Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"versus populum codependency"

A comment on my post Oriented towards the Goal used the expression "versus populum codependency" as an explanation for the resistance of priests or bishops to opting for the ad Orientem celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. Personally, I think that "fear of the unknown" is closer to the reality. In America generally, you have to be at least age 60 or older, like me, to have any clear recollections of ad Orientem as the norm for worship. The other option is to have the great fortune to be of the Summorum Pontificum generation, which means you are young, young. I don't really think that codependency is a good general fit anywhere.

"Codependency" presumes something on the part of the worshiping community which no one can prove to me is either universal or even that general. Like my dear sister, commenting on Facebook, said about this same post: "Maybe it's my old age, but it makes no difference to me which way the priest faces." I think she represents the more general sentiment among the faithful, which would disqualify the "co-". If there is resistance on the part of the congregation, it would be resistance to more gratuitous change or innovation. We owe it to our people to behave better in their regard than did our forebears in the 1970's.

Without wishing to exaggerate too much, what is needed is something short of a Pentecost conversion in response to the preaching of St. Peter (Acts 2:37-42):

"37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and to the other apostles, “Brothers, what should we do?” 38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven ; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you , for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.” 40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them , saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers." [Harper Bibles (2011-11-15). NRSV Catholic Edition Bible (Kindle Locations 63584-63590). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.]

As strange as it may seem, my own "conversion" was in response to the teaching on the liturgy of Pope Benedict XVI. I can control my own environment (being the boss and generally celebrating in my own chapel) and I have adjusted the altars in both places and could do so at no extraordinary cost, in both settings and for somewhat different reasons. Not all priests have that freedom, nor can they undertake big changes unilaterally.

I have found ad Orientem always rewarding for me as a celebrating priest. I can attest that my little daily Mass crowd in Port of Spain, Trinidad, found it a liberating and consoling option for them. Here in Kyiv, in a Byzantine context, it is the most natural thing in the world for my Greek-Catholic Sisters. The ad Orientem celebration of the OF immediately puts in evidence much which the Roman Rite and the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom share in common.

And the EF you ask? Excellency, when are you going to come home to the tradition? The simple answer is that I cannot say, as I do not know what, other than training and some issues with the old calendar, is holding me back. My interlocutor from the previous post would certainly recommend a workshop and perhaps even find me a tutor. I'm reading Dobszay's earlier book for enlightenment on the calendar issue. As I say, we needs do or abstain from anything to avoid the scandal of a repeated aggression like the iconoclasm of the 1970's. How best to promote Benedict's agenda of growing into the future through mutual enrichment? For now I'll hold my ground and continue to insist on the urgency of recovering the proper orientation in Divine Worship. I still have found no one more convincing than Dobszay in terms of the choice which stands before us. He represents a body of scholarship and scholars which have convinced me that the future of the Roman Rite, its healthy and organic development, depends on finding that reset point which is more of a restoration than a reform of the reform.

I'll keep reading and praying, waiting for or preparing the way for the supreme legislator capable of binding all us "Romans" together and saying with authority "This is the path. Follow it!" In the meantime, to repeat myself for the umpteenth time, beyond restoring a sense of the sacred to our worship through genuinely sacred music and slowing down the Communion procession and giving it the decorum which a Communion rail readily provides, I'll keep recommending proper orientation.



  1. I appreciate the comment "versus populum codependency." The hesitancies a priest encounters when considering such a shift are humbling. "Am I THAT dependent on the affections of others? Where does concern for the faithful end and concern for my own behind begin?" So, while you dismiss it I think it is an accurate and useful phrase for self-examination.

    I work at a college Newman Center. About once a week I orientate the altar, usually on my day off. I find though that I am always receiving new parishioners- about 20% each year with the college cycle. So I am always reeducating on the liturgy. Kind of a "New Liturgical Movement Groundhogs Day" to reference the Bill Murray movie.

    I stubbed my toe that way last fall regarding chant. We educated and moved the parish the year prior and both I and my musicians kept on going this fall, forgetting about the comparatively large turnover.

    1. Point well taken concerning the special challenge in a school setting where you have a big turnover.

      To clarify once again: I have a bone to pick with the "co-" part. I'm sure we priests have felt needs or resist venturing out, but they are personal hang-ups which close us off to the new or different. I really don't think lay people care about whether you have eye contact with them, especially when you should be addressing God in the Eucharistic Prayer with and for them.

      Sometimes, especially when it comes to music, if you have a reputation (as in a certain fame) or a shingle from the previous year, the newcomers will presume they are joining in and will adjust. I have a lot of family, not really all that well catechized on what is right or sacred for music, but they enjoy it when they encounter it.


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