In the first blog post on liturgy I explored the cultural and social background on the clash between two essentially opposite approaches to the liturgy.
The first can be characterized as “facing the Lord” the second as “facing the people.” Both viewpoints were loaded with political and cultural baggage. OK, but what to do about it?
I am traditionally minded, but I am not a dyed in the wool, Vatican 2-hating traditionalist. I think there have been great benefits from the Second Vatican Council and believe the documents themselves are terrific. The liturgical abuses, however, are lamentable.
It is my own view that the “people centered” approach to the church should drive all that we do outside of Mass, but that the “God centered” approach should drive what we do in the liturgy. One of the problems, it seems to me, is that Catholics think they have to push everything into the Mass–so the Mass carried political opinions, personal motivations, cultural influences, social concerns and much more.
The Mass should be about our worship of God–not our social welfare mission, evangelization, education etc. etc. Of course all these concerns are brought in our hearts and minds to Mass, but Mass–first and foremost is the worship of the Lord in the sacred offering of Christ’s sacrifice.
The”people centered” action of the should be done through fellowship, social events, community involvement, educating the young, running schools, soup kitchens etc. This is where we do the people centered stuff, and this is where it is done most effectively.
That is where we love our neighbor. The Mass is where we love God. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
That this is so should be obvious to anyone who has spent any time at all listening to the actual words of the Mass. It is all about the offering of the full, final sacrifice.
With this in mind we should take another look at the orientation of the Mass.
If I am right, then the Mass as the priest making the offering of Christ’s sacrifice should be the predominant image and motivation. If this is so, then the ad orientem position for the celebration of Mass should be the obvious choice. In this posture and position it is clear that the priest is praying with and for the people as he offers the sacrifice.
However, the innovations after Vatican II means that this need not be the total “back to the people” inaccessibility that so many grumble about in the Extraordinary Form.
If the Ordinary Form is celebrated with dignity, solemnity and beauty, then it can successfully combine the best of both forms, and this is what Pope Benedict XVI wanted when he granted wider permission for the Extraordinary Form to be celebrated.
How does one celebrate the Ordinary Form in a traditional manner? This is what I will be discussing in this series of posts, but first I should point out that the Ordinary Form is, of course, in the vernacular. It is in the language we understand. However, the Church does tell us to honor Latin and keep it alive in the liturgy.
Therefore, although the Ordinary Form is celebrated in English we use Latin and sing Gregorian chant for the Sanctus (Holy, Holy Holy) and the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) other parts of the Mass can also be sung in Latin (or English) to Gregorian chant: the Gloria and the Lord’s Prayer for example. Likewise the Kyrie can be sung in Greek. This keeps the main language English, but elevates the Mass with the use of Gregorian chat and honors the tradition of Latin in worship.
These changes are actually very easy and do not need a grand choir or expensive organist to implement. Most Catholic already now the simple settings of the Sanctus and Agnus Dei, and those who don’t know them are often happy to learn them–especially (in my experience) the children.
How should the words of the Mass be said? Well, as it says in the General Instruction and in the missal itself, loudly and clearly in order to be understood.
I would add, however, that it should be understood to whom the words are addressed. The prayers are addressed to God. While certain instructions and greetings are addressed to the people. If the prayers are addressed to God the celebrant should look either up towards heaven or focus down on the elements to be consecrated. However, when he is addressing the people he should direct his focus to the people.
This is another practical reason why ad orientem celebration is important. It is clear when the priest faces the Lord with the people that they are praying together. When he turns to face the people (as at the invitation to the Peace and the “Behold the Lamb of God”) it is clear he is addressing them, not God.
When the Mass is said versus populum however, it is very unclear. He is facing the people, but talking to God? Where should he look? Up? Down? Too often, therefore he says the prayer to the Lord while looking at the people, and sometimes I’ve seen priests say the prayers to the Lord while striving hard to get eye contact with the people and inflect the words with great significance so they will all “understand what it means.”
Finally, the words should be spoken or sung in such a way that they do not draw attention to the celebrant. There are two pitfalls here–one is the celebrant with the stained glass voice whose style is so “holy” in its sonorous tones that it draws attention to itself. The other is the celebrant who tries so hard to inflect the words with meaning that it draws attention to itself.
The words should be spoken with simplicity, dignity and some restraint. The words are, after all, not a public speech or a poem being recited or a dramatic reading or a newscast or sports commentary. They are a prayer, and they should be said as such.
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