Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Priest's Silent Prayers and Ad Orientem Worship

The New Liturgical Movement blog continues to present papers from the FIUV's 20th general assembly in Rome this past November.  Today, the NLM posted a paper entitled “The Silent Prayers of the Roman Liturgy”, by Don Giuseppe Vallauri, FDP.
The entire paper