Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Letter to Paul Grimage continued:

Letter to Paul Grimage continued:
I have been told that my last letter was not very cheerful. I’ll have you know that one of my readers laughed so hard upon reading it that she suffered an asthma attack. If that’s not funny I don’t know what is! Now on to the next lighthearted, humorous installment:
Before Jerusalem was utterly destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 AD, there was no clear distinction between Jew and Christian; in fact there was no clear distinction between the Jew and Christian until the complete defeat of the Jewish nation by the Romans in response to the Bar Kochba revolt around 130 AD. Before then, Christianity was thought of as a sect of the Hebrew religion.
By then, there were a number of forms of Christianity. There were the Gnostics who tried to combine Egyptian and Persian religion with the teachings of Jesus. There were Israelites who believed Jesus to be the Messiah, but never conceded His divinity. Then there were His followers, the Twelve and the other disciples, who taught that Jesus was the Son of Mary and the Son of God, fully human and fully divine.
One often hears the question, “Why did the Jews reject Jesus?” Dr. Rodney Stark, a sociologist, makes the point that, in fact, the Jews didn’t reject Jesus. Many, perhaps most Greek-speaking Jews in the first centuries after Christ, accepted Jesus, His divinity, His humanity and His redemptive death. At the time of Christ there were 6 or 7 million Jews in the Roman Empire. Two hundred or so years after Christ there were less than a million. There must have been quite a bit of attrition through war and plague, but not enough to obliterate 6 million people. Dr. Stark, echoed by Fr. Richard Neuhaus, makes the point that much of the substantial Samaritan population and the even larger Jewish population of the Empire probably accepted Jesus as the Messiah (the Christ) and blended in with the Greek speaking population.
In this sense Christianity can be thought of as the first Reformed Judaism. One could eat pork and shrimp and not undergo circumcision but could still be a member of the House of Israel, reading the Torah and the prophets and singing the psalms that one had always sung — no worshiping Isis, or some snake-god or winged thing, and eating cheese on your hamburger. It was all good. Thus, though Jews were thrown out of Judea and enslaved, and though no Jew could enter Aelia Capitolina, the rebuilt Roman version of Jerusalem, there were always Christians there. The lines between Jew and Greek were blurred by Christianity, so the living memory of the places and events associated with Jesus were never forgotten. There was always someone on the site who remembered. In 190 AD, or thereabouts, Sextus Julius Africanus (a Greek Christian) who had been born in Jerusalem was able to interview the surviving relatives of Jesus regarding the discrepancies in Jesus’ genealogy.  By the year 190 AD, people were very interested in this Jesus, whether they were Jewish, Christian or somewhere in between.
I thought all this bother and brouhaha about the pilgrimage sites was a bunch of hogwash until I went on a pilgrimage led by one of the very few Arab Catholic guides in the Holy land. Arab Christians, especially those from Syria, the Holy Land, Lebanon and like places are most probably descendants of those first Christians who were among the Jews who accepted Jesus. I personally know a family that can trace its origin to exiles from the first siege of Jerusalem around 70 AD.  The Holy Land at the time of Christ was a mix of Greek and Jew and this mestizo culture blended even more under the reconciling influence of Christ. This Arab Catholic guide was no small intellect. He was a teacher and a graduate of the University of Albuquerque. He told me a wonderful story. His father took him to a field and pointed out a tree and told him, “My great grandfather proposed marriage to my great grandmother under that very tree.  I took my grandson and showed him that tree.” His point was that small, personal details are not soon forgotten among the inhabitants of the Holy Land.
I thought about it. I remember my old pastor telling me when I was a boy that he had seen the sun dance during the Fatima miracle in 1917. It is now a hundred years later and I have told the children in my parish who will bring the story into yet another century. Human memory is longer than we moderns want to believe. Another factor is the incredible smallness of the Holy Land. Most of the ministry of Jesus happened in an area called the Gospel Triangle, bounded at three points by Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin. It is a triangle about 5 miles, by 4 miles by 2 miles. The multiplication of the loaves took place down the beach from where the sermon on the miraculous catch of fish was made and just down the hill from where the Sermon on the Mount was preached. Jerusalem is only a leisurely 3-day hike from Nazareth. For an old man to show his grandson where Jesus worked unforgettable miracles would take no more than an afternoon.  By the time Christians were coming to Judea from all over the Roman Empire, these places were well known to many.
