Sunday, July 24, 2016

A look at the USCCB response to Cardinal Sarah on ad orientem

“[Ad orientem worship] is permitted by current liturgical legislation. It is perfectly legitimate in the modern rite. […] And so, dear Fathers, I humbly and fraternally ask you to implement this practice wherever possible.”  (Cardinal Sarah - July 5, 2016)

There has been no little confusion caused by responses of various representatives of the Church to the London talk of Cardinal Sarah in which he encourages all priests to implement ad orientem worship as soon as possible, at least by this Advent. We will take a moment to consider two of the responses, one from Fr. Lombardi (Vatican press office) and another from the USCCB Committee on the Liturgy.

Many bishops of the Church are causing great harm and furthering misunderstandings by very uneducated reactions to Cardinal Sarah.

Father Federico Lombardi (Vatican Press Office)

Fr Lombardi goes to great lengths to correct not so much the words of Cardinal Sarah, but rather the way that these words have been “wrongly interpreted” by some as signaling a forthcoming change to the liturgical law of the Church. Has anyone, in fact, thought that Cardinal Sarah was intending to implement some new law whereby ad orientem would be permitted? Not at all! Rather, the whole point made by Cardinal Sarah is that the current law already permits ad orientem worship. To use the words of the Congregation for Divine Worship, ad orientem enjoys “favor of law” (as does celebration facing the people, 10 April 2000).

When Fr. Lombardi tells the world that there will be no new guidelines relative to ad orientem worship, we are relieved – since this assures us that ad orientem will remain a legitimate option and the Vatican intends in no way to require priests to consult their bishop before implementing ad orientem in the parish (since these are the only conceivable changes that could be made to the current law).

Fr Lombardi goes on to quote the General Instruction of the Roman Missal paragraph 299, but we will consider this more closely when we look to the official statement of the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship.

A final point should be made: Fr. Lombardi engages in the same old game of warning that the Ordinary Form of the Mass remains the Novus Ordo, and that the Extraordinary Form (i.e. the Traditional Mass) cannot take the place of the Ordinary Form. This is a clear red herring, which has nothing to do with the question of ad orientem. The whole point of Cardinal Sarah’s talk is that celebrating the Ordinary Form of the Mass ad orientem is precisely not a “going back” to the Extraordinary Form, but is true and faithful to the liturgical law governing the Novus Ordo and is more properly in accord with the reformed Liturgy. This is not a debate about the Extraordinary Form, all the focus in on celebrating the Novus Ordo well.

The USSC Committee on Divine Worship

It is amazing that the USCCB Committee on Divine Worship would release such a poorly researched, poorly written, poorly thought out document as the letter dated 12 July 2016.

After reiterating many of the confused and confusing points from Fr. Lombardi’s press conference, the USCCB committee proceeds to quote (or rather, misquote) the General Instruction for the Roman Missal stating, “As a final comment, n. 299 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal does show a preference for the celebrant’s facing the people ‘whenever possible’ in the placement and orientation of the altar.”

Before commenting on the abuse of this paragraph of the GIRM by the committee, it is first worth noting that the committee failed to even quote the GIRM correctly! One would think that the bishops of the United States would at least be able to correctly cite the English translation GIRM 299, and yet the two words placed in quotation marks are not even the words actually used in the approved English translation of the GIRM.

Namely, the USCCB committee quotes the GIRM as stating “whenever possible”, yet the document really states “wherever possible”. It is simply astonishing that such a simple quote could be so badly mangled – though, unlike Bishop Taylor of the Diocese of Little Rock, the committee is at least able to spell “ad orientem” correctly (see the quotation {here}, courtesy of CC Watershed).

“The altar should be built separate from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.” (GIRM 299)

It is no small thing that the USCCB committee would misquote the GIRM as saying “whenever” rather than “wherever” – since the use of an adjective relative to locality indicates the true intention of GIRM 299. Certainly, “wherever possible”, which is to say, “in whatever place it is reasonably possible” it is better to have the altar separated from the wall (indeed, far enough separated so that the priest could celebrate the Mass facing the people). For my part, I heartily agree that it is ideal to have the main altar separated from the wall – as this allows the use of a baldacchino.

However, the Vatican Congregation for Divine Worship has already ruled that “legislation may not be invoked to say that one position or the other [ad orientem or facing the people] accords more closely with the mind of the Church.” (10 April 2000) Therefore, if anyone should claim that GIRM 299 indicates a preference of the Church for Mass facing the people, that person (even if he be a bishop, even if he be your bishop) is wrong.

The integrity of the bishops

Without any further comment, need we note that the bishops who are so quick to cite GIRM 299, are astonishingly slow (or even reluctant) to implement other even clearer paragraphs from the GIRM? 

For example:

“Since the faithful from different countries come together ever more frequently, it is fitting that they know how to sing together at least some of the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin, especially the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, set to simpler melodies.” (GIRM 41)

“Gregorian chant holds pride of place.” (GIRM 41)

“A little before the consecration, when appropriate, a server rings a bell as a signal to the faithful. According to local custom, the server also rings the bell as the priest shows the host and then the chalice.” (GIRM 150)

“The vestments worn by Priests and Deacons, as well as the attire worn by lay ministers, are blessed before being put into liturgical use according to the rite described in the Roman Ritual.” (GIRM 335)


Listen to an homily on this subject [here]!


monkmcg said...

Dr. McGuire here: It seems as though there is another factor at work. The turn towards the people has become something of a post-Vatican II litmus test (even though it is not actually addressed by the council proper). Those who are choosing this hill to stand on are reflecting what was terribly important to those who formed them. I came across this in a book written about 19 years ago by some young moral theologians. What was terribly important to their professors (and was a centerpiece of their teaching) meant absolutely nothing to the young undergrads who these new professors were teaching. It was a battle important two generations ago. Many of our current liturgical battles reflect a 1970s mentality. Ad orientem or facing the people; placement of the tabernacle; communion in the hand or on the tongue; use of Latin...the fight is never over what the council or the liturgical norms actually say - it is always about the spirit of the 70s and those who were formed then.

Dan said...

I would disagree with Dr. McGuire, in part. The 70s debates are particularly relevant because every liturgist knows, presumably, what is in GIRM (41, 50, 335-- cited in the article), and knows in addition these norms come from Vatican II documents. And they want nothing to do with either. The spirit of the 70s--alive and well today-- is a rejection of selective liturgical norms--those that most invoke memory of the pre-VII Mass.

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