His Eminence Robert Cardinal Sarah stirred the pot and excited some people in early June when he announced that he prefers and recommends that Priests celebrate Mass ad orientem. As Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, it seemed a legitimate thought that he made these statements in an official capacity. Waves of cheers rocked the traditionalist community and they saw that it was good. Most of us shrugged, and said, “whatever.”
Cardinal Vincent Nichols chimed in with a different view in July and essentially poured cold water on the idea, at least for his archdiocese. It seemed that Cardinal Nichols felt like this could lead to a bit of Liturgical anarchy, and perhaps even some sort of competition. He directed that his priests should not interject preference into the Liturgy. Cardinal Nichols now became the subject of scrutiny in traditionalist circles – was he even Catholic? – and they feared the tremendous progress made would be sabatoged. Most of us shrugged and said “whatever.”
Then the Vatican itself went to the replay booth and essentially overturned the play. It became clear that, despite his official capacity in his role, Robert Cardinal Sarah overstepped a bit and had not run this idea past Pope Francis before springing it on the world. The traditionalists’ fears were now confirmed, the Pope hates them, and all is still lost. Most of the rest of us shrugged and said “whatever.”
Personally, I find the entire thing silly on the one hand and troubling on the other.
I love my friends – many of them who strongly prefer a more traditional Liturgy, and would essentially love to see all masses revert back to the traditional Latin Mass. I respect their preference and would never, ever tell them that their preference is wrong. Further, even though it’s a little bit longer of a drive, there is an oratory in our area that celebrates the Latin Mass. They have that option. I suppose it would be nice to have a few more places celebrate Mass in that way so they didn’t need to work as hard for them to have that experience.
My issue is, as usual, with those who cannot let this go. Who elevate their preference to a dogmatic level and want to force everyone to accept this as the “correct” Liturgical form – not merely a preference in form – and that anyone who doesn’t see it their way is somehow less serious about the faith than they are. Unfortunately, this is a very real phenomenon. It is actually part of what keeps me from adopting a more traditionalist bent, myself. I see spiritual pride and judgment and I want to avoid that.
Do not misunderstand that I don’t know the arguments that are made for why people really prefer the ad orientem posture. I do. There’s a symbolism there I can appreciate. There’s nice symbolism in all sorts of things, though. We follow the Church’s guidance on what must be an element of Mass, what should be, what may be, and what cannot be. We need a certain uniformity among all the faithful, and then there is room for preference as long as it is within the guidance of Liturgical norms. If you want to go to a church that celebrates in one way, then go ahead, but don’t tell me I need to want or desire that. The same can be true of more liberal interpretations of the Liturgy, as well. And I’m not saying there aren’t lines that get crossed – there are. When things move from a preference that is allowable to something that is actually discouraged or outright impermissible, I don’t shrug. That is simply wrong, and needs to be called out. but this is NOT one of those things, as the GIRM currently stands.
The following cartoon has made the rounds:
This is stupid.
I will borrow my arguments from a Facebook exchange I read in discussing this cartoon. But in general, the cartoon is trying to make the point that the Priest is turning his back to Jesus. This is just unnecessary divisive. Which, excuse the tangent here, is my main issue. Why are we constantly arguing and hating on each other over things like this? Do we really believe that God wants this to be the issue that leads our heart to determine that the Pope must be the Antichrist? Seriously…
Anyway – again borrowing arguments from others: Jesus is actually at the right hand of God the Father. We don’t praise His image on the crucifix. We may desire to look at it while we praise Him to help us focus on our image of Him and a reminder of what He went through, but it is not necessary to face the crucifix to pray to God. Further, God is with us in our midst wherever any number are gathered in His name. There is no requirement that we all face the same direction to acknowledge that. Third, the altar is where Christ becomes physically present to us. When the Priest consecrates the hosts and the wine he is facing Jesus. So are we. What difference does it make whether Jesus is between us or at one end of the line?
And yes, I know that there is more to it than that – the Priest is “leading” us. But that’s not the point of the cartoon, so I’m responding to that whole “what makes more sense” bit. Probably the only remotely reasonable argument I heard on this from the pro- camp was that it would have been a better representation above if it were the tabernacle instead of the crucifix. I can buy that to an extent, but it’s not as if the tabernacle is ignored and dismissed during Mass. Great reverence is paid to it. Further, again, the altar is more the focus of the Mass itself, anyway, and the physical presence of Jesus that is in the tabernacle until communion became manifest on the altar.
Interestingly, the vast majority of Catholics probably don’t even realize this debate is going on. If you’d bring it up they’d be all like “Uh… what?” Many people would default to the idea that this, in and of itself, is a bad thing. We all need to be better educated and understand why this is important, and only then can we all be enlightened and think like they do. I’m being a bit overboard here – I do think it is important to understand, but I also can’t really help but think about all the old ladies throughout the years who never concerned themselves with much other than going to Mass, praying the Rosary, and feeding their families. The greater debates of the Church throughout the centuries more often than not took place without them having any particular clue about it.
I like that simple faith. I try to abide by that as much as I can. If the Church and the Pope says it’s OK, then I’m fine. If they say it’s not, I’m fine. If they need to change something, I’m fine.
I guess you need people to push and ask questions and keep things in check. That’s OK, too. I think some are called to that, but I think most are not. Further, those that are called to it have a unique responsibility to do so in a manner befitting a Christian, and not create unnecessary division while they are doing so. In extreme cases, some division must occur, but in most cases it does not have to.
Until then, I’m firmly in the camp that shrugs and says “whatever.”