Sunday, June 18, 2006

Putting Christ at the Center of Worship!

The only way I've been able to post any photos, is to copy the code from a previous post. So, I will do that with this post again because the picture is appropriate to the topic.

I have to comment, intermittently (in brackets and in black type), on the article below, which deals with the orientation of the priest during the liturgy. I consider myself somewhat of an authority on the topic because of just how much I resisted, interiorly, the ad orientem posture used by the priests at Assumption Grotto.

The first day I went there - Pentecost of 2005 - there was an orchestral Mass I seen posted on their website and because I had planned on going for other reasons, I figured why not for the orchestral Mass. When I seen the way the priest was facing - east, and away from us, I first felt awkward and it was actually disturbing that I could not see his face. The atmosphere was also very different from any other Catholic parish I had attended - and there were many over the years. I had grown accustomed to the contemporary Masses so often seen today, but can't say that they did anything for me. I grew up with them, having been born in 1962.

As I had stated earlier, half of me wanted to go, but half of me wanted to stay and explore as the place seemed chock-full-of-mysteries, a few of which included:

  1. Why would the priest have his back to us?
  2. Why were people walking around with their heads down?
  3. Why was there such a deafening silence?
  4. What were those smells?
  5. How could so many young children, in one family, be so still and quiet for nearly an hour-and-a-half?
  6. What is with all the genuflecting and bowing?
  7. Why receive Communion at a rail - wasn't that done away with years ago?

Now, this may shock many Grotto-goers who only know me by my photography and for my enthusiasm for all that Assumption Grotto has to offer. In reality, I am a Grotto-convert. Anyone who spends any time there will soon learn that everyone has a story and there are many, many conversion stories. Unlike other parishes where you see converts coming because a family member or future spouse brought them to the faith (very good), at Grotto you get that, AND you find that the parish itself has converted a good many people. Many of these converts were lapsed Catholics who hadn't set foot in a church for years or decades, or had explored other Christian sects.

With that background given, lets dissect this article and remember, I could not see the point of the ad orientem posture, and within a matter of days, God unlocked the mystery, while at the same time pulling me deeply into a spiritual ride I had no idea was coming - all of which was prompted, in part, by the priest celebrating ad orientem.

If you click on the photo below, it will give you one of the original posts in which it appeared, along with an explanation.

Once again - my remarks will be in black type, and in brackets.

Conference: Priest facing east at Mass won't ensure focus on Jesus

By Cindy Wooden
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Having the priest face east, usually away from the people, when celebrating Mass is not a magic way to ensure that both the priest and the congregation focus on Jesus, said participants at a conference in northern Italy. [If the faithful continue in a belief that the Mass is about community, this is true, but for me, it prompted a realization that the Mass is about worshiping God, placing Him at the center - removing the person of the priest as he put on Christ!]

Enzo Bianchi, prior of the Bose ecumenical community and host of the conference, summarized the discussion in the June 14 edition of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

The conference brought together Catholic liturgists, theologians and church architects from Europe, North and South America and liturgical experts from Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant churches.

The theme "Liturgical Space and Its Orientation" was chosen because of renewed research and debate about the placement of the altar in churches and the direction the priest and people face.

Bianchi said participants agreed that something must be done to help celebrants and congregations focus more firmly on Jesus and recover dimensions of the liturgy that have weakened since the Second Vatican Council.

In the old liturgy, when the priest faced east during the eucharistic prayer, not only was he not the focus of people's attention, but his posture was meant to evoke the Christian expectation of Christ coming again -- the Book of Revelation says he will come from the east -- and the "cosmological symbolism" of Christ being the sun that rises in the east, Bianchi said. [Bingo! That is what I learned, very abruptly, without having read a word in any book, the web, or any place else - infused, a la whammo!!! - God is the center of the Mass, not the priest, or the community gathered!]

To recover those dimensions, he said, "that which appears urgent today is a profound rethinking of the position of the priest in respect to the faithful." [agreed - to get people to understand that the Mass is not about us, it is about giving God due worship and in doing that, we gain true unity]

One of the speakers at the conference was Father Uwe Michael Lang, whose book "Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer," presents arguments for returning to the practice of having the celebrant facing east with his back to the congregation.

The book includes a foreword written in 2003 by then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger supporting Father Lang's thesis, but suggesting a more thorough, calmer discussion is needed.

