Will the New English Translation Be Enough?

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Pondering

Having had time, over the past few days and nights, to reflect on various aspects of the reform of the Sacred Liturgy, and in the light of what I have been experiencing here in Italy, it occurred to me that I might share some of my thoughts with the readers of Vultus Christi.

Mass Facing the People: The Single Greatest Obstacle to the Reform

Here in Italy it is evident that churches were designed and constructed with an eye to the absolute centrality of the altar with priest and people facing together in the same direction. The placement, within perfectly proportioned sanctuaries, of secondary altars to allow for Mass facing the people has utterly destroyed the harmony, order, and spaciousness that the Sacred Liturgy, by its very nature, requires.

The Cheek-by-Jowl Ambo

Adding insult to injury, these versus populum altars are, more often than not cheek by jowl with a lectern (or ambo) that effectively impedes any movement around the altar, and positively discourages the incensation of the altar at the Introit and Offertory of the Mass.

Crucifix, Candles, and Flowers

Here in Italy -- and also in France -- the traditional symmetrical arrangement of the candles and crucifix has all but disappeared in favour of a curious asymmetrical disposition that nearly always includes a bouquet of flowers placed at one end of the altar, one, two, or three candles at the opposite end, and a crucifix somewhere in the sanctuary that may or may not be construed as having an inherent relationship with the altar.

The Priest Magnified

Apart from these considerations, the most deleterious effect continues to be the magnification of the priest and of his personality. The theological direction of all liturgical prayer -- ad Patrem, per Filium, in Spiritu -- is obscured, while the priest, even in spite of himself, appears to be, at every moment, addressing the faithful or engaging personally with them.

It's All About Me

Certain priests and bishops, marked by a streak of narcissism, abuse their position in front of and over the congregation to soak up the attention and energy of the faithful, attention and energy that, by right, belong to God alone during the Sacred Liturgy.

Placed in front of and over the congregation, priests and bishops all too easily give in to an arrogant liturgical clericalism, subjecting the faithful to their own additions amendments, comments, and embolisms. The faithful, being a captive audience, are subjected to the personality of the priest, which can and often does obscure the purity of the liturgical actions and texts that constitute the Roman Rite.

Translation and Business As Usual

The New English Translation of the Roman Missal will not, of itself, be enough to bring about an authentic reform and renewal of the Novus Ordo Missae. A deeper and broader reform is needed, one that must, necessarily, begin with bishops and with their priests charged with the care of souls.

Where to Start?

What concrete steps might be taken? It is fully within the authority of bishops to mandate and prescribe, for example, that two arrangements of the sanctuary will be allowed in their dioceses.

The Altar

In churches possessing an ad orientem altar integral to the architectural genius of the original design of the apse or of the sanctuary, secondary versus populum altars should be removed, and the sanctuaries should be restored to the original order, harmony, and spaciousness that characterized them.

In churches possessing only a versus populum altar, that altar should be so arranged as to place the crucifix, with the corpus facing the priest, in a central position with three candles at either side, following the Roman practice. Ideally there should be a space of minimally five feet on all sides of a free-standing altar, so as to facilitate the necessary ritual incensations and so as to allow, whenever possible, the celebration of the Mass ad orientem.

10 Comments

It's all true.

I just want you to know, Father, that it is such a grace to see (and participate that way too) when a holy priest lifts up his hands, and his heart during the Eucharistic Prayer.
At the same time, Father, I feel like I'm intruding, by watching something that is almost too personal and intimate, and meant only to be done away from me, and in front of the crucifix. I have to look down ("I have to decrease", and so does the priest, in much bigger way).

Fr. Mark,

Bingo! Finally, someone said it! I think there are going to be a lot of very disappointed people by Christmas, though I cannot for the life of me understand why they put so much hope in minor (yet important) tweaks in language. The ugly suburban church will still be ugly. Abuses (altar girls, eucharistic ministers, bad music, horrible sermons, ugly vestments (to complement the interior of the ugly church)) will still occur. I don't buy the "brick by brick" nonsense that some are holding onto one bit.

Thank you for the "It's All About Me" entry. I feel it does get frustrating and is unhealthy for the parish. Speaking of behavior on the altar, are there guidelines or any precedent for priests waiting until the consecrated bread is put back into the tabernacle before being seated? It's a pet peeve of mine if they sit before the tabernacle is closed and if I remember I pray a Hail Mary for the priest.

Bravo, Father Mark! "It's all about me" is the problem, and ad orientem is the solution.

Of course, there are numerous subsidiary problems, but their solutions will follow in due course upon the principal solution.

Thank you for saying this. I fully agree that the re-orientation of the priest is a far greater step in liturgical reform than the translation (as a translator, I'm fully aware of the effect that lexis has, but visual effects are more important for interior disposition in this case).
Furthermore, I find the priest facing the congregation a greater mark of clericalism than any other. When priest and congregation face the same way, they "work" together to worship God. When the priest is on the other side of the altar, suddenly the common direction, and thus common aim and desire to worship God, disappears.

Since I started participaqting in the usus antiquior on Sundays rather than in the Novus Ordo, when I do go to the Novus Ordo it always seems to me that the priest is addressing us, in a dialogue with us, rather than directing the prayers to God. I know it is just a psychological question, but still it does have its impact (at least on me).
Even the readings, as I now come to understand that they are sacramental and not merely didactic, make sense when sung ad Deum (which does not exclude their being read ad populum in the vernacular afterwards).

God willing, as the usus antiquior spreads, one of the old goals of the first Liturgical Movement - prioritization of the High Mass - might be implemented. I believe that the High Mass can attract more faithful; it also seems to be very much in tune with the Byzantine Divine Liturgy.

Very many Catholics would agree with you on this, and your previous post on music. But how does one obtain this? The Church is very badly divided, as there would be many who would also disagree with you. The bishops are reluctant to do anything for fear of deeper lines drawn in the sand. The Holy Father's method of "brick by brick" is reaching the brick wall, if you like, in the ordinary parishes. Rome has to act, but even there it is badly divided, forcing the Holy Father, I believe, to use this "brick by brick" method. We have a wonderful opportunity with the corrected English translation to make the important changes you suggest, and a proper catechesis would surely help. It is web sites like yours that are so instrumental in spreading the details of this reform of the reform, and I thank you.

Great Post! Father, I think that the catechesis effort for a proper reception of the new translation is fundamental, however. It is where most people and most priests are at. Not only can it address the gross abuse, but it prepares hearts and minds for the urgent step of facing and acknowledging the rupture and doing something more concrete about it through a return to ad Orientem worship.

I think that perhaps the hardest cross to carry is the knowledge. You know it Father, I know it, the Pope knows it, your readers know it, but those priests and bishops who do not, or don't want to, know it.

Fr. Kirby,

Spot on analysis sir. I have felt that for some time the Novus Ordo Missae was flawed for these very same reasons. The cult of the priest's personality seems more important the the august sacrifice of the Holy Mass. It over takes what is happening. You can see it in the differing attitudes of the people versus Mass said in the Extraordinary Form. The personality of the priest is of no bearing on Mass. His mood that day isn't impacting on the Mass. The focus is on the sacrifice and not the man. I have not been to a ad orientam Novus Ordo Mass, so I don't know how much this would help.

Thanks for the spot on analysis Father. I wish all the priests in the diocese would take it to heart, though I sadly doubt it.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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