In the church of the Holy Sepulcher there is an interesting graffito. As I mentioned above, the emperor Hadrian obliterated what was left of the city of Jerusalem in 130 AD. Jews were not allowed to enter the city. But Greeks were allowed and Greek Christians and those Jews who had been Hellenized by their exposure to Christianity never stopped venerating the shrines associated with the life of Christ. In order to put a stop to it, Hadrian paved over the remains of Jewish Jerusalem and built his city, Aelia Capitolina, directly over the old quarry where the tomb of Christ and Calvary were located, he place a central plaza and a temple to Aphrodite over the tomb and a statue of Zeus directly over Golgotha. On the huge stone blocks of the retaining wall of that plaza, there is a drawing of a Roman ship and a graffito in Latin “Domine, ivimus” or “Lord, we shall go”   Possibly a reference to Psalm 122. It is thought to have written anytime from 150 AD to 300 AD. It was certainly written before the church of the Holy Sepulcher was built. Bishop Melito of Sardis around 150 AD said that the site of Calvary and the Holy Sepulcher were in the middle of the street, in the middle of the city, right below Hadrian's temple in honor of Aphrodite.
The story goes that when the empress Helena, mother of Constantine, came looking for the holy places in around 325, bishop Macarius of Jerusalem told her right where to dig. Eusebius the historian, who lived at the time of the first excavation of the tomb, said that the tomb showed “…clear and visible proof”. People think these signs must have been supernatural. I don’t. Christians as we have seen, scrawl graffiti everywhere. The tomb of Peter in Rome is covered with them. The house of Peter in Capernaum is covered with them, so why not the tomb of Christ, buried under the rubble of the old Jewish city?
Everyone knew where the Lord had been buried. It was not on hill far away, it was at one of the main gates of the city. The Romans reasoned, “Why waste a perfectly good execution? Have it somewhere where everyone can benefit by it.” And of course, the Bible says that in the place was also the tomb, and so it was found. The other tomb, the second tomb which you mentioned, called the Garden Tomb, was discovered only in the last century. A German scholar named Otto Thenius decided that a hill north of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem was the real Calvary because if you squinted and tilted your head the right way it sort of looked like a skull. He found a tomb nearby and decided that it must be the tomb of Christ. Another archaeologist upon hearing of the discovery said, “Ach, du meine Gute! I hope that’s not the tomb of Christ! I myself took the bones out of there just a few days ago!” It turns out that the tomb was from the 1st temple period about seven hundred years before the time of Christ. There is only one site continuously venerated as the site of Calvary and the tomb and that is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
The site of Christ‘s birth was just as well known and commonly pointed out to pilgrims from the first days. It is only about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. It was a cave. Emperor Hadrian, (remember him?)  had the place turned into a shrine for Adonis, the Greek god of beauty. St. Jerome, wrote around 410 AD that the cave had been consecrated to Adonis by the pagans and that sacred grove had been planted there to wipe out the memory of the birth of Jesus in that place. Justin Martyr (© 100 – 165 AD) also a native of the Holy Land wrote in his Dialogue with Trypho that the Holy Family had taken refuge in a cave just outside of town.  “Joseph took up his quarters in a certain cave near the village; and while they were there Mary brought forth the Christ and placed Him in a manger, and here the Magi who came from Arabia found Him.” (chapter LXXVIII). Hadrian, far from obliterating the holy sites, marked them for posterity!
Why a cave? Homeowners took advantage of caves. They were pre-dug basements; cool in summer, warm in winter. They kept livestock in them which kept the place a little warmer in winter — space heaters on the hoof. The ancestral home of my family in lower upper-Hessia had a built-in chicken coop on the first floor. Mmm... chickens... nice, warm chickens.
Where was I? Yes. That’s the joy of being a Catholic, or for that matter orthodox. We have long memories. We, like the Blessed Mother have treasured these things in our hearts for two thousand years. There is a stone manger, a feed trough dug into the wall of the cave. It is like other feed troughs dug into the stone of that hard land. I have no doubt that you can go there and touch the very manger into which Mary laid the Baby Jesus on the first Christmas two thousand years ago. We have never forgotten where it was.
Merry Christmas,
The Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, December 20, 2013

