Monday, April 25, 2011

Here is a battle that probably won't be fought...

I have been spending a little time studying the 3rd edition of the Roman Missal which is to be put into use beginning at the start of Advent this year. Among the things I have been looking at are the rubrics of that Missal to compare them to the currently used missal. I have been paying particular attention to those rubrics which address the relative orientation of the priest to the people. It is evident from a close reading of the rubrics that the document assumes the priest is facing in the same direction as the people for much of the liturgy.
  1. The revised missal seems to retain in spirit the rubrics of the second typical edition of the Missale Romanum (1975), March 1, 1985 although the language varies slightly
  2. The matter of orientation of the priest relative to the people is addressed in only a few instances.
  3. The current missal seems to allow for the priest facing the altar for the sign of the cross and then turning toward the people for the greeting, while the revised missal seems to envision that both the sign of the cross and the greeting be done facing the people.
  4. The Penitential Rite, Opening Prayer and Profession of Faith give no indication as to orientation.
  5. Specific instructions to face the people are given at the Orate Fratres (Pray Brethren) in both instances.
  6. The Eucharistic prayer indicates the consecrated body and blood of Christ are to be “shown” to the people but does not indicate that this "showing" requires facing the people.
  7. The elevation at the doxology omits any reference to the “showing” of the host or chalice.
  8. No indication of orientation is given for the Pater Noster , however the revised missal instructs the priest to face the people for the greeting of peace.
  9. Specific instructions to face the people are given for both the Ecce, Agnus Dei and the closing prayer

Though not explicit, it is convincingly evident that the Fathers of Vatican II and the Congregation for Divine Worship clearly anticipate that normally the priest would be facing the same direction as the people. This is indicated by the apparent necessity to include explicit instructions for the priest to "face the people" or "turn toward" the people at specific times. Such instructions would be unnecessary were the priest already facing the people.

I note however that the General Instruction of the Roman Missal indicates:

299. The altar should be built apart 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.

There is ambiguity inherent in this instruction as to whether it is the circumambulation of the altar, the facing of the people, or both which is considered “desirable”, moreover the original Latin would more commonly be translated "useful" rather than "desirable". In either case, it is plainly evident that a posture versus populum, or facing the people, is optional and not mandated.

In short, the missal apparently envisions that the priest's posture for the much of the Mass would have him in a position to pray with, rather than at, the people. Unfortunately many people would react by saying, "The priest is turning his back to us," and fail to recognize that the priest is instead facing God along with them.

Alas, I'm sure there are many who would have a difficult time accepting this interpretation and that there are few priests willing to fight that battle.