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Friday, June 26, 2015

Orienting Ourselves to the Lord

At one of the training seminars I attended, the presenter told us that the average person needs to listen to something at least 27 times before getting the message.  I think that the same can be applied to liturgical matters.

A priest friend of mine told me that he was at a clergy gathering where the issue of Ad Orientem came up.   There were various opinions about this.  For any local clergy who read this blog, here is some pertinent  that may help clarify this issue.

In the year 2000, a European bishop had the same concerns and presented the issue before the Congregation for Divine Worship.  The bishop, in question, asked if the position of the priest facing the apse was to be excluded.  Jorge Cardinal Media, then-Prefect for the CDW, responded in the negative. 

It would be a grave error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is [toward] the community. If the priest celebrates versus populum, which is a legitimate and often advisable, his spiritual attitude ought always to be versus Deum per Jesus Christum [toward God through Jesus Christ], as representative of the entire Church. The Church as well, which takes concrete form in the assembly which participates, is entirely turned versus Deum [towards God] as its first spiritual movement.
It appears that the ancient tradition, though not without exception, was that the celebrant and the praying community were turned versus orientem [toward the East], the direction from which the Light which is Christ comes. It is not unusual for ancient churches to be "oriented" so that the priest and the people were turned versus orientem during public prayer.

It may be that when there were problems of space, or of some other kind, the apse represented the East symbolically. Today the expression versus orientem often means versus apsidem, and in speaking of versus populum it is not the west but rather the community present that is meant.

..What always remains is the event celebrated in the liturgy: this is manifested through rites, signs, symbols and words that express various aspects of the mystery without, however, exhausting it, because it transcends them. Taking a rigid position and absolutizing it could become a rejection of some aspect of the truth which merits respect and acceptance.

This particular document, Prot. No 2036/00/L, was published at the Vatican on September 25, 2000.  To date, Rome has held firm to this ruling.  Ad Orientem is not only allowed, it is encouraged.  

Four years after Rome issued its ruling, a young priest, Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, wrote a book, Turning Towards the Lord, on the same subject.  The former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger wrote the foreword to the book.  Fr. Lang writes that:

The rubrics of the renewed Missale Romanum of Pope Paul VI presuppose a common direction of priest and people for the core of the Eucharistic liturgy. This is indicated by the instruction that, at the Orate, fratres, the Pax Domini, the Ecce, Agnus Dei, and the Ritus conclusionis, the priest should turn towards the people.7 This would seem to imply that beforehand priest and people were facing the same direction, that is, towards the altar. At the priest's communion the rubrics say "ad altare versus",8 which would be redundant if the celebrant stood behind the altar facing the people anyway. This reading is confirmed by the directives of the General Instruction, even if they are occasionally at variance with the Ordo Missae.9 The third Editio typica of the renewed Missale Romanum, approved by Pope John Paul II on 10 April 2000 and published in spring 2002, retains these rubrics.10  This interpretation of the official documents has been endorsed by the Roman Congregation for Divine Worship.

Thus, even the rubrics in the Roman Missal assume that the celebrant and the faithful hold a common posture, facing the altar.

To further his point, Fr. Lang also cites the future Pope Benedict XVI when he notes that:

Cardinal Ratzinger draws a useful distinction between participation in the Liturgy of the Word, which includes external actions, especially reading and singing, and participation in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where external actions are quite secondary. He writes:

Doing really must stop when we come to the heart of the matter: the oratio. It must be plainly evident that the oratio is the heart of the matter, but that it is important precisely because it provides a space for the actio of God. Anyone who grasps this will easily see that it is not now a matter of looking at or toward the priest, but of looking together toward the Lord and going out to meet Him.19
This viewpoint is also held by the current prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Robert Cardinal Sarah, who observes that:

It is entirely consistent with the conciliar constitution, it is indeed opportune that, during the rite of penance, the singing of the Gloria, the orations, and the Eucharistic prayer, everyone, priest and faithful, should turn together towards the East, to express their will to participate in the work of worship and of redemption accomplished by Christ.  This manner of doing things could opportunely be put into place in cathedrals, where liturgical life must be exemplary.