Are Scripture and Tradition reliable?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I was recently on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and our tour guide, Abdul ibn Turghaid, showed us the stone for lack of which Jesus had no place to lay his head and then he showed us the inn where the parable of the Good Samaritan didn’t happen, but would have had it not been a parable. Then we saw two tombs where Jesus rose from the dead. Abdul insisted that Jesus had risen at both tombs. He explained that apparently there was a matinee performance for those who had missed the early morning resurrection. Eventually we made our way past many check points and frowning bureaucrats to a dingy old church in Bethlehem where we stood in line to go down some steps into what seemed to be a basement that was in fact a cave when you looked behind all the tapestries and wall hangings. Come on, now.  I have been to enough Christmas pageants to know that Jesus was born in a stable, not a cave. Isn’t that what the Bible says? How do they know what was what after two thousand years? Isn’t most of this stuff made up? The Bible stories don’t agree with each other. I heard one theologian say that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and then another one said the whole story was made up. How do we know what happened
Paul Grimage

Dear Paul, 
You don’t know if you’re not a Catholic, or at least in an apostolic church. An apostolic church is one that can trace its origins back to the founding of the Church by Christ through the ministry of the Apostles. We have an early Christian writer, a Greek who was the bishop of a Roman city in what is now France. His Name was Irenaeus of Lyon.  He was born around 130 AD. That’s only 100 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. That’s not a very long time. I know stories that my mother told about her father that go back to 1880. I am an American and we Americans have the memory span of distracted goldfish. If I can remember trivial details that go back 130 years, certainly an ancient Greek or Jewish Christian who was paying attention to the stories for which he eventually would give his life as martyr probably got the story down pretty well from the people who told it. The martyr-bishop Irenaeus was the student of St. Polycarp, born 69AD who was also a martyr. St. Polycarp was a disciple of St John the Apostle. This is what Irenaeus had this to say about apostolic tradition:
....It would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches.... [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul... which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with the Church (of Rome).... inasmuch as the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by them... (Adversus, Book III, Chapter 3)
I quote this text not for my usual smug “Hurray for our team!” purpose for which I usually quote sources, but to point out that 100 years after Christ, remembering and passing on these traditions was very important to Christians. This may be hard to believe for us moderns who can barely remember who won Dancing with the Stars last year, but ancient people valued their history and did their best to preserve it, though their sense of history was different than ours.
You have two questions, “Is Scripture reliable and is Tradition reliable?”  The Scriptures, especially the Gospels can be spotty, and even seem to be contradictory at times. The four Gospels leave out details like what color veil did the Blessed Mother wear? (Everyone knows it was blue, because the picture in my grandmother’s bedroom has her wearing a blue robe, the exact color of her blue eyes, framed by her flaxen blond hair.) There are things that just weren’t important to the ancients that we think crucial, like the exact time and date of birth of a poor boy, born in a barn. The great and mighty noted the time and date and place so that they could have their horoscopes prepared. Mary and Joseph apparently weren’t worried about Jesus’ horoscope. They were worried about Herod, who was very interested in the time and place of Jesus birth. I imagine a more important date for the Holy Family was the day they arrived safely in Egypt. The Gospels can be very disappointing if one is looking for gossipy details. Far more disturbing are the apparent contradictions. How many angels were at the resurrection? Did Jesus ascend to heaven from the Mount of Olives or from a hill in Galilee? Was he born in Bethlehem or Nazareth?  Why can’t the Bible seem to get it straight if it’s an inspired text? The answer is simple. The first Christians as we have seen from the text of St. Irenaeus handed down exactly what they received.
