By Fr. CLIFFORD HOWELL, S. J.
advanced to the altar for the Eucharistic Prayer he went to the side nearest to himself, and thus faced the congregation. These customs spread Irotti Rome all ileer the Western ('hutch and were normal for several centuries.
IN the East, by contrast, orientation has a considerable influence from the earliest times.
If both celebrant and people were to face East when at prayer, then inevitably the people would be behind the celebrant.
Gradually this idea spread into the West, but was quite uncommon till the eighth century. What really brought about the change was the spread of private Masses about that time. This was the chief influence which brought the back-to-the-people position into favour and made it usual by the 1 Ith century, though the old custom never quite died out. Private Mass, in the sense of a Mass by priest and server alone, was quite unknown in ancient days. Occasionally, however, there were private Masses in the sense that Mass was celebrated. apart from the public Sunday Mass, on particular occasions for small groups-usually for a family at a graveside. About the eighth century the custom grew of burying people under the floors of churches, and thus such nrivate Masses came to be celebrated in the church. But they could not be at the high altar for there was a rule that no altar could be used twice in one day. So for such private Masses temnorary altar was rieged up near the tomb. and the priest celebrated facing the family over the altar, which was afterwards removed.
BUT gradually Masses came to
be offered for the dead irrespective of their place of burial. Churches began to need several permanent altars to satisfy the growing demand.
At first these were built on the axes of the nave and of sideaisles so that the nriest could face the small group over them. For example. the plans of a church built at St. Gall in the ninth century show 11 additional altars for private Masses. Three were in the nave and four in each side-aisle, all of them on the axis of nave or aisle. so that the offering group could gather round with their celebrant facing them.
But this was such an intrusion on nave-space that the altars were later pushed against pillars or side-walls and the priest had to celebrate with his back to the people.
Later still the walls of abbeys cathedrals and collegiate churches %ken: pierced. and small apses were built to accommodate the altars so that they would not intrude at all on public space.
In the 13th century came the building of guild chapels and chantries for the private Masses desired by small groups. To save space the altars of these were built against the wall.
Thus it came about that nearle all priests celebrated nearly all their Masses with people behind them: and they began to do the same on high altars. This was fostered by the growing custom of putting reliquaries and shrines behind-and even upon-the high altars so that it became impossible to celebrate there in any other way.
Finally, the Blessed Sacrament. reserved formerly in aun)bries. towers. hanging doves or pyxes. was brought down upon the alter and kept in a tabernacle. .
Thus the hack-to-the-people position gradually ousted the facingthe-people position even in the Western Church.
Bur the latter practice never quite died out. and in modern times is coming back into favour. Many war-damaged churches in Ciermany arc being reconstructed. tutd many new churches througoul Europe arc .being built with high altars such that Mass can be celebrated from either side. .And Masses facing the people are growing ever more frequent.
Has any priest the right to ccle brute facing the people whenever he thinks tit ? Most certainly not. It is the Bishop who is the primary celebrant at every altar in
his diocese, and to him alone it belongs to decide which way Mass is to be celebrated.
But as Mass facing the people is provided for in the rubrics, he himself may celebrate facing the people, or give permission to his priests to do it whenever he judgsa it advisable. And more and moo. Bishops nowadays are approving and even encouraging the practice For they see its pastoral value.
In parishes THE general ( nun ion of liturgist
is that to celebrate facing the people is not desirable as a general practice hut that it is strongly to be recommended for congregations who have been prepared for it by liturgical instruction.
There are now many parishes. especially in Prance and Germany, where the people are fully accustomed to dialogue Mass, prayerhymn Mass, or High Mass with full active participation. and who are thus fitted for Mass facing the people every Sunday.
Equally prepared for it are those who attend liturgical congresses, youth movement and sodality conventions. Mass facing the people forms a grand climax to liturgical weeks even in parishes, or to i series of Mass instructions given to children. It enables the children to see with their own eyes all the things which they have been told about. an' drives the lesson home far more vividly than any amount of mere • tescription. Their attention is sivetted on the priest from begin
BuT it is veo important that the congregation at such a Mass should previously have been trained to full active participation. and that everything he staged with extreme care.
The disposition of the altar and grouping of the faithful must be well planned and never merely improvised. The celebrant must be one who is conversant with the methods of the liturgical movement, selflessly co-operative, intent on his task of presiding over the assembly and leading the people to participate actively in the communal sacrifice.
There must he no suggestion of haste: his words must be loud. slow and distinct: his gestures dignified and filled with reverence: his whole manner must be truly " hieratic." If all these conditions are fulfilled. then the celebration facing the people makes a tremendous impression. draws the people into close union with the action. instructs them and stimulates their devotion as nothing else can.
FR. JUNGMANN. one of the greatest living authorities, thus sums it up in his book na, Eucharistisches Hochgehet: "Concerning the rubrical nnd canonical aspect of celebration versu.r populuin there is no dispute: its lawfulness is beyond question. so long as the Bishop raise., no objection.
" It is indicated where there exists a strong community spirit: and where the communal sacred banquet is taken for .granted as the expression of the unity of the gathering, as would he the case for youth-groups or participants in a congress. The same may he said of small communities where there reigns an intimate family-feeling. as is often realised in regions where Catholics are in a minority rliaspora).
"In favour of the practice are also pedagogic considerations. as when school children are gathered about the altar But for ordinary circumstances it seems advisable to retain the position now customary. and to regard the other as an exception; an exception, however. which one can but hone will become increasingly frequent."