 In fact, as I noted in an earlier blog post, Cardinal Sarah has even proposed inserting this clarification into the Roman Missal so that it can be clear to everyone that Ad Orientem is not something that should be dismissed.

I hope that this blog post can help clarify what Ad Orientem really means and how, according to the Roman Missal and the interpretation of the Congregation for Divine Worship, it is certainly a legitimate posture for the celebrant to employ. 


Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Taste of the Heavenly Liturgy

Yesterday, the Universal  Church commemorated the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Lord.  When the Church celebrates a saint or a blessed, she usually reckons the feast by the date of the holy person's death.  Their death is their birth into new life.

However, other than the Nativity of Our Lord, the Church celebrates the births of the Blessed Virgin Mary (inclusive of her Immaculate Conception) and St. John the Baptist.  The Blessed Mother's conception and birth are important because these events set the wheels in motion for the coming of Christ.  The nativity of St. John the Baptist is unique, not only because of the supernatural circumstances surrounding it, but because he serves as the bridge between the Old and the New Testaments.  According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, St. John the Baptist "surpasses all the prophets, of whom he is the last" because the saint "goes before (the Lord) in the spirit and power of Elijah."  The Catechism goes on to note that he is "the Lord's immediate precursor or forerunner, sent to prepare his way."  Even from the womb, St. John the Baptist "inaugurates the Gospel", as he leaps for joy at Mary's greeting because the Lord was close at hand.

As a major solemnity, the liturgy for the day certainly deserves the best that the Church can give, especially when it comes to music.

Yesterday, my employer gave me the day off because of an out-of-town conference.  I decided to visit the local monastery of the Congregation of St. John, commonly known down here as the "Brothers".  One of them, a friend of mine, had just come back from the Sacra Liturgia Conference in New York.  He and his brethren are trying to re-infuse the sacred back into their liturgies.  It certainly showed at yesterday's Mass.

The altar arrangement was very Benedictine in nature.  By "Benedictine", I mean Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI:  three candles on either side of the altar with a beautiful gold crucifix at the center.  The monastery chapel is very simple in nature, but, the layout has a Middle Eastern, almost other-worldly feel.   Prior to the Mass, the brothers, led by their deacon, chanted midday prayer.  We were invited to join them in prayer. We chanted the Veni Creator Spiritus and the corresponding psalms for the solemnity.

Had we stopped at midday prayer, I would have been spiritually satisfied because of the beauty of the chants that filled the sacred space.  But, there was more to come.  My friend caught sight of me and asked me if I wanted a chant book.  I said, "Of course," and he lent me a copy of the Gregorian Missal and told me which parts of the Mass we would be using.  We were to chant the Kyrie, using the Orbis Factor, and the Latin Mass IX setting.  Even though I didn't know the setting, thanks to the Corpus Christi Watershed's tutorials, I was able to stumble my way through the Gregorian notes. I then spied my friend's copy of the Simple English Propers!!!  This was BIG!  Having downloaded the PDF onto my iPhone, I swiped my way to the Solemnity of St. John the Baptist and was ready.  Even though it has been awhile since I used Adam Bartlett's settings, the tone was familiar.

As the Entrance chant began, I joined my friend and the Sisters of St. John.  Even though I was a little off, it was incredibly powerful and refreshing to sing the Mass. While my voice was not at its best form, I could not help but joyfully chant out the Introit and the rest of the Mass.

Although incense wasn't used, it's lack certainly did not take away from the majesty and the beauty of the liturgy.  The prayerful reverence of the celebrant, who wore beautiful vestments, the homily which came from heartfelt simplicity and the overflowing of the magnificence of the chants made this a truly profound liturgy for me.  It "cut to the heart" of what authentic worship is.  It is not someone at the microphone waving arms and leading us into some banal rendition of OCP's latest "relevant" song.  It's not loudspeakers blaring the sounds of a praise band.  It is the noble simplicity of praying the Church's actual texts in music that best expresses its form.  It is about offering God worship in spirit and in Truth.  It is an experience of the heart and the soul that transcends time and space.

St. John the Baptist came from the priestly class.  His father,  Zechariah, was a priest.  He was exercising his priestly office when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to him to give him the glad tidings of the coming of St. John the Baptist.  I'd like to think that the young John learned the importance of authentic worship from his father.  It was fitting, then, that a priest should be the one to make way for the Messiah.

