Thursday 19 August 2010

Question: Did Vatican II or the Church since want and direct us to have Mass Facing the People? Answer: No. And there's not proof it did either.

As readers will know, the Glorificamus Society promotes the celebration of Holy Mass "ad orientem" (i.e. facing liturgical east or turned to the Lord).

We do so for many reasons, not least of which is that this the will of the Church as expressed in Her custom and teaching in continuity with Tradition, and She has never changed that teaching.  In this post we won't examine the reasons why ad orietnem is better.  Rather, we want to understand how it practically disappeared.

And yet, as we all know, we have a curious reality: world-wide this is ignored in practice.  Mass in the Ordinary Form is celebrated facing the people virtually everywhere and is celebrated ad orientem virtually nowhere. 

How did this happen?  Was there any directive that it should?

The short answer is: No. None.

So how did it happen?

Somehow, some liturgists before the Second Vatican Council and after promoted the idea, influenced by a false idea of what was done in the early Church and a false idea that it was best because it was done in the early church, liturgists were, no doubt, influence by protestant ideas and practice, and, having promoted the idea enough and, in some cases implemented it anyway, priests just went ahead and did it, people were told this was what the Church wanted and it was done.   When necessary it was justified on the basis it's what the Council wanted, even though the Council said nothing of the sort and nothing of the sort has been said since.

The ideas were not corrected, the cat was out of the bag, and it was difficult to reign it in.

Yes, we must recognised that (a) there was historical precedent for celebrations versus populum, including in the first 3 centuries of the Church  (b) 1950s revision of Holy Week rites involved more "facing the people" (c) some in the Liturgical Movement were promoting versus popolum and experimenting with it for the Tridentine Mass even before the Council, promoting an "archeologism" that was shown soon after the Council to be false, inaccurate and misguided.  Here's a parish in American where it happened and before the Council too.

But we can't argue for the "is" to the "ought"

And, we have never been able to find any proof that the Holy See authorised or expressed any preference for it. 

An entry today over at Fr Z's What does the Prayer Really Say, is delving into this issue, and contributors are having the same problem proving any authority for the proposition.  First, let's look at what Fr Z says:

There was no document that required the destruction of existing altars. Vatican II did not required it. There was experimentation with it during the Liturgical Movement, often by those with protestantizing tendencies. The scholarship in those years which was advanced in support of Mass "facing the people" as an "ancient" practice, was later repudiated by the authors (e.g., Bouyer, Jungmann). The fact that they changed their minds was never given as much press as the errors they had committed earlier. This was a desideratum of liberals from long before the Council.

The great liturgical scholar Klaus Gamber said that of all the harmful things that came from the post-Conciliar reform, turning altars around was the most damaging.

There was a document which stated that for new construction, it should be possible for one to walk around the altar. The new GIRM in 299 [Fr Z is speaking of that in force in USA], widely and infamously mistranslated, states that if it is possible altars should be constructed in such a way that Mass can be said from either side.

The rubrics of the post-Conciliar Missale Romanum clearly assume that Mass is not "facing the people", that it is actually ad orientem...How was this assumption of "facing the people" imposed?...
And here are some of the comments which reflect our understanding too.

From Father Augustine Thompson OP:

I have done research on this question for the Dominican Rite in the 1960s. There was no piece of legislation requiring the move to ad populum for us either. For those who want to read my study, go to and skim down to the section on the mid-1960s.

The change seems to have happened on the local level because “everyone” was saying it was what you were supposed to do. As I describe, at our house of studies, St. Albert the Great Priory in Oakland, some of the graver fathers read about the change as being instituted in the San Francisco archdiocese in the diocese paper (Oakland is in the Oakland diocese by the way). So they went after dinner, took one of the side altars to the center of the choir and Mass was celebrated on it from then on. There was no real discussion. It was “what you were supposed to do.” I have this from one of the priests who helped move the altar.

Comment by Fr. Augustine Thompson O.P. — 18 August 2010 @ 6:07 pm
P.S. In am inclined to think that lots of documents will be found even from before the Council saying “it can be done” etc., but I seriously doubt any “order to change” will be found. This is one of those cases where the control of the discussion (since the 1930s when it was already being done in the Portland archdiocese) was in the hands of the liturgists and experts who for one reason or another favored it. They controlled the discussion in the academic and popular Catholic press, so it came to be assumed that it had to be done.

We can see the same phenomenon today: I doubt there is any document that requires the huge wading pool baptismal fonts just inside the door of the church blocking the aisle. But many people in charge of renovations think it is required. Another example would the big fancy “sacrament houses” in the nave to hold the holy oils—often more impressive and visible than the tabernacle. Nothing requires this, but those “in the know” say it must be done. I am sure examples could be multiplied.

