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A theorist, organist, and conductor, Jeff Ostrowski holds his B.M. in Music Theory from the University of Kansas (2004), and did graduate work in Musicology. He serves as choirmaster for the new FSSP parish in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two children.
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“One must pray to God not only with theologically precise formulas, but also in a beautiful and dignified way. The Christian community must make an examination of conscience so that the beauty of music and song will return increasingly to the liturgy.”
— Pope Saint John Paul II (26 February 2003)

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“Ad Orientem” • Why I'm Rejoicing over Sloppy Errors in the Catholic Herald
published 23 August 2016 by Jeff Ostrowski

184 Ad Orientem N AN APPARENT effort to “counterbalance” the views recently put forward by the Vatican’s chief liturgical officer, the Catholic Herald has published an article dealing with ad orientem celebration. To accomplish this goal, they turned to Collegeville, which exists to promote “progressive liturgy.”

The Collegeville Press currently sponsors three blogs: (1) RAIDS ACROSS THE COLOR LINE; (2) PRAY TELL; and (3) ROCK AND THEOLOGY. The author chosen was Fr. Anthony Ruff, who runs the second blog. The sloppiness of the article leaves the impression it was composed under a tight deadline.

I will first demonstrate the article’s flaws, then explain why I’m thrilled.

First Point : The author called his article “The Worst Reasons for Ad Orientem,” and attempts to show that “some people” (he doesn’t give specific names) choose to celebrate ad orientem for bogus reasons. The author writes:

It is said that the now famous “quod” in article 299 of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal clearly refers to the placement of the altar away from the wall but not the direction of the priest facing the people, and the latter is a willful liberal misinterpretation.

He’s incorrect. No serious person ever claimed §299 is a “reason” to celebrate ad orientem. It is true that §299 does allow priests to celebrate facing either direction, but the author goofed by saying it justifies ad orientem celebration. In other words, §299 is not a “reason” for anything; but neither does it impede either orientation. Later, the author attempts to show that the official Latin for §299 is ambiguous, but runs into trouble. 1

Second Point : The author writes:

Once the smoke clears, and once we all get back on the same page, behind Francis and behind the Council, who knows where it will lead?

Who precisely is not “behind” the Council? The Second Vatican Council never said ad orientem celebration should be eliminated. Moreover, no Vatican II document mentions “versus populum” celebration. If the author truly desires to get “behind the Council,” an excellent start would be promoting things mandated by the Council.

Third Point : The author writes:

It is said that ad orientem was the universal practice of the early Church.

Unfortunately, the author has misunderstood the reasons given for ad orientem. While it is true that the overwhelming tradition of the Church for centuries—disputed by no serious person—does support ad orientem celebration, the question of whether Mass was occasionally celebrated “versus populum” in the early Church is irrelevant. It simply does not enter the discussion. Nor does his passionate defense of antiquarianism, a few paragraphs later.

Fourth Point : More examples could be given, but let us end with this statement:

Pope Francis has a way of smoking out his enemies. So much of the opposition to him is being unmasked for what it is: opposition to the Second Vatican Council.

The author seems unaware of the reason ad orientem has been in the news, and should have searched google before submitting his article. He would have discovered that Pope Francis handpicked the very man who has brought this topic to the forefront in recent weeks. The author’s assertion that “smoking out one’s enemies” is best done by appointing them to the Vatican’s highest offices—and keeping them there—is absurd.

DITORS AT THE CATHOLIC HERALD had an obligation to remove the inaccuracies before publication, especially the most egregious ones. Moreover, the person who brought that article to my attention was bothered by the author’s condescending tone, and I agree that a more irenic tone would have been appropriate. To be fair, progressive liturgists are deeply uncomfortable discussing ad orientem celebration. This is not a conversation that was supposed to be happening in the year 2016.

Nevertheless, I’m thrilled the article was published because any discussion of traditional praxis—even by uninformed authors—introduces these concepts into liturgical parlance. Catholics deprived for a generation will have recourse to google, and one thing will lead to another. 2

Twenty-five years ago, the notion that a considerable number of bishops would eventually celebrate and/or tolerate the traditional rites would have been inconceivable. Indeed, the idea that ad orientem would be hotly debated in the year 2016 would have been considered laughable.

I will close with a quote that certain parties have avoided mentioning at all costs—for obvious reasons. It’s from the Vatican congregation which drafted our current GIRM:

THIS DICASTERY [i.e. the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship] wishes to state that Holy Mass may be celebrated versus populum or versus apsidem. Both positions are in accord with liturgical law; both are to be considered correct. There is no preference expressed in the liturgical legislation for either position. As both positions enjoy the favor of law, the legislation may not be invoked to say that one position or the other accords more closely with the mind of the Church.
—10 April 2000 (PROTOCOL NO. 564/00/L)




NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:

1   To back up his claim that §299 is ambiguous, he cites an author who has publicly admitted (12/1/2014) only an elementary comprehension of Latin. Furthermore, this same “authority” has been caught making demonstrably false statements about the GIRM.

2   When I visit the blogs of progressive liturgists, I never cease to be amazed at the disproportionate amount of time spent attacking, for example, the Traditional Latin Mass. The unintended consequence is that Catholics (especially young Catholics) become curious and start investigating matters.