Sunday, 22 July 2012
Let us Worship the Lord Together
Father Simon Henry’s blog Offerimus Tibi Domine is always a really good read; do visit it when you can. He writes from a part of Lancashire – my home county – that is in the Archdiocese of Liverpool.
Fr Henry published an interesting post a few days ago about his experience of offering Mass in St Peter’s Basilica. In particular, he could not help overhearing an American priest at the next altar, who was ad-libbing the new translation. Among other things, the priest replaced the word “chalice” with “cup” at the Consecration.
That bit made me recall a priest whose Mass I have attended occasionally. In many ways he is admirable, especially in the high quality of his homilies, which are doctrinally rich and inspirational. Absolutely top marks to him for that. But there is a “however”. He appears to have decided not to say “chalice” at the Consecration, in accordance with the new translation. He continues to say “cup”. From what I know of him, I’d say it was a studied decision, not an accidental slip. It’s very wrong of me to feel exasperated at this most solemn moment of the Mass, the great moment of salvation. But I dearly wish he wouldn’t say it.
There is another thing, and I don’t know how widespread this is; I don’t think I’ve encountered it anywhere else. According to him, when Mass was always offered ad orientem, the elevation of the Host and the Chalice above the priest’s head at the Consecration was necessary because otherwise the congregation could not see them. Since his Mass is now offered facing the people, they can see everything, and thus the elevation has become superfluous. I think he claimed that the rubrics do not specifically mention elevation – or elevation above the head. I don’t know what the altar-missal actually says, so I’m not in a position to argue for or against on the basis of the text. Instead, he lifts the Host from the altar with one hand, just enough to hold It in front of him, hardly at chest height. Likewise with the Chalice.
I have been struggling to find the words to express what seems wrong with this view. I dare say that others can point out its deficiency better than I can. But it has occurred to me that perhaps a positive rather than a negative approach might get to the heart of it.
One of the arguments for offering Mass facing the people is that it unites the priest and the people as a community. (I don’t agree with the implication of disunity between priest and people at the ad orientem Mass; nevertheless, it’s an argument that is used.) When the priest, in a Mass facing the people, elevates the Host, and then the Chalice, however slightly, he is presenting the Lord to the congregation for us to look up and adore Him. But even if there were no other arguments in favour, the high elevation has this to recommend it: that the priest himself is also impelled to look up and adore. In this action he is demonstrably united with us as we worship the Lord together.
Picture from marysrosaries.com, via Google Images