Friday, March 04, 2011

Build-a-Bear, Build-a-Liturgy

A friend of mine recently told me a story that I think most of you would enjoy hearing. Earlier in his life, he spent some years at a seminary in another state. During those years, he had a class in liturgics in which the instructor was a woman who was, shall we say, somewhat left-of-center in her sensibilities.

One of the projects they had to undertake in the class was to build a liturgy that embodied the spirit of Vatican II. Using the blackboard, the instructor pointed out how the traditional communion rail places a divisive barrier between the priest and the worshiping community. Stressing the communal nature of the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that is the source and summit of the Christian faith, she stated that rightly-ordered contemporary liturgy must have, therefore, no communion rail. Likewise, there ought to be a free-standing altar so that the priest does not offend against the spirit of community by having his back turned on the people, but face toward them, welcoming them to the feast set for them on the table of plenty. The usual drill.

One of the students in the class (I don't remember whether it was my friend), when it was his turn, went up to the blackboard to show how he would build-a-liturgy. He began by pointing out a feature of the instructor's diagram that troubled him. He pointed out that a sharp barrier between the priest and the community was created by her placement of the altar. The altar was divisive, he suggested, separating the priest from the people, creating a rift in their experience of community and solidarity.

[The teacher nodded encouragement, doubtless congratulating herself: By George, I think these young seminarians have finally got it ...]

The student continued. What he would prefer, he said, was to push the altar up against the front, and bring the priest around to the side of the worshiping community, thereby removing the offending barrier between the priest and the people.

[The teacher was still nodding encouragement ...]

Then, added the student, he would have the priest turn around, and, in solidarity with the worshiping community, face the same direction as the congregation.

At this point, the emerging pattern dawned on the instructor, her face fell, and she realized she'd just been had.

[Hat tip to T.F.]


Left-footer said...

Beautiful! Thank you and God bless!

Anonymous said...

I think Fr. Zuhlsdorf had something similar to this some time ago -- when he proposed the building of an altar rail.

John Doe said...

Good one Papist, rightly so, the priest should not offend anyone by turning his back to the people. We are not there for the priest so who cares. I would point out a couple of issues, the idea of God in heaven only is a problem when He is omnipresent, and two, at the Last Supper He didn’t turn His back on His guests.

Pertinacious Papist said...

John Doe,

There is a problem with the written medium that tends to promote misunderstanding, and there is a distinct possibility here; so please forebear.

I'm not sure how the idea of God in heaven/omniscience bears on this post, but if it's a reference to the issue from the earlier post on which you had comments, I would say that there is no problem between the omnipresence of God and physical locality of Christ. What I mean is that there is no logical contradiction in affirming that the physical location of Jesus is limited to one place (Heaven) while also affirming that His real substantial presence extends to the Blessed Sacrament on all the altars and in every Tabernacle throughout the world; and, yet again, that the omnipresence of God (in which Jesus' divine nature is included) extends spiritually beyond these loci to every locus in the world.

I'm not sure what point you are endeavoring to make by your Last Supper reference. Some argue for the versus populum stance of the priest in the Mass on the grounds that Jesus didn't face AWAY from His disciples at the Last Supper. (I'm not sure you're arguing that.) On the other hand, it is virtually certain that the seating arrangement was NOT in a circle around the tables at which they relined (as pictured in some artistic representations), because the convention appears to have been that one side of the table was left open for the servers to bring and remove items. I find all of this a bit inconsequential; but, if anything, I suppose this could be used to argue for the contrary view that they faced the same direction, not opposite directions.

John Doe said...

I may have totally misunderstood the post, but in my estimation this post was suggesting new and unique ways in liturgical abuse. The priest weather or not he has his back to the people or not is certainly not my decision and whatever the decision is will receive my total acceptance and reverence toward it. This question of weather or not the priest faces the people is merely a matter for discussion and search for truth. The question of omniscience is settled, which is why I say the direction the priest is facing shouldn’t be a question in the discussion. If we are to claim we face this way or that, because we face God then we are saying God is here or there. This is good reason to face the tabernacle. However if we are fasting because we do for good reason, and here is the question, should we open the tabernacle being empty, on Sunday, and celebrate the Eucharistic feast in this way? Forget about all the moving the tabernacle or any other peripheral argument and speak to this issue of fasting. Now if the tabernacle is empty and we truly fast, as in the scripture Mt 9:14-15, why would the priest face this way or that knowing God is omniscient?

