This is a steaming mess. There many things wrong with this.
Let us make a start.
First, it seems to me that if you are going to try to forbid something you should at least know how to spell it correctly. Correct is, of course, ad orientem.
Second, decrees have canonical weight. This is not a decree. This is an expression of the bishop’s wishes. Note that “should”. Note that this doesn’t say it is a decree. It is not in the form of a decree. It is not, for example, countersigned by anyone, such as the chancellor. That doesn’t mean that this doesn’t have weight. Because a bishop has the power to hurt priests in a thousand ways, this letter has the weight of an episcopal tire iron with which he can beat them. Some would call this bullying. Others would say that this is business as usual: bishops issue high sounding letters about liturgical preferences that really don’t have the force of law, and they get away with it because, well, they can.
Third, the decision, determination, preference, whim expressed in the letter is founded on what can only be called a lie, after all these years. In the second paragraph, note that reference to GIRM #299. The letter claims that 299 says that Mass (in the Novus Ordo) should be celebrated facing the people “which is desirable whenever possible”.
NO! That is NOT what GIRM 299 says. This is a BAD TRANSLATION of the Latin of 299 which was explained in Response to a Dubium from the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2000 (Prot. No. 2036/00/L). The CDW responded and included also an explanation of the Latin.
Come to think of it, since this letter demonstrates a certain lack of knowledge of basic Latin, in that misspelling, let’s review. Here is the CDW response:
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in n. 299 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which the position of the priest versus absidem [facing the apse] [i.e., ad orientem] is to be excluded. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:
Negatively, and in accordance with the following explanation.
The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account. First, the word expedit does not constitute a strict obligation but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum (detached from the wall). It does not require, for example, that existing altars be pulled away from the wall. The phrase ubi possibile sit (where it is possible) refers to, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc.
Did you get that? The phrase ubi possible sit refers to the layout of the altar not the direction is it used.
299. Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.
That quod refers back to the main clause of the sentence. It does not refer to the ut clause.
The US Bishops conference had issued a document called Built of Living Stones, in which 299 was mistranslated. They issued that document after the Congregation issued the clarification! But people are still quoting that bad translation after TWENTY-TWO years of common knowledge about the correct translation.
Hence, while there is a slight possibility that the person who wrote this and/or signed it, was using only the USCCB BLS document (with its bad translation) the writer really ought to have known about the problem with the bad translation of 299.
If you go to a doctor for some malady, you expect that that doctor, out of both professionalism and care for patients, will be up-to-date on the drugs and treatments for your problem. You expect that he will know that Method A is now no longer good because something wrong was found with it. Instead, you expect him to know that Method B corrected the problems and it is now the best way to proceed. If that applies to medicine, which is about the body, how much more does it apply to our spiritual lives rooted in sacred liturgical worship, the primary way by which we fulfill our duties according to the virtue of Religion.
Fourth, for the umpteenth time, if you open the Missale Romanum in its recent editions, you will find that the priest is specifically directed in the rubrics to turn around toward the people and then turn back to the altar. That is a rubric in the Missal. Bishops can’t change rubrics like that. But you have to know Latin.
Fifth, please note the jaw-dropping double-standard operative in the phrase:
“With pastoral concern, I ask priests to abide by the norms in the instruction and not create confusion about the proper celebration of the Roman Rite.”
Let’s unpack this.
“Pastoral concern”… for whom? For the priests? For the people who desire ad orientem (note the spelling) worship?
“I ask” priests. Again, along with “should”, above, this communicates a preference.
“abide by the norms”…. Amazing. This is about 50 years too late, isn’t it. Has the bishop taken steps to make sure that all the priests of the diocese are abiding by the norms? Would a review of Masses in the diocese find that norms are habitually being violated to one degree or another?
“not create confusion about the proper celebration” What creates confusion is issuing a letter than misspells the point being addressed, is founded on a falsehood about GIRM 299, and which doesn’t have the force of a decree but is written in such a way that it seems to have the force of a decree.
Sixth, the letter says that priests have to have “written permission” to say Mass “ad orientum”. I guess a priest could say, “Hmmm, since I don’t do that, since I say Mass ad orientem“, this doesn’t apply to what we do here at St. Swithen’s.” Seriously, the idea that “written permission” could be given means that ad orientem worship is not in fact forbidden.
But… and this is a big deal for morale and for the relationships of priests with bishops… should priests really have to crawl timidly forward into the episcopal shadow to beg to do something a) that our forebears have been doing for centuries and b) is actually the correct way of celebrating Mass according to the (still official) Latin rubrics?
These bishops! With phrases like “pastoral concern”, they reduce priests to Mudfog workhouse oakum-weaving parish boys in a Dickens novel. Talk about “clericalism”.
Lastly, I can’t help but wonder about coordination between bishops and the the dates of these moves against traditionally-minded Catholics.
It’s curious that this was issued after Cupich in Chicago pulled the same stunt about ad orientem worship. Well… maybe there’s no connection. In Chicago they spelled it correctly.
Then there is the date: the Conversion or Turning Around of St. Paul. Really?
Here’s a Mass in Diocese of Venice. Two days before the letter, above.
This is really groovy.
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