Friday, March 24, 2006

Where Have They Put Him?

And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my LORD, and I know not where they have laid him.
—John 20:13

From Father W. Roy Floch, “Where Have We Put Him? And what if we acted as if we believed what we believe?”, in Adoremus Bulletin Online Edition

Of all the changes in the celebration of Mass that took place after Vatican II, I believe placing the celebrant and the congregation face to face was the most wide-ranging in its effect. No longer focussed in one direction—toward God—clergy and laity have turned inward toward themselves, and experience a crisis in both lay and religious identity and vocation, not to mention the poverty of self-centered music. Seeing each other has not always been a pretty sight, and this has contributed to the lobbing of tomatoes in both directions as power struggles now seem to take up much of our ecclesial energy. We are looking at one another, at the many ministers and musicians, but we are not seeing Him. (I no longer look communicants in the eye but keep my eyes on Him, hoping they will too.) Regarding the priest as “entertainer” may account for the “vocation crisis.”

Changes meant to foster “active participation” are not working. The participation that counts must be internal and spiritual. External action cannot achieve it. “You can lead a horse to water.” I remember the Latin liturgy as highly involving. In order to follow it, you had to pay attention.

The usual explanation given for the increase in Eucharistic devotional practices from the 9th century on is that the Mass became remote from people, causing them to generate these extra-liturgical means for more satisfying religious experience. But what if the “remote” liturgy actually created internal spiritual growth that obtained expression in those devotions, and their sharp decline after the liturgical renewal following Vatican II is the consequence of a desiccated internal spiritual life?

I sense that congregations are now completely attentive to external actions and are personally passive, as if they are in a theater or watching TV hoping the program will be entertaining. When it isn”t entertaining, they walk. In the words of a Lutheran bishop called in to mediate where a pastor’s liturgical practices aggravated some of her congregation, we have forgotten that, “The Liturgy is not for us, it’s for God.”

From Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer:

. . . the Eucharist that Christians celebrate really cannot adequately be described by the term “meal.” True, Our Lord established the new reality of Christian worship within the framework of a Jewish (Passover) meal, but it was precisely this new reality, not the meal as such, which He commanded us to repeat. Very soon the new reality was separated from its ancient context and found its proper and suitable form, a form already predetermined by the fact that the Eucharist refers back to the Cross and thus to the transformation of Temple sacrifice into the reasonable worship of God.

Not from the meal alone

Thus it came to pass that the synagogue Liturgy of the Word, renewed and deepened in a Christian way, merged with the remembrance of Christ's Death and Resurrection to become the “Eucharist,” and precisely thus was fidelity to the command “Do this” fulfilled. This new complete form of worship could not be derived simply from the meal, but had to be defined through the interconnection of temple and synagogue, Word and Sacrament, cosmos and history. It expresses itself in the very form that we discovered in the liturgical structure of the early Churches in the world of Semitic Christianity. It also, of course, remained fundamental for Rome.

Once again let me quote Bouyer:

Never and nowhere before (that is, before the sixteenth century) is there any indication of the slightest importance being attached, or even attention given, to the question of whether the priest should celebrate with the people behind him or in front of him. Professor Cyril Vogel has proved that, “if anything was stressed, it was that the priest should recite the Eucharistic Prayer, like all other prayers, turned towards the East Even when the orientation of the church allowed the priest to pray facing the people, we must not forget that it was not just the priest who turned to the East, but the whole congregation with him” (p. 56).

“Unprecedented clericalism”

Admittedly, these connections were obscured or fell into total oblivion in the church buildings and liturgical practice of the modern age. This is the only explanation for the fact that the common direction of prayer of priest and people got labeled as “celebrating towards the wall” or “turning your back on the people” and came to seem absurd and totally unacceptable. And this alone explains why the meal—even in modern pictures—became the normative idea of liturgical celebration for Christians.

In reality what happened was that an unprecedented clericalization came on the scene. Now the priest—the “presider,” as they now prefer to call him—becomes the real point of reference for the whole Liturgy. Everything depends on him. We have to see him, to respond to him, to be involved in what he is doing. His creativity sustains the whole thing.

Not surprisingly, people try to reduce this newly created role by assigning all kinds of liturgical functions to different individuals and entrusting the “creative” planning of the Liturgy to groups of people who like to, and are supposed to, “make a contribution of their own.” Less and less is God in the picture. More and more important is what is done by the human beings who meet here and do not like to subject themselves to a “pre-determined pattern.”

The self-enclosed circle

The turning of the priest toward the people has turned the community into a self-enclosed circle. In its outward form, it no longer opens out on what lies ahead and above, but is locked into itself. The common turning toward the East was not a “celebration toward the wall”; it did not mean that the priest “had his back to the people”: the priest himself was not regarded as so important. For just as the congregation in the synagogue looked together toward Jerusalem, so in the Christian Liturgy the congregation looked together “toward the Lord.” As one of the fathers of Vatican II’s Constitution on the Liturgy, J.A. Jungmann, put it, it was much more a question of priest and people facing in the same direction, knowing that together they were in a procession toward the Lord. They did not lock themselves into a circle, they did not gaze at one another, but as the pilgrim People of God they set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us....



Blogger Mike Rizzio said...

Just finished reading Pope Benedict's Spirit of the Liturgy and I hope and pray we all see the day when the necessary "reform of the reform" takes hold.

It will not be easy, that's a certainty.

God bless you and your work in the vineyard.

I'm out there in the Sunlight too at

You might like to take a peek.

11:55 AM  

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