Monday, July 11, 2016

OK--What Is The Agenda Behind Cardinal Sarah and the "Ad Orientatem" Movement?

Christ the High Priest
Byzantine Icon of
Christ in Bishop's Robes
Ok, I am going to try to keep this simple so that I can be perfectly clear.  Some of the Krazies who troll this site will be screaming “heresy” as it is so it is important that I aim for precision. And consequently it has taken a little longer to check my research and make sure everything is both precise and well-defined.   
It won’t be obvious in this first post where I am heading in the next two or three unless I give you a clue—so let me put it out front.  What is the real agenda behind this movement for the priest to face ad apsidem (towards the rear wall) for the celebration of Mass? I say ad apsidem rather than ad orientem because unless the church itself is built facing east, the presider is not facing ad apsidem.  The term—and indeed the concept—of “liturgical east” is one of the most patently ridiculous ideas to come down the pike.  I understand why, in many of the Church’s Rites, the churches (and those within) are “orientated” and in the context of those rites where this is an ancient tradition it makes great sense—but only if it is true east and not a south-by-northeast that we are somewhat pompously referring to as some mythical “liturgical east.”  But we don’t start there: let’s look first to the root of the problem: the understanding of the ordained priesthood. 
In both Latin and in Greek, the two languages that serve to shape the Church’s articulation of the deposit of faith, there are two distinct words that the one English word, priest, is used to translate.  It is unfortunate that English lacks this precision because each of the two words in Latin, like their Greek counterparts, relates to a substantially different reality.
The Latin word sacerdos (and its Greek equivalent ερεύς) signifies a cultic figure whose work it is to offer sacrifice.  The Latin word presbyter (and its Greek Equivalent, πρεσβύτερος) signifies “elder” in the sense of a member of a governing board of a 1st century synagogue.  (The first and second generations of the Church simply borrowed the administrative structures with which they were familiar from the synagogues.)  In the New Testament—and we see this theology developed most clearly in the Letter to the Hebrews—there is but one sacerdos, one sacrificing priest, Jesus Christ.  There is also one and only one sacrifice, the once and for all eternal Sacrifice in which Christ offers himself on the Cross as both priest and victim.   While in every celebration of the Eucharist we are given access to this one, eternal Sacrifice, that sacrifice is not repeated.  Christ is not sacrificed over and over again, day after day, on the altar, but rather in the Eucharist we move beyond time and space to become sacramentally present to that one eternal Sacrifice of the Cross. 
Now we in the Church are not passive witnesses to this Sacrifice but by virtue of our baptism, we share in the priesthood of Jesus Christ.  1 Peter 2:9 refers to us (collectively) as a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.  The sacred author uses the word εράτευμα (priesthood), a cognate of ερεύς indicating that Christians, by virtue of their incorporation into Christ in baptism, become participants in his sacrificing priesthood. 
Now—and this is where we need to be careful—while we all share in the sacrificing priesthood of Christ by virtue of our baptism, there is a unique participation in that priesthood reserved to the bishop. 
According to the patristic Tradition—and again we Catholics recognize two sources of revelation: scripture and Apostolic Tradition passed down through the centuries—the Bishop is the Sacramental Presence of Christ the High Priest in the Church.  The Bishop stands as Christ in the Church and when the Church is gathered around him for the Eucharist he, not of his own authority but in virtue of his re-presenting Christ the High Priest—he alone offers the Eucharistic Sacrifice. The bishop stands at the altar offering the Great Prayer of Thanksgiving; he was flanked by his presbyters and assisted by his deacons but there was only one Eucharistic celebration to which the entire Christian community was expected to come.  The deacons helped with the offerings of the faithful and prepared the bread and wine upon the altar but they did not assist directly in the Eucharist. The presbyters helped the bishop with the distribution of the Eucharistic elements and it can even be said that they concelebrated the Eucharist with the bishops, though not according to the manner our contemporary rites, but it was the bishop alone who offered the Eucharistic Prayer.  
By the middle of the third century, many Christian communities had grown beyond the capacity of a single Sunday assembly.  The bishop would then assign a senior presbyter to preside over a second gathering in another place but to show that there was only one Eucharist in the one (local) Church, the bishop would dispatch a deacon from his Mass with a piece of the Bishop’s hostia (the consecrated bread).  That Eucharistic fragment (called a fermentum) was then placed in the chalice at the presbyter’s assembly to show that while the one community was meeting in two separate places, it was still only one community.  The evolution of presbyter-led Eucharists make it clear that presbyters were acting not in their right in celebrating the Eucharist but in persona episcopi. 
In the fourth century the Church adapted the Roman Imperial administrative system of dioceses and bishops became the religious leaders of much larger areas that required many more Eucharistic assemblies to meet the challenge of a rapidly growing faithful as well as the relative distances under the Church’s administration.  As presbyters took over the various outlaying churches presbyter-led Eucharists became the norm but the Church has always made the distinction between the bishop (sacerdos) and the priest (presbyter).  Technically a priest is not supposed to celebrate the Eucharist without receiving “faculties” from the local bishop—and—except in danger of death—he may not hear confessions or absolve without those faculties.  The priest still performs his ministry in persona episcopi.
And for those who cherish all things pre-Vatican II, the hymn: Ecce Sacerdos Magnus (Behold the Great Priest) was sung only for the entrance of a bishop, never a priest 

Now, the fatal flaw in this theology of the Bishop being the presence of Christ the Priest and his presbyters sharing in the priesthood of Christ as extensions of the bishop is through the centuries too few bishops have proved themselves worthy of the august responsibility.  Bishops have done well, in their day, as Imperial administrators, as princes, as patrons of the arts and learning, as bankers and today as CEO’s—but none of this lets us look at our Bishop and see Christ the Priest.  Maybe that is why Pope Francis seems such an odd duck with all his talk of mercy and a poor church. 