Sheldon said...

John Doe,

It's "whether," not "weather."

That out of the way, the fact of divine omnipresence in now way settles the question of the orientation of the priest. The reason is simple. Omnipresence settles only the issue of God's spiritual presence, which means that God's presence spiritually is not infinite.

The question of orientation is another matter and would make no sense if our understanding of God's presence as Catholics were defined exclusively in terms of his spiritual infinity (omnipresence).

The issue is this: God became incarnate in Jesus Christ, whose location was physically fixed in Palestine while he was on earth and in heaven after his ascension. By the same token, Christ is really locally, if not physically, present in the substance of the consecrated species of the Blessed Sacrament. That's why people genuflect and kneel and adore him there.

There is nothing new here. The Old Testament are full of "theophanies," where God manifested his unique presence in the burning bush of Moses, for example. Even though God is omnipresent, God tells Moses in Exodus 3:5 not to approach the burning bush, but to take off his sandals, because he is on "holy ground." If God's omnipresence were all that mattered, there would be no reason for God to tell Moses this.

I'm not sure what your point about fasting and the empty tabernacle is. The tabernacle is not EMPTY when the priest opens it to retrieve the previously consecrated hosts before distributing communion. I'm not sure what fasting has to do with it, even in the John 9 passage you refer to.

Sheldon said...

The last laugh is on me, John Doe. I had a typo in my own comment: it should have been "in no way," not "in now way"!

John Doe said...


I’m happy to laugh at myself. So how is the weather where you are and as you post some typos, no not “now” and not “Jn 9” but Mt 9:14-16.

And yes now that is out of the way. I understand the real presence in the consecrated host, at least with my feeble mind, and yes when the priest opens the tabernacle it’s Christ in the consecrated host permanently. My question is with the tabernacle that is opened without any consecrated host inside hence we fast. As for genuflecting, you would not in front of an empty tabernacle, which doesn’t mean you are free to lack reverence upon entering the Church. If you read Mt 9:14-15, not “Jn 9, you may understand the point of fasting.

Sheldon said...

John Doe,

I'm still not sure why you're concerned about fasting, beyond the 1 hr prescribed fast before communion.

I'm not expert, but in Mt 9:14-15 Jesus seems to be suggesting that his followers do not fast because he is still with them physically on earth. But I'm at a loss as to what bearing do you think this has on fasting in reference to the Mass.

The only time Catholics in European history have had to fast from the Eucharist for protracted lengths of time is when their lands were placed under the Interdict by Rome, essentially excommunicated, for some political reason or other.

I'm sure voluntarily fasting from communion is permissible, but I'm not sure why one would want to do it. I'm sure the tabernacle could be evacuated of the Body of Christ before mass, but I'm not sure why anyone would want to do that either.

John Doe said...

The one-hour fast before mass is not to consume food. This is not the same fast mentioned in Mt 9:15. I’m no expert in scripture or liturgy either, however it seems to me this passage is Jesus speaking to when he will not be with them, during the time between death and resurrection. The Church already does this similarly during Holy Week, which is what we do every Sunday, in celebrating the Pascal mystery. And you’re correct who would want the tabernacle empty. The empty tabernacle kind of puts a whole appreciation for what we have.

Pertinacious Papist said...

John D.,

I can't speak for Sheldon, but I'm having trouble understanding what it is you want -- not what you're saying, but what you want.

I understand the difference between fasting from food before Mass and the metaphorical fast referenced by Christ in the Gospel of Matthew, speaking of the time to come when His Apostles would no longer have Him (the Bridegroom) with them.

