Monday, August 13, 2012


Father Jay Scott Newman, pastor of St. Mary's Church in beautiful downtown Greenville, South Carolina several years ago began celebrating the Masses in his parish ad orientem. I don't believe he celebrates the EF Mass though. What he celebrates is what Vatican II envisioned for the reform of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass. The excerpts below of one of his last catchesis on the subject before he implement ad orientem in his parish is quite good. Who could disagree with it?


One objective of the liturgical reforms of the 1960’s was to encourage the active participation of the Catholic people in the celebration of the sacred liturgy, in part by reminding them that they are participants in, not spectators of, offering the sacrifice of praise at the heart of all Christian worship. Unfortunately, in the years following the II Vatican Council, the Church’s desire that all the faithful participate fully in the sacred liturgy was too often rendered a caricature of the Council’s teaching, and misconceptions about the true nature of active participation multiplied. This led to the frenzied expansion of “ministries” among the people and turned worship into a team sport. But it is possible to participate in the liturgy fully, consciously, and actively without ever leaving one’s pew, and it is likewise possible to serve busily as a musician or lector at Mass without truly participating in the sacred liturgy. Both of these are true because the primary meaning of active participation in the liturgy is worshiping the living God in Spirit and truth, and that in turn is an interior disposition of faith, hope, and love which cannot be measured by the presence or absence of physical activity. But this confusion about the role of the laity in the Church’s worship was not the only misconception to follow the liturgical reforms; similar mistakes were made about the part of the priest.

Because of the mistaken idea that the whole congregation had to be “in motion” during the liturgy to be truly participating, the priest was gradually changed in the popular imagination from the celebrant of the Sacred Mysteries of salvation into the coordinator of the liturgical ministries of others. And this false understanding of the ministerial priesthood produced the ever-expanding role of the “priest presider,” whose primary task was to make the congregation feel welcome and constantly engage them with eye contact and the embrace of his warm personality. Once these falsehoods were accepted, then the service of the priest in the liturgy became grotesquely misshapen, and instead of a humble steward of the mysteries whose only task was to draw back the veil between God and man and then hide himself in the folds, the priest became a ring-master or entertainer whose task was thought of as making the congregation feel good about itself. But, whatever that is, it is not Christian worship, and in the last two decades the Church has been gently finding a way back towards the right ordering of her public prayer.

In February 2007 Pope Benedict XVI published an Apostolic Exhortation on the Most Holy Eucharist entitled Sacramentum Caritatis in which he discusses the need for priests to cultivate a proper ars celebrandi or art of celebrating the liturgy. In that document, the pope teaches that “the primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself,” and an essential part of that work is removing the celebrant from the center of attention so that priest and people together can turn towards the LORD.

Accomplishing this task of restoring God-centered liturgy is one of the main reasons for returning to the ancient and universal practice of priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar as they offer in Christ, each in their own way, the sacrifice of Calvary as true worship of the Father. In other words, the custom of ad orientem celebration enhances, rather than diminishes, the possibility of the people participating fully, consciously, and actively in the celebration of the sacred liturgy.

+ until the 1960’s the vast majority of Christians in every time and place offered the sacrifice of the Most Holy Eucharist with the priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar

+ this ancient and universal practice of offering the Eucharistic Prayer ad orientem, or facing East (whether geographical or liturgical East), is rooted in Judaism and the practice of the first Christians and emphasizes the vertical dimension of worship by opening the circle of priest and people to the presence of God among us in the sacred liturgy. For this reason, the custom of facing East is also described as praying ad Deum or towards God.

+ when properly understood and celebrated, this form of prayer not only does not constitute an impediment to the full, conscious, and active participation of the people in the sacred liturgy, it actually enhances that possibility by removing the priest from the center of the action and allows him to be once again merely a steward of the Sacred Mysteries rather than a host charged with entertaining his guests

+ the II Vatican Council said not one word about the direction in which the priest should face at the altar, and even now the rubrics of the modern Roman Missal are written with the assumption that the priest is facing East at the altar. Moreover, the Congregation for Divine Worship has clarified that facing East and facing the congregation are both equally lawful and that no special permission is needed for the priest to face the East, a fact underscored recently by Pope Benedict’s public celebration ad orientem, something he does everyday in his chapel.


Unknown said...

Fr. Newman underscores a point that had been made by my mentor Mons. Schuler in 1993, in an article he wrote for Sacred Music Magazine when he said, "...But the greater evil was the damage done to the liturgical presence and actions of the priest. He was told to make eye-contact with the people, to direct his words to them, to become the "presider" at the community assembly, the "facilitator" of the active participation of the congregation. The notion of the Mass as sacrifice was discouraged, while
the idea of a common meal was promoted."

Clearly, this idea is part of what guided St. Agnes to never change the posture of the Mass. As priests become more and more aware, I believe that more and more will start returning to an ad orientem or ad Deum position. The Holy Father thinks the same.