Comment by Fr. Augustine Thompson O.P. — 18 August 2010 @ 6:28 pm
From Andy Millam (with Father Z's comment):

My friend and mentor, Fr. Richard J. Schuler wrote on this issue in 1993 [One of the great American priests that was faithful to the actual directives of the Council and continued to celebrate the Traditional Mass in his church too and implement the directives on sacred music, Gregorian Chant and polypholy that the Council actually asked for]. His words will be quoted, I will respond directly below.

“One of the most evident reforms following the council is the practice of having the priest face toward the congregation. Much of the propaganda that brought about the priests’ change in position alleged that it was only a return to a custom of the early Church. History and archeology were both cited (but without true facts) as evidence in the claims. [Sounds familiar.] Without much study or questioning, priests and parishes across the country accepted the stories and tore out their altars, replacing them with tables of wood and blocks of stone that allowed the priest to face toward the congregation. The designs of the original architects, the over-all lines and focus of the church were set aside and thrown out. In most cases the artistic results were bad, and at best the new arrangement looked like a remodelled dress or suit.”

One of the keys that Schuler hits upon is that there is a sense of archeologicalism going on in the post-Conciliar Church. When he wrote this article in 1993, he was one of the few who had the courage to challenge this. As has been proven since, archeologicalism is now a commonly held error in defense for versus populum. Ratzinger has spoken on the issue as did Gamber before he passed and several since, including HE Peter Eliot, Fr. Adian Nichols OP, and John Saward, as well as others.

“He [Ratizinger] explained that there is no historical data, either in writing or from archeology, that establishes the position of the altar in the early centuries as having been turned toward the people. To look at the people was not the question in the early Church, but looking toward the east where Christ would appear in His second coming, the parousia, was most important. Thus church buildings and the altars were “oriented” (faced to the east) so that the priest especially would see Him on His arrival. If because of the contour of the land or some other obstacle, the church could not be so located, then the priest, always looking toward the east, would have to stand behind the altar and face toward the people. That he was looking at the congregation was only accidental to the eastward position he took. Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome is a good example of this, because the church could not have the usual west entrance because of the Vatican Hill.”

Support of Monsignor Schuler’s position provided by Papa Ratzinger in ‘Il Sabato,’ 1993.

The destruction of the church and sanctuary was unfortunate and often costly. In some parts of the country, the damage done to the churches by the altar-bashing reformers was greater than what the Vandals did to Spain or North Africa. But the greater evil was the damage done to the liturgical presence and actions of the priest. He was told to make eye-contact with the people, to direct his words to them, to become the “presider” at the community assembly, the “facilitator” of the active participation of the congregation. The notion of the Mass as sacrifice was discouraged, while the idea of a common meal was promoted. The altar became the table, much like in the days of Archbishop Cranmer in England.

Schuler also speaks compares the liturgists to Vandals, I would tend to agree with that line of reasoning. The hi-jacking of the orientation has led to many other issues, including the changing role of the celebrant from mediator to presider. Schuler is alluding to a “Protestantizing” of the Mass through the orientation mimiking that of Archbishop Cramner.

The following is Monsignor Schuler’s final thought, I think that it speaks for itself. “The interesting aspect of the discussion brought about by Father Gamber’s book is that little by little the propaganda and false assertions invoked to bring about the liturgical reforms following the council are now being exposed and found to be without truth or basis, historical, archeological or liturgical. The errors swallowed by the clergy and laity alike in the sixties included such lies as the elimination of Latin, the forbidding of choirs, tearing out of communion rails, statues, tabernacles, and vestments-all in the name of the council or perhaps the “spirit of the council:” Thank God the truth is beginning to re-appear.”

[Sounds familiar. Thanks for posting this.]

Comment by Andy Milam — 18 August 2010 @ 7:26 pm

And, just one example, of what we all suspect (or know) was a common experience the world over:

All I have to add is my personal experience.

I was received into the Church in 1961. I was a member of the parish (Newman Hall) choir. The change came quite abruptly in 1965. The pastor informed us that the altar was to be turned around and Mass said facing the people. The choir (an excellent schola directed by a professor of music) was told it was no longer free to sing the Gregorian mass or renaissance polyphony. The choir disbanded shortly thereafter, and the rest is history.

The pastor implied that this was the way things were to be done as a result of the Council. I have no idea where he got this, but I am sure variations of the same thing occurred all over the world. I have to assume that the U. S. bishops as a group, and other national bishops’ conferences, interpreted the Vatican II documents as requiring these changes.

Comment by jfk03 — 18 August 2010 @ 9:43 pm