Tuesday 2 October 2012

Forest Murmurs, ad-orientem and Vatican II

Father Michael Brown at Forest Murmurs says his Blog has been described as ‘against Vatican II’ because he supports the ad-orientem orientation for Mass. I think this lacks knowledge of Father Brown. It is also a strange criticism to make because the Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI was promulgated specifically in order to give final form to Vatican II’s liturgical insights, and it has always foreseen the use of the ad-orientem orientation in its rubrics and in its General Instruction as the norm. While celebrating facing the people was and remains a legitimate option, it was not given to replace the norm. So celebrating facing the altar, as I habitually do, cannot in any way be construed as not being in line with Vatican II. It is just not in line with the over-use of the option to face the people –which can be seen as betraying a sense in the celebrant that it is the people who are to receive the focus at Mass, not God.

I realise the Second Vatican Council remains a point of dispute for many, and really can’t understand why we allow this to continue. As a convert I never knew the pre-Vatican Church and happily accepted that while all faiths should get along and work together, the Catholic Church was still the one true Church with a Divine mandate to present itself as such to all nations until the end of the world. I happily accepted use of both the vernacular and Latin; I happily accepted that I was to make the faith present in my family, workplace and social life while functioning as a Reader and Pastoral Council member. I did not see two sides to the Church. Indeed I am unhappy when I see someone ‘boxed’ and labelled, with all they say and do viewed through a single narrow lens. Let us be clear: anyone who claims the Council changed the Faith itself has simply lost the Faith, since we have a Sacred Deposit to which we cannot add and from which we cannot subtract; conversely, anyone who refuses to develop the Faith dismisses the doctrinal clarifications issued from Nicaea to Vatican I. I personally think Vatican II is still very much in line with Tradition when read in the hermeneutic of continuity, though I am just as convinced it has been read from a hermeneutic of rupture and consequently, not always well implemented. I admit I am concerned that we might have a problem in that we taken the people of God away from their authentic vocation as the leaven in the world so as to sit them on committees and stand them on sanctuaries, thereby creating a second problem of giving the impression that the Church is a democracy. Not only does an over-emphasis on ecclesial roles for the laity devalue their authentic vocation as the leaven in the world, but it is, I think, a major cause of the fall in priestly vocations. After all, why be a celibate pastor when one can be a married lay-leader?

That our liturgy and catechesis has gone astray is recognised by a growing number of people and bishops throughout the world. The USA is marching way ahead of us in the UK on this point; we still have too many Masses with gimmicks and accretions; too many concrete celebrations where Redemptionis sacramentum is ignored; too many where we focus on lifting the emotions with gimmicks, slide shows and pop music rather than on the feeding of the spirit with sound preaching, the sense of the sacred and heavenly chant. Further, we still have too many people ‘discipleing’ the times rather than discerning the times; times which are promoting subjectivity and its deviations from Objective Truth. Do such folk fear challenging the secular world lest they appear backward? Perhaps. But it is only 50 years since the close of the Council, and all Councils take a good long while to be properly assimilated. Pendulums swing, and the first swing is always away from the centre; it will take a while for the swinging to settle down, and we should not be so naive as to think that we are the generation that has finally brought that swinging to an end. It continues, but it is beginning to settle. I think a genuinely humble, open-minded reading of the Council in a spirit of Faith and obedience could bring left and right, traditionalist and modernist, liberals and conservatives, back to the single label of Catholic. For this we long. For this we must pray. And Lord, the things we pray for, give us the grace to labour for. Amen.


  1. Well said Fr Gary. It really does annoy me the way in which people put up accusations without any proof. I also agree that we should not be labelled as, although I prefer the EF of Holy Mass, I happily(?) attend OF Mass on many occasions. I suffix my remark with (?) as I cannot always say I get as much spiritual good from all OF Masses; it depends who the celebrant is & whether I allow myself to wonder what on earth is going on. If every priest at every Mass 'said the black & did the red' we would have a much more cohesive Church (probably without the labels).

  2. Mass facing the people really has nothing to do with the SVC. It was growing in popularity in the 1940s and in particular the 1950s. As I wrote on the good Dr. Brown's blog the best book that refutes the idea that versus populum is ancient and/or authentic is Bouyer's 'Liturgy and Architecture'.

  3. Why not celebrate all your Masses Ad Orientem instead of just ocassionally? At the very least, all Masses should be celebrated AD Orientem from the preface until distribution of Communion.

    1. Sorry, I thought I had been clear. The word 'habitually' means 'as a rule'; or 'consistently'. I celebrate ad orientem daily, in conformity with the rubrics and the General Instruction as given by Pope Paul VI in 1970 and present in every revision. Seven years on, most of those who attend my celebrations of Mass have liked it, though a few who think the priest should be seen face to face remain unhappy (I personally can't see why anyone wants to see the priest or why a priest would want to be seen. It doesn't help that 99% of priests choose to celebrate by the option rather than the norm; even those who are attached to the 1962 Missal do not clebrate ad-orientem in continuity with the Church's past. Of course, I underatand their fear of being 'individualist', and of alienating the people with whom we must work as well as serve.


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