Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ho letto un libro di orientamento liturgico

I read a book. My reading habit has slowed as my time pouring over language grammars has increased. But today I finished a small and well written study on the issue of liturgical orientation. U.M. Lang's Turning Towards the Lord provides a concise summary argument for the need for a "common orientation" or a "common direction" for priest and people during the liturgy. His argument avoids extremes and offers, in the end, a rather balanced suggestion - a suggestion that is already supported by both the I.G.R.M. and the CDW, which is to celebrate Mass "versus populum" during the opening, communion, and closing rites and during the Liturgy of the Word, but to then celebrate the canon of the Mass "versus orientem".

In addition, he stresses the need not so much for a "versus orientem" (for many churches are not constructed on an East/West foundation and even if they are they may be, like St. Peter's in Rome, built so that the apse faces East and the main doors face West) but for a "common direction". He reminds us, as does the CDW, that we should not confuse "theology and topology". Theologically, the Mass is always facing God and facing people.

Toward the end of the book, Lang does address the critique that Masses "versus populum" lend to a subjectivism within the Christian community and that it "closes off" the Christian community and their theological and social outlook. I'm not sure how one quantifies that. I'm pretty sure I know what Lang speaks of and yet I'm not sure how that is quantified. "St. Brigid's parish on 5th St. is "closed in on itself and has a subjective perception of the Mass". Can one state that?

I appreciate this book for its clarity and that it avoids the pitfall of extremes.


Johnny Domer said...

With the last point on "closing off" the community, I'd say that this can happen to greater or lesser degrees depending on how the priest offers the Mass, as well as the sort of teaching he employs regarding the Mass. If the priest is constantly just looking at the people during the Offertory and EP, smiling, inserting extra little ad-ons not called for in the rubrics, projecting his own personality rather than maintaining a sense of reverence and awe at the Divine Mysteries and having his own individual personality decrease, this idea of the community focused in on itself is heightened; the people are focused on the priest, and the priest is focused on the people, when the focus of both should be on the Lord. Having a free-for-all backslapping sign of peace among the laity is another unhelpful contributor in this way; the laity become focused on saying hi and being jovial or practicing certain norms of politeness (i.e., focused on themselves). I don't know how many of the laity realize that they are supposed to be communicating to each other the peace that Christ won by His own Crucifixion, by the eternal Sacrifice that is present on the altar at the same time they're shaking hands with the stranger who just blew his nose three seconds ago.

Additionally, if in the his teaching and preaching the priest discusses the Mass as being purely or primarily a "communal meal" or a "gathering around the table," etc., while downplaying the Mass' sacrificial nature (which is the actual source from which the concept of the meal or--better--the sacrificial banquet proceeds), this heightens the idea of the community turned in on itself.

I suppose I can't say it's quantifiable exactly, but I know I could identify certain parishes/priests that do this to a greater extent than others.

Fr. Stephen, C.S.C. said...

Michael - Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book. I'm glad you liked it. I too thought it was very balanced and have found it to be very influential in my presiding and in my theology of priesthood and of liturgy. I very much like his suggestions for a via media.

I think I agree with you and with Johnny Domer: Quantifying how a parish is "closed in itself" liturgically, is like the old expression about defining pornography - - it may be hard to give a clear cut definition, and yet it's easy to identify it when you see it.

As Johnny notes, the presider's style is a BIG indicator - as is the language employed about the liturgy (by priest and catechetical staff especially).

I might add that excessive announcements and/or applause at Mass are also negative indicators - as is the style and execution of liturgical music.

And while the Liturgy is certainly meant to be for our benefit and growth in holiness, a stress on "what I get out of it" is also a VERY worrisome trend. It tends to equate Liturgy and entertainment or self-help.

Finally, I might also suggest that this "closed in" mentality is so pervasive today that it's sadly easier to note the places where it ISN'T true.

Anyway . . . . boy am I going to love having a lifetime of you keeping me up to date on all these things :) (I'm sure that makes all your hard work recently seem worth it ;)

gsccsc said...

Good book; very balanced overall. I think it avoids accusations for the most part and fosters the next generation of questions we must ask about the liturgy and its fruits. Good liturgy does have a lot to do with the affect and mannerisms of the celebrant. Regardless of orientation vis-a-vis the people, the presidential focus on ritual, attentiveness to the rite as a praise of God and the supplication of the Church, and mindfulness of the import of the action taking place, all speak to good liturgy. I do hope that current period of liturgical tension bears real fruit. I am concerned, however, that the OF will be dismissed out before it is ever really experienced. Only now, is the Church on a large scale beginning to experience its mature celebration. I am also concerned that for many Catholics (both those who love and hate the EF) we are just changing the play that is performed. For me, the deeper issue is how to foster the deepest understandings of active participation in the liturgy, so that those assembled know it as their prayer, their praise, their supplication and their self-donation united united as one with Christ's to become his body and blood, blessed and broken for the salvation of the world.

As I said - good book.