center is somehow "wrongfully closed." "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name (and facing East), there I am among them..." I don't have that particular translation.


#8

[quote="Tarpeian_Rock, post:7, topic:336849"]
I really like your monastic comparison. Unfortunately, I think this issue will remain unresolvable, with each side holding onto its mental image of what worship should be, the everyone facing (liturgical) east behind the leadership of the priest model, and the circle / family model. I find it odd that most Catholics (hopefully) could explain why we have "closed" Communion, but that some insist that a liturgical posture gathered around the altar of sacrifice with Christ in the center is somehow "wrongfully closed." "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name (and facing East), there I am among them..." I don't have that particular translation.

[/quote]

There does seem to be an either/or ad/versus mindset. I think there is a place for both, but many seem to take one side or the other and have to agree that it will remain devisive and unresolved. Many seem to say that one side is simply incorrect without understanding history.

My spirituality tends to be more monastic. I like the idea of worshipping as a family but that is just me. Other Masses can be breathtaking as well.

Again, Msgr Pope has an excellent blog and brings up some valid points. My parish is a classic fan shaped Church yet I sometimes cringe when the applauds breaks out. The focus is clearly on Christ in the monastic communites I have visited, mostly Cistercian, regardless of the architecture or posture of the Mass.

-Tim-


#9

Albuquerque, New Mexico––After conducting his first symphony since being named Maestro of the New Mexico Philharmonic, Chinese-born Li Wei Chen has been under heavy scrutiny from longtime patrons for conducting Beethoven’s famous 9th Symphony while facing the orchestra. One patron, Lance Humphrey, told EOTT that he was offended that Chen did not conduct facing the audience like their old maestro. “Look, I understand that the symphony is still the symphony not matter what, but I just think that turning his back toward us while conducting just takes us back to an archaic time.” Many have reportedly labelled Chen a “Rad Trad,” saying that he was out of touch with mainstream music. Cecilia Cotes, 53, says that it reminds her of times when she would be in music class and would be “whacked on the knuckles with a violin bow.” “It’s completely outdated,” Cotes says. “What we want is Maestro Chen to turn and face us so that we can feel like we’re participating in the orchestral movements. Does that make sense?” At press time, Chen has said that he would not turn to face the people, but would consider allowing a number patrons on stage to turn the pages of the sheet music during concerts.

eyeofthetiber.com/2013/08/18/maestro-who-conducts-symphony-with-back-facing-audience-labelled-radical-traditional/


#10

This is a dumb question but...Is it possible for the priest to face the Altar in the Ordinary form of the mass?


#11

[quote="Zooman77, post:10, topic:336849"]
This is a dumb question but...Is it possible for the priest to face the Altar in the Ordinary form of the mass?

[/quote]

I think you mean face away from the people (because in either orientation, the priest is facing the altar), but the answer is yes.


#12

[quote="Rich_C, post:9, topic:336849"]
eyeofthetiber.com/2013/08/18/maestro-who-conducts-symphony-with-back-facing-audience-labelled-radical-traditional/

[/quote]

I gotta admit, that gave me a good chuckle :D.

It is hard to make that analogy work tho.....


#13

I'm with the monastic notion FWIW but certainly don't think it's worth division and animosity.

Interestingly you'll find some older monastic churches where the choir is liturgically east of the altar so that the altar is between the nave and the choir. The celebrant would thus be facing his community but away from the faithful.

Many of the newer churches have the choir between the nave and the altar so that the celebrant faces everyone. For me, as an oblate in the nave, it's an important community dimension.

Maybe this boils down to Christ being both fully human and fully Divine. He reaches us in different ways. He shared our temptations even if he didn't yield to them, and our sufferings. Some of us therefore look to Him as being among us. Others look out to his Divine nature in the beyond. I think a case can be made for both views, but reducing this to an argument does a disservice to Christ's mission for us, regardless of which side of the fence you are on.


#14

[quote="Zooman77, post:10, topic:336849"]
This is a dumb question but...Is it possible for the priest to face the Altar in the Ordinary form of the mass?

[/quote]

For the Offertory and Eucharistic Prayer and until Communion, yes.

However, I believe it's normal for the priest to be away from the altar other than those times.

That said, most have adapted to the vernacular and watching the priest's lips moving so I wouldn't expect turning things around even for a few minutes would be overwhemingly welcomed. Just sayin.


#15

[quote="Zooman77, post:10, topic:336849"]
This is a dumb question but...Is it possible for the priest to face the Altar in the Ordinary form of the mass?

