July 12, 2007

Summorum Pontificum: Orientation

I think I'm having too much fun with the long-anticipated appearance of Summorum pontificum. I'll try to quit after this, but one other issue that I think deserves attention is one of the most obvious differences between the "old" Mass and the "new" one: the orientation (literally!) of the ministers in relation to the rest of the assembly.

When Mass is celebrated according to the Missal of John XXIII (and of Pius V), the whole assembly faces in one direction. Thus they are able to fulfill the ancient Christian practice of facing east for prayer, orienting themselves. Since the most recent reform of the liturgy, Mass is usually celebrated with ministers facing the rest of the assembly, gathered around the altar either in a binary, cruciform, or in-the-round fashion.

Most people seem to have strong feelings about which set of postures is better. I don't. I see deep symbolic resonances in both, and ways in which either one can be done so as to ruin them.

To have the whole assembly facing in the same direction is a profound symbol of unity. It also suggests that the whole ritual is directed somewhere, rather than in on itself. However, if the clergy, not looking at the people, begin to see what they are doing as a semi-private ritual to which the rest of the assembly are only spectators, then this is truly what critics always call "having your back to the people."

To have the ministers face the rest of the assembly is also profound. It suggests that a community, however diverse, gathers around the unity that is Christ--in the altar that is his table and his tomb. But if the priest uses this arrangement to turn the Mass into a theatrical or histrionic cult of personality or a cooking show--in short, if he makes it focus on himself rather than on Jesus Christ--then this too fails.


Don said...

This is my first of many comments I suppose. I'll probably even write about all this myself once I have a chance to read and think more. I don't see that any of this has any real bearing on anything substantive. It's all just window dressing. I attend Mass most often at Mt. Irenaeus. The priest is in the center and lower and surrounded by the other worshipers. At two monasteries where I've attended mass the altar is also in the center. Depending on where you are seated the celebrant could be looking at you or looking away from you or even looking obliquely away. There is some beauty for sure to the Latin Mass but who understands it nowadays. Why don't we have the Mass in Greek or Aramaic. The latter would be closer to what the disciples heard. Again no real relevance to the real problems the church faces.

The church faces a shortage of vocations at least in the USA. This encyclical does not address those problems. No mention of marriage for priest or the role of women in liturgy. Unfortunately for most everyday Catholics this letter does little to make their faith more relevant or responsive to this time and place. It's instead a retreat to a time that no longer exists in a world that needs more than window dressing.

Charles of New Haven said...

Thanks, Don, for reminding me to examine my conscience on straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel!

Anonymous said...

I have a few responses to Don

I do think that there is more substance to this document than it may first appear, and that spending time with it is not wasted.

Firstly, there are masses celebrated in Greek and Aramaic. In Denver we have a community of Maronite Catholics, in whose ancient liturgy the prayers of consecration are in Aramaic. And there is the Italo-Greek Rite celebrated in Greek, although it is little known outside southern Italy and Albania.

While Don is correct that there are few in America who will attend the Mass in Latin, such is not the case everwhere, particularly in France where an estimated 50% of Catholics who regularly attend Mass attend the older form either at licit FSSP parishes or at illicit SSPX chappels. We live in a global church and not every document from Rome is aimed primarily at America. There are also large numbers in Brazil (in excess of 250,000) who attend the older form of the mass.

As for vocations. I think this document does address them. Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, NE, which trains priests to celebrate the older for of the liturgy is full. They had to build a new building in 2000. The Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), whose members work in parishes with the indult to celebrate the older form of the mass has grown from 2 priests in their North American district when they were founded in 1991 to 75 today. What other religious community can report a 37 fold increase over a 16 year period?

The Holy Name Province of Franciscans, wich runs Mt. Irenaeus, used to have a friary and operate a parish (St. Elizabeth of Hungary) and a school in Denver. They were an incredible witness of the faith here for over one hundred years. One of them, Fr. Leo Heinrichs, OFM was martyred here in 1908. The last of them to leave was Fr. Joe, who left just a few years ago. He came to vist not long ago and reported that his province was stuggling with vocations. Nonetheless he was hopeful about the FSSP. He used to help their priests in Denver with their mission while he was here.

There is something about the older form of the mass that helps many young men hear the call to the priesthood with greater clarity. The evidence of this is the seminary in Nebraska. This document will help increase vocations. The Holy Father knows what he is doing.

Don said...

Brother Charles. I think my reply was verbose and judgmental. I was wrong this isn't an encyclical. It's just a letter. Oh well! I do think there are more important issues than whether the Mass is in Latin or English. I was an altar boy when we had to learn the Latin. I remember it pretty well. Some of the Latin has a lot of meaning for me. I named my computer at work "pax vobiscum." Most of my co-workers have no clue on its meaning. You've written a lot and I'm glad you took time to do that. Peace.

Charles of New Haven said...

Thanks Don...I took your comment in the context your own posts lately on the state of the world and our leadership...and in that sense I liked it. Peace to you too. And every bonum.

Charles of New Haven said...

Thanks Anonymous for all the 411, and for the global context. As a young religious, I'm always interested in perspectives on vocations.

MD said...

The two differences pointed out here are actually not different. The current Missal is in Latin and it is permissable to celebrate facing all together east.

I think it would be perferable that the Ordinary Missal be celebrated reverantly, than to introduce wider celebration of the Extraordinary Missal. One of the key flaws of permiting the use of local languages as it presently stands is that know part of the older languages was retained. When the Mass was established in Latin they held over a bit of Greek (the Kyrie), it would have been wise to have held over a little Latin in the tranlated Ordinaries. I would suggest Greek for the Kyrie and Latin of the Agnus and allowing the rest be tranlated.