There are four Gospels that the early Church most respected, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. John is distinct from the others and seems to have been addressed to a very specific audience. My theory is that it was aimed at those who thought John the Baptist was the Messiah. It is probably the last Gospel to be written. The other three are called the synoptic Gospels. The word synoptic is a Greek word that means “look alike”. The look alike Gospels are pretty similar but, of the three, only the Gospel of Matthew has ever been thought of as eyewitness testimony. Luke and Mark were not among the twelve apostles. The long-standing tradition is that Mark had been an administrative assistant to St. Peter and that Luke had been a friend and assistant to St. Paul. Have you ever seen a car wreck? I hope not. But if you have, you know that two people describing the same wreck describe it differently. One notices the dent in the back of the car, the other the dent in the front, but not always both and so on. So it was with these very different and very human accounts of the events of the life and ministry of Christ. The three Synoptic Gospels weren’t written, at least in my opinion, as evangelistic tools. The Gospel was an oral phenomenon. St Paul says “if someone teaches another Gospel than the one I preached...” (Galatians 1:9)
The Gospel was shared by word of mouth. The texts we have were taken from a common fund of knowledge about the life of Christ. My theory is that Matthew was aimed at Pharisees to point out that Jesus was the fulfillment of prophesy and was the Messiah. Matthew was written to show that Jesus was the Son of God and Luke was written as a sort of “friend of the court brief” to convince the former High Priest, “your Excellency Theophilus”, a son of Annas and High Priest from AD 37 to AD 41.  The theory is that Theophilus was the high priest who delegated Paul’s trip to Damascus to clear up this Christian mess and, to Theophilus’ horror, Paul came back as one of them. Theophilus may have lodged the accusation against Paul with the Roman authorities and Luke, the only non-Hebrew author in the New Testament, wrote Luke/Acts of the Apostles as a two-part defense of Paul requesting that Theophilus withdraw his accusation. Just a theory.
If you think of the Gospels as modern style histories of the life of Jesus, you are going to be disappointed. They are, I believe, documents that were written by their human authors to make certain points about the life of Christ: that He fulfilled the prophetic expectations about the Messiah (Matthew); that He was the Son of God (Mark); that He and His disciple Paul were innocent of the charges (Luke/Acts); and that He, not John the Baptist, was the Messiah, the true Lamb of sacrifice of the true Passover (John). However the Holy Spirit meant, I believe, to show us the aspects of the life of Christ that are necessary for our salvation and redemption. What color Mary’s veil was is not essential to the work of our salvation.
All this doesn’t exactly answer the question, “Are they reliable?” The fact that they seem to be at variance with one another is the proof that they are reliable. That’s the nature of Sacred Tradition. If someone a couple centuries after Christ had tried to polish up the accounts of Christ’s ministry that would be suspicious. They said, “No, this is what we have received, this is what we hand on to you, whole and entire.” The small apparent discrepancies are not very important and are probably quite reconcilable. The four canonical Gospels are unedited because they are eyewitness accounts made by human beings, though inspired and used by the Holy Spirit. Two of them are quite probably eye witness accounts (Matthew and John) and two are probably second hand accounts (Mark and Luke). The Church has, from the very first, been scrupulous to hand down nothing less and nothing more than it received from Christ through the ministry of the apostles, even though that handing down has some questions attached to it. You can trust the Gospels.

As for your question about the places associated with the life of Jesus, that will have to wait until next week!

Friday, December 13, 2013

It's Christmas, can't you lighten up?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,

Why must you always write such depressing articles? Lighten up. It’s the Christmas season.

Joy S. Tydings

Dear Joy,

Depressing?  Me? Depressing? I’ve always thought of myself as a lighthearted commentator on the foibles of the modern world, at least as lighthearted as lower-upper-Hessians can possibly be. In the town of Allendorf, Hessen whence comes the family of my father, it is the custom to send the young men of the village out into the forest armed only with bottles of schnapps and axes. There, they cut down a pine tree, drag it back into the village and set it up again. This is not associated with Christmas but with the patronal feast of St. Catherine. No one can explain why this is done or for how long it has been done. Allendorf means the “Old village” a name it has born since around 700 AD. I suspect we have been doing it ever since the Neanderthals found out that rotten fruit was still edible, or at least drinkable. Sending young men into the woods with booze and potential weapons has always been our idea of fun.

