Father Richard Barrett answers readers' questions
The press has been reporting a joint statement on justification issued by the Lutheran Church and the Catholic Church as an end to the Reformation. Has the Catholic Church accepted the Lutheran position on justification and so relaxed the anathemas of the Council of Trent? Surely this statement amounts to victory for Martin Luther and his abominable theory of grace and justification?
To be fair to Cardinal Cassidy's brainchild, this great event in the ecumenical calendar was celebrated not without a lot of toing and froing. The Joint Declaration on justification was signed on October 31 1999 in Augsburg by Cardinal Cassidy and the leader of the Lutheran Federation of Churches but there are three documents which were issued as part of the conclusion of the process. One was the joint declaration (JD), the other was the Official Common Statement (OCS) and the third was the Catholic Annex to the Common Statement (CA). Both the Joint Declaration and the Official Common Statement note that Catholics and Lutherans have "reached a consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification". The heart of the consensus is the following statement: "Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works." The truth is that this formula shows that the Lutherans have come a long way from Luther's own theory. His position described justified man as a snowcovered pile of dung, clean on the outside but not on the inside and so Lutheran justi fication was like covering a dirty man with a clean robe, i.e. declaring him to be clean when really he is not. The robe is not a part of the dirty man nor is the snow part of the dunghill; they only hide the filth while remaining exterior and separate. Consequently a Lutheran statement that justification affects the inner man and that the Holy Spirit really renews the soul is to be welcomed as a considerable revision of the Lutheran doctrine — a revision that makes it quite acceptable for Catholics to speak of having reached a consensus. The two documents that were issued with the JD are important for Catholics so that they do not fall into the same error as Luther's theory and thus come under the censure of canon 33 of the Council of Trent. It states: "If anyone says that the Catholic doctrine of justification as set forth by the holy council in the present decree, derogates in some respect from the glory of God and of Christ Jesus, let him be anathema." The Bible supports an intrinsic as well as legal transformation of man when God justifies him (Psalm 51; 11 Cor 5:17) and this is what the Catholic Church has held on to during talks with the Lutherans.
Is it true that a movement has started in America for the east-facing celebration of Mass? How is this squared with the Modern Mass of Vatican II?
The movement for Mass facing east (ad orientem) is a recent one and although very popular in the United States did not start there. It was started in Jerusalem by Cardinal Ratzinger as a way of celebrating the Modern Mass of the Roman Rite while preserving the traditional way of facing the Holy Land where Christ actually taught and preached. It involves no change in the rubrics of the Mass so it does not involve permissions from Rome or from the local bishop. It caught on in the United States principally due to the popularity of the Cardinal amongst the younger clergy, through the active promotion of Mother Angelica on her television station.
What happens is that the opening rites (the Greeting and Penitential Rite) and the readings are conducted facing the people from the presidential chair or the lecturn. Then after the homily and bidding prayers the priest repairs to the altar and prepares the gifts and says the Eucharistic prayer facing east but turning round to face the people (ad populum versus) at the sign of peace and the Lamb of God. The post-Communion prayer is said facing east and then the final blessing is given facing the people. It is simply the way Mass is celebrated in the Pope's private chapel, at many of the altars of St Peter's basilica and other basilicas where the altar has not yet been separated from the reredos. Its practitioners point out that the rubrics of the Modern Mass of the Roman Rite presume that Mass is celebrated this way, as occasionally the rubrics stipulate ad populum conversus (turned towards the people) or ad populum (to the people). One bishop, the Bishop of Birmingham, Alabama, has banned his clergy from celebrating Mass ad orientum, much to the chagrin of its supporters, and he has done so on the basis that Mass said versus populum has become a lawful custom in the Church since Vatican II. This action has since to decide whether the Council of Rome has actually banned the celebration of Mass facing east or whether the Roman Missal approves the celebration of Mass facing the people in an exclusive and legally binding way. To date the issue has not been decided.
More specifically, the problem with the banning of the celebration of the modern Mass facing east is that many have questioned whether it is possible to outlaw something which is itself a centennial and immemorial custom and therefore is something protected by the universal law of the Church. Quite clearly this is something which is gbing to preoccupy bishops in the future though it is interesting that Cardinal Hume before he died remarked that the future would see a return to the celebration of Mass facing east. To respond to the question then, whether Mass facing east contradicts the spirit of Vatican II, it would seem one would have to show that the reforms of the Church after the council explicitly banned its celebration in this way. If it is the Roman Rite that is being celebrated then there seems no reason to interpret it as an infraction of the spirit of Vatican IL