[/quote]

It is entirely up to the priest. There was nothing in Vatican II that even referred to the position the priest faces. There is also (as far as I'm aware) nothing in the rubrics of the OF Mass dictating how a priest should face.

So a priest could, if he wished, celebrate an entire OF Mass facing ad orientem. It might not go down too well with his bishop, but the bishop would have no authority to insist the priest faced 'ad populum'. The priest might of course, find himself banished to the most remote parish in a far-flung corner of the diocese, as a result.


#16

[quote="Brendan_64, post:15, topic:336849"]
There was nothing in Vatican II that even referred to the position the priest faces.

[/quote]

Technically this is true. However, didn't Vatican II appoint committees whose job it was to reform the liturgy in accordance with the rest of Vatican II's provisions? (Collegiality, ecumenism, pastoral concerns, etc.)


#17

[quote="ProVobis, post:14, topic:336849"]
That said, most have adapted to the vernacular and watching the priest's lips moving so I wouldn't expect turning things around even for a few minutes would be overwhemingly welcomed. Just sayin.

[/quote]

I think we'd get used to it very quickly. I think one of the symbolic strengths of the EF is the priest facing ad orientem at the key sacrificial moments of the Mass. I cannot see why this couldn't be included into the OF Mass. So long as the priest explained to the congregation why he was going to do this, and was open about it in advance, explaining the rationale, I think most OF congregations wouldn't have a big problem with it.

Even a bit of Latin used in the OF wouldn't be an issue for most congregations. Just so long as the priest doesn't start reading the scripture in Latin, which I do think is a pointless thing to do, even in the EF Mass. I think it was pointless reading the Word to the people when they don't understand what you're teaching them? It makes about as much sense (in my opinion) as giving a sermon in Latin.

Personally I'd like the OF Mass with a bit more Latin (but with the Collect, Confession, Scriptures, Gospel, Creed, Prayers of the Faithful, Our Father, etc) absolutely always in the vernacular, and I would have some use of ad orientem position. I'd also like some incense from time to time.

There is very rich symbolism present in both the OF and the EF Masses, I don't see why we have to choose either one set of symbolism or the other. Why not include the best of both worlds? Perhaps Pope Benedict's Summorum Pontificum on the EF Mass was a sign to us that both types of symbolism are necessary to help us have a fuller understanding of the Sacrament?


#18

[quote="Brendan_64, post:17, topic:336849"]
I think we'd get used to it very quickly. I think one of the symbolic strengths of the EF is the priest facing ad orientem at the key sacrificial moments of the Mass. I cannot see why this couldn't be included into the OF Mass. So long as the priest explained to the congregation why he was going to do this, and was open about it in advance, explaining the rationale, I think most OF congregations wouldn't have a big problem with it.

[/quote]

Interestingly enough, my pastor tried the ad orientem posture at a Christmas midnight Mass several years ago, and afterwards he was met with an overwhelming number of complaints. He asked himself "What was the point?" and every year since he has said the EF as the Midnight Mass.

I do agree, though, that things should be explained whether it's the EF or OF, or ad orientem or versus populum.


#19

[quote="ProVobis, post:18, topic:336849"]
Interestingly enough, my pastor tried the ad orientem posture at a Christmas midnight Mass several years ago, and afterwards he was met with an overwhelming number of complaints.

[/quote]

Perhaps Midnight Mass might be the wrong occasion to try it out. Perhaps a Mass with just a slightly lower profile than Midnight Mass might be a better way to introduce it, rather than springing it on a n unsuspecting congregation at the second biggest Mass of the year? Congregations don't like having things sprung on them at the best of times, let alone at Midnight Mass :)

[quote="ProVobis, post:18, topic:336849"]
He asked himself "What was the point?" and every year since he has said the EF as the Midnight Mass.

[/quote]

We would never get an EF Mass in our parish. The priest is a lovely man, but Latin Mass is definitely not his thing. I don't think it's our bishop's thing either. A shame really, as the almost sectarian 'two camps' attitude to the OF and EF Masses is really not helpful to us as the Body of Christ.


#20

[quote="Brendan_64, post:19, topic:336849"]
A shame really, as the almost sectarian 'two camps' attitude to the OF and EF Masses is really not helpful to us as the Body of Christ.

[/quote]

In my neck of the woods, the "two camps" would be the Spanish Mass vs the English Mass. :)


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