Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Orientation: A Linear Plea

Vidimus stellam ejus in Oriente 
et venimus cum muneribus adorare Dominum.

At the risk of being accused of jumping the gun not only on Christmas but on Epiphany as well, I just had to post this video and my thoughts thereby channeled or provoked (spawned?).

Not all that long ago I was visiting with a European who knows his way around Rome and who for reasons I cannot really recall all of a sudden just "dumped out his sack" of frustration concerning what the (by his definition) "simple once-in-a-lifetime pilgrim" experiences when he or she assists at a Papal Mass in St. Peter's Square. The phrase which stuck with me was "... and they never even get to see the Pope's face!" At the time, I thought it best to let this tempest just pass. I couldn't really even grasp why I had been chosen for this outpouring of solicitude for the satisfaction or edification of Joe and Martha Pilgrim in to Rome for the week.

At some months of distance from this blast and having watched not few videos of Papal Liturgies in St. Peter's Square in the month of October, I've drawn a couple of conclusions for myself. 

1. Very few of us can pretend to go to Rome and be guaranteed a close-up of the Holy Father, let alone a personal exchange with him; that is the blessing of the visual media and simple mathematics. We can get a close-up of the Holy Father most any day at home on EWTN. As far as the liturgy goes, the question might rather be whether there aren't too many close-ups. I can remember during the pontificate of Blessed John Paul II when people heatedly debated whether the camera wasn't too indiscreet and prying.

2. "Intimacy" is not the first word which comes to mind when one thinks of Papal Liturgy whether on the Square or inside the Basilica. Rather, the word "monumental" comes to mind. In a sense, if all the people around you cooperate and are themselves quiet and recollected, it can be an optimal ambience for assisting at the Holy Sacrifice.

I could draw more conclusions, but I will stay with these couple and then simply state that Enlightenment or no Enlightenment if the Liturgy is first and foremost God's work, then I think we could better express that by making it all more linear. Maybe the Square is not the place for celebrating the Eucharist. Maybe there is no such thing as "good seating" at Mass. Maybe the action itself is more important than the mortal celebrant of Christ's action.

The only "definitely not maybe" in all of this for me over the last few years has become the priority for recovering the orientation of the Eucharistic Prayer or Canon. Once we've completed the Liturgy of the Word, there is no better way to celebrate the Eucharist, Christ's action than when we all turn toward Him. If the church building itself is oriented, then, toward geographic east and if not then toward the image of the Crucified One at "liturgical east". Vidimus stellam ejus in Oriente et venimus cum muneribus adorare Dominum. In most parish churches, smaller houses of worship and chapels, the Tabernacle becomes part of that focus. "Gathering around", if you will, cannot be other than less than optimal.

The new English translation of the Roman Missal has bound us more closely again to the Scriptural roots of our liturgical formulations. The ongoing recovery of a true sense of the sacred in all that we sing and hear sung in church is key as well. Taking the hectic out of the Communion procession by returning to the rail is a hoped for blessing and when and where possible, we need, celebrant and community, to recover our focus on Christ through worshipping ad Orientem.


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