Monday 19 November 2012
Latin, Ad Orientem and Problem Priests
For the last seven years I have celebrated the Ordinary Form ad orientem, and at our Vigil Mass made use of simple Latin Mass parts for the Ordinary (we have had the Usus Antiquior on Sundays since 2007). Some parishioners, though a small minority, seem to have continued difficulty with the Latin and ad orientem celebration because “they make us the odd ones out; no one else is doing them”. No matter how often the Council documents or rubrics of the Missal are shown and explained in homilies, Bulletins or Hand-outs, the old myths about Vatican II having “gotten rid of Latin” and “turned the priest round to face the people” still retain a hold. What can be done to establish the hermeneutic of continuity in liturgy? As a priest friend said recently, “Change has to come from the top; Bishops, Vicar Generals and Deans should use Latin and the ad orientem posture, otherwise the people will see their parish clergy as an oddity or worse, as “a problem priest”.
Though I do not suggest that Bishops, VGs, Cathedral Administrators or Deans habitually use the norms of Latin and ad orientem worship, much less that they impose them on parishes during visitations, I would like them to demonstrate these norms for Christmas, Easter, Solemnities and Ordinations. Surely six or seven occasions a year is not too much to hope for in order that we may give the Council, the Missal of Paul VI and the hermeneutic of continuity full backing and liturgical expression? It would certainly give those priests who employ the norms formal support and mitigate against complaints; it will also give those who are afraid of ‘singularising’ themselves -including priests who consider themselves ‘Traditional’- the courage to employ them. There is of course a natural fear of offending the people (and losing revenue or numbers -we often judge ourselves or get judged by the amount of people we retain at Sunday Mass) but if the norms were occasionally employed by senior clergy and confirmed to those who protest their use, parishioners would be far less likely to leave their parish to worship elsewhere or to complain about their priest (some of which can be spurious, ‘displaced’ complaints arising from the complainants subconscious antagonism).
In my opinion, non-use of Latin and the ad orientem posture by senior clergy has several negative effects: it perpetuates a certain loathing for these norms among the people; it places junior clergy who do employ them in an unjust isolation, and encourages dissonance between parish clergy and those people who take any opportunity to complain about their ‘difficult’ priest to Deans, VG’s and Bishops. Seeking to avoid offending the people is understandable, but by failing to confirm that Latin and ad orientem are in fact the norms, people are being affirmed in their error and resentment while junior clergy are unjustly pressurised to ‘fit in’ with the majority who habitually utilise options rather than norms.
I utilise the norms as a matter of conscience, really. After prayerful study I sincerely believe that we need to do all we can to hold onto our Catholic identity; an identity which has been badly eroded over the years (“we are all the same now Father”) an identity which is closely associated with Latin and ad-orientem worship.
Latin is not only a required element in the liturgy (as decreed by Vatican II), but it has been all-but sacralised by its use over the centuries. It also gives a sense of transcendence (otherworldliness) to the liturgy; demonstrates unity in that everywhere one goes the Ordinary (Confiteor, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Pater Noster and Agnus Dei) are recited una voce, and it facilitates a universal participation which is excluded by the vernacular when at Mass in foreign lands. Meanwhile, ad orientem clearly expresses the nature of the Church as a pilgrim people journeying towards God whilst awaiting His return in glory; having the priest face the people images a community closed in on itself. Certainly having the altar between priest and people can be presented as imaging the people gathered around the throne of God, but it is not perceived that way –moreover, this is a flawed image since we are indeed a pilgrim people who have not yet reached the throne of God. On the other hand, ad orientem is always perceived as being less about the community and its affirmation (which is why it is disliked?) than it is about God and worship.
We do, I think, need a renewed catechesis of people and clergy to secure the expression of liturgical continuity, with a clear rebuke of derogatory language such as “the priest having his back to the people” –a statement which betrays a secular, rather earth-bound understanding of the liturgy.