Pope Benedict XVI celebrating Mass ad orientem (Photo: Vatican Photo Service)
An excerpt of a longer article on Louis Bouyer and Church Architecture
Resourcing Benedict XVI's The Spirit of the Liturgy from "The Institute of Sacred Architecture."
by Uwe Michael Lang,
The Liturgical Movement and Mass “facing the people”
Drawing on his own experience, Bouyer relates that the pioneers of the Liturgical Movement in the twentieth century had two chief motives for promoting the celebration of Mass versus populum. First, they wanted the Word of God to be proclaimed towards the people. According to the rubrics for Low Mass, the priest had to read the Epistle and the Gospel from the book resting on the altar. Thus the only option was to celebrate the whole Mass “facing the people,” as was provided for by the Missal of St Pius V to cover the particular arrangement of the major Roman basilicas. The instruction of the Sacred Congregation of Rites Inter Oecumenici of September 26, 1964 allowed the reading of the Epistle and Gospel from a pulpit or ambo, so that the first incentive for Mass facing the people was met. There was, however, another reason motivating many exponents of the Liturgical Movement to press for this change, namely, the intention to reclaim the perception of the Holy Eucharist as a sacred banquet, which was deemed to be eclipsed by the strong emphasis on its sacrificial character. The celebration of Mass facing the people was seen as an adequate way of recovering this loss.
Bouyer notes in retrospect a tendency to conceive of the Eucharist as a meal in contrast to a sacrifice, which he calls a fabricated dualism that has no warrant in the liturgical tradition. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, “The Mass is at the same time, and inseparably, the sacrificial memorial in which the sacrifice of the cross is perpetuated and the sacred banquet of communion with the Lord’s body and blood,” and these two aspects cannot be isolated from each other. According to Bouyer, our situation today is very different from that of the first half of the twentieth century, since the meal aspect of the Eucharist has become common property, and it is its sacrificial character that needs to be recovered.
Pastoral experience confirms this analysis, because the understanding of the Mass as both the sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Church has diminished considerably, if not faded away among the faithful. Therefore it is a legitimate question to ask whether the stress on the meal aspect of the Eucharist that complemented the celebrant priest’s turning towards the people has been overdone and has failed to proclaim the Eucharist as “a visible sacrifice (as the nature of man demands)." The sacrificial character of the Eucharist must find an adequate expression in the actual rite. Since the third century, the Eucharist has been named “prosphora,” “anaphora,” and “oblation,” terms that articulate the idea of “bringing to,” “presenting,” and thus of a movement towards God.
Bouyer painted with a broad brush and his interpretation of historical data is sometimes questionable or even untenable. Moreover, he was inclined to express his theological positions sharply, and his taste for polemics made him at times overstate the good case he had. Like other important theologians of the years before the Second Vatican Council, he had an ambiguous relationship to post-Tridentine Catholicism and was not entirely free of an iconoclastic attitude. Later, he deplored some post-conciliar developments especially in the liturgy and in religious life, and again expressed this in the strongest possible terms.
Needless to say, Benedict XVI does not share Bouyer’s attitude, as is evident from his appreciation of sound and legitimate developments in post-Tridentine liturgy, sacred architecture, art, and music. It should also be noted that Joseph Ratzinger does not take up the later, more experimental chapters of Liturgy and Architecture, where new schematic models of church buildings are presented. Despite its limitations, however, Bouyer’s book remains an important work, and it is perhaps its greatest merit that it introduced a wider audience to the significance of early Syrian church architecture. Louis Bouyer was one of the first to raise questions that seemed deeply outmoded then, but have now become matters of intense liturgical and theological debate.