Thursday, December 17, 2009

Exalt the priesthood, not the priest

I've been telling people that I now have a sense of one of reasons why there were so many vocations prior to the Second Vatican Council. I realize that there was more of a Catholic culture then, more children and a higher respect for the priesthood as a profession. But you know, back then priests did not mingle with the laity as much as they do today. They would seldom greet people coming or going from Church. What was exalted was not the personality of the priest, but what the priest did. He offered the Sacrifice of Christ at the Altar in "Persona Christi."

The reason I have a new sense of why there were so many vocations in a time when priests were not as "personality driven" as now is that the Mass really exalted the role of the priest, not the priest himself. With his back to the congregation for most of the Mass, the priest at the altar could have been any priest, it didn't matter. What was important was the renewal of the Sacrifice of Christ that would sustain God's pilgrim people.

After the Second Vatican Council, many people who promoted the "spirit of Vatican II" felt that the role of the priest at Mass and in the other sacraments was too clerical. So his role was diminished into just be a "president" or "presider" over the assembly. His personality became more important and his looks, after all nice looking priests were needed if they were to face the congregation. The sacramental role of the priest needed to be adjusted so that the laity would not feel as though their baptismal priesthood was in any way jeopardized by what the priest was doing at the altar.

How sad that this occurred. The Extraordinary Form of the Mass had it right. It's not the priest himself who is important, it is Jesus Christ alone, his sacrifice, his holiness, his perfect morals; He is the important one. The priest, unworthy as he is, becomes a sacramental sign of the Perfect One. Maybe we need to reexamine the theology and the doctrine of the priest at the altar in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to recover what the priesthood should be and can be again today.

Please give me Jesus Christ and let the priest fade to the background.


Gene said...

I agree that the Priest is the vessel and not the treasure, however, "in persona Christi" might also mean that we may see the face of Christ in the Priest's human side. There is a proper balance somewhere. I believe mature Catholics would not presume too much in this regard.

Kenny said...

Father, this has caused so many problems that I don't know where to begin. Too many priests banking on their personality, too many parishes without any solid teaching and too many people who have no idea what they believe in anymore. In some cases, it's gotten ugly.

Pater Ignotus said...

I chuckle and shake my head when I hear the Ordinary Form of the mass being blamed for the shenanigans of the priests who celebrate it poorly. What the Church has given us in the Ordinary Form is the Traditional Liturgy of the Church, traceable right back to the time of St. Justin Martyr's Letter to the pagan emperor Antonius Pius, circa 155 CE. In the outline he provided to the emperor we find every element of the Ordinary Form of the mass. No, there is no Latin, no damask vestments, no lace-trimmed surplices, no over-choreographed altar boys, no birettas, and no Gregorian chant, but none of that is constitutive of the Traditional Mass anyway. What St. Justin describes is almost exactly what the Church has given us in the Ordinary Form - a majestic and salvific treasure, the sacrifice of Calvary re-presented in an unbloody manner.

If a priests's personality is being exalted, he needs reform, not the liturgy.

When the poor celebration of the Ordinary Form leads to a dismissal of the Ordinary Form as defective or as causative of the poor celebration, I wonder how the person making such an assertion might respond to a really awful performamce of Handel's "Messiah."
Just because the chorus and soloists do a lousy job, does that mean that Ol' George Frederick should "reform" his Oratorio? Certainly not. Only tortured reasoning and illogic would lead to that conclusion. The same is true of the mass.

Fr. McDonald, I agree that some priests do a poor job in their role as presider, but the fault is with them and their training, not with the liturgy itself. (I am too young to remember the Tridentine Mass, but I bet there were some few priests who really did a horrible job in those celebrations, too.) Celebrating the mass well is a natural talent only for a few; for most it is something that has to be taught carefully and respectfully. Much more could and should be done to help priests appreciate their role at the altar, to respect the liturgy as the great gift that it is, and to preside with style and grace.

Now, as to your comment, "His personality became more important and his looks, after all nice looking priests were needed if they were to face the congregation." I mean, COME ON! I don't know where you are seeing these "nice looking" priests. I see pretty much what I see everywhere, from "Father What-A-Waste" to "Father Ordinary Looking" to "Father Please-Take-A-Bath!" But, of course, that simply doesn't matter whether one faces the congregation or ad orientam.

