Saturday, December 30, 2006

Ad Orientem collation

I have a bunch of note tabs surrounding the issue of ad orientem and versus populum from The Spirit of the Liturgy which I could easily spread across a large number of posts to make my posting numbers look good, but that wouldn't be anywhere near as useful as getting them all in one place. This isn't meant to be a comprehensive list of every point brought up, just those that really caught my eye. With that, my collection of points and interspersed commentary.

Despite all the variations in practice that have taken place far into the second millennium, one thing has remained clear for the whole of Christendom: praying toward the east is a tradition that goes back to the beginning. Moreover, it is a fundamental expression of the Christian synthesis of cosmos and history, of being rooted in the once-for-all events of salvation history while going out to meet the Lord who is to come again. Here both the fidelity to the gift already bestowed and the dynamism of going forward are given equal expression. (Part 2, Ch. 3)
I do find it amazing how, time and again, the faith handed down to us over the ages has such an incredible depth of meaning and symbolism, far outstripping the self- and us-centered theologies some wish to place on us in this day. In many modern circles the "big" picture extends as far as the gathered community, with some vague concept of unity with others. In the ancient, the "big" picture encompasses the entirety of the universe. Quite a distinction...
The fact that we find Christ in the symbol of the rising sun is the indication of a Christology defined eschatologically. Praying toward the east means going to meet the coming Christ. The liturgy, turned toward the east, effects entry, so to speak, into the procession of history toward the future, the New Heaven and the New Earth, which we encounter in Christ. It is a prayer of hope, the prayer of the pilgrim as he walks in the direction shown us by the life, Passion, and Resurrection of Christ. (Part 2, Ch. 2)
Well, here he has a problem. Eschatology is not a favorite subject of many. There are a considerable number of people who, as a former co-worker termed it, get that "big-number" look, like when they contemplate the amount of interest they pay on a 30 year mortgage. Deer in the headlights, writ large.
Once again let me quote [Louis] Bouyer: "Never, and nowhere, before that [that is, before the sixteenth century] have we any indication that any importance, or even attention, was given to whether the priest celebrated with the people before him or behind him. As Professor Cyrille Vogel has recently demonstrated it, the only thing ever insisted upon, or even mentioned, was that he should say the eucharistic prayer, as all the other prayers, facing East.... Even when the orientation of the church enabled the celebrant to pray turned toward the people, when at the altar, we must not forget that it was not the priest alone who, then, turned East: it was the whole congregation, together with him" (pp. 55-56). (Part 2, Ch. 3)
In reading this, I tried to picture an entire congregation in the modern day turning completely around, with the priest continuing on behind them unseen. I think far too many would be more wary of the "power" and "control" of an unseen priest, rather than spend their time and energy focused on active participation in the Mass by their attentive prayer. Hmmm. Active participation. Hmmm.
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. ... 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 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 closed in on itself. (Part 2, Ch. 3)
Now I don't know about you, but I positively retch when I hear someone refer to the Mass as a "meal" first. For those that don't remember (and I don't think that includes anyone who has gotten this far) the disconnecting of "sacrifice" from the "meal" is what got the Anglicans in hot water oh so far back that their very orders are "absolutely null and utterly void". We are not the important part, we are not the cause of our own salvation. The knowledge that we form the Mystical Body of Christ is relevant only insofar as we also recall that He is the Head and that the body without its head is nothing. Source, Center, Summit and all.
Of course, [Angelus] Häussling thinks that turning to the east, toward the rising sun, is something that nowadays we just cannot bring into the liturgy. Is that really the case? Are we not interested in the cosmos any more? Are we today really hopelessly huddled in our own little circle? Is it not important, precisely today, to pray with the whole of creation? Is it not important, precisely today, to find room for the dimension of the future, for hope in the Lord who is to come again, to recognize again, indeed to live, the dynamism of the new creation as an essential form of the liturgy? (Part 2, Ch. 3)
Notice the back-reference in "huddled in our own little circle". He is again accentuating that we are not a self-contained circle, a self-sustaining sphere. We are but a part of the Whole, and while of inestimable value to the Father, that value is not something we are free to trade off like so much meal. Our "greatness" is intertwined with the greatness of all of creation, all of which comes from the love of God.
The cosmos is praying with us. It, too, is waiting for redemption. It is precisely this cosmic dimension that is essential to Christian liturgy. It is never performed solely in the self-made world of man. It is always a cosmic liturgy. The theme of creation is embedded in Christian prayer. It loses its grandeur when it forgets this connection. That is why, wherever possible, we should definitely take up again the apostolic tradition of facing the east, both in the building of churches and in the celebration of the liturgy. (Part 2, Ch. 2)
The first half of this quote I've touched on already. The interesting part is the last statement - rather direct, isn't it? "[W]herever possible, we should definitely..." is a pretty strong term in Ratzinger's use of language. One could easily see him intending the "possible" limitations to churches where the altar is at the very front of an elevated sanctuary where the priest cannot stand at its front, facing east, without being on a step or out of the sanctuary altogether.
A more important objection is of the practical order. Ought we really to be rearranging everything all over again? Nothing is more harmful to the liturgy than a constant activism, even if it seems to be for the sake of genuine renewal. I see a solution in a suggestion that comes from the insights of Erik Peterson. Facing east, as we heard, was linked with the "sign of the Son of Man", with the Cross, which announces the Lord's Second Coming. That is why very early on the east was linked with the sign of the Cross. Where a direct common turning toward the east is not possible, the cross can serve as the interior "east" of faith. It should stand in the middle of the altar and be the common point of focus for both priest and praying community. In this way we obey the ancient call to prayer: "Conversi ad Dominum", Turn toward the Lord! (Part 2, Ch. 3)
So in other words, if you're in one of those "impossible" situations, or your congregation would all bolt if you were to turn around, how about putting the crucifix over or just at the front of the altar? My old home parish did just this with their new church, and knowing the pastor, I wouldn't be surprised if the design was directly influenced by this very quote. The only picture I can find online is below, and it doesn't do the effect, or the crucifix, justice. It certainly does seem a fine compromise, although one that will once again require a considerable amount of teaching if it is to be done correctly. Above all else, the change from ad orientem to versus populum lacked that property the most - proper catechesis. May we get at least that part of the reform of the reform right.

Update: It'd help if I actually put the picture in.