A few miles east of Allendorf is the town Neustadt, Hessen whence comes my mother’s family. The forest east of town is thought to be the place of origin for the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, told by the well-named Brothers Grimm. It is the tender children’s story of a little girl who is attacked by a wolf that has just eaten her grandmother. These stories were told to generations of lower upper Hessian children to help them fall asleep. Grimm fairy tales indeed!

In the hills of Westphalen, north of us, there is a charming Easter custom. Giant wooden wheels, 7 feet in diameter and 800 pounds in weight are packed with straw, set on fire and rolled down the hills. Most people just watch and cheer as the flaming wheels roll down the hill. They wait anxiously to see which wheels make it all the way down still on fire. I have also heard that the young men run down the hill in front of the blazing wheels, a sort of Germanic “running of the idiots” not unlike the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain. I have also heard that if one of the runners is hit by one of the wheels it is considered a mark of great good fortune for the coming year.  I suppose it’s a matter of, “If I survive being run over by an immense flaming wheel, nothing worse is going to happen to me this year....probably.” 

I am not sprung from people who could be called cheerful in the conventional sense. All this considered, I suppose I am doing my best to be cheerful in the face of a culture that is even screwier than a bunch of drunken German adolescents chopping down trees or trying to get run over by flaming wagon wheels.

So, here goes: A cheerful article about the date of Christmas! 

No matter what you have heard, Christmas may actually have occurred on December 25th! The first indisputable mention of December 25 as the date of Christ’s birth is found in a Roman calendar written about 350 AD that lists the deaths of various Christian martyrs. In it we find, “December 25, Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.” By 400AD, St. Augustine says that the heretical Donatists observed Christmas on December 25, but didn’t celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, the Donatists claiming it was an innovation. The Donatists traced their origin to 312 AD and were notorious for their rigid conservatism. This would mean that some Christians in the Latin speaking world regarded the 25th of December as the anniversary of the birth of the Lord from before the date when Christianity was still persecuted and certainly not the religion of the Roman Empire. 

At around 200AD, St. Hippolytus of Rome seems to favor the December 25th date, or possibly late March. He is ambiguous and people argue about the manuscripts anyway. At around the same time Bishop Clement of Alexandria mentions a few dates as possible candidates for the anniversary of Christ’s birth. His favorite was the 25th day of Pachon. Pachon is an Egyptian month and 25 Pachon is sometime calculated as the 20th of May. Clement also mentions the possibility that Jesus was born in late November.

The problem is that it is very difficult if not impossible to co-ordinate ancient Egyptian calendars with modern western calendars. The calendar was moveable. Before the beginning of the 3rd century, no one was very interested in the date of Christ’s birth. They were much more interested in the date of Christ’s death and of his conception. After all the Word became Flesh not on Christmas but on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th. The reason that March 25th was celebrated as the feast of the Annunciation, (the conception of Christ in the womb of the Virgin), is that the date of Christ’s death was fairly well known and there seems to have been a belief that a true prophet should die on the anniversary of his conception.

Tertullian, who like Clement wrote around the year 200 AD, dated the death of Jesus to March 25. That means if Jesus died on March 25th, he would have been conceived on March 25 and nine months after March 25 is December 25. Bingo! (Don’t beat this theory to death. Remember the western calendars were quite inaccurate, and the Jewish calendar like the Egyptian had very flexible dates, so the equating of March 25th as the same thing in all calendars, modern and ancient, is not possible.) St. Augustine, too, was familiar with this association. In “On the Trinity” (© 399–419) he writes: “For he [Jesus] is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before Him nor since. But He was born according to tradition, upon December the 25th.”