No, we do not need to do away with the current liturgy or to return to ad orientam celebrations. What we need are priests who are well-trained, respectful of their roles, and willing to allow the grace of God to flow through them.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

To Pater Ignotus from Fr. McDonald, or Pater Southern Orders. The entire problem with those who support the "Spirit of Vatican II" is that they want to go back to the early church not only in Liturgy but also in a number of other ways, as though we are still in the catacombs or something. The longest tradition that we have for the Mass both in the East and the West is Ad Orientem and it developed very quickly after the Church was able to come out of the darkness of catacombs and house churches. Elaborate Liturgies have at least a 1600 year tradition and ad orientem.

In terms of the celebrant at Mass, yes, a priest in the EF Mass can really blow its celebration but it is not as obvious to the laity as in the OF Mass. And yes, most priests are not Father What a Waste, but drab, but please take a bath types and in the OF Mass it is so obvious that this is the case whereas not in the EF, that is what I mean when I say it doesn't matter who celebrates the EF, fat, skinny, good looking or ugly, you don't look at the person, only his back and hopefully a beautifully crafted vestment. So thanks for making my point about Ad Orientem even more clear to my reading audience. I appreciate your input. I do, however,love the OF and celebrate it well, with all the smells, bells and Father What a Waste Good looks, that's why my OF's are great. How about yours? How do you look? Because it really does matter doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

Father McDonald wrote:

“The Extraordinary Form of the Mass had it right. It's not the priest himself who is important, it is Jesus Christ alone, his sacrifice, his holiness, his perfect morals; He is the important one. The priest, unworthy as he is, becomes a sacramental sign of the Perfect One. Maybe we need to reexamine the theology and the doctrine of the priest at the altar in the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to recover what the priesthood should be and can be again today.”

I strongly agree, Father! Yes, the Extraordinary Form of the Mass had it right. The Tridentine Mass made the reverence due to God the prime consideration.

On the other hand, the New Mass is seen as the assembly of the community. The Council prepared the way for this by insisting that the active participation of the people be considered before all else in the liturgy. The true meaning of “celebration” interpreted by some of the bureaucrats meant a party atmosphere. The New Mass is also inward looking. It appears that the sign of peace is the climax of the celebration. The turning around of the altars symbolizes the priest’s turning away from God to face men.

This comes from The NOVUS ORDO MISSAE in its ORIGINAL INSTITUTIO GENERALIS—The Lord’s Supper, or Mass, is the sacred assembly or gathering together of the people of God, with a priest presiding, to celebrate the memorial of the Lord. For this reason, the promise of Christ is particularly true of a local congregation of the Church: where two or three or gathered in my name, there I am in their midst. -- Anyone who cannot see that this is wholly Protestant is in denial.


Geriatrus said...

Pater Ignotus said..."(I am too young to remember the Tridentine Mass, but I bet there were some few priests who really did a horrible job in those celebrations, too.)"

Maybe. But the Tridentine Mass does not revolve around the "performance skills" of the priest the way the Ordinary Form does. In most cases, if the priest was just going through the motions, most congregants wouldn't have noticed anyway. They were too busy participating by following the English/Latin translations rather than taking note of the jewelry being worn by the lectress or the hairstyles of the Extraordinary Ministers (where are the veils?). The Mass wasn't about us and we weren't thinking about us or the priest. The sole focus was worshipping God.

The word "celebrations" was not used the same way it is at today's Masses. Catholics knew that to attend Mass meant to be at the very foot of the cross. There was no handclapping and dancing at Golgotha. We were much more aware of the sacrificial nature of what was taking place.

All this talk about how the Ordinary form mirrors a more primitive style of liturgy and the disdainful remarks about choreography and vestments are misguided if not unfair.

Consider what Pope Pius XII wrote in Mediator Dei:
" Just as obviously unwise and mistaken is the zeal of one who in matters liturgical would go back to the rites and usage of antiquity, discarding the new patterns introduced by disposition of divine Providence to meet the changes of circumstances and situation.

64. "This way of acting bids fair to revive the exaggerated and senseless antiquarianism to which the illegal Council of Pistoia gave rise. It likewise attempts to reinstate a series of errors which were responsible for the calling of that meeting as well as for those resulting from it, with grievous harm to souls, and which the Church, the ever watchful guardian of the "deposit of faith" committed to her charge by her divine Founder, had every right and reason to condemn."

The Tridentine Latin Mass's ancient form was the result of centuries of organic development, unlike the Ordinary Form, which is the product of a committee, many of whose members, including its leader, were suspect.

The Tridentine Latin Mass was never broken. We are still reeling from the mistake of trying to "fix" it.

Gene said...

Well, it is certainly in the spirit of Vatican II for 2 Priests to be airing disagreements about Church protocols and rites on a blog full of laity. Perhaps it should go to private email.

Pater Ignotus said...

