Friday, May 6, 2011

A short history of the Hootenanny Mass & other absurdities... part 26

Letter to Harold “Hoot” and Annie Gibson cont. part 26

As I told you the last time you were foolish enough to read up this column, the solution to the current liturgical mess is to implement the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The reforms mentioned nothing, as far as I can tell about moving the tabernacles, whitewashing the churches, breaking the images and stained glass, ending novenas, rosary devotions and benedictions of the Blessed Sacrament.

And amazingly enough, the second Vatican Council did not mandate the turning of the altars. There is no requirement in the general liturgical norms of the Church that the congregation be forced to stare at their pastor’s ugly mug for the entire liturgy, nor he at theirs. My dear friend, the Rev. Colonel O’Leary, deacon and research monkey extraordinaire, has been spending a little time studying the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal which is to be implemented in the coming Advent. He has been comparing the new Missal to the current Missal particularly those rubrics which address the orientation of the priest to the people.

Amazingly, both documents assume that the priest is facing in the same direction as the people for much of the Mass! The current Missal seems to allow for the priest to face the altar for the sign of the cross and then turn toward the people for the greeting, while the revised Missal seems to envision that both the sign of the cross and the greeting be done facing the people. The Penitential Rite, Opening Prayer and Profession of Faith give no indication as to orientation. Specific instructions to face the people are given at the offertory for the prayer “Pray Brethren” (Orate Fratres) in both Missals. The Eucharistic prayer indicates the consecrated body and blood of Christ are to be “shown” to the people but does not seem to require facing the people while doing so. The elevation at the doxology omits any reference to the “showing” of the host or chalice. No indication of orientation is given for the Pater Noster, however the revised Missal instructs the priest to face the people for the greeting of peace. Specific instructions to face the people are given for both the Lamb of God, the prayer “Lord, I am not worthy” and the closing prayer.

If the Missal tells Father to turn around and face the people it is clearly assuming that he is not facing the people at other times. Such instructions would be unnecessary were the priest already facing the people. The basic assumption seems to be that when the priest is addressing the Lord, he faces in the same direction as the congregation, in solidarity with them, praying together.

However, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal indicates in paragraph 299 that
“The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.”
There is ambiguity in this instruction as to whether it is the free standing nature of the altar or the facing of the people that is “desirable.” Let us look at the original Latin Text of paragraph 299 of the General Instruction. That should muddy the waters nicely.
Altare exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum paragi possit quod EXPEDIT ubicumque possibile sit.(Pay attention! There may be a brief quiz.)

As anyone who has taken beginning Latin knows, translating Latin into modern English is really just a sort of educated guess. Latin has no “the” or “a”, there is really no word for “yes” and so on. Word order is different than in English and the sentences go on and on like this brief history. One ends up sounding like the Star Wars nebbish, Yoda (played by Fozzy Bear of the Muppets). Here is my literal translation, “May altar be built from wall apart, so that it may be easy to be gone around and in it celebration facing (the) people to be done which helps (or makes available) wherever it may be possible.”

You figure it out. It sure doesn’t say you gotta do it this way. The word desirable doesn’t seem to appear. At least I wouldn’t translate “expedit” as “desirable.” Its usual meaning is “untangle”, “prepare”, “make free” or “available. ” All those “maybes” leave a lot of room for flexibility. “Expedit” would more commonly be translated "useful" or “available” rather than "desirable", in translation. In either case, it is plainly evident that a posture versus populum, or facing the people, is not mandated.

The text seems be saying that the possibility of Mass facing the people should be available. But if that’s not possible, that’s okay too. To be possible, is not the same as to be required. The council did an amazing thing. It mandated flexibility, that rarest of virtues. I am reminded of the old joke: “What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can’t negotiate with a liturgist.” (For the humor impaired: insert laughter here.)

It is a great wonder that the inflexibility of times past is now a mark of the progressive movement in the church. When someone wants to kneel for communion, or doesn’t want to hold hands at the Our Father, or, heaven forfend, wants to receive Holy Communion on the tongue rather than in the hand, that person is reprimanded and there is much pious talk about unity of gesture and division in the congregation and yadda, yadda, yadda.

It takes an old curmudgeon like me to remind the young church crafters that uniformity is not necessarily unity. Let people do different things if they are legal and moral. The “my way or the highway” approach to worship that is common among so many self-styled progressives is one more reminder that no one is so conservative as a liberal. Father may improvise as much as he pleases. God have mercy on you however if you want to kneel at the wrong time. Let us take the sage advice of Chairman Mao and “Llet a thousand flowers bloom.”

So, it seems that the liturgists have been pulling your leg. Most of what passes for Vatican Two is really off-off-off Broadway planned by frustrated actors. I have said Mass the way the Council Fathers envisioned, except that I used mostly English. It was very beautiful and very reverent and I have the feeling that had we obeyed the Council, we would not have emptied the churches. By the way, the Council Fathers insisted that Mass be mostly be in Latin. That canoe has been over the waterfall for some time now. I have seen people storm out of church if they hear so much as a “Dominus vobiscum.”

For some reason not even known to heaven, these same people gush with inclusive joy when the prayers of the faithful are offered in eight different languages. Recently I was at a Mass during which one of the prayers of the faithful was offered in Hebrew. I’m sure all the orthodox Jews at the service were pleased. Kurt Vonnegut in his book “Cat’s Cradle” invents the word “duffle.” A duffle is the situation in which the lives of thousands are in the hands of a few fog bound children. What we have here is a duffle, even though most of the children in control are pretty old by now.



  1. One of the many reasons I prefer the Extraordinary Form of the Mass is that it conveys to me more truths of the Faith than I got out of 12 years of Catholic school. And one of the aspects of it that I find most packed with meaning is the priest facing (liturgical) east. The reality of who a priest is (consecrated, specially chosen, set apart, alter Christus) and what he does (entering the Holy of Holies, addressing himself to God on our behalf, offering the August Sacrifice, offering himself) was never brought home so forcefully to me as when I first saw a priest facing east.

  2. Christ said that if anyone wished to be his disciple, take up their cross and follow Him.

    When Mass is said ad orientam, the priest (representing Christ and acting with the authority of Christ) leads the people towards Calvary, they are all facing the same direction, all have the same destination, and all carry their crosses. (our sins, imperfections, etc for the lay faithful, and the perfect sacrifice of Christ being offered on the altar in the hands of the priest)

    With good reason did then Cardinal Ratzinger and Msgr. Klaus Gamber say the most substantial (and damaging) change of the liturgical reform as it played out (whether the texts called for it, as you have shown, is quite the open question) was mass "facing the people"

    Once again, great stuff Father.