Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Cult of the Personality and the Two Forms of the Holy Mass Revisited

Prior to the Second Vatican Council, let's say around the 1950's, vocations to the priesthood and religious life were extremely high. In fact dioceses, seminaries and religious orders had the luxury of excluding aspirants even for the smallest infraction of the rules; there was a waiting list of others who wanted to enter. In addition, the way in which priests and religious lived was rather austere and severe, especially for women religious. Yet, idealistic young people were drawn to the austerity, the discipline and the rigid uniformity that existed at least to the public's eye.

Apart from those who taught in schools, there was not as much interaction between the clergy, religious and the laity; this was especially true of religious orders. There were strict lines of demarcation on how a priest would interface with his parishioners and religious with those under their charge especially in a school setting.

In parishes, priests heard confessions with parishioners behind a screen in a separate booth. Technically a lay person, especially a woman, was not to sit in the front seat of a car with a priest. Priests didn't greet people before Mass, they were expected to be vesting and meditating prior to Mass and in silence. They normally did not greet people at the end of Mass either. Their friends were to be brother priests, not their parishioners. Their parishioners were to be their parishioners, nothing more, nothing less.

When priests celebrated Mass, the Mass had three options, Low, which meant no singing of the parts of the Mass, although on Sunday a low Mass could include congregational hymns, four of them, that were really superfluous to the Mass's actual parts and not really necessary. Then there was the Sung or High Mass, which could include these same congregational hymns at the entrance, offertory, communion and recessional, but with all the other parts of the Mass sung by the choir. Then there was the Solemn High Mass, which included roles for deacon, sub deacon, lector and acoylte. This form of the Mass was seldom celebrated in most parishes.

Apart from these forms of the Mass there were not hybrids based on what the priest felt like doing and there was certainly no improvisation with the Latin texts. With the priest facing the same direction as the laity, and thus really configured to be a part of them in facing the same direction (the priest represents the congregation (Church) as the mediator of the sacrifice offered to God on their behalf just as he also represent "in persona Christi," our Lord who technically is the one mediator between God and man. In fact Christ does this through His Divine Personhood, which He continues to exercise even in His Risen Body: a Human nature and a Divine nature. Thus the ordained priest symbolizes these two aspects of Christ when the priest celebrates Mass at the altar, representing both aspects of the Church, the Body of Christ (all the baptized, clergy and laity) and her Head, Jesus Christ. In a true sense you can say that the visible mystical Body of Christ on earth is the sacramental sign of His Risen Body to the world. Christ's body even in the Church is one Divine Person (Second Person of the Blessed Trinity) with two natures, human and divine.

While the Ordinary Form of the Mass in no way was meant to diminish the role of the priest if one reads the documents and General Instruction to this missal, it does allow for flexibility in the celebration of the Mass and creativity and improvisation on the part of the priest. With the OF Mass, there are really two choices, a Mass with music and a Mass without music. There is no more the distinction between low, high and solemn high. You can mix and match, sing some parts, leave others out, have progressive solemnity depending on the Sunday, the Mass, or the time of the year. It is all up to either the priest or some ubiquitous liturgy committee to decide. It can be in Latin or least some parts (seldom done today) or totally in the vernacular or bi,tri or multiples of many, many languages.

The rubrics of the OF state that the priest at certain points can use "these" or "similar" words, thus allowing for long introductions to the Mass and editorials at other places. Because of the vernacular, the priest often thinks that he can improve upon the translated vernacular by using simpler or more complex language even for the parts of the Mass where he technically is not allow to change. This is particularly true for the vernacular parts of the Mass which feminists believe to be sexist.

In addition to this, the loss of a distinctly priestly identity which Vatican II in no way foresaw or promulgated, led priests and religious to mingle with the laity as though there were no distinctions whatsoever, not even professionalism. This opened Pandora's box to romantic liaisons and subsequent divorces, marriages and the leaving of the clerical or vowed state of life. This blurring of identity also exacerbated those who would relate to children and teenagers instead of adults and saw their companionship develop with them rather than healthy relationships with their own peers. Thus the peak of the sex abuse scandal occurred approximately around 1972-1974, not that it did not happen prior to the Second Vatican Council, just not in the scope it did afterward and for the obvious reasons above.

Fr. Stephan Rossetti also has commented on the Ordinary Form of the Mass and the rubric that the priest constantly facing the congregation and extending his arms wide open during prayer and greetings which comes across to certain laity who are predisposed, to read this as "come and get me!" By this he means in a friendship and romantic way that has led to so many priests being seduced and seducing others. Seeing the face of the priest throughout the Mass and with his grand bodily gestures has created a rather unhealthy attachment to the priest by some in the congregation that boarders on the romantic. And sadly the same is true for the priest who constantly looks out at an adoring congregation. Sometimes the priests misinterpret the gestures, facial expression and friendship that is extended as meaning them personally rather than whom it is they represent, Jesus Christ. It is easy to do!

So my solution is what is occurring already in the Church--more professionalism by the clergy and religious as it concerns the manner in which they relate to those they minister, more boundaries, more prayer and spirituality, a clear distinction between clergy and laity and a Mass where the gestures are sober and the personality and looks of the priest are hidden. We can have all of these without changing one thing in the OF form of the Mass except the direction the priest faces. Think about it and your comments please.


