Monday, January 28, 2008

Ad Orientem: "No go areas" and legitimate debate



I introduced Mass ad orientem this morning, I intend to celebrate this way on Mondays, which happens to be my day off, many priest tend not to say Mass in their parishes on their day off, so if there is any real objection I can say that it is an additional Mass.


Today, being the feast of St Thomas, I said in my short homily that having grown up in the period of the Vatican Council and Humanae Vitae I often heard St Thomas being quoted. I was fascinated by his method in the Summa, even as child of twelve. I loved the fact that he would present a thesis, arguments against it, then arguments in favour. It struck me that this was genuine intellectual enquiry.

When I went to the seminary I was shocked by the fact that at so many levels, most especially with regard to liturgy there were vast "no go areas". We would happily celebrate mass sitting on sofas around a coffee table using a pottery chalice and even sliced leaven bread, with the priest making up his own texts. What was absolutely forbidden was the celebration of the Mass of John XXIII, or discussion of Mass ad orientem, an over stated interest in these was likely to be met with dismissal.

One of things that I welcome during the Pontificate of Pope Benedict is the ability to question honestly the dogmatism of the 70s and 80s. Legitimate experimentation, within the bounds of the rubrics, church teaching and the Tradition seems only to add to the legitimate debate that there should be within the Church.

The questions of Archbishop Ranjith about the way in which Holy Communion is received can only be good thing.

6 comments:

Thomasso said...

Father, I agree with all you say about the liturgy. There is a fear nowadays that any discussion of common praxis is somehow being disloyal to Vatican II.

Have you seen the letter in this week's Catholic Herald from Bishop Lindsay where (in response to the previous report of the Holy Father offering Mass versus Deum in the Sistine Chapel), the bishop says "...it is not Pope Benedict who 'asks faithful to look together at the Lord', but Cardinal Ratzinger. He is always careful to respect those who do not agree with his views". It's not clear whther the 'he/his' here is the Pope or Cardinal Ratzinger, but the bishops point seems a little skewed - though it is a point the bishop has made in previous letters to the press ie that what Cardinal Ratzinger says about the liturgy were simply his personal views, not the views of the Church.

The real point is that, in whatever incarnation he was speaking, Benedict is is now speaking as supreme pontiff and he is teaching us the importance of the ad orientem posture. As such, his teachings deserve our attention, respect and where appropriate obedience.

The good bishop then goes on to repeat the old canard that "The Holy See insisted...that permanent altars should replace the temporary altars within a permanent re-ordering". Now it would be good to see this magisterial dictat in writing, because many of us have been unable to find it. Yet it keeps being repeated.

Father, are you aware of any instructions from the Holy See which insisted on permanent altars versus populum being set up to replace old high altars?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Thomasso,
I think Bishop Lindsay should get his own blog! Bless him.
In answer to you question, no.
I am sure there is something about the desirability of only having one altar, but nothing about destroying the already consecrated altar, the altar is a sign of Christ, the corner stone of the Church.
The rubric in the GIRM says that altar SHOULD be freestanding, so that Mass maybe offered facing the people it is the freestanding that is important. What the HF has done is to illustrate that "should" does not mean "must".

There is nothing to say that there should be wontan destruction of something consecrated to the Lord, on the contrary.

Sussex Catholic said...

You are as always absolutely correct Father. There is no instruction anywhere from Rome which requires the reordering of sanctuaries. Whenever a dispute has arisen between Church authorities and the laity of a particular church over proposed reordering the answer coming back from Rome has always been not to interfere with an artistically meritorious sanctuary. GIRM 2002 has been definitively interpreted by the Congregation for Worship as meaning that only where a new sanctuary is constructed the altar should be made freestanding. It has also made it clear that the phrase "which is always desirable" refers to the constructing of the freestanding altar and NOT to the saying of Mass versus populum. As Klaus Gamber made clear in his seminal work nobody said Mass facing the people before Martin Luther.

What is clear is that on any sanctuary there really ought to be only one altar since the altar represents Christ. Therefore by logical extension those sanctuaries which have a high altar and a temporary structure in front (such as Westminster Cathedral), should, if they are being true to the theology of the New Mass (which of course in its own rubrics presupposes a versus apsidem position), only use the high altar and dispense with the temporary altar. Will we see this happen? Perhaps that's one for the new Archbishop whoever he may be.

Henry said...

If Sussex Catholic is correct, then it follows logically that existing sanctuaries can legitimately be de- re-ordered ie put back to the way they were built.

A free standing ad-orientem altar would be difficult to construct. Where does the reredos with gradine go? And what about the tabernacle, which must occupy a central place?

The altar in the illustration is not free standing nor does it permit the celebration of Mass facing the people.

In view of recent developments and practices, and the practical difficulties of implementation mentioned above, I should not be surprised if the GIRM 2002 is amended soon.

Fr John Boyle said...

Given your concerns about the comments on your previous post, do tell us how it is going in practice. Are people accepting it?

Sussex Catholic said...

Sadly I think that "de-reordering" would place the new altar under the provisions of the GIRM 2002 unless the building was listed and could claim that it was a restoration to recover the integrity of the original design. That is not to say that some welcome modifications could not be made to improve the more extreme disfigurements which have taken place. Such a process could involve:
1) Ensuring that the altar itself was sufficiently large and rectangular in shape so as to accommodate 6 tall candlesticks and central cross in accordance with the recent Benedictine reform, also raising it up onto some steps and even placing a baldachino or ciborium over it;
2) repositioning the tabernacle behind the altar if it has been relegated to the side or an invisible side chapel at a sufficient distance from the altar to accommodate Mass versus populum;
3) Placing the celebrant's chair to the side of the sanctuary and not behind the altar
4) Replacing the altar rails in accordance with Health & Safety and disabililty discrimination laws