Wanted to post a link to a superb article by Fr. Joseph Fessio of Ignatius Press on the liturgy and Vatican II. Here is one of my favorite lines:
“So, the Council isn’t calling us back to some medieval practice, those “horrible” medieval times, the “terrible” Middle Ages, when they knew so little about liturgy that all they could do was build a Chartres Cathedral. (When I see cathedrals and churches built that have a tenth of the beauty of Notre Dame de Paris, then I will say that the liturgists have the right to speak. Until then, they have no right to speak about beauty in the liturgy.)”
So much more than that, of course. Here is the link:
Fr. Fessio also practices what he preaches. He says The Mass of Vatican II every Sunday at Ave Maria University, and the university choirs and scholas participate with chanted Propers and polyphony. And when the people sing their parts in Latin, the building practically shakes – it is without doubt the most participatory Mass on campus. A feast for the eyes and ears and soul.
Do any of you know if there are any pictures of Fr. Fessio celebrating Mass at Ave Maria University? Whenever I hear of a beautifly celebrated Masses I like to keep pictures of them. I’m also curious to know if he celebrates Mass “Ad Orientem”.
Because Christ is supposed to return from the East, so when the priest faces that direction it is in anticipation of the Lord’s return. Also, it symbolizes the priest leading the people towards the Lord, since we ALL face the same direction–towards the tabernacle and crucifix.
But isn’t our focus on the altar and not the tabernacle? I have been to some Masses where a screen is placed in front of the tabernacle during Mass because that is not to be a focal point. It would seem that liturgical east would be where the sacrifice is taking place. As long as the priest is facing the altar of sacrifice and the congregation is as well, then why does it mean anything if they are facing the same way or the opposite? I understand that it has some value because it was done traditionally for a long time, but beyond that the reasoning doesn’t make sense to me.
I think it’s perfectly fine to ask that question in this thread, after all, Fr. Fessio spends a chunk of his article dealing with that question.
First, Thomas Day mentions in his book, “Why Catholics Can’t Sing” (highly recommended), that it is very natural for people’s focus to be on a person’s face when they are facing them. Thus people’s focus would tend to be on the Priest’s face when Mass is celebrated “ad populum”, rather than the altar, even if the focus is supposed to be on the altar.
A further explanation is given by Fr. Fessio in his article:
“Now, for the first 25 years of my priesthood, I celebrated Mass like you see it when you go to a typical parish: in English, facing the people. It can be done reverently; I’ve seen it done reverently; I’ve tried to do it reverently myself. But the last three years, after study and reflection, I’ve changed. I actually think the Mass facing the people is a mistake. But, even if it’s not, at least this much we can say: there is no permission required to say Mass facing God, facing the tabernacle, facing East, facing with the people. And it should be given equal rights, it seems to me, with Mass facing the people. It’s been around for 1800 years at least, and it should be allowed to continue. I happen to think it’s symbolically richer.
It’s true that when the priest faces the people for the celebration of the Eucharistic Sacrifice, there may be a sense of greater unity as a community. But there is also a danger of the priest being the performer and you being the spectator - precisely what the Council did not want: priest performers and congregational spectators. But there is something more problematic. You can see it, perhaps, by contrasting Mass facing the people with Mass facing East or facing the Lord. I don’t say Mass “with my back to the people” anymore than Patton went through Germany with his “back to the soldiers.” Patton led the Third Army across Germany and they followed him to achieve a goal. The Mass is part of the Pilgrim Church on the way to our goal, our heavenly homeland. This world is not our heavenly homeland. We don’t sit around in a circle and look at each other. We want to look with each other and with the priest towards the rising sun, the rays of grace, where the Son will come again in glory on the clouds.
And so, in Mass celebrated in the traditional way, the priest does face the people when he speaks on God’s behalf to proclaim the Word and explain it. And he does face the people when he receives their gifts. And then he turns to face with the people and to offer those gifts up to our common Father, praying that the Holy Spirit will come down and transform those gifts into the Body and Blood of Christ. And when that most sacred act takes place, the priest turns to offer the gifts back to the people. I think that is much more dramatic. Whether I am right or not, all I’m asking is a right to exist. If not peaceful coexistence, at least coexistence.
Now strange as it may appear, there is absolutely no permission required to say Mass facing East. The Pope does it every morning in his chapel. But there is such a taboo against it that most pastors would be afraid to do it for fear they would be exiled to some lowly parish.”
It doesn’t mean our focus is on the tabernacle; it is still on the altar. However, facing east during the sacrifice on the altar is facing east in anticipation of Christ’s second coming. The priest is not the focus of the Mass, which is exactly what he becomes when he faces all the people; they watch the priest himself.
As Fr. Fessio points out in the article, there has NEVER been a tradition of facing the people during Mass. That is something that was first done by the Protestants when they began to change the Mass from being a sacrifice.
The problem is that, humans being what they are, the focus inevitably shifts to the priest. That’s just how humans think. We sit in the audience and focus on the stage, platform, the people up front. Mass versus populum is the same. It also tends to suggest that the Mass is self-contained (think a circle), while ad orientem makes it more clear that there is an outside component involved, which is of course, God (think an arrow pointing from the people, through the priest, and outwards).
With all due respect to Father Fessio, the “Mass of Vatican II” is the Mass as currently celebrated in 99% of the Latin Rite parishes in the world. That is, in the vernacular, facing the people, with not a hint of incense or chant but with lots of priestly ad libs and swarms of laypeople prancing 'round the sanctuary doing this and that.
Otherwise we must believe that a divinely guided Ecumenical Council was hijacked rather easily and has been misinterpreted lo these many years.
No. Rather, it is much more likely that the Mass of Paul VI and the way it is commonly said throughout the Church today is the result of an exacting and proper implementation of the Council. In other words, Vatican II and its Mass has been implemented exactly as intended.
Truly I had no idea that you travelled so much, Doc. Or that Catholics from non Western countries were so adequately represented on this board or many others, to give a picture of what happens in 99% of the Latin Rite parishes.
I certainly agree that Fr. Fessio and the way he celebrates Mass is the exception. And I won’t even say that Sacrosanctum Concilium was “misinterpreted.” Rather, I think Sacrosanctum Concilium does have a number of loopholes that, given the iconoclastic environment of the past forty years, have allowed progressives to basically drop anything traditional (plus a lack of disciplinary enforcement). And generally, people tend to do what is easiest, and the way we have Mass now in the vernacular is certainly easier to celebrate than the Latin Mass of yesteryear.
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