Thursday, May 08, 2008

Ad Orientem

I have done something that has been gnawing at me for months. I have read several books on church architecture that have concentrated on the concept of "relative space." The prevailing philosophy or our day is Relativism. Since all things are relative, then all things are equal.

In relative space, all spaces are equal, and no one place within a building is more important or sacred than another. Yet, despite all attempts to relativize liturgical space, Catholics still have an appreciation for the "sanctuary" or "chancel" as a particularly sacred and focus-worthy area. The "thrust-stage" arrangement of the altars of most churches, where the priest faces the people is conducive to gathering around and celebrating a sacred meal, but I wonder if that juxtaposition is conducive to reverence and, ultimately, faith. Given the great lack of faith that I've encountered in the course of my ministry I wonder if familiarity has not bred contempt rather than the theological virtues.
For a period of discernment that will be for I-do-not-know how long, we will celebrate the daily Mass ad Orientem. This is not for the purpose of making some statement against "the Spirit of Vatican II," nor is it an exercise in antiquarianism.

For most of the centuries of the Church, the Sacred Liturgy was celebrated facing East. Even where altars were set up so that they were free-standing, nevertheless the direction of the priest and people was toward the East (or to "liturgical" East where a church was not built on an eastern axis).

I found this so in Bethlehem, when I was on pilgrimage in 2006, and attended a baptism at the Syrian Orthodox church there. It was also the direction of the liturgy when I was a youth, before Vatican II.

The idea of the priest, standing at the head of the people and offering the sacrifice of Christ for himself, for them, and for the world, is an idea that we've lost by having the liturgy facing the people. I have found that so far I like this "new" way for these reasons:

  1. I am addressing prayers to God and not looking at people while I'm doing so. (This has always been a problem with Mass versus populi.) I have always been very careful about this anyway, when I celebrate facing the people. I try, unless I have to read the prayers directly from the Sacramentary, to direct my eye "Godwards," i.e., upwards, except for the prayer for peace that comes after the Lord's Prayer and which is directed (unlike the Eucharistic prayer and the collects that are addressed to the Father) to Christ. I look at the sacramental elements on the altar during that prayer as I've always tried to practice custody of the "liturgical" eye.
  2. The people don't have to be distracted by looking at me, and I don't have to be distracted by looking at them.
  3. It makes the chapel bigger by cutting down on the "footprint." In a small room this can be a great advantage, and I was able to relegate the original processional cross that was made for the chapel to be the p-c for Lent, and now use the original altar cross from the church.
  4. There is something ineffable about it that I experience as I offer the Mass in this way.

Of course, I turn toward the people and address them at the proper times. Not gonna just say "The Lord be with you." glancing back over my shoulder.

This will not in any way affect the arrangement in the church of the altar for Sunday and Holy Day Masses (the only days we use the church anyway).

Let us see . . .

The First Novena

The descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and the Church after the Ascension of Jesus to the right hand of the Father, represented the culmination of nine days of prayer and expectation. It is the source of the devotion called a "novena." While other novenas have come to be, directed to the honor of some saint, or for some spiritual purpose, yet the original novena started at the Ascension and completed at Pentecost is till the Ur-novena from which all take their name.

The readings of the Liturgy of the Eucharist and the Hours in these days are replete with the most wonderful and expectant writings of the New Testament and the Holy Fathers. May the annual celebration of that original outpouring of the Spirit form our hearts more and more into the dwelling place of Christ.

O Magnum Mysterium by Martin Lauridsen

I just heard this on Kent State classical streaming radio. The performance by the UST alumni singers is marred by the poor recording and gratuitous camera flashes, but the piece and their singing are magnificent! It moves me to tears as I listen to it. How wonderful it would be if our choir could do it for Christmas eve.

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum. Alleluia!

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord. Alleluia!