Commentary

January 16, 2008

Excerpts from Phil Lawler at CWN Forum on the Benedictine Reforms

Actions speak louder

Before he ascended to the throne of Peter, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote frequently about the liturgy, and explained his love for the Mass celebrated ad orientemwith the priest facing toward the altar, toward the east. Now as Roman Pontiff he has made his argument all the more eloquent, simply by celebrating Mass ad orientem himself in the Sistine Chapel…

When the priest-celebrant faces the altar, he looks like what he is: the leader of a community at prayer. Everyone is facing the same way; everyone is involved in the same action. When the priest faces the people, on the other hand, he appears to be a performer, with the people as his audience.

The liturgical changes of Vatican II were intended to encourage more active participation by the laity in the Eucharistic liturgy. But think of any other situation in which one man faces a group: a classroom lecture, a musical concert, a product demonstration, an after-dinner speech. In those situations we ordinarily expect the group to be passive: to listen but not to participate. The speaker or soloist is the focal point of the action; he commands the spotlight…

When priest and congregation face in the same direction, toward the altar, their posture reflects the unity of the Catholic community at worship. When they face in opposite directions, with the priest facing toward the people, that unity is broken. Liturgists refer to the usual posture for Mass today as versus populum. The Latin phrase sounds as if the priest is in competition with the people, and sometimes I think that is true.

As it happens, however, no reform is necessary. Neither Vatican II nor any subsequent liturgical directive required priests to face the people. In 2001, when asked whether priests could still use the ad orientem posture in celebrating Mass, the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship replied that both postures, ad orientem and versus populum “are in accord with liturgical law; both are to be considered correct.” In fact, the Congregation added, there is no preference expressed in the liturgical legislation for either position. Now, with his own public celebration of Mass ad orientem, Pope Benedict has called public attention to this option and shown the beauty of the liturgical tradition…

Read the entire article at CWNews.com

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2 Responses to “Commentary”

  1. Liam said

    Exactly, why is this hard for some to grasp.

  2. Fr LWG said

    Liam,

    Forty years of “the Spirit” of V2.

    The many times I have heard, “‘The Spirit’ isn’t here anymore.” I want to respond: “You’re absolutely right! The Spirit of V2 no longer reigns here. God has taken its place!”

    The gates of hell will not prevail.

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