And so it goes with the Mass.  The Holy Sacrifice is our encounter with the Divine.  This encounter should be out of the ordinary.  A properly celebrated, reverent liturgy with sacred music, majesty and beauty makes way for that encounter with God.  The solemnity of the music becomes like St. John the Baptist, pointing us to and leading us towards Christ.   

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Real Earthquake

For all of the talk about Laudatio Si, Pope Francis' new 80,000-word encyclical on the environment, the bigger earthshaker, as far as I am concerned, came from just across the Piazza San Pietro, at the Congregation for Divine Worship.  The relative new Prefect, Robert Cardinal Sarah, sent major tremors of his own in a piece he wrote for L'Osservatorio Romano.

In his frank article, published in  the Vatican newspaper, Cardinal Sarah makes some rather epic statements about the state of the Church's liturgy. He was direct in his emphatic words concerning the Church's form of sacred worship.
The liturgy is essentially the action of Christ. If this vital principle is not received in faith, it is likely to make the liturgy a human work, a self-celebration of the community. To speak of a ‘celebrating community’ is not without ambiguity and requires real caution. The participatio actuosa [active participation] should not therefore be understood as the need to do something. On this point the teaching of the Council has often been distorted. It is instead to let Christ take us and associate us with his sacrifice.
Now, he is not saying anything new.  Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI made the same prophetic statements as the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.  He even wrote three books and numerous araticles on the subject.  As pope, Benedict certainly tried to lead by example.  The noble beauty of the vesture he used, the enhancement of chant in the liturgy and his orientation towards the Other helped to enhance and increase the aura of sanctity in the liturgy. 

Cardinal Sarah even touched upon the issue of the orientation of both the celebrant and the faithful during the Mass.  He soundly dismisses the mistaken notion that the celebrant and the faithful need to face each other at all times.

It is entirely consistent with the conciliar constitution, it is indeed opportune that, during the rite of penance, the singing of the Gloria, the orations, and the Eucharistic prayer, everyone, priest and faithful, should turn together towards the East, to express their will to participate in the work of worship and of redemption accomplished by Christ.  This manner of doing things could opportunely be put into place in cathedrals, where liturgical life must be exemplary.

Here, Cardinal Sarah advocates for the usage of ad orientem.  For me, this is of particular importance because there remains so much misunderstanding about this particular posture, even from those who should know better.  Is the celebrant giving me his back when he uses this posture during Mass?  Why isn't he looking at us?  This line of questioning is almost akin to liturgical navel-gazing.  The celebrant and the faithful are not the most important actors in the Mass.  The Lord is.  When we spend more time looking at each other instead of turning towards the Lord, we have missed the point of the Mass. 

Ad Orientem is slowly coming into being, thanks to pioneers like Benedict XVI, Bishop James Conley and Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, who have promoted this posture through both word and deed.  Even Pope Francis has made use of thsi posture on a few occasions.  The celebrant faces the faithful when addressing them, but, he joins them in turning towards the Lord when making supplication to God on their behalf.

Another point that Cardinal Sarah touches on is the use of Latin.  While he is saying nothing new, his spirited defense of the language is certainly cause for relief for those of us who have been out swirling in a never-ending sea of OCP-concocted bilingual liturgies.  Rather than unite language groups, these liturgies cause a further divide as they do not encourage prayer in the common language of the Church, the tongue she has used for centuries.

According to the online journal Catholic Culture,
"Cardinal Sarah recalled the Council’s teaching that the faithful should 'be able to say or to sing together in Latin those parts of the Ordinary of the Mass which pertain to them,' and said that the liturgy 'must stop being a place of disobedience to the requirements of the Church.'"  

Sadly, as I have written on many occasions, this seems to be lost on OCP which prides itself on releasing the latest bilingual settings that promise to unite bilingual congregations in song when, in reality, they only promulgate the great divide.

But, Cardinal Sarah brings new hope.  He brings a promise of carrying out the liturgical reforms initiated by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.  Cardinal Sarah asked Pope Francis what was expected of him in his new role as prefect.  According to the African cardinal, it is the wish of Pope Francis that he continue Benedict's liturgical work.  And that was the real bombshell as well as cause for great hope!