Okay. Having established that, what is it that you want? What is it that you think isn't being done right or that you think ought to be done better? Perhaps you could state that very specifically, so that this combox turn into a surrogate post trying to decipher what you mean.

John D. said...

I’m not saying right or wrong and it’s always better in hope of a closer relationship with God. There certainly seems to be two opposing sides on the proper stance for the priest. It’s reasonable to flesh out why and find the root of the problem, which sometimes sheds a greater light on truth that moves us in better relationship with each other and more importantly God. The root as I listen to both sides seems one would revere God more (facing the tabernacle) and the other finding God in the presence of the assembly (facing the people). A possible solution (mine alone for discussion) would be to fast, open the tabernacle empty on Sunday. This would do several things, among them a greater appreciation for the gift we have all in some way neglected and are not worthy to receive, another would focus on the mystery present in the sacrifice of the mass. We are human and have a tendency to take for granted what we have, this we should never do especially when it concerns the greatest gift we could ever receive.

Pertinacious Papist said...

John Doe,

Point taken. My hunch is that regardless of what may be done externally, nothing will help much apart from substantial catechesis. Catholics have the whole media culture against which they have to contend when entering the precincts of a church, and they are no longer dispositionally inclined to reverence -- not entirely through fault of their own.

So far, this is only a matter of subjective disposition and prescriptive catechesis. Beyond this, however, there is an equally important question as to what is objectively more liturgically fitting; and the Holy Father's repeated council on the matter suggests that the versus populum stance of the priest creates an enclosed, circular arrangement where the priest and congregation is closed in on itself.

This arrangement reinforces a focus on the worshipping community rather than on Christ, as well as a powerful inclination for the priest to 'perform' or 'entertain', which is a serious flaw liturgically and theologically.

Of course, it's possible in a Protestant fashion to still mentally dispose oneself toward Christ in a spiritual sense; but one is also fighting then against the sacramental-incarnational worldview of Catholicism for which Christ's Real Presence in the Sanctuary matters.

The Holy Father's clear preference is to reinforce the objective reality of this sacramental worldview by having the entire congregation, together with the priest, orient itself toward the Lord God in worship. I think he's right.

A good start on this subject is the book by Uwe M. Lang, Turning Toward the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer, whose thesis has been promoted by Pope Benedict XVI.

John D. said...

I agree with this point, "the objective reality in sacramental worldview." What I don’t agree with is the point of view that as baptized people created in the image and likeness of God that God doesn’t much matter being present in this sacramental reality. There exists a real division among Catholics over the belief that VII is a modernist bunch of bishops, please don’t do this. The idea that the Holy Spirit with 3500 bishops around the world somehow allowed the gates of hell to prevail is BS. We definitely agree we need to come together and worship God at mass and not each other. We are not moving any closer to this trying to blame VII as the cause of the effect in poor mass attendance or fewer priests or any other ills. We need to find solutions that are dynamic and not resort to what we did some time ago the solution isn’t that simple. I’m sure we can agree that the destruction of true worship is in the heart of selfishness not turning toward God but away from God and simply saying God is over there will not reach people who already don’t believe in the real presence in the Eucharist and only in themselves. Self-denial in fasting is what I propose, not the simple answer but just a thought. The goal is to help people come to Christ and it seems to me that many will leave. And yes it’s their fault for leaving, but that doesn’t make us feel better about our self does it?

Pertinacious Papist said...

John D.,

The part you "agree with" I understand. The part you "don't agree with" I don't see as applicable to anything I've said. Hopefully, then, we can simply agree on making a good Lent, fasting, praying and the need for repentance and rebirth among the sacramentalized pagans that make up a large percentage of self-identified Catholics today.

-- God bless.
Pertinaciously yours,

John D. said...

Please don’t think I was pointing a finger at you and I can see how you would have, I’m sorry for that. You have been nothing less than a gracious host on this blog. My rant was of others who do these things on this blog and others. I’m concerned about the infighting that goes on, that’s all. Have a productive and grace filled Lent, God bless.