  1. Well, consolamini, it will be interesting to see where you go with this but Papa Francesco has laid down the law and the good Cardinal Sarah is going nowhere with this. But that isn't stopping all the Trad chatter that "ad orientem" is still permitted by "canon law". Furthermore, PF has pretty much said that Crd Sarah made it up that he was "commissioned" to begin a study of reform of the reform and that the phrase itself is not helpful.

    1. first, stop calling it "ad orientem"--it is only ad orientem if the church itself faces east. the precise term is ad apsidem, towards the apse (back wall of the church). And honestly it is permitted by current law for the mass to be said facing the rear wall of the church rather than the congregation--but why would someone want to? I hope to get there in two or three postings

  2. Those of us languishing in an upstate NY diocese which had been led for 33 years by a "Francis bishop" ahead of his time, only to be succeeded by a very mediocre "last of the Burke appointees," we have been fed this cultic view of the priesthood even from before his arrival. His refusal to address priests except as "Father," his obsession with clerical clothing, and his cultivating a coterie of young priests who are now running around in public in cassocks, leaves a very bad taste in the mouths of those who took Vatican II's teaching on the ordained ministry seriously. Any honest reading of the relevant documents belies the "more orthodox than thou" attitude of these throwbacks and their patent disavowal of the teaching and example of the current occupant of the Petrine see. And while the appointment of Cupich to the Congregation of Bishops, as well as the new Nuncio, gives us hope such impositions on local churches will be over, dioceses are more and more saddled with these Going My Way types with their childish attachment to externals, their clericalist and liturgical props, and their utter pastoral ineptitude. So thanks for the memories of a failed magisterium whose call for aggiornamento has been rejected by a new generation of "alteri Christi" and their episcopal ennablers. May Francis live long enough to replenish the latter's ranks with more of his tribe but the clock unfortunately is ticking.

    1. The Church of Rochester has my sympathy but remember you also have power. The focus needs be the parish. Attend and support those parishes that are keeping the faith alive. When you withhold support--from diocesan campaigns or from parishes that are going rogue, but sure to let the bishop or the parish priest know why. And don't just not give--give and give generously to Church causes that you believe in and let them know why.

    2. Rather than withold $$$, wouldn't it be better if he left the Catholic Church for some denomination more in tune with his thinking ? I believe some Corpus Church in the diocese actually did that under the 'leadership' (if you can call it that) of Matthew Clark. Next to Detroit (for demographic and white flight reasons), I am hardpressed to find a diocese more damaged by one of the Jadot appointees.

      If Clark's stewardship is the model for Francis, well, that says it all. - Anonymous in NY

    3. Actually Corpus Christi Catholic Community left the Catholic Church under Bishop Clark when he tried to rein in their rather extreme ( by canonical standards) practices that were putting them at variance with our Catholic structures.

  3. It's an interesting time in our parish at the moment. Our pastor of more than 10 years was a fan of the now officially out-of-favor term "the reform of the reform." He was transferred and the new pastor has been here two weeks now. He introduced himself at all the homilies two weeks ago and said (among other things) in a very polite way to expect changes and that changes don't mean the previous way was wrong, but that different people (and pastors) have different ways of doing things.

    Last week the wall of 6 candles across the altar was moved such that there are now three on each side and the center of the altar is unobstructed from the assembly. The chair for the priest and the chair on either side were moved such that they now directly face the assembly, no longer angled halfway between facing the alter and facing the assembly and the chairs behind it for the rest of the altar servers was moved against the wall behind the presider's chair. It's hard to tell about changes to the music because the choirs are off during the summer, but this last Sunday the psalm was recited, not sung.

    Interesting times in NoVa. I'm fascinated to see exactly what changes and at what pace.

    1. Well, the real interesting time in NoVa will be when Pope Francis announces Bishop Loverde's replacement. By the way that "wall of 6 candles across the altar is known as the "Benedictine arrangement" because it was the way Pope Benedict had the candles and crucifix arranged across the altar at St Peter's. One of the first things Francis did was what your new pastor did==and had the candles rearranged to give a more clear view of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Of course in the Arlington Diocese you have an inordinately large pool of bizarre clergy and I think you can expect the craziness there to endure for years to come even if Francis manage to get the rest of the Church back on track.

    2. Yes, I've been watching that. We're right about 10 months since Bishop Loverde submitted his resignation. I thought in general recently it had been around 9 to 10 months on average till a replacement was named, but I know that can vary greatly. Plus with the appointment of Cupich to the College of Cardinals, I don't know if they may have had a hold on US appointments because of that. It will be interesting.

      At my parish, little steps but promising steps. Oh, I forgot to mention earlier - another sign is that he asked to be addressed as Fr. instead of Fr. . He asked people to indulge him on that.