For most of the Church's history, Mass has been celebrated ad orientem, toward the East, and the rubrics in the Roman Missal to this day maintain that orientation.
The question of the proper orientation of Latin liturgics is so painfully simple that people cannot deal with it.
July 13, 2016Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille
What is going on?
The question of the proper orientation of Latin liturgics is so painfully simple that people cannot deal with it. There is, in fact, no question: the posture of the entire assembly facing liturgical East is universal and ancient, and until the 1960s no Christian, East or West, would ever have dreamt of disorienting the priest by turning him around in the wrong direction. That bizarre decision of the Latin church in the 1960s immediately set her at odds not only with her own sacred tradition but that of the rest of the Christian world, especially the other major liturgical families—the Byzantine, Alexandrian, Armenian, and Syriac. It should never have happened, and can only be counted a massive mistake.But celebration ad orientem is not the central issue. Ecclesiology is.Fears about ad orientem posture today are stalking horses for incoherent and ultimately groundless fears about a return to an earlier ecclesiology. Though I disagreed vehemently with certain completely backwards conclusions of Massimo Faggioli’s book True Reform: Liturgy and Ecclesiology in Sacrosanctum Concilium, he was absolutely correct that Vatican II’s reforms both contained an incipient, and helped to advance a more robust, ecclesiology of the local Church.Faggioli was wrong, however, in attempting to argue that any criticisms of SC are based on a nostalgic hankering for an earlier, more centralized ecclesiology. In this view, any challengers—such as Cardinal Sarah—to the liturgical vision dubiously and tendentiously attributed to Vatican II are taken as threats to its ecclesiology. Faggioli has been commendably candid about this, repeatedly flatly insisting in his book that “questioning the liturgical reform of Vatican II means undoing also the ecclesiology of the liturgical reform and the ecclesiology of Vatican II” (p.86; cf. 89, 91, etc.).Nonsense. There are, as I showed elsewhere, two major problems with this line of thinking: first, Faggioli and others seem completely immune to recognizing that this ecclesiology of the local church advanced by Vatican II was badly mangled at birth by the ham-fisted papal fiat imposing a “reformed” liturgy on the entire Latin Church at Advent 1970. Whatever ecclesiology of the local church was advanced by Vatican II—and there was one, thankfully—has ever since been flying against very strong currents of papal centralization and personality cult now reaching (one hopes) their apogee in Francis before (one hopes even more fervently) beginning a necessary, welcome, and healthful decline back to earth.Second, Faggioli seems incapable of recognizing that one can coherently and without contradiction hold several positions at the same time, criticizing aspects of Vatican II while upholding others. It is artificial and unhelpful to insist that Vatican II must be taken as some kind of package deal, so that questioning one part of it must necessarily lead to the dismantling of others or even of the whole.[...]
Many Orthodox have been appalled, as many Eastern Catholics have also been, less by the well-known if rather rare liturgical shenanigans one forever hears about (clown Masses, prancing ladies wafting incense from flea-market crockery, etc.) and more by the profound estrangement of Latin Catholics from their own tradition—indeed, appalled at their open disdain for their own tradition, and that of the universal and undivided Church. (In other words, we Latins are idiots! Truth be told, we are idiots for letting wicked men and women impose liturgical abuse on Holy Mother Church!)True to form, critics of Sarah’s proposal give every evidence of this, insouciantly defending a disoriented priest celebrating Mass backwards and refusing with indecent haste (as in Westminster) to tolerate any other “tradition” than this one. That is a sign of deep internal pathology bordering on self-hatred, and does not bode well for East-West unity. (One wonders if a certain English cardinal is listening?)
At a stroke, Cardinal Sarah’s wise proposal would accomplish two things. First, it would contribute to the slow but on-going process of the Latin Church’s healing and recovery of parts of her tradition that were perversely junked after Vatican II by shady operatives (see Louis Bouyer’s memoirs for evidence of this) playing duplicitous games with a credulous Pope Paul VI. Second, it would contribute to the slow but on-going process of the East and West drawing closer to one another by both drawing closer to Christ, the rising Son of God whom we worship by the first light of dawn in the East.
Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille is Associate Professor and Chairman of the Department of Theology-Philosophy, University of Saint Francis (Fort Wayne, IN) and author of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame, 2011).
Thankfully, a younger generation that is interested in fact not fiction is a growing voice calling for our heritage to be restored. What is the evidence for such a claim? Anyone who has been on the internet for more than a few years can attest to the fresh air returning to the Church, a breath that gives voice to that oft maligned pillar of the Church called Tradition. Conversations with my younger brothers and sisters in the Faith are one such testament to the voice of the Spirit. Yesterday, in fact, I spent the afternoon with two seminarians and a young school teacher among other Tradition-minded college age men and women. The school teacher is fielding requests from his middle school students to teach them Gregorian chant! One of the seminarians is studying at the FSSP seminary in Denton, Nebraska. Enough said. The other is clearly oriented to things Latin.