Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has decreed that all Masses he celebrates in the cathedral will henceforth be ad orientem, facing East, back to the people, facing the high altar. (H/t to David Gibson at Commonweal.) For those of you a few years ago that thought that Pope Benedict's motu proprioon the Latin Mass, Summorum Pontificum, wouldn't amount to much, well, here we are. That's a photo of Bishop Slattery from the diocesan website.
Here's the bishop's full statement. And the salient parts:
In the last 40 years, however, this shared orientation was lost; now the priest and the people have become accustomed to facing in opposite directions. The priest faces the people while the people face the priest, even though the Eucharistic Prayer is directed to the Father and not to the people. This innovation was introduced after the Vatican Council, partly to help the people understand the liturgical action of the Mass by allowing them to see what was going on, and partly as an accommodation to contemporary culture where people who exercise authority are expected to face directly the people they serve, like a teacher sitting behind her desk. Unfortunately this change had a number of unforeseen and largely negative effects. First of all, it was a serious rupture with the Church’s ancient tradition. Secondly, it can give the appearance that the priest and the people were engaged in a conversation about God, rather than the worship of God. Thirdly, it places an inordinate importance on the personality of the celebrant by placing him on a kind of liturgical stage.
Even before his election as the successor to St. Peter, Pope Benedict has been urging us to draw upon the ancient liturgical practice of the Church to recover a more authentic Catholic worship. For that reason, I have restored the venerable ad orientem position when I celebrate Mass at the Cathedral.
Contrast that with what the newly appointed archbishop of Westminster said to the Latin Mass Society, as reported in the London Tablet editorial:
Archbishop Nichol gives no shred of encouragement to those who want the Tridentine Rite to replace the newer version. Conference participants “will wholeheartedly celebrate the Mass in each of these forms”, he instructs them bluntly, adding: “The view that the ordinary form of the Mass, in itself, is in some way deficient finds no place here.” People who hold that view are “inexorably distancing themselves from the Church”, he says. There is no scope, in other words, for “Tridentine Rite” parishes that set themselves up in the spirit of being “more Catholic than thou”. Recognising the threat of such moves, Archbishop Nichols is seeking to nip a potential schism in the bud. His firm leadership in Westminster is one that other bishops in England and Wales – and elsewhere – will welcome. The Catholic Church does not need its own version of “culture wars”, and in his message the archbishop in effect declares a priest’s personal tastes or preferences to be irrelevant.
Furthermore the distinctive feature of the Tridentine Rite, and the single most pressing reason why the bishops at Vatican II wanted it reformed, was the absence of any role for the laity. They were little more than spectators of what the celebrant was doing at the altar; in practice this meant many of them concentrated on their own private devotions. Archbishop Nichols insists it is an “established principle of good liturgy” to encourage the active participation of all those taking part in the Mass, a principle needing “careful consideration and application by every celebrant”. Implicit in this directive is the rejection of any discrimination against girls and women among those who assist at Mass, such as altar servers, readers and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist. That some Tridentinist priests have banished females from the sanctuary or lectern in the name of authenticity has more than a whiff of misogyny.
Thus has Archbishop Nichols neatly answered virtually every objection to the motu proprio, and the Tridentine Rite can henceforth take its proper – and necessarily marginal – place in the life of the Catholic Church. Indeed, he has made it accessible to those who are fully committed to Vatican II. This timely display of clear leadership from the new president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales bodes well.
Will one vision of the Mass will win out? Can they co-exist? John W. O'Malley, SJ, in his latest book What Happened at Vatican II? wisely eschewed talking about the "conservatives" and "liberals" at the Council and instead used the more neutral terms "minority" and "majority" when speaking of the voting on the various documents. At the end of his book, Fr. O'Malley remarked that the minority view has never really gone away.
The central question is this: Does the liturgy conform to this norm of Sacrosanctum Concilium, promulgated by the Second Vatican Council:
Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.