The Eastern Church with whom we in the West have never been able to coordinate our calendars marked it as January 6th, so it seems that the 12 days of Christmas were all-inclusive from Dec. 25 to Jan 6th. Until my childhood that was Christmas, Dec. 25 until Jan.6. The tree went up on Christmas Eve and stayed up until the feast of the Three Kings. That way, all the possible dates venerated by Latin and Greek Christians from around the year 200 were covered. Now of course, Christmas begins just before Halloween and we are sick of it by the afternoon of Dec 25th When we start shopping for the after-Christmas sales and try to figure out how drunk to get on New Year’s Eve. The whole schmear ends with enduring a headache on Jan. 1st as we watch football and take down the tree. 

We don’t know the exact date of Christ’s birth in terms of a perfect atomic clock, but I suspect that we have got it essentially right in the 12 days of Christmas, by which I don’t mean the song about waterfowl and dancing aristocrats. The important thing to remember here is that Christmas did NOT originate as a distraction to the Roman Saturnalia or the feast of the unconquered sun. Saturnalia was celebrated originally for only one day on December 17th and when it expanded in later times, it was definitely over by the 23rd which was the feast of the Sigilaria which at some point did involve gift giving. Christmas gift giving is a very modern custom. Gifts were traditionally given on St. Nicholas Day and on the feast of the Three Kings (Epiphany). The feast of the unconquered sun did not enter Roman calendars until after many Christians were already celebrating Dec. 25 as the feast of Christ’s birth. It is more likely that the feast of the unconquered sun was emphasized to distract pagans from the Christian celebration of December 25th.

So, be of good cheer. We really are celebrating the wonder of Christ’s birth and not simply some really good bargains at the big box stores. And this is my attempt at cheerfulness. Merry Christmas!

Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, December 6, 2013

Can my pastor turn his back to me?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
My piece-of-work, hare-brained pastor has done it again. He is now celebrating the first Mass of Sunday facing the wall. There is already some Latin sung at the Mass, and he allows people to receive communion kneeling. Now this! Doesn’t he know that the Vatican Council did away with Latin at Mass and kneeling for communion and facing the wall? Is he trying to drag us back to the dark ages?  My parents built this church and now he is changing my Mass, the Mass I have always gone to. How dare he turn his back on us! What are we? Chopped liver?
Patty D. Maison
Dear Patty,
It is clear to me that you are an enlightened progressive person, who will not tolerate intolerance. I can see that you want nothing but the best for God’s Church and you will not allow people to slip back into former modes of prayer from the dark days when the churches were full and confessional lines long. It is clear that you feel it your duty as an enlightened person to make sure that everyone does what you think is right. Bravo!
I fear however that you may be mistaken about a few things. Before launching into a few slight corrections, I urge you to be flexible with your old pastor. He is probably an aging hippy who read Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book one too many times, particularly the line “Let a thousand flowers bloom....”  You said that he allows people to kneel for communion. Does he force them to kneel, or does he let them make up their own mind about the matter?  He has brought back Latin, or is there Latin at all the Masses? It is curious that you say it is your Mass. Are there other people at the Mass, or are you the only person in attendance?  The Mass I would think belongs to the Lord and the Church Universal. If you don’t benefit from his antique style at the early Mass, you might go to one of the Masses that is more to your personal taste. It doesn’t sound like he has forced this foolishness on all the Masses, just the earliest one on Sunday.
As for the Vatican Council ending kneeling for Communion, that is not quite true. As far as I can find, the first incident of standing for Communion had nothing to do with the council. It was something used at a liturgical convention in Seattle in 1962. The reason given for the change was that it would speed things up, a deeply spiritual reason if ever there was one, I’m sure.
And as for the Vatican Council taking Latin out of the mass, it just isn’t so. Surprisingly, the Vatican Council foresaw a limited use of the common modern tongue at mass for pastoral reasons, but intended the Latin rite Mass to continue in Latin. The Council said that “. . . the use of the Latin language is to be preserved in the Latin rites.”(Sacrosanctum Concilium, #36; December 4, 1963)
The council never mandated that the priest face the people at the liturgy. Altars were to be moved out from the wall, making it possible to walk around them, but I have never been able to find the document that says the whole liturgy must be offered facing the congregation.
Still more shocking, the newest Roman Missal assumes that the celebrant is facing away from the people for large sections of the Novus Ordo, or Ordinary Form of the Mass. In the Missal there are black letters and red letters. The red letters are called rubrics, form the Latin word for red. The black letters are what the celebrant is supposed to say, the red letters indicate what the celebrant is supposed to do. In the 3rd Roman Missal the rubrics indicate that the celebrant must face the people only seven times, as far as I can tell. Here are the citations from the missal. You can look ‘em up if you don’t believe me.
1.      When the people are gathered, the Priest approaches the altar.....venerates the altar with a kiss... then... with the ministers, he goes to the chair. When the Entrance Chant is concluded, the Priest and the faithful, standing, sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, while the Priest, facing the people, says: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  (The rubrics  seem to imply that the greeting and the penance rite are said facing the people, since they are addressed to the people, not to the Lord and thus are included in the rubric indicating that the celebrant face the people at this point in the Mass.)
29. Standing at the middle of the altar, facing the people, extending and then joining his hands, he says: “Pray, brethren...”  (The end of the offertory)
127. The Priest, turned towards the people, extending and then joining his hands, adds: “The peace of the Lord be with you always...” (The sign of peace)
132. The Priest genuflects, takes the host and, holding it slightly raised above the paten or above the chalice, while facing the people, says aloud: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb...”
139. Then, standing at the altar or at the chair and facing the people, with hands joined, the priest says “Let us pray...” (The final prayer)
141 Then the dismissal takes place. The Priest, facing the people and extending his hands, says: “The Lord be with you...”  (The blessing)
144.  Then the Deacon, or the Priest himself, with hands joined and facing the people, says “Go forth the Mass is ended.”
The part of this that I find most interesting is not just that the priest may face away from the congregation, but that it seems expected. Still more interesting is that almost no one except the Pope Emeritus and a few curmudgeons like your pastor seem to notice or follow what seems to be clearly implied in the rubrics. Go figure. 
Why no one seems to notice, much less follow the rubrics is completely beyond me. I suppose that’s because no one actually reads the rubrics. They assume these things were mandated by the council and are demanded by the rules. You know what they say about the word “assume.” “To assume makes a beast of burden out of you and me.”
I suppose that it is allowed to say Mass facing the people, but it seems odd when you think about it. The rubrics seem to indicate that when the priest is speaking to the people, he faces the people. When he is leading them in prayer, standing in for Christ, he faces the Lord, with the people. This makes sense. It isn’t as earth shattering as it first appears. The priest faces the people these seven times and while he is seated in the presider’s chair. In the average mass of 50 minutes, using the 2nd Canon and including a homily, the priest faces away from the people for all of 10 minutes maximum.
In the old days there were quite a few mortal sins that a priest could commit while saying Mass if he willingly altered the structure of the Mass. It used to seem absurd to me that the rubrics were that important. I have had my mind changed in my old age. After seeing enough clergy skipping down the aisles distributing Easter eggs, or wearing clown makeup or dressed as Barney the Purple Dinosaur, I understand that the prohibitions were aimed at clerical narcissism. They were not simply medieval taboos.

You said that the 8 am Mass was your Mass. I understand what you mean. It is your custom. However a priest who decides that the Liturgy of the Church is “his” to play with as he pleases does commit a very grave sin. The Mass is unfortunately a wonderful stage for those who fancy themselves actors. The Mass is no one’s property except the Lord’s and the celebrant is nothing more than the servant of the Lord and of His bride, the Church. To personalize the Mass excessively is to take what belongs to the Lord for one own self expression and even aggrandizement. Perhaps it is a good thing that the priest occasionally turns to the Lord with the people whose servant he is and of whom he is just a part by virtue of his Baptism. Perhaps by turning away from the people and facing the Lord with them, the celebrant will remember that he is not the center of the Mass. It is the Lord who is the object of adoration as Pope Francis has reminded us.