WAS TALKING TO a friend of mine—who incidentally is also quite an orthodox and conservative bishop—about Cardinal Sarah’s address and the controversy that has erupted as a result. The bishop pretty much agrees with everything in Cardinal Sarah’s speech.
As we were talking about the controversy, he said something I think is worthy of reflection. He told me that, while he deeply loves the liturgy and the Church’s traditions, he would never fight with people on liturgical matters—even before he became a bishop. Moreover, he said: “We shouldn’t seek to win arguments over the liturgy.”
In most LITURGICAL ARGUMENTS, people bring their personal preferences into the discussion. Actually, I think it is pretty safe to say that at least one side of the argument, sometimes both sides, would argue based on personal preferences. These arguments would rarely end with good outcomes. It is a waste of time to argue over personal preferences. Catechesis and formation is what we need. I didn’t write my article about “Ad Orientem” celebration to win a fight, but to explain why the Church allows it.
The Mass is the unbloody sacrifice of Jesus Christ, a sacrifice of love. We can’t offer sacrifices as the Body of Christ to an all-loving God when we do not love our neighbors. Bishops receive their authority as teachers and shepherds from the Holy Mother Church. They certainly deserve our respect even though we may not agree with them on everything. So as our pastors, brothers and sisters in Christ, they and their preferences should be respected, too. So let us be positive and charitable when we discuss about the liturgy. Our Lord would definitely not be happy if we turn the Mass into a battlefield. That is why he asked the Pharisees to learn the meaning of the words, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Mt 9:13).
SO, WHAT CAN WE DO? We can explain the Church’s teachings on the liturgy without forcing others to accept them. We can study the traditions of the Church and try to show the meanings behind those traditions to our brothers and sisters. Since the Cardinal’s address caught everyone’s attention, now is the perfect time for liturgical catechesis! Liturgical formation and explanation can be done even if our circumstances (pastoral reasons, obedience to the bishop/pastor, architectural reasons) don’t allow us to celebrate Mass “facing east.” Fr. Christopher Smith posted an excellent article about How to Introduce Ad Orientem to Your Parish on Chant Café. I thought the article was helpful and I really enjoyed reading it—especially the last part where he suggested how to introduce it gradually:
1. Daily Mass. Often your daily Mass crowd can give you a very good read on the temperature of reactions in the parish. Doing the position at some or all daily Masses, while tailoring catechesis to those Masses is a way to start.
2. School Mass. Catechizing school faculty, staff, parents and children through workshops, classes, and letters. It also means that children will grow up in an environment where the position does not carry the same baggage as previous generations carried about it.
3. Principal Mass. After 1 and 2, maybe during Lent, is a good time to do the position at the principal Mass. Especially if the Mass tends towards the “High Mass” variety with choir, incense and a serious complement of altar servers, it introduces the idea to Sunday worship while still giving options to those faithful who are not ready for the transition.
4. Holy Day Masses and Holy Week. Doing the position for those days highlights their solemnity by making them different, and the position can always be brought into the homily on that occasion.
5. All Masses. Repeat all of the catechesis again before doing this, and still keep a safety valve Mass, particularly the one where the oldest crowd, that might have more trouble receiving this change, go.
6. Mass with visitors. Keep Masses with the Bishop or visiting celebrants versus populum. Instead of making an issue out of the contrary position, it can be presented as making the celebration special when someone comes like the Bishop or as an act of hospitality to visiting celebrants who might not be used to it. The occasional reversion to versus populum will cause people to reflect on the differences between the two positions and want to explore the reasons for them, as well as their own reactions more.
As we continue to renew our liturgies, let us do it with charity, humility and joy.