Wednesday 21 October 2009

Lord to whom shall we turn?

Some thoughts on “presidency” and posture for prayer

This article was originally written for publication on the blogs "The New Liturgical Movement" and "Rorate Caeli".

Although there is a great deal of discussion now and a body of scholarship concerning the revival of the celebration of Mass ad orientem, I have found that this discussion is almost entirely limited to the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Yet, the principle concerns the orientation of Liturgical prayer throughout the entirety of the Mass. Amongst the many innovations introduced after the Council was a provision (Ritus Servandus 1965, no. 23) for the celebrant to pray the Kyrie, Gloria, Collect and Creed at a sedilia, rather than at the altar (as had previously obtained). This provision, of course, is derived from the practice where a bishop celebrates Mass solemnly, either at the faldstool or at the throne. The 1965 provision was taken a step further with the introduction of the new Missal in 1970.

Dom Emmanuel of the Benedictine Abbey of Le Barroux gave a paper to the 1997 CIEL Conference about this topic. In a comprehensive analysis, which discusses firstly the position of the celebrant during the Kyrie, Gloria, Collect and Creed and secondly, the celebrant during the readings from the Scripture, he reached this conclusion:

Do we find that the law in force until 1962 is universally attested in the history of the Roman Mass, or do we find that there are exceptions? Having finished our enquiry we may now answer this question: as far we can judge from the texts currently available, the Roman Mass, both according to the use of the [Roman] Curia and those of the dioceses and religious orders, show us that the simple priest is at the altar for the Gloria, the Collect and the Creed, and that this is the case until 1962. So the Ordo Missae of 1965 departs from the common (and almost universal) practice up to that point when it prescribes that the simple priest may carry out these functions at his seat. For the readings the celebrant goes to his chair near the altar. By having the celebrant positioned at the sedilia for the readings, the Ordo Missae of 1965 (and then that of 1970) do not depart from what we know of Roman usage (taken as a whole) through the centuries.

Dom Emmanuel's study and of course many other works on liturgical history, reveal that in the early church (and we know that from archaeological evidence as well the ancient churches which still exist) the Cathedra of the bishop was mostly placed in the apse, behind the altar, with benches for the presbyters on either side. This was a position, as Dom Emmanuel concludes, which emphasised the jurisdiction of the Bishop. He argues, however, that it never was customary in the Western liturgy for the priest-celebrant to occupy such a position, because he did not have jurisdiction. Instead, as Dom Emmanuel discusses, the priest celebrant recited the Kyrie, Gloria and Collect at or near to the altar ad orientem. Similarly, a bishop who did not have jurisdiction occupied a seat on the right of the altar, but read those prayers from that position ad orientem (for example, the rites of Pontifical Mass at the faldstool according to the Extraordinary Form).

Leaving aside the issue of the priest-celebrant facing the people at the altar during the Liturgy of the Eucharist (for which there is some precedent in liturgical history which was used as the basis for the introduction of "Mass facing the people"), what I would like identify is that an entirely new concept has been introduced into the 1970 Mass, namely, the priest-celebrant as Presider. To me, this seems nowhere more prominent in the New Order of Mass than in the Introductory Rite: a rite which is an innovation in the history of the Western liturgy. Furthermore, this role of Presider is codified by the instruction on where the chair of the celebrant is to be placed within the sanctuary: namely at the head of the sanctuary in an apse; in short behind the altar (GIRM 271):

The chair of the celebrant should indicate his role of presiding over the assembly and of leading the prayers. Hence the most suitable position is at the head of the sanctuary facing the people, unless the construction of the building or other circumstances prevents this; for instance, if communication between the priest and the assembly of the faithful is made difficult because of too great a distance.

Both the position of the chair of the priest-celebrant (which emphasises "presidence") and the offering of prayers (facing the congregation) from that chair, instead of before the altar, represent a break with Liturgical Tradition. I would like to suggest that this particular break with Tradition has largely facilitated the widespread distortion where right from the beginning of the Liturgy the priest becomes more of a compere or emcee, rather than a celebrant.

What might be done, to recapture the Church's tradition at this point in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite Mass? In many places, this has begun already to happen, where priests have felt uncomfortable with the prominence of their (often elevated) chairs, and have opted to place the chair at the side of the sanctuary in front of the altar, in the manner of sedilia. I have also read where some priests with chairs in the position just described, have turned slightly toward the altar (rather than toward the congregation) for the Penitential rite, Gloria and Collect. All of this would seem to be able to take place within the current framework of the Ordinary Form. It also does not exclude the celebrant giving a brief introduction to the Mass, but it might be hoped that this is quite distinct from the prayers of the Rite itself.

We might also note here – although it is slightly separate from this discussion - that recently the Papal altar has begun to return to Traditional arrangements, by the placement of a central altar Cross and six candlesticks.

What about a reform to re-instate the tradition? Something like this (this is an opinion): The celebrant might conduct the Penitential Rite ad orientem "at the foot of the altar", then go up to the altar for the Kyrie, Gloria and Collect. Then he could go to the sedilia and sit down for the reading of the Scripture. He would bless the deacon (and incense, if it used) at the altar, not the sedilia. After the Gospel, he would return to the altar for the Creed and General Intercessions (both ad orientem). Note that these ceremonial positions might be used even if the Liturgy of the Eucharist continued to be celebrated versus populum (especially if the arrangement of central altar Cross and flanking candlesticks is observed). In fact, this might be a gradual way of reintroducing ad orientem to the entire Mass.

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Thursday 8 October 2009

New Vestments: New York


The Saint Bede Studio was commissioned by a young priest of the Archdiocese of New York USA to make two Low Mass sets in the "Saint Philip Neri" style. The attached photographs shew the completed vestments, one in red and gold, the other green. The vestments were made from an English ecclesiastical damask.

The priest writes about receiving the vestments, following his return from a trip to Rome:

Unfortunately, each priest in my house has now developed an affinity for them! They look great, and are being used by several priests on a daily basis. I was thrilled that some of the priests I live with are using them, for it proves yet again that beautiful ecclesiastical work is possible in our day and attractive to the eye.

While in Rome, I scouted the vestment scene, and I noticed that Pope Benedict has had a clear impact on the Church in this regard - each company is delving into the "Roman" style again, yet I find nothing as beautiful or practical for both Usages as your design on the "Philip Neri."

An enlarged view may be seen by clicking on each image.


Carthusian Vestments: Updated

Yesterday at the blog The New Liturgical Movement, a series of interesting images were reproduced of the celebration of Mass according to the Carthusian Use. One is of more obvious interest to us here, the frontispiece of a Carthusian Missal, printed in Lyon in 1713. Adjacent is a cropped version of that frontispiece. This would appear to depict the celebrant on the step of the altar giving the minister the absolution after the Confiteor.

UPDATE: An earlier edition of this Missal, published in the Duchy of Savoy in 1679 has the same frontispiece. I suspect that the image itself was engraved earlier in the 17th  century.

The celebrant is shewn wearing a ground-length linen alb, with quite close-fitting sleeves: very typical of the period. The chasuble is quite interesting as depicted, because it is very long, reaching almost the full length of the alb (as directed by Saint Charles Borromeo). It is also pointed, front and back, which is more reminiscent of the mediaeval chasubles of Northern Europe.

This chasuble differs from that style of chasuble shewn in the various paintings and sculptures of Saint Philip Neri (one is shewn adjacent), which have a rounded finish along the lower edge, back and front. This chasuble is also not quite as wide as these "Philip Neri" chasubles, not reaching the elbow.