Why I Prefer Ad Orientem

Since the release of the ANCA 2019 Book of Common Prayer has open the floodgates for consideration of all kinds of controversial topics, it’s time to consider one more: that of ad orientem, i.e., facing the altar during the Sacred Mysteries rather than the people.  That’s been the subject of a blog-to-blog volley between one Rev. Ben Jeffries, vicar at The Good Shepherd Anglican Church, Opelika, Alabama,  and Robin Jordan of Anglicans Ablaze fame.

Personal note: I’ve sparred with Robin before on the nature of Anglicanism and many other topics.  I noted that he opted to expand his own case on his own blog and not in the comments section of Jeffries’.  Evidently his encounter with me was educational; I wish he had done this when we went at it, we would have both been better off.

In any case, the topic is of interest because I’ve seen it both ways.  First, the altar of my home church, against the wall (and certainly facing east, which was easy to figure out in Palm Beach):

altar

As a Roman Catholic, however, the priest always faced the people with the altar from the wall, for reasons that both Jeffries and Jordan explain in detail.

With Latta Griswold’s rule of “The minister should face the altar when he addresses Almighty God, the congregation when he addresses or reads to them, and the opposite stall during other parts of the service” in mind, the reasons why I think ad orientem is better are threefold:

  1. It is a strong statement against Bill Clinton’s Eucharistic Theology and its variations.  While I am aware that Anglicanism, in common with Lutheranism, does not strictly adhere to this, the Scriptures are clear on this subject.
  2. It is the best justification for women ministering at the altar.  Now that you’ve picked yourself off of the floor, hear me out: true Catholics will tell you that the priest is in the place of Christ and represents him to the people, which is why we can never have women priests.  But that kind of priesthood has no real justification in the New Testament, as any true Anglican knows.  At the altar the minister represents the congregation to God, and when he or she celebrates the sacred mysteries facing God with the congregation at his or her back, that’s a powerful statement of the reality of the role of the minister.  Facing the people implies that the priest, in the place of Christ, is representing God to the people.
  3. It helps to restore the God-centred nature of our worship, and we need all of that we can get these days.

Now we know that trads and #straightouttairondale types inflexibly associate (or try to) ad orientem with the ornate High Mass.  But that wasn’t always the case, and a couple of examples from the days of wine and the Tridentine Mass will suffice.

Austrian-Field-Mass
The “field Mass,” a tradition in the Austrian military, being simply celebrated during World War I, in good ad orientem style.  It’s interesting to note that Eduard Habsburg, a descendant of the monarch these troops served, is the current Ambassador to the Vatican from Hungary.
mass_tyrolean_alps
On the Allies side, a priest celebrates Mass ad orientem (or whatever direction he can manage) to Italian Alpine troops during World War I. The Alpine troops were the best on both sides of the conflict; evidently they had the crack priests to go with them.

One common criticism of the ad orientem style is that its celebrants “mumble” their prayers.  That was certainly the case during pre-Vatican II times, but it doesn’t have to be now.  One good wireless microphone (which a celebrant should wear anyway, given all the movement during the Liturgy) should fix that.  For parishes with a larger budget, it wouldn’t hurt to set up a camera to the side of the altar and see what it looks like when the celebrant actually faces God.

While I’m at it, I’d like to address one more of Robin’s assertions:

Cardinal Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI introduced a series of so-called reforms of the Roman Rite, which represent a retrograde movement in the Roman Catholic Church—a retreat from the reforms of Vatican II. Ratzinger, the writers on the New Liturgical Movement website, and Lang are a part of a movement in the Roman Catholic Church, which seeks to undo the reforms of Vatican II and to revive the Latin Mass and other pre-Vatican II practices. It blames the reforms of Vatican II for the decline in attendance at Mass in the West. Like the nineteenth century Anglo-Catholic movement in the Anglican Church it presents itself as a movement for the renewal of the church.

I was involved in a church plant that had lapsed Roman Catholics as one of ministry target groups. Our work with this ministry target group did not support the contentions of this movement. Among the reasons that the lapsed Roman Catholics with whom we worked gave for having stopped attending Mass was that they had undergone a divorce. They had been physically abused by the Roman Catholic nuns in parochial school as a child. They were concerned about the growing reports of sexual abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests, the failure of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to protect these children, and the safety of their own children. The Roman Catholic Church had not met their pastoral and spiritual needs. They had been baptized, catechized, and confirmed, but had never heard the gospel or had been invited to accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. How the Mass was celebrated was a non-issue.

