the Position of the President at the Eucharist
By Father Neil Xavier O'Donoghue
Excerpt: This Study tells how from early times the Roman Catholic mass was generally celebrated with the priest facing East across the altar. The people thus saw the back view of a vested minister performing a ritual largely hidden from them; and any consequent sense of the solemnity and even the secrecy of that ritual was viewed as integral to the nature of the sacrament, to be honoured and preserved.
The above excerpt is from a very long paper by Fr. O’Donoghue. Press the title for it.
But from this brief excerpt, I have a couple of observations as it concerns the priest facing west or facing the congregation.
Because the Ordinary Form’s ritual has been so stripped of its ritual, what is there to see????
If the Extraordinary Form was celebrated facing the congregation, which is not illicit by the way, there would be plenty of ritual to see. Not so in the Ordinary Form.
When I was a teenager, the first Sunday the priest faced the congregation in my home parish, I was amazed at all the ritual. It was the 1965 Missal, but all the rubrics were the Tridentine rubrics and the only difference was the priest faced the congregation.
Thus I saw the dramatic gesture with arms for the Gloria. I saw the dramatic gesture with the arms at the start of the Roman Canon as well as all the kissings of the altar. I saw all the signs of the Cross and other gestures in the Roman Canon which I never saw the priest do. I also saw the pious looks of the priest as he prayed. I am not sure that was a good thing as immediately with that first Mass facing the congregation, the priest’s pious or indifferent looks came into play as did the general looks of the priest and his personality for better or for worse.
I saw the priest consume the Holocaust in front of us. Most shocking in the mid 60’s was the fact that the priest chewed the Host. My mom and many others did not like watching the priest consume the Holocaust in front of everyone as we watched. We thought it gosh and impolite.
Apart from the priest’s pious or impious looks at Mass, the 1970 Missal stripped all the ritual from the Mass that was able to be seen in the Tridentine Mass facing the congregation.
Thus, I would suggest, in the Ordinary Form there is no reason whatsoever to have the priest face the congregation. Why? Because there is noting to be seen in terms of ritual!
Dear Father McDonald,
Thank you for posting this. I'm in agreement with you. Even if one prefers to behold the Sacred Species during the Consecration, there's really nothing to see, as these are kept within sacred vessels or upon the paten. The elevations satisfy this visual desire in either orientation.
Going back again to early history, there are many indications that even the persecuted Church operating in homes or catacombs had the celebrant facing east, or at least, with back to congregants.
The religion was also a mystery religion, in that only full initiates were allowed to even view the Holy Sacrifice, and houses had watchers/guards at doors to make certain no non-initiate entered. Ancient rites surviving into this day still show even a curtain or wall in some cases, h8ding the consecration/consumption by priest from view, due likely also to original Jewish worship practices of which so much is still preserved in traditional rites. We still have vestige use of this discipline in more traditional churches such as our Rites of Initiation.
And a known unrepentant sinner was most certainly barred from entry, while penance for sinners was often public, even in post-persecution times and nice purpose-built churches, with penitents forced to stand outside and confess their sins for a certain amount of lengthy time before readmission, and why until of late, indulgences/release from penance were stated in days/weeks/months/years, those being the normal times of public penance for assorted sins.
Agree. Aside from the elevation, there is nothing to "see". In the Byzantine Church, everyone faces the altar. The priest only turns to the people when specifically addressing them. There is absolutely no need for pseudo-interaction absent being directly addressed.
In some respects, it is easier to see when an old high altar is being used given that it is elevated. The table altar, generally being lower and if one is seated in the back of the church, you sometimes cannot see much particularly when the people in the nave are standing.
Regarding chewing, I've seen priests shield their faces when consuming presumably to maintain decorum. One will hold his hands such that if you envision prayer posture then, open your hands like a book and hold at face level creating a shield. Others, evidently don't care and chew like they're ripping meat off a bone then washing it down with a cold beer.
What is really disgusting in the consumption of the Blessed Sacrament in thoroughly modern worship forms in thoroughly modern churches with rotten acoustics requiring thoroughly modern electronic sound amplification so that WE are Church "participants" miss out on not a single sound lest they feel excluded, is when the priest consumes the largest and crunchiest host he can find, and leaves his microphone live so that everyone shares in every mastication, spittle swirl, and gulp.
That is GROSS.
It entirely misses our ancient roots of the priest entering alone into the Holy of Holies to offer the sacrifice and prayer on out behalf in expiation for our sins.
This total audience participation would have left those in the early Church utterly aghast. They would have rightly intuited that with that mental set and outlook, a priesthood was utterly superfluous.
And the authentic Vatican II called for a return to original sources, while the "sources" cited by Bugnini/Bugatti/whatever in his radical changes have been widely debunked by the best of archaeology and historical research. Anyone who has read the early Fathers sees no more sign of what has been foisted on poor flocks today than they find of Protestant fantasies of the early churches.
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