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"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

BENEDICTUS MOMENTS

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Saturday, 13 March 2010

WHERE THE CHURCH FACES AT MASS

 

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Introduction to the Spirit of the Liturgy by Msgr. Guido Marini, Part 3 of 6

Tridentine Community News (February 21, 2010):
On January 6, 2010 a landmark speech was given by Msgr. Guido Marini, the Pontifical Master of Liturgical Ceremonies, at the Year For Priests Clergy Conference in Rome. There is no need to speculate on what Rome believes is suitable liturgy when clear direction such as this is given. Msgr. Marini was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to reform papal liturgies according to our Holy Father’s thinking. We believe Msgr. Marini’s words speak for themselves, and so we are presenting his speech in its entirety.

2. The orientation of liturgical prayer.

Over and above the changes which have characterised, during the course of time, the architecture of churches and the places where the liturgy takes place, one conviction has always remained clear within the Christian community, almost down to the present day. I am referring to praying facing East, a tradition which goes back to the origins of Christianity.

What is understood by “praying facing East”? It refers to the orientation of the praying heart towards Christ, from whom comes salvation, and to whom it is directed as in the beginning so at the end of history. The sun rises in the East, and the sun is a symbol of Christ, the light rising in the Orient. The messianic passage in the Benedictus canticle comes readily to mind: “Through the tender mercy of our God; * whereby the Orient from on high hath visited us”

Very reliable and recent studies have by now proven effectively that, in every age of its past, the Christian community has found the way to express even in the external and visible liturgical sign, this fundamental orientation for the life of faith. This is why we find churches built in such a way that the apse was turned to the East. When such an orientation of the sacred space was no longer possible, the Church had recourse to the Crucifix placed upon the altar, on which everyone could focus. In the same vein many apses were decorated with resplendent representations of the Lord. All were invited to contemplate these images during the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy.

Without recourse to a detailed historical analysis of the development of Christian art, we would like to reaffirm that prayer facing East, more specifically, facing the Lord, is a characteristic expression of the authentic spirit of the liturgy. It is according to this sense that we are invited to turn our hearts to the Lord during the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy, as the introductory dialogue to the Preface well reminds us. Sursum corda “Lift up your hearts,” exhorts the priest, and all respond: Habemus ad Dominum “We lift them up unto the Lord.” Now if such an orientation must always be adopted interiorly by the entire Christian community when it gathers in prayer, it should be possible to find this orientation expressed externally by means of signs as well. The external sign, moreover, cannot but be true, in such a way that through it the correct spiritual attitude is rendered visible.

Hence the reason for the proposal made by the then Cardinal Ratzinger, and presently reaffirmed during the course of his pontificate, to place the Crucifix on the center of the altar, in order that all, during the celebration of the liturgy, may concretely face and look upon Lord, in such a way as to orient also their prayer and hearts. Let us listen to the words of His Holiness, Benedict XVI, directly, who in the preface to the first book of his Complete Works, dedicated to the liturgy, writes the following: “The idea that the priest and people should stare at one another during prayer was born only in modern Christianity, and is completely alien to the ancient Church. The priest and people most certainly do not pray one to the other, but to the one Lord. Therefore, they stare in the same direction during prayer: either towards the East as a cosmic symbol of the Lord who comes, or, where this is not possible, towards the image of Christ in the apse, towards a crucifix, or simply towards the heavens, as our Lord Himself did in His priestly prayer the night before His Passion (John 17.1) In the meantime the proposal made by me at the end of the chapter treating this question in my work ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy’ is fortunately becoming more and more common: rather than proceeding with further transformations, simply to place the crucifix at the center of the altar, which both priest and the faithful can face and be lead in this way towards the Lord, whom everyone addresses in prayer together.” (trans. from the Italian.)

Let it not be said, moreover, that the image of our Lord crucified obstructs the sight of the faithful from that of the priest, for they are not to look to the celebrant at that point in the liturgy! They are to turn their gaze towards the Lord! In like manner, the presider of the celebration should also be able to turn towards the Lord. The crucifix does not obstruct our view; rather it expands our horizon to see the world of God; the crucifix brings us to meditate on the mystery; it introduces us to the heavens from where the only light capable of making sense of life on this earth comes. Our sight, in truth, would be blinded and obstructed were our eyes to remain fixed on those things that display only man and his works.

In this way one can come to understand why it is still possible today to celebrate the Holy Mass upon the old altars, when the particular architectural and artistic features of our churches would advise it. Also in this, the Holy Father gives us an example when he celebrates the Holy Eucharist at the ancient altar of the Sistine Chapel on the feast of the Baptism of our Lord.

