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Sunday 14 August 2016

Facing God: Back to the future . . . not to the congregation.

The following is excerpted from an editorial that I wrote in 2007 for LITURGY CANADA. 
The discussion of various matters including the ad orientem position for the Eucharist are still very much topics of discussion a decade later.

The complete article may be found in VOLUME XI  ISSUE 3 EASTER 2007 at liturgy.ca.

Fr. John Hodgins

. . . . The rise of deconstructivist and increasingly pugnacious atheism, evidenced most recently by Richard Dawkins’ book 'The God Delusion' (and a BBC production of dubious value by the same name) is premised upon appeals to science and reason. 

Scientistic secularism combines pop science with an appeal to Enlightenment philosophy in a society with little understanding of its history, cultural roots, or, in some cases, appreciation for the transcendence of art and beauty much less the glory of God. The secular public square, populated by those obsessed with virtual reality, computer games, and a utilitarian world view, poses a serious challenge to the Church in the West. An increasing number of writers are seeking to address this dilemma from various perspectives.

For example, militant secularism and the digital revolution raise important questions about the direction for Christian liturgy and mission. Diagnosis, though perhaps easier than cure, is complicated by the different visions of how faith and mission have come to be expressed. These diverse voices complicate the task of discerning how liturgy and its spaces can be shaped for worship in the 21st century.

For liturgists, the debate centres in some ways upon whether the solution is to further “modernize” liturgy, music and the physical space for worship—bringing these more into line with contemporary expectations—or to re-inforce the Church’s traditional identity, on the grounds that secularism poses a crisis not of structures or teachings but of nerve.

This debate manifests itself in a variety of ways, not least as it touches current attempts in the Anglican Communion to determine what core doctrine is and how it is to be expressed in governance, liturgy, and mission. The debate is also played out in the fields of art, music, architecture, and liturgical texts as well as in the interpretation of history and the use of these various disciplines to serve the of official liturgies of the Church and shape the forms through which, and the buildings in which, the people of God worship.

The expression of faith in a secular culture.

Books and articles in these various fields address themes which relate to a central issue: the expression of faith in a secular culture. These works include the surprisingly popular publishing phenomenon related to the re-interpretation of the late Medieval and Reformation era and its cultural and liturgical trajectory into the modern world (Duffy, Bernard, Loades).

These bestsellers on the lives of people in the 15th century may tell us something about our need to understand the roots of Western culture. Added to this reassessment of a critical period in the history of the Church are works which seek to uncover the musical principles articulated by the early Church Fathers (Stapert), studies in aesthetical theology (Thiessen), and the politics of redemption (Rashkover and Pecknold).

. . .  As a way of focusing, we begin with one topic which is in many ways emblematic of the larger theological issues facing the Church. 

This touchstone or hot-button issue which re-emerged in the 1990s is the physical orientation of the worshipper in liturgical settings. It has recently been discussed in this journal and at a conference with the [Episcopalian] Dean of Philadelphia last year [2006]. This topic seems to raise visceral reactions in people on whatever side of the issue, connected, as it is, to deep-seated feelings and commitments.
A very stark renovation . . . and very small congregation in Philadelphia

Unfortunately, people who see themselves on opposite sides of the question of liturgical space and orientation often dismiss one another on the grounds that they differ over first principles. The danger is always to consider these liturgical and aesthetic issues closed and that those who disagree are beyond the reach of rational communication.

It is one of our purposes at LC to encourage discussion of divergent views and so it is worthwhile considering some of the issues raised by those who present an alternative to what has been a prevailing view of liturgy, space, and orientation.

Pope Benedict facing East at Mass

Renovation projects for church buildings

Many of you, like me, will have participated in renovation projects for church buildings which involve the rearrangement of space to allow for more central altars and the ad populum position for the presiding celebrant during the Eucharistic Prayer. 

Now, serious scholars and liturgists [not the least of whom being Pope Benedict XVI] are asking us to think again about the basic orientation of worship in light of history, doctrine, sociology, and other factors which are being re-addressed by theologians, artists, and pastors in the latter half of the century following Vatican II.

[The late] Marion Hatchett of Sewanee and others made the case in the last century for the antiquity of central altars and face-to- face communication during the Eucharistic Prayer. 

Today, others argue that it is increasingly clear from continuing archaeological study that altars in the Eastern Church were, from the earliest times, consistently built at the eastern end of buildings constructed specifically for Christian worship so that all present might face east for clearly theological and cultural reasons. What are the implications for communal worship in the 21st century?

In a seeming paradox, it is clear that 4th century basilicas in Rome and North Africa placed the altar at the west end of the building, following the example of many pagan temples. This allowed the early morning sun to shine into the building through the open east doors. 

So, do we have here an example of the priest facing the congregation — something many thought should be the practice in the 20th century? 

Not necessarily, say a number of recent scholars. The unchallenged apostolic rule was to face the east for prayer, and so the bishop/presbyter faced east and only incidentally may he have faced the congregation at certain times during the liturgy.

Using this question of orientation as a kind of organizing principle, we look then in this issue of LC at some of the books which raise a whole host of related issues as to how we may express ourselves in liturgy and mission in the decades to come. As pointed out in previous reviews, this architectural and historical question, much like the debates over the texts of traditional eucharistic prayers, the epiclesis, etc., has a direct relation to the way in which a community assembles, how the assembly comes to understand itself, and how the people of God engage in the life of Christ both in worship and mission—service to God’s world.

Architectural and liturgical ideas

As I have already mentioned, Liturgy Canada has recently reviewed books about, and co-sponsored a conference with Trinity College (Toronto) Alumni on, the architectural and liturgical ideas of Richard Giles. 

In the broader debate about principles of worship, there are numerous other thoughtful British, American, and European voices adding their ideas. These include historians Darimaid McDermott and Eamon Duffy, theologians Aidan Nichols, Ephriam Radner, and Philip Turner, musicians and liturgists such as Randi Rashkover, C.C. Recknold and Calvin Stapert, K.G. Rey, Klaus Gamber, and J. Ratzinger amongst others. 

. . .  We invite you to a continuing and lively discussion of questions posed for liturgy based on early Christian principles, buildings, and the theological and ceremonial implications which underlie the worship of the Church, directed by the desire to express truth, beauty, and goodness (verum, pulchrum, et bonum) the principles for liturgy set out by Aquinas and, more recently, by Balthasar.

The flood of critical assessments of liturgical experiments of the last century call for reflection and discernment. We hope that the reviews here will stir your thoughts as well as your blood . . . 

NOTE: The reviews aluded to may be found in the same number of LC online.  I will post some excerpts later.

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