This is perhaps the most controversial topic in the Catholic Church at the moment. The recent actions of Mr “I don’t like anyone who disagrees with me so I’ll bully, threaten to sue and get my cronies to nobble them in the church courts” Monsignor Basil Loftus proves that.
It is also a subject which for a very long time I was with the liberal camp on, perhaps because I’d never heard the other side of the liturgical argument.
The other side of the argument is the paragon of simplicity itself, should the Priest face muggins here, the congregation, or face God? The answer is obvious.
The Mass is an action that has a spiritual direction, the mass literally means to be sent. To be sent out into the world, but in order to do so, first we need to be drawn closer to God in the most intimate way through the Eucharist. This is so that we can be sent out to the world with something concrete to give to it which is not from ourselves. That something extra is Christ himself, given to us in the Mass.
The physical part of the mass is essential, we are not a religion which prizes thought over action. Physicality is essential to all the sacraments, without the tangible outward actions the spiritual effect could not be imputed. Sacraments are what they say they are, do what they say they are doing. This is the brilliantly down to earth faith that the Catholic Church guards so zealously.
How these sacraments are physically performed helps people to engage with the spiritual reality of what is occurring. Quite simply slap-dash liturgy betrays a lack of belief in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. If something is as monumentally and immeasurably important as the true presence of Christ, Body Soul and Divinity in the Eucharist, then we should act like it.
Facing God rather than ourselves, is the great sign of the outward looking nature of the Church, we do not exist to sustain ourselves, we exist to sustain others because we in turn are sustained by the great Other that is God.
The converse is true, if we look inwards spiritually then we are less likely to find the abundant life that only God gives, and our faith becomes a hopeless rear-guard action which produces little to no fruit.
(if I was to be really controversial I’d ask readers to pick which of the above two statements best describes the state of the Church recently… yes the gloves are off)
This is not a question of going back to Latin, although it would be nice to be inline with the teaching of the second vatican council regarding that. Mass facing east could be just as easily done in the Novus Ordo and in the vernacular if it must be.
Indeed I was against facing east in theory till the day I attended a Novus Ordo mass said facing east. I had been led to believe that facing east was elitist and Pharisaical, it excluded the people of the Church from praying the Mass along with the priest.
From personal experience I discovered this was a total and utter load of garbage, in fact I found the exact opposite to be true. Because we were all facing God, congregation and priest as one, I found it much easier to unite my prayer with the priest.
His going forward to the altar was a stunningly natural extension of my desire to meet God and Worship God. He was going forward from us, the Church and all of humanity, as one of us, on all our behalf, exercising his unique role as a priest with us and for us.
He did not suddenly turn round and become the purveyor of sacramental bounty from on high which whether the priest intends to give that impression or not the act of being in authority and talking to the congregation the priest inevitably does give that impression. So shock horror I actually find the priest facing the congregation, as a liturgical direction, inherently more elitist and paternalistic!
This shouldn’t surprise anyone really, because the liturgical reforms after the second vatican council were imposed in an exceptionally authoritarian manner by surprise surprise, a liberal* intellectual elite.
*Liberal in regards to the truth, they always try to viciously crush anyone who disagree with them.
The reason why Fr Clifton was entirely right to point out that saying mass facing the people to emphasise the sense of community is proximate to heresy, was because you only have to look at its other great proponents, starting with Thomas Cramner.
Facing East has other purely practical extra benefits, the priest can go about his business without being distracted by muggins here and we can go about our business of praying along with him without wondering if he’s watching us out of the corner of his eye
Mass can be said in older parish church’s as they were architecturally intended to be used, which is rather handy practically speaking, and aesthetically pleasing. Form and function in perfect harmony.
Perhaps most importantly it reduces the potential role of personal ego in the mass, the character of the particular priest must decrease so that the character of the most high priest Christ Jesus can increase. This is of such importance in Catholicism because the Church’s theology of priesthood is totally Christocentric, based on persona-Christi theology.
The re-living, re-enacting, re-actualising of the one act of redemption, the Passion during the mass is what Jesus commanded at the last supper. This reliving cannot be done with a disregard for physical reality.
That is why there is a male priesthood. Not because women are inferior spiritually in any way, but because Jesus was a man, the apostles were men. There is a spiritual reality to our sexuality, we were created male and female and it was Good.
If we are to act in complete fidelity to the way God gave the Church to enact His salvation of mankind, the mass, then we must embrace this truth. The Catholic Church embraces this reality for its priesthood, a role which has been male throughout salvation history and has Jesus at the crux of it.
Likewise the physical reality of the direction of worship should reflect the spiritual reality of the direction of worship. The Church should face East to face God and we should not disregard this physical reality in case we lose sense of the spiritual reality it underlines.
So just like receiving communion on the tongue and whilst kneeling, it is inherently better. If priests would only try it, they might discover the same.