In our time, the expression “celebrating facing the people” has entered our common vocabulary. If one’s intention in using this expression is to describe the location of the priest, who, due to the fact that today he often finds himself facing the congregation because of the placement of the altar, in this case such an expression is acceptable. Yet such an expression would be categorically unacceptable the moment it comes to express a theological proposition. Theologically speaking, the Holy Mass, as a matter of fact, is always addressed to God through Christ our Lord, and it would be a grievous error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is the community. Such an orientation, therefore, of turning towards the Lord must animate the interior participation of each individual during the liturgy. It is likewise equally important that this orientation be quite visible in the liturgical sign as well.
[Comments? Please e-mail tridnews@stjosaphatchurch.org. Previous columns are available at www.stjosaphatchurch.org. This edition of Tridentine Community News, with minor editions, is from the St. Josaphat bulletin insert for February 21, 2010. Hat tip to A.B.]
Posted by Pertinacious Papist at 2:37 PM
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Online Edition - Vol. VI, No. 9: Dec 2000 - Jan 2001
Letter on the position of the priest during the Eucharistic Liturgy
Cardinal Jorge Medina Estevez, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments responded on September 25, 2000, to a European cardinal's question about the position of the priest during the liturgy of the Eucharist. Adoremus' s translation of the original letter, written in Italian, appears below. Responses such as this are later published in Notitiae, the official publication of the Congregation of Divine Worship.
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments
Prot. No 2036/00/L
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in no. 299 of the Instituto Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which, during the Eucharistic liturgy, the position of the priest versus absidem [facing towards the apse] is to be excluded.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:
Negative, and in accordance with the following explanation.
The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account.
It is in the first place to be borne in mind that the word expedit does not constitute an obligation, but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum [detached from the wall] and to the celebration versus populum [toward the people]. The clause ubi possibile sit [where it is possible] refers to different elements, as, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc. It reaffirms that the position toward the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier (Cf. the editorial in Notitiae 29 [1993] 245-249), without excluding, however, the other possibility.
However, whatever may be the position of the celebrating priest, it is clear that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered to the one and triune God, and that the principal, eternal, and high priest is Jesus Christ, who acts through the ministry of the priest who visibly presides as His instrument. The liturgical assembly participates in the celebration in virtue of the common priesthood of the faithful which requires the ministry of the ordained priest to be exercised in the Eucharistic Synaxis. The physical position, especially with respect to the communication among the various members of the assembly, must be distinguished from the interior spiritual orientation of all. It would be a grave error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is [toward] the community. If the priest celebrates versus populum, which is a legitimate and often advisable, his spiritual attitude ought always to be versus Deum per Jesus Christum [toward God through Jesus Christ], as representative of the entire Church. The Church as well, which takes concrete form in the assembly which participates, is entirely turned versus Deum [towards God] as its first spiritual movement.
It appears that the ancient tradition, though not without exception, was that the celebrant and the praying community were turned versus orientem [toward the East], the direction from which the Light which is Christ comes. It is not unusual for ancient churches to be "oriented" so that the priest and the people were turned versus orientem during public prayer.
It may be that when there were problems of space, or of some other kind, the apse represented the East symbolically. Today the expression versus orientem often means versus apsidem, and in speaking of versus populum it is not the west but rather the community present that is meant.
In the ancient architecture of churches, the place of the Bishop or the celebrating priest was in the center of the apse where, seated and turned toward the community, the proclamation of the readings was listened to. Now this presidential place was not ascribed to the human person of the bishop or the priest, nor to his intellectual gifts and not even to his personal holiness, but to his role as an instrument of the invisible Pontiff, who is the Lord Jesus.
When it is a question of ancient churches, or of great artistic value, it is appropriate, moreover, to keep in mind civil legislation regarding changes or renovations. Adding another altar may not always be a worthy solution.
There is no need to give excessive importance to elements that have changed throughout the centuries. What always remains is the event celebrated in the liturgy: this is manifested through rites, signs, symbols and words that express various aspects of the mystery without, however, exhausting it, because it transcends them. Taking a rigid position and absolutizing it could become a rejection of some aspect of the truth which merits respect and acceptance.
Vatican City, 25 September 2000.
Signed: Jorge Arturo Cardinal Medina Estévez, Cardinal Prefect
Archbishop Francesco Pio Tamburrino, Archbishop Secretary


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