Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Catholic Herald - Benedict faces east at Mass in the Sistine Chapel

[Some excerpts...]

by Michael Dean Anderson
Friday January 11, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI this week celebrated a public Mass facing east for the first time since becoming pontiff.

In a historic step widely welcomed by traditionalists the Pope celebrated Mass in the Sistine Chapel while facing Michaelangelo’s painting of the Last Judgment.

Dispensing with the temporary west-facing altar used in recent years in favour of the chapel’s original altar he consecrated the Host while facing the same direction as all others present. The liturgy, which marked the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord and included the baptism of 13 babies, was in Italian, and followed the standard text of the 1970 Roman Missal.

The Pope’s gesture is likely to cause consternation among liturgists who criticise Mass facing east because the priest “turns his back” on the people and therefore downplays the communal dimension of the Mass.

The Vatican’s liturgical office issued a statement shortly after the Mass, saying that the Pope had decided to celebrate ad orientem in the Sistine Chapel in order not to “alter the beauty and harmony of this architectural jewel”.

The office, run by Mgr Guido Marini, who is seen as more conservative than his predecessor, Archbishop Piero Marini, added that in facing east “the Pope will find himself with his back to the faithful” but in doing so “orients the attitude and disposition of the entire assembly” in “keeping his eyes on the cross”.

Last month the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano asked Mgr Marini to explain why the crucifix, the symbol of Christ’s Passion, was being given such prominence in papal liturgies.
He said: “The position of the cross at the centre of the altar indicates the centrality of the crucifix in the Eucharistic celebration and the exact orientation the entire assembly is called to have during the Eucharistic liturgy: we do not look at each other, but at the one who was born, died and rose for us, the Saviour.

“Salvation comes from the Lord. He is the east, the sun that rises, the one whom we all must watch.”

Before his election to the papacy Benedict XVI was a strong supporter of eastward celebration. In 2000 he argued that “a common turning to the east during the Eucharist prayer remains essential”.

“This is not a case of accidentals, but of essentials,” he said. “Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord.”


John Medlin of the Latin Mass Society said the Pope’s decision to face East during a public Mass was “wonderful news for all committed to the liturgical health of the Church”.

He added: “This presages much more ‘traditionalism’ to be injected into New Rite practice and brings forward the day when the Holy Father publicly celebrates a traditional rite Mass to complete his project of affirming the ‘hermeneutic of continuity’ in the faith.”

The popular English blogger Fr Tim Finigan, who is a parish priest in Blackfen, Kent, said: “Today’s instance of the Holy Father leading by example is of tremendous importance. We have all seen churches of outstanding architectural beauty where the harmony of the lines of sight and the overall unity of composition has been radically disrupted by the placement of a ‘people’s altar’ in front of the high altar. There are many fine Victorian churches in England whose architectural focus could be allowed once again to shine in all its original splendid harmony.
“Perhaps the Holy Father’s example will help those responsible for such churches to take the step of quietly removing the wooden platform and table which is in some cases all the alteration that is necessary.”

© 2008 The Catholic Herald Ltd

Source: The Catholic Herald - Britain's leading Catholic newspaper

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