I’ve discussed the impact of those retrograde innovations here and here.  Robin is right up to a point, but the main impact of the whole “trad” movement in Roman Catholicism is to create a core of committed people, something that the Church–with its gradualistic “box checker” mentality and weak pastoral system–has failed to do.  That isn’t enough to renew the church but without it Roman Catholicism will experience continual decline.  And, in a culture where Christianity is unpopular and its legal status rides from one election cycle to another, having that core is essential to its survival.

But that brings us to Anglicanism in North America and what it’s here to do.  As I see it Anglicanism has always been a “niche marketing” project, especially since American Christianity tends to be class stratified.  If you want many people, you’ll start a non-denominational or Pentecostal church (especially if you’re not targeting white people.)  If you want the “right” people, i.e., those with more education and resources, you’ll start an Anglican church.  Paul could claim the following:

To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so as at all costs to save some. And I do everything for the sake of the Good News, that with them I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:22-23 TCNT)

Most of our ministers these days can’t.  They should find out, among other things, whom God is calling them to be an apostle to and do it.

Jimmy Buffett and the Miserable Offenders of the Book of Common Prayer

It’s time to look at another bone that’s been picked with the ANCA’s 2019 Book of Common Prayer: the omission of the phrase “miserable offenders” to the General Confession for Morning and Evening Prayer.  Let’s start with the 2019 text:

BCP2019 MP Confession

And now from the 1928 BCP:

BCP1928 MP Confession

In addition to the modernization of the language, the phrase “miserable offenders” is conspicuously absent from the newer confession.

Modernizing the language is something that, although traditionalists find it offensive, is pretty much a necessity these days; the question is how to do it.  It’s the same fight that “King James Only” people have.

But the miserable offenders?  As was the case with the Creed, there’s a parallel with the Roman Catholic Novus Ordo Missae, and that’s the omission of the “mea culpa” (with breast beating accompanying) from the original English translation of that liturgy.  I did an entire piece on the subject when the “new” translation came out.  Note that there was pushback on it at the time from Roman Catholics.  My guess is that there’s been similar pushback from Anglicans and the 2019 BCP committees decided that keeping the phrase wasn’t worth it.

But in response to the NOM’s revived “starch in the shirt” about our sins, I invoked Jimmy Buffett:

As far as the sins are concerned, the Roman Catholic Church’s (the Jesuits of Pascal’s days notwithstanding) emphasis on the seriousness of our sins is well founded, and anyone with a Biblical understanding of the subject should know this. Even some whose Biblical understanding falls short know this too. In the same 1970’s when the “old” NOM translation was current in Catholic Churches, Jimmy Buffett, wasting away in Margaritaville, knew all too well whose fault it was. His lyrics, although liturgically inappropriate, were in their own way closer to the NOM Latin original than what was recited every Sunday.

The same observation can be made about omitting the “miserable offenders” from the Anglican General Confession, even though if Buffet’s sentiments were put into the BCP, as Latta Griswold would say, the philistines would blaspheme.

I grew up in Palm Beach reciting the 1928 General Confession.  Characterizing a bunch of bratty Palm Beachers as “miserable offenders” is charitable.  Right, Jeffrey Epstein?

The “I” and the “We” of the Creed

The issuance of the ACNA 2019 Book of Common Prayer has brought back to the forefront many issues that have been “out there” for a long time.  One of them is right up front in both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed: whether either or both should start with “I believe” or “We believe.”  This post will attempt to shed a little light on the subject, because this change came from outside the Anglican/Episcopal world in a way that may surprise some people.

It’s certain that the 1662 and 1928 Books of Common Prayer started the creeds with the first person singular “I”.  The 1979 BCP changed it to “We” and that’s stuck in the craw of many ever since.   For me personally, the change came sooner.  When I “swam the Tiber” in 1972, I walked into a church which had instituted the Novus Ordo Missae two years earlier.  It was not only in the vernacular but started the Nicene Creed with “We believe.”

