Rorate Caeli

Results of Versus Populum—and Remedies

In the past, Rorate has had occasion to quote a true and faithful son of St. Benedict, Dom Mark Kirby, O.S.B., Prior of Our Lady of the Cenacle Monastery (a.k.a. Silverstream Priory) and author of the admirable Vultus Christi blog. We all know about the sufferings that versus populum worship have inflicted on the faithful who are simply hungry for worship in spirit and in truth and who long for a manner of celebrating the Mass that is focused absolutely on Christ our God (as the 2,000-year tradition of ad orientem worship palpably demonstrates), but we do not perhaps reflect as much on the ravages that the versus populum stance have visited upon the clergy.

Here are some excerpts from a recent post of Dom Mark's, "Lex orandi, lex credendi: the ground of priestly piety". (In the article you will also find highly pertinent texts from Pope Pius XII's Mediator Dei that back up these points.)

The physical reconfiguration of churches, by which a priest is obliged to stand behind the altar, facing the people, has had a devastating effect on the theology of the priesthood and on priestly piety. Many priests have, alas, come to view the Mass primarily as a spiritual commodity offered to the people for their edification, instruction, sustenance, and comfort. The idea of offering the Holy Sacrifice to God, even in the absence of the faithful, is fast fading away. It is becoming more and more common for priests to refrain from offering the Holy Sacrifice apart from those occasions when there is a scheduled Mass with people in attendance.
          In a certain sense, the widespread custom of celebrating Holy Mass “facing the people” has led to an incomplete and erroneous understanding of the Holy Eucharist: the consecration of the bread and wine into the true Body and Blood of Christ is seen, not so much in view of the Sacrifice offered to God, as it is in view of the Sacrament offered to the people. This shift towards a Protestant understanding of the Most Holy Eucharist is further emphasized by the widespread practice of everyone (or nearly everyone) present feeling compelled to receive Holy Communion.
          The trend among priests not to offer Holy Mass daily, except when required to do so by the parish schedule, has contributed in no small measure to three woes: 1) loss of the priest’s awareness of Holy Mass as a Sacrifice offered to God “not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those departed in Christ but not yet fully purified” (Council of Trent, XXII, Chapter II); 2) a weakening of the priest’s understanding of his own personal union with Christ, not only as the sacrificing Priest who makes the offering, but also as the Victim immolated upon the altar, albeit in an unbloody manner; 3) a creeping lukewarmness that almost imperceptibly causes a priest to fall away from his “first love” and to alienate himself, by degrees, from the friendship of Christ.
          From a positive perspective I would propose that priests commit themselves to three remedies: 1) in conversation and in preaching, refer habitually to The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, giving this expression preference over the other words currently used to designate the Holy Mysteries; 2) offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass daily, even in the absence of a congregation; 3) spend one hour daily before the Most Blessed Sacrament.