In his own book, "The Spirit of the Liturgy," the cardinal, now pope, suggested that to avoid creating further disruption and confusion by changing the direction the priest faces, a crucifix placed on the altar or suspended above it could be an appropriate alternative. [We need to go back and read this in context because this would lead one to believe the Pope is not in favor of celebrants using the ad orientem posture - something that first requires catechesis in order to avoid "the disruption" - something that was not bothered with in the 60's and 70's when altar rails were being jack-hammered out of place overnight]

Msgr. Stefano Russo, an official of the Italian bishops' conference, told participants that different aspects of the liturgy are highlighted by the direction the priest is facing; when the priest and people are looking at each other and at the altar, it emphasizes the communal aspect of the Mass, while the sacrificial nature of the Eucharist is emphasized by the priest and people facing the same direction.

He said having the priest face the people "is not better or more correct" than having them face the same direction, "but is only more appropriate and coherent with the faith lived by believers today." [I grew up with versus populum Msgr. Russo, but exposure to the priest facing ad orientem forced me to stop seeing the physically communal aspect only to gain the mystical communal aspect.]

People must be honest enough to admit that either position "by itself is insufficient to convey the totality of the mystery celebrated," Msgr. Russo said. "No ritual form, no text or liturgical gesture could ever exhaust the richness of the mystery of God." [Agreed. Catechesis is the key, not avoidance. As long as priests and liturgists hold a belief that "community is God", we will never fully have God at the center exclusively. Authentic worship of God puts Him at the center and nothing or no one else. God-centered worship leads to authentic love of neighbor, not community-centered worship]

U.S. Jesuit Father Keith Pecklers, a professor of liturgy at Rome's Pontifical Gregorian University, said the conference was important for bringing balance to a discussion that has been used to polarize or label Catholics. [Yes, and from all I've experienced since becoming enthusiastically in favor of the ad orientem posture, is that many well-intended Catholics believe I have latched on to a schismatic community, or that Assumption Grotto is somehow "holding the Church back". "Tolerance" is the buzzword of the day as long as it does not have to include Catholics who favor a more traditional Novus Ordo, Latin, or a life rich in distinctly Catholic devotion. I point you to the 7 points I raised at the beginning of this post as an example of my own bias before God grabbed me by my ear and taught me some very important lessons about the liturgy. ]

He told Catholic News Service that a key conclusion of the discussion was that priests need to be trained "to preside with grace, ease and transparency, drawing people to Christ and not focusing attention on themselves."


Why is this all so important - the way the priest faces?

Ponder this: lex orandi, lex credendi - the law of prayer is the law of belief.

I spent a life time catering to my own feelings about the Mass - whether I liked the music, the homily, the priest, etc. I looked for all kinds of stimuli to keep me interested, and "expert" liturgists obliged. In the end, I realized I had never truly worshiped GOD in the Mass.....until I went to Assumption Grotto where all of the stimuli were removed. This completely changed my life to one that was built on relativism and self-satisfaction, to one that is fully rooted in respect for God's commandments, as such. Gone are the excuses to do unvirtuous, and even sinful things that God would just ignore come judgment day because "I was generally a good person". My good works would save me, would they not? Putting God at the center of my Mass led to a desire to create a God-pleasing life. This meant far less TV, among other things, and much more prayer.

Seeing the priest's face is a subtle stimulus, and when he looks up around at the congregation, especially during the words of Consecration, it is a huge stimulus - one, I no longer need to fight interiorly in order to focus fully on Christ - thanks to Grotto!

It took going to Mass at some of the former parishes I use to frequent after 6 months of Grotto-style worship, to see just how distracting versus populum can be. One exception I have found is the Mass at Sts. Cyril & Methodius, where the priests do not look around at the congregation during any part of the Eucharistic Prayer. I can focus more fully on Christ during the Consecration because the priest is not looking up around at everyone - something I find distracting from the One on whom I should be focused.

I now look at how many well-intentioned, fine priests look into the congregation during conscretion and can only imagine how the "expert" liturgists in the seminary must have passed on business speech practices where eye-contact with the crowd is the rule. This has led to the liturgy becoming more of a theatrical production, than worship. This is one reason why I believe we must be patient with priests who do this because many were taught to do so in the seminary. Time, and proper training, will cure this.


I've only touched on point 1 in my list. I will unlock the other 6 "mysteries" in future posts.