We must be thankful to God for Cardinal Robert Sarah, among other leading prelates who care for the Church in this time of great crisis and upheaval. His Eminence's timely call to priests to re-order Catholic worship towards the Tabernacle, to the East, from whence Christ shall come again in glory, has given many a bewildered clergy fresh heart.
Those parishes - a small minority - in which the Sacred Liturgy is celebrated ad orientem have received from the Congregation of Divine Worship more public support for their endeavour to restore the sacred to Catholic liturgy and it is to be hoped that those priests who do not yet offer the Most Holy Sacrifice 'towards the Lord' will consider doing so.
National Catholic Register has a comprehensive article on the call from the good Cardinal which resurrects the clear liturgical direction pointed out by Pope Francis's predecessor (in his 'active' munus), Pope Benedict XVI, who elucidated most convincingly his views on the liturgy in his book, 'The Spirit of the Liturgy' as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
What will be interesting will be how this call is received by the clergy. To my disappointment, I witnessed recently on a social media thread one priest in the south of England make his case for - if not dismissing Cardinal Sarah's call - doing his best to find excuses not to follow his sage advice.
|Pope Francis offers Mass ad orientem before the Sistine Chapel was desecrated by guitarist The Edge|
The Sussex-based priest, clearly quite taken aback by the good Cardinal's call for ad orientem worship maintained that even if he had some sympathy with the idea, his implementation of it would set off 'alarm bells' among the congregation.
I really expect that this is the line that will be taken by many priests. How intellectually honest it is for priests to disobey the CDW 'for the sake of the people' I do not know. I recently paid a visit to the parish which the priest serves and he had allowed a Tablet article on an end to clerical celibacy to be photocopied and displayed in pride of place in the respository. Personally, if there is anything that sets 'alarm bells' in this lay man, it is an over-exuberant, almost evangelical zeal for spreading articles of a liberal bent from the most spiritually toxic magazine in what was once known as Christendom. So, articles calling for an end to the discipline of priestly celibacy? 'Fine!' Ad orientem worship? 'No! Think of the people! 'We don't want alarm bells!'
The idea that the people of God need to be 'shielded' from ad orientem worship and the signals that might send out to their delicate souls is one that I expect a lot of priests would agree with, but it tells us something about how a certain generation of priests see their priesthood nowadays. This is presumably a view that is operating from the same intellectual origin as the priests who consider it best to tone down the Gospel message of repentance in order to 'protect his people' from hard truths, such as the truth that those in mortal sin should not approach Holy Communion and that the road to Hell is broad and wide.
More than this, however, such psychological projections as that uttered by the Sussex-based priest also give an insight into the dangers of the real clericalism problems faced by the Church today. Catholics need gentle, yet firm leadership, but we also need faithful leaders who will lead us in Faith towards the Lord.
His candid admission that he himself said he had sympathy with the good Cardinal's advice was belied by his desire to control or in some way limit or curtail the visual power of the liturgy by remaining in his current position, facing the people. Of course, any priest would be foolish to simply turn up to Mass one day and re-order Catholic worship according to the Cardinal's clear direction without explaining in anyway why, or to give the impression that he had woken up one day and decided to do something different on a whim.
Real leadership requires that a priest who had decided that facing East was the right thing to do - in obedience to the CDW - explain and teach his people. I have seen myself priests do exactly this, taking a great deal of time to slowly, gently, firmly lead their people towards the worship of God ad orientem.
With such a 'Father knows what is best for you' mindset inevitably comes an infantilisation of the laity who simply 'could not bear' such a change or an upset to the liturgical norm operating 'in our parish'. We simply can't do it, the people will freak out! Think of the children!
Unfortunately, this standpoint neglects the perennial understanding of the priesthood - the logical one - that indeed a priest's congregation are both the children of God and his spiritual children. Priests literally are feeding their congregation the Body and Blood of Christ. Priests are feeding their children - God's children - by their preaching and teaching. The entire Mass, from beginning to end, is a teaching in the Christian faith, as well as the worship of the God Who comes down to us. Priests are not simply 'presiders' or 'celebrants' at a liturgical event - a community gathering. Real spiritual fatherhood means that the priest, rather than telling us what we want to hear, or doing what we feel comfortable with, leads us in the worship of Almighty God and shows us how to do it. The one time I went to Mass recently at this Sussex-based priest's parish, the altar server cleansed and drained the chalice while standing in the centre of the sanctuary at the Altar, facing the people. Quite what message that was meant to send out, I have no idea, but the message was received loud and clear.
In all of this, it is not just the spiritual health of the people of God that suffers for lack of fatherly guidance, but the priest's spiritual health as well, about which so few seem to care. We look to priests because they are placed in authority over us to lead us to God, to nourish us with the Sacraments, to feed us, to guide us to Heaven. We easily forget that priests need Our Lord Jesus Christ as much - perhaps more than we do, because of the weight of the duty and the task God has entrusted to the priest.
If a priest is not turning to the Lord, how can we turn to the Lord? If a priest does not fall down and adore, how can we adore? It is not just for the people's spiritual benefit if a priest celebrates Mass ad orientem. It is also for the priest's spiritual benefit. When the Face of Christ, rather than the face of the 'presider' is revealed and adored in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, both people and priest adore together the God Who reveals Himself. Priest and people together will grow in holiness and love of God when all are turned together to He Who comes. When the Lord Jesus returns, I presume we shall all be facing the same direction, looking upon the Lord who comes as Judge, Who we Catholics hope we shall look upon as Lord, Saviour and our most trusted and faithful friend.
Pray very much for the clergy. It must be very tempting to wish to disregard the advice and clear direction given by Cardinal Robert Sarah and to pass it off as unhelpful or disruptive to parish life, but truth cannot be sacrificed in order to keep people in a sleepy state, for...
The night is passed, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light. (Romans, 13:12)
The pressing issue - at this time of grave crisis in the Church is that the faithful need alarm bells. Without them, most of us wouldn't wake up. Clergy haven't been called by the Lord to be priests looking for a 'quiet life'. If priests are called to do battle against demons, they can expect, if they follow the Lord, to have the odd confrontation with a parishioner or two who want liturgy tailored to what makes them feel 'comfortable'. Jesus Christ didn't come to make us feel comfortable. He came to turn disobedient, wandering children into faithful sons and daughters, worshippers of the Triune God. I have seen with my own eyes parishes be re-orientated towards the liturgical East over a period of about 10 years. I have seen this transition take place with comparatively little 'trouble' or complaint. It can be done sensitively, gradually, thoughtfully and carefully. Priests will never please everyone but they can please God.