Mons. Schuler quoted then Card. Ratzinger when he said, "He explained that there is no historical data, either in writing
or from archeology, that establishes the position of the altar in the early centuries as having been turned toward the people. To look at the people was not the question in the early Church, but looking toward the east where Christ would appear in His second coming, the parousia, was most important. Thus church buildings and the altars were "oriented" (faced to the east) so that the priest especially would see Him on His arrival. If because of the contour of the land or some other obstacle, the church could not be so located, then the priest, always looking toward the east, would have to stand behind the altar and face toward the people. That he was looking at the congregation was only accidental to the eastward position he took."

Clearly, the Holy Father thinks the same way. Mons. Schuler was a stalwart about this and I believe that Fr. Newman is following in his footsteps.

Joseph Johnson said...

I have always had a problem with the term "presider" and the "presider's chair" for the priest (better that the priest sit to the side of the altar, facing to its side, with the servers on each side of him--even better if he wears a biretta while seated there, as during the Credo in a sung EF).

I prefer to speak of a priest "offering" a Mass (emphasizing offering sacrifice). To speak of his "celebrating" the Mass is far better than "presiding" but I still like "offering" the best because of the connotation.

rcg said...

I visited the parish in my home town. Well, town is a bit of exaggeration, it is the oldest Catholic parish in Tennessee and seats, I believe about 75 people. Unfortunately the school closed in 1855. There is a 'new' priest. Who had the Benedictine altar arrangement, It is moved forward, but one can barely get behind it and it still has the altar rail. The priest made a point of explaining that the Mass is a prayer and should not not be diluted with banal greetings and good mornings. He offered communion in both species, but there were two EMHC, only for the wine. He, alone, offered the Host. The hymnals were binder cracking new and completely devoid of Haugen or Haas. They had loads of old hymns, and good ones, too! Yet they only sang about two, preferring to chant the rest of the Mass. There was a seminarian, who looked lost in the backroad parish, yet was in good humor about it all. The web site explains that vernacular is allowed, but not demanded, so I see him following a similar path as FrAJM. The discussion that day was about the old oak in front that will need to be removed. I believe it antedates The War by a considerable amour.

For all the nostalgia of the visit, I was most moved by the small but clear vector the priest was showing to move back to reverence and dignity toward the sacred. The priest pointed to our Tabernacle and how that ancient box was still in its rightful place on the axis of the church and the focus of the building. I can see he is hinting strongly for a 'stable group' to come forward. I wish I was there full time. Maybe my brother can be convinced he is a natural leader. The church structure in the county seat is one of those horrid late 20th century structures that is very sterile. Yet I recall that as recently as 20 years ago it still had the altar rail.

rcg said...

Oh, and confession is listed simply as 'Before each Mass". They say you can't go home, but I am thinking of testing that idea.

Anonymous said...

Having been a priest for almost 24 years, I have always felt uncomfortable looking at the congregation instead of being "turned toward the Lord." In my new parish I have placed a large crucifix on the altar in the center with the corpus facing the people. I also have placed two candles on either side of the crucifix, but toward the corners of the altar. I explained to the people why I was doing it, and there have only been a few complaints. I also pray the Collect and Post-Communion Prayer at the altar. Unfortunately, it seems that every priest who has seen the arrangement of the altar in my church thinks that I am crazy. When a visiting priest offers the Mass in my absence, he removes the crucifix because they consider it "in the way."

Hammer of Fascists said...

Terms such as "presider" and "facilitator" smack of a banal, egalitarian sort of bureaucracy. (Look up "business-speak" on wikipedia, that font of all knowledge, for more info). You see this a lot in academia these days, especially in trendy disciplines and small, low-endowment teaching schools that have to pander to students. We are told, by self-proclaimed educational specialists, that we must be the "guide on the side" rather than the "sage on the stage" in order to "facilitate" learning and "elicit engagement" and to "dialogue" with students. (Technically accepted as a verb, but a clear indicator of the mindset I'm describing. Whenever someone uses a noun as a verb, like "How ad populum impacts the liturgy" or "to journal about your spiritual growth" it's a big red flag that Screwtape's banal demonic bureaucrats are active.)

Rubbish. I almost always know more about my subject than my students do. if I didn't, I would be doing something unethical and possibly fraudulent by taking their money. I'm a teacher and judge (i.e., of their abilities), not a facilitator.

Likewise the Mass. The idea of a priest (and therefore, a la in persona Christie, God) pandering to the crowd as some sort of pseudo-equal is perverse. The individual layperson isn't the center of the universe, and he's not there to be empowered or entertained. if he wants that he should become a Pentecostal or join a megachurch.

(Of course, if you challenge such priests on how they do things, they often become blatantly intolerant and authoritarian, just like their counterparts in academe. Hence the "pseudo" to qualify "equal.")

I would submit that if a layperson genuinely believes that he is owed such deference, or is somehow doing God or the Church a favor for Mass attendance and should be suitably compensated by anything ranging from entertainment to salvation, he has a fundamental misunderstanding of the whole of Catholic theology.

Gene said...

Anon 5, Hear! Hear! Whatever you had for breakfast today, have it every day...