Friday, July 15, 2016

The So-Called "Altar Wars": Is All the Arguing Worth It?

So if you haven't heard, Cardinal Robert Sarah, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, had some not-so startling things to say. He made a suggestion that pastors and bishops of the Latin Rite worldwide consider turning East towards the altar (ad orientum) in the Ordinary Form of the Mass. He said in part:
"I believe that it is very important that we return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction—Eastwards or at least towards the apse—to the Lord who comes, in those parts of the liturgical rites when we are addressing God. This practice is permitted by current liturgical legislation. It is perfectly legitimate in the modern rite. Indeed, I think it is a very important step in ensuring that in our celebrations the Lord is truly at the centre."
There truly is nothing controversial in this, as facing towards the East has always been permitted since Vatican II, although it's something that isn't commonly seen in the Ordinary Form since the 1960's. However, many people have made a big deal about it, and it caused such a stir (apparently) that a clarification had to come out that the good Cardinal did not issue a mandate to be implemented this Advent, but merely a suggestion. I, and many others, thought that this being a suggestion was apparent. It seems to me that with all this correction and clarification going on, we've been seeing a lot more recently (and not just on this issue) the words of Our Lady at Akita in 1973 coming to pass: "The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops." We should never see cardinals opposing cardinals, as it's scandalous not only for Catholics, but other Christians and non-Christians as well... and yet here we are.
Robert Cardinal Sarah
As I've been keeping tabs on the issue, I've been thinking to myself "Is all this arguing really necessary? We're going to argue amongst ourselves over which way the priest should face the altar during Mass?" But then I read the entire text of what Cardinal Sarah had to say. He is truly a holy man, and a shepherd who cares deeply for his flock. He wants nothing more than Catholics to regain a sense of the sacred. Now, I have no problem attending the Ordinary Form, and still no real problem on its face with Mass being said "versus populum". Do I prefer to see Mass offered ad orientum? Of course. The other 23 Catholics Churches, especially in the Byzantine Rite, have always celebrated the Divine Liturgy facing East, and have never changed it. I've seen people saying that this is their tradition, and the tradition of the Latin Rite has changed. What a ridiculous statement! Our tradition in both the Eastern and Western Churches is to have everyone face the altar during the Sacrifice of the Mass. One can obviously still do it in a very reverent way facing the people, but it can lead to abuses, and it can lead to a loss of the sense of the sacred. Again, there's nothing wrong with it in and of itself, but there's a reason Cardinal Sarah made his statements, and I implore everyone reading this blog post to read the Cardinal's full statement above, as he puts it much more eloquently than I can.

One of those conversations I was keeping tabs on brought up the point that GIRM 299 was not misinterpreted. Father Z has a great post on that if anyone wants to get caught up on that saga. In brief, many people have used this to prove that the Mass should be celebrated "versus populum" wherever possible. There was a slight mistranslation in the Latin to the English, one that we don't see in texts such as the French. What GIRM 299 really refers to is where the altar should be located in the sanctuary, not to what way the priest should be facing. Anyways, it was during this conversation on another priest's Facebook page that a layman made a comment, I replied, and a whole argument ensued between the layman and a deacon. The conversation was fascinating, but I wondered if it's really important to make these distinctions; that is, the Mass by default is to be said facing the altar, and to face the people is simply an option. I think now that yes, as long as we're charitable, it is good to have these discussions so we can understand what Cardinal Sarah is talking about. Of course, it's an option that has become the norm; much like receiving communion in the hand is only allowed by indult, but has become the most common way of receiving the Eucharist in the United States and Canada, even though the norm in the Latin Rite has always been to receive on the tongue while kneeling. The layman in the conversation actually brings this up at the end in an uncharitable way, which led me to make a second reply, which I'll post below. You can read the conversation on Facebook here. The comment to read is from a man named John Paul S. My reply follows:

You are comparing apples and oranges. I see the point that you are trying to make, John Paul, that the US Bishops can set their own norms, but you're drawing a false conclusion in how you're applying how these norms are settled upon.

Redemptionis Sacramentum 90 has nothing to do with what we're discussing in the GIRM. Yes, it says "“The faithful should receive Communion kneeling or standing, as the Conference of Bishops will have determined"... but there is nothing in the Latin text (or English) of GIRM 299 suggesting that the normative direction the priest is facing, is to be decided by the conference of bishops. Chapter V, as Deacon Jim has pointed out, is entitled "The Arrangement And Ornamentation Of Churches For The Celebration Of The Eucharist". The specific section (Section II) is called "Arrangement of the Sanctuary for the Sacred Synaxis" Where from this are you reading that a norm for "ad populum" is being affirmed? It's clear that such an affirmation goes beyond the scope of what Chapter V is about: chapter V concerns the arrangement of the altar itself, not the direction of the priests and deacons during the sacrifice of the Mass. Where are you seeing that it's up to each individual bishops' conference to decide what the norm ("versus populum" or "ad orientem") is, as a parallel to RS 90 in the case of posture for the reception of the Eucharist? As I said in my first comment to you, if you take out the part I bracketed as a qualifier to the structure of the altar, the English can certainly be read the way the Latin text is read. It's therefore obvious there was a small translation error which obscured the actual meaning.

Also, I have to mention that your entire exchange has been most uncharitable. I don't know or care what you're prior relationship is with the Deacon, but the way you've behaved has been a horrible witness, with your claims of "winning this" and the personal attacks. Why can't this be a calm, charitable discussion? In addition, who are you calling a "conservative" or "rad trad"? "Conservative" is a political term, and the Church is not to be politicized. I for one am not a political conservative; there is only orthodoxy and heterodoxy when we talk of things in the Church. I'm also not a "rad-trad" as I attend a parish that offers Mass exclusively in the Ordinary Form. Yet I disagree with basically everything you've written in this exchange, as Deacon Jim has handily rebutted your interpretation.

I think it's also sad and unfair that you have reduced kneeling to receive the Eucharist as something only "rad-trads" do and "liturgical political theater". That's ridiculous, that you claim kneeling to receive our Lord is a political statement. I usually stand, but my former parish has 5 Masses every Sunday. One in Latin (EF), two in English and two in Spanish. The congregation is very diverse as the neighborhood's Latino population has been steadily rising. Everyone kneels at the EF Mass, but for the other 4 Masses, the people have the option to receive standing (the norm), or to go to the altar rail (which is intact) to receive kneeling. Several people do this at the Spanish and English Ordinary Form Masses. The USSCB clarified in 2012: "In the 2003 GIRM (160), it stated that no one should be refused Communion if they kneel, but that afterward they should be properly catechized. In the current edition, the exhortation to catechesis is removed and the exception to the norm of standing is left to the discretion of the faithful." That section of GIRM 160 now reads "The norm established for the Dioceses of the United States of America is that Holy Communion is to be received standing, unless an individual member of the faithful wishes to receive Communion while kneeling (Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Instruction, Redemptionis Sacramentum, March 25, 2004, no. 91)."

How dare you accuse those of kneeling to be no more than "political pawns". I've kneeled at these OF Masses at my old parish, and did it as a sign of reverence. I stand at my current parish because we have no altar rail. You shouldn't assume people's motives, nor should you accuse people that disagree with your interpretations on GIRM 299 throughout this exchange as "rad-trads".

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