Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Ad Orientem: Thank you, Bishop Edward Slattery, Tulsa!

I get a lot o' mail and hear many people complain about the "liturgical abuses" a celebrant commits during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Some—perhaps many—are legitimate complaints and should be addressed. Some really aren't. All, though, in my opinion, stem from the seemingly unsolvable problem of the celebrant facing the people during Mass.

I mean, think about it. Imagine yourself in the celebrant's place. All eyes on are you. Unless you're a saint—and I daresay few people are, even priests—it's only natural that in that position one is perhaps a wee bit self-conscious. "Do I look okay?" "Am I doing this right?" "Is that person in the back actually yawning?"

Which might very well lead to thoughts such as:

"Hmm...there's so many references to `the Father.' And all those male pronouns. Will women be offended? Will they blame me? I didn't write the bleeping words!" Or "Maybe if I make a little joke, you know, lighten up the atmosphere a bit?" Or "Why are they all staring at me when I wash my hands? Don't they know I feel silly doing this?" Or "I've got it! I can invite them all into the sanctuary...maybe that'll work."

And so on and so on.

It's only been about 40 years since priests facing the people became the norm.

Prior to that, priests, along with congregation, faced God! It wasn't all about the celebrant (as in, "oh, how I love the way Father Whosis makes eye-contact" or "what's with Father What's-his-name, he barely looks at us" or "when Father Blank prays, I feel like he's speaking directly to me!")

It was, or at least seemed to be, I expect, all about God. Or at least it wasn't all about how the priest's hair looked, sheesh.

In the Diocese of Tulsa, Bishop Edward Slattery is doing a good thing. From his letter:

If our conversation about the Mass is going to “make any sense,” then we have to grasp this essential truth: At Mass Christ joins us to Himself as He offers Himself in sacrifice to the Father for the world’s redemption. We can offer ourselves like this in Him because we have become members of His Body by Baptism.

We also want to remember that all of the faithful offer the Eucharistic Sacrifice as members of Christ’s body. It’s incorrect to think that only the priest offers Mass. All the faithful share in the offering, even though the priest has a unique role. He stands “in the person of Christ,” the historic Head of the Mystical Body, so that at Mass, it is the whole body of Christ—Head and members together that make the offering.

Facing in the same direction.

My thought is that many so-called (or even legitimately called) liturgical abuses can be rectified quite simply: by the celebrant and the people looking in a Singular Direction.

By remembering that the Mass isn't about the people's "feelings" or celebrant's "feelings"...but rather about his place ad persona Christi as the head—and ours as the members—of the Body of Christ.