As an aside, I had been raised with the Apostles’ Creed being used in Morning Prayer and the Nicene in the Holy Communion.  The latter creed was pretty much a fixture at Mass.  The first time I heard the Apostles’ Creed used with Mass of any kind was John Michael Talbot’s The Lord’s Supper in 1979, and it finds its way there in situations where time is of the essence.

But I digress.  The reasoning given at the time was that the Mass after Vatican II was supposed to be more participatory and community oriented, thus the plural declaration of faith.  I think it’s reasonable to say that the Episcopal Church followed the RCC’s lead on this (and many other) liturgical subjects for the 1979 book.

But did the Roman Catholic Church actually change the Creed?  The answer is “no.”  Unlike the Anglicans, whose primary liturgical language is English (wonder why?) the Novus Ordo Missae, like those that went before it, was promulgated in Latin and translated into the various vernaculars that Roman Catholics find themselves in.  The decision to use “We” was that of those who made the original official translation of the NOM into English.  You can see this in this little except from a Latin-English missal I picked up in the UK, where “Credo — I believe” clearly appears in the Latin version of the Creed.

Creed Latin English

Additionally, towards the end of the Creed, “Confiteor una baptisma” (I confess one baptism,) where the first person singular persists, as is also the case with “expecto resurrectionem” (look forward to the resurrection.)

This decidedly unilingual change was done away with when the NOM’s current translation was made official and began use in Advent 2011, a change instituted by Benedict XVI, who is sadly Emeritus.  There are many clumsy, Latinate phrases used in this translation, but in this case it was an improvement.  (The same criticism can be made of the Authorised Version vs. Tyndale, but I digress again…)

The ACNA, evidently bowing to two score of 1979 habit, opted to use “We.”  Personally I think the first person singular is better; it attempts to force people to make a commitment to their belief, which is lacking these days.  The major problem churches such as the RCC and ACNA (TEC gave up a long time go) have is not getting their people to recite the Creed properly but to believe it.  There are several variations of this: the modern (“The Creed is just a historical statement which is mostly a fable,”) the post-modern (“The Creed is correct but it doesn’t really mean what it says”) and the sub-modern (“We really don’t care what the Creed says, we’ll believe what we want to.”)

And as for the “filoque” clause, this is my answer and I’m sticking to it.

Renunciation is Central to Christianity, But You’d Never Know It

I recently had an interesting back and forth with a guy I went to prep school with on “Renouncing Privilege.”  Evidently he and I have a different take on what that means, as evidenced by his comment:

Many of the students were, and probably still are wealthy, still privileged. I would not try to make the point that the young men became followers of Gandhi, just that they recognized an abusive power that they had the means to abolish and voted accordingly.

Some of my idea comes from the current assault on “white privilege,” the only logical solution being that white people just step aside and let everyone else run things.  (I document here how some well-heeled and bi-coastal white people have tried to get around that obvious conclusion for their children’s’ benefit.)  But much of my view on the subject is conditioned by the New Testament itself:

“I tell you,” answered Jesus, “that at the New Creation, ‘when the Son of Man takes his seat on his throne of glory,’ you who followed me shall be seated upon twelve thrones, as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel. Every one who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or children, or land, on account of my Name, will receive many times as much, and will ‘gain Immortal Life.’ But many who are first now will then be last, and those who are last will be first.  (Matthew 19:28-30 TCNT)

Calling the people and his disciples to him, Jesus said: “If any man wishes to walk in my steps, let him renounce self, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, and whoever, for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, will lose his life shall save it. (Mark 8:34-35 TCNT)

I’ve spent time on the rich young ruler elsewhere.

In the past Christians have understood what this meant.  Consider this from J.N.D. Kelly’s Jerome:

In the fourth century it was common for really serious Christians, at their baptism or when they experienced a deeper conversion, to break with the world, abandoning career, marriage and material possessions in order (in the expressive phrase of Cyprian of Carthage) ‘to hold themselves free for God and for Christ.’  The ascetic strain which had been present in Christianity from the start, and which in the west tended to set a premium on virginity, inevitably received a powerful practical impulse with the disappearance of persecution and the emergence of a predominantly Christian society where much of the Christian colouring was skin-deep.

