Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Back to the People"

I know I am certainly not the first one to mention this, but I am so sick and tired of people referring to the Traditional Latin Mass as being said with the priest's "back to the people." The secular media and the Catholic progressive media consistently refer to the "back to the people" element of the Mass of St. Pius V.

"But Boniface," you will say, "isn't it true that in the old Mass, the priest's back was to the people?" As is quite often the case, one can get the facts straight but miss the point entirely. Yes, the back of the priest did face the people. Now, first of all, what do we mean by that liturgical action, and secondly, what type of ecclesiology do we evidence when we make reference to the priest's "back to the people"?

First of all, when celebrating ad orientam (the proper liturgical phrase for "back to the people"), the intent has nothing to do with shunning the people or trying to exclude them from the sacred mysteries. Rather, the emphasis is on the mystery itself: the true presence of Christ in the sacrament and the sacramental offering of Christ to the Father as our sacrifice for sins. This is why the emphasis is on the altar and not on the people.

Secondly, when we say a priest celebrates "back to the people", we betray a flawed understanding of liturgy and ecclesiology. Unless there is some specific reason why a person should turn their back to something, we always automatically refer to what they are facing, not what they are facing away from. For example, when a person goes to a stadium to watch a baseball game, you do not say, "Look at all those people with their backs to the stands!" We recognize that in such an event there is a focal point, and that everybody is primarily facing the focal point; only in a secondary and remote sense could you refer to them as facing away from the stands and the other spectators. Furthermore, knowing that everybody is there to withness the game, would it not be silly if the spectators had their backs to the game and instead of participated in watching the game and cheering on the players decided to simply turn their backs on them and narrate the game to the rest of the crowd? Would anybody be content with that?

Likewise, when we say "back to the people", we are making the people the focal point of the Mass. The priest's location becomes defined in reference to where the people happen to be. But since when did the people become the center of the Mass? Oh wait, I know! Around 1965-1969. But the people are most certainly not the center of the Mass.

The Church has a maxim, lex orandi, lex crededni. I think we should adopt a corrolary: via orationis, via cogitationis: The way we speak will be the way we think. Remember Orwell's 1984; to alter people's minds it was necessary only to alter the vocabulary that they used, and that was enough to hedge in people's mental faculties. In the Orwellian sense, I guess you could say that referring to ad orientam as "back to the people" is double-ungood. Actually celebrating the Mass this way is double-plus-ungood.

Therefore, I am going to inaugurate a change in our vocabulary to help put us back on the right track. From this day forward, I am going to refer to versus populum ("facing the people") Masses as Masses said with the priest's "back to God." Perhaps if this picks up, it will help bring home where the true emphasis ought to lay, and why saying "back to the people" is so double-plus-ungood.

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