Anonymous said...

Go ad orientum

Jody Peterman said...

For those casual converts who convert because of the Priest, they leave and go back to being Protestant when he leaves, unless the new Priest is similiar. I have seen it happen. I can think of least 10 reasons for Ad Orientem. Cult of Personality is a very compelling argument for it.

Anonymous said...

Regarding friendship, I also find problematic those priests who want to be called by their first name. I want him to be a priest, not my buddy. Anytime a priest wants to be addressed as Father “Bob” or Father “Tim”, it is a clear indication to me that he is of the liberal “Spirit of Vatican II” mindset.

Regarding the cult of personality, before Vatican II, in addition to the priest facing the altar, the fact that most of the Mass was said in a VERY LOW VOICE expunged the priest as an actor. It was most unusual to hear the laity respond that the Mass was dull or boring. The Mass was the Mass, and that was that.


Templar said...

I suspect you already know my answer Father, but if you're looking for a formal response, the turning or the Priest to face the congregation is one of the two greatest tragedies to be afflicted upon the Latin Rite Church since Vatican II (the other being Communion in the hand standing). Please Father, if you do nothing else ever for St Joseph, Ad Orientem sooner rather than later.

My belief (hope really) is that when Rome finally releases their "reform of the reform" directions facing the congregation will be prohibited because of the damage it has done.

Gabinas said...

It's even more tragic when the priest cults everyone into his personality and persuades them to think and act as Protestants, leading them away from Catholic thinking. It happens.

Marc said...

I think I have the same opinion as everyone else: ad orientem.

But, what about having more portions of the Mass, particularly the Eucharistic Prayers, prayed in Latin as well?

Then, maybe start slowly by having kneelers at one or more lines for Holy Communion...?

Rood Screen said...

What a fine post! I'm afraid too many like minded priests are waiting for some edict from Rome before they restore the common orientation. The problem with this approach is that the Holy Father views this overdependence upon liturgical edicts from above, rather than the simple weight of tradition, as a cause of our troubles today. It is for the pope, as patriarch of the West, to safeguard the Roman Mass; it is not his place to recreate or rearrange it. If ad orientem is the right thing to do and if tradition supports it, then we should just do it. I do not, however, because I am weak. But there is strength in numbers. What if we all set a date, such as the First Sunday of Advent 2010, to adopt the common orientation?

Pater Ignotus said...

Fr. Shelton should be aware that since 2006 the Holy Father has discontinued using the title "Patriarch of the West." This was done, according to Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, retired prefect of the Congregation for Eastern Churches, as a "sign of ecumenical sensitivity."
The last time a change was made was in 1969 when Pope Paul VI added to the list of titles "Servant of the Servants of God" and deleted "gloriously reigning."

Templar said...

Father, I wanted to say thank you after Mass on Sunday evening, but I lingered to sign up for the health screenings and missed, so in lieu of that, shall say thanks for the things I noticed from the pews.

1) Thank you for not raising your arms towards the congregation at the start of the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Your omission of this gesture seemed to queue the congregation to NOT do it in return. A minor point to be sure, but it lends credence to my belief that the congregation will follow where you lead.

2) The use of the revised English version of Eucharistic Prayer II was lovely (dare I say ineffable?) and I am eager to see that change made permanent.

3) The use of the over sized Host for the Blessed Sacrament, while not something new for you, does a nice job of hiding you, and directing the congregations gaze where it belongs.

4) The use of the Latin verses for the Doxology was perfect. A great place to insert some Latin into the Mass without requiring anyone in the congregation to panic over the correct response.

If my perception is in error, and I am reading more into them then is there, I humbly submit to your correction. However, if I am correct I want you to know that there are those out there in the pews who notice, who care, and who are thankful for you being our Pastor.

Good Bless you. Consider this a virtual veneration of your Priestly hands, lol!!

Anonymous said...

I was ther Sunday eveing too, and noticed.
Keep going.

Anonymous said...

This seems to be the inherent flaw in the NO Mass. It will always be tainted by the "options". Even a tightening of some of the options or total suppression of them will not erase this flaw that is so interwoven into the fabric of the NO. Priest who know very well the Mass and all its' parts may think that the use of various options a good thing and may be well intentioned, but for the laity it leads to disorientation and confusion. Not knowing what you will find from week to week, parish to parish, Priest to Priest has a negative effect on the Catholic Church as a whole. The unity has been lost. Many Priests gloss over this but really it is disheartening to much of the laity. It leads to a spiritual malaise that sooner or later leads to total abandonment. Ad Orientem or Apsidium seems to greatly help diminish this problem and also links the two forms of Mass much more closely. Most of the "rupture" seems to be relieved by the return of Ad Orientem. I think with its' reintroduction many, many other issues or confusion in regards to the role of laity and Priest will soon disappear. The difficulty in this of course will involve a great humility on the part of the Priest. He must turn toward the Church and fellow clergy for those links of friendship that are currently extended to the laity. But it is for the greater good on both sides really.