That’s something that advocates of the “Benedict Option” should keep in mind.

In any case such is virtually unknown in American Christianity, which is too hog-tied to upward mobility (and that link is a big reason why American Christians do what they do politically, on both sides of the spectrum.)

Since straight-up renunciation doesn’t go down well, is there another way to meet the challenge of the Gospel?  One comes from the Anglican/Episcopal George Conger, who has tried to deal with this by putting this verse into practice:

The servant who knows his master’s wishes and yet does not prepare and act accordingly will receive many lashes; while one who does not know his master’s wishes, but acts so as to deserve a flogging, will receive but few. From every one to whom much has been given much will be expected, and from the man to whom much has been entrusted the more will be demanded.  (Luke 12:47-48 TCNT)

He explains the “critical moment” for his commitment to “givebacks” here, in an encounter with then candidate George H.W. Bush:

I commented on that idea years ago:

If one were to name the Episcopal Church’s strongest point from a practical standpoint, it was this: the emphasis on the importance of “give back”. It’s something I miss in a Pentecostal church. This isn’t to say that Pentecostals are not willing to help others–they certainly are, and are for many reasons better positioned to do so than Episcopalians–but the context is entirely different, and it doesn’t percolate to the upper reaches of the organisation the way one would like it to. But that’s also generational: baby boomers, for all the talk and their self-righteous insistence of making the next generation volunteer, are mostly too self-centred to know what true give-back is.

That said, I think that the road to that needs to run through some kind of renunciation.

Although there are many people who don’t have a lot to renounce (that’s another lesson that comes from many years in a Pentecostal church) American Christianity would do well to learn from Our Lord on renunciation, if for no other reason than that, if things go south, renunciation will be a lot easier than having it taken away from you.

The Call of God is More than an Emotional Rush

This interesting quote, from Daniel-Rops’ Jesus in his Time:

God does not seek to take men by surprise and the Church has always frowned on sudden vocations dictated solely by sentiment. It is only to the soul fortified by preparation and knowing its way and its strength that the spirit gives the supreme impulse.

The call to ministry (or vocations, to use the Roman Catholic term Daniel-Rops does) has always assumed the aura of a mystical legend, especially in Pentecostal circles.  Although dramatic calls to the ministry aren’t unknown in the New Testament (Paul’s Damascus Road experience is the most prominent example) most are multi-stage processes with stumbling along the way, in the case of the Apostles right up to the day of Pentecost.  It’s a good reason why churches are wise to have a discernment and training structure built into their credentialing process.  (The big problem with independent churches is that there is little or no such discernment going on, with predictable results.)

Having said that, there are three errors churches make in their ministerial development process.

The first is non-existent or inadequate development, which I’ve discussed.

The second is too heavy of a requirement, especially with formal education.  The sad truth is that most churches–especially these days with changing stewardship patterns–can’t afford the student-debt larded “Jeremiah Generation” as pastors or other ministers.  We need to focus our attention more on character and maturity issues rather than raw formal education, encouraging life-long learning.

The third is to impose requirements or encourage things that should not be imposed or encouraged.  The most egregious one I can think of (although it’s doubtless not unique) is that of the infamous Jesuit James Martin, who was asked during his discernment process whether he was “experienced,” with the expectation that he was before his ostensible vow of celibacy.  So he lied about it to please those “over him in the Lord.”  It’s little wonder that he has strayed so far, along with many of his colleagues.

We also have the tales of those who lost their faith in seminary and no one really cared.  Latta Griswold complained about the “excuse-oriented” presentation of the faith he heard from Episcopal pulpits, but much of that (during his day and up to now) started in the seminaries.

The way our ministers are prepared is as important–if not more important–than their original call, and that should never be overlooked.

Getting Past Bread: A Holy Week Reflection — The Bossuet Project

I have an Iranian office mate. My contact with the Iranians has been educational in my understanding of the Scriptures. One thing he’s really big on is bread. One time we went to a bakery where he brought a loaf of sourdough bread, which he consumed in its entirety–in one sitting. I bring bread from […]

via Getting Past Bread: A Holy Week Reflection — The Bossuet Project