Geriatrus, the liturgy was in need of reform, as the Second Vatican Council stated in paragraph #1 of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy: "Accordingly it (the Council) sees particularly cogent reasons for undertaking the reform and promotion of the liturgy." A Council does not undertake to reform that which is not "broken."
(Note: This is not some spectral "spirit" of Vat 2, but the very words of the Council.)

The reform of the liturgy was radical, to be sure, but it was not, as some have claimed, "discontinuous." (See my previous comment on Justin Martyr's letter.) I suspect one of the reasons the reforms were as substantial as they were was the span of time between Trent (middle 1500's) to Vatican I (1869-70). Prior to that an Oecumenical Council had taken place roughly every 100 years. After the Protestant Reformation the Church wanted to project an image of "We're OK, No Change Is Needed" even if that were not the case, and Councils were, for a time, discontinued. Vatican I had a very narrow agenda, which left the rest of the work that could have been done then to Vatican II.

Fr. McDonald, I do not want go back to the Early Church in anything. (I prefer mass celebrated above ground, unless visiting Carlsbad Caverns with a Youth Pilgrimage group or visiting the Catacombs of Rome.) I reiterate: that the liturgy is celebrated poorly by some priests is not an indication that the Rite itself is lacking.

There is ample reverence in celebrations of the Mass of Paul VI. There is wonder, mystery, and, what WAS lacking in the Tridentine Rite, a real participation in the liturgy by the entire community. "While the were at supper, He took bread..." This is a participatory ("community") scene.

Elaborate is not automatically good. (Much such judgment depends on one's own tastes, to be sure.) But some "elaborations" are, in fact, distractions. The Council sought to refine the liturgy, to streamline it, so that the essential elements would be more readily accessible to the congregation/community. The priest, who by his Divinely created nature, has a personality, is still offering the Sacrifice of Calvary in an ubloody manner.

I don't buy this line of reasoning at all: If a priest improperly celebrates the EF , this is hidden from the people, so the EF is better for the people. What are we saying here? Hidden errors are preferable? I suggest not.

My preference is for another Springtime of the Liturgy (nods to, who was it, Louis Bouyer?) in which the full flower of the reformed liturgy is burnished, in which the priests are better prepared to preside and to offer The Sacrifice, and in which the People of God are fully, consciously, and actively engaged in the sacred action.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

To Pater Ignotus, from Pater Southern Orders: I don't disagree one bit with you concerning the OF of the Mass. It is the normal, ordinary, regular Mass that we celebrate. If we follow the rubrics of the Mass and recognize that when we face the people during prayer, that we are not facing them to read the Mass to them, to make it look like we are praying to them, but that we are receiving their prayers and offering the sacrifice in their name as well as in the "Person of Christ." With that said, though, we must recognize Pope Benedict's valid criticism of the New Order of the Mass and a part of the overall hermeneutic of discontinuity that many people after Vatican II promoted, including those in high authority, especially those who were charged with reforming the Mass. Pope Benedict's solution to helping the priest and the laity to see the Mass as oriented to God, not to each other is so simple in the symbolic sense--just place a crucifix dead center on the altar between the priest and the people. I have to tell you I have done this and it does keep me focused and when I look up, it is to the crucifix not the people during the Eucharistic prayer.
The EF Mass has a very legitimate place now in the life of the Church and this is truly a gift from God and Pope Benedict. I have to tell you that it has had a gravitational pull on how I celebrate the OF Mass, which is the Mass I celebrate most of the time. At the same time, the OF has had a gravitational pull on how I celebrate the EF, trying to make sure that choir/congregational parts are in sync with the priest's actions and that the people strive to actively participate. I recognize that the hindrance to verbal participation of the laity is not in the form of the EF Mass, but in its language.But people who follow the missal and strive to participate interiorly are participating and perhaps more so in the EF than the OF.
If Pope Paul VI had just promulgated the 1965 missal which was the EF Mass with very minor alterations and the allowance of some vernacular, we would not be having this discussion today. I also see the new lectionary as far advanced over the EF one and even here the OF can influence the EF by the fact that Pope Benedict says it can be used in the EF as an option. What Pope Benedict is doing in a organic way is paving the way for a revised Mass that blends the best of both. That is in the future and maybe sooner than we think.

Anonymous said...

How many times have you heard people say "He (the Priest) didn't do anything for me". or "I was bored at his Mass". It reflects a deeper problem. It has now become about the Priest, not the Liturgy. The Priest mattered very little in pre-Council days, whereas today it appears of the only importance. How to correct this?, Lord knows but I hope the Holy Father can define this problem and bring things and attitudes back in kilter with what had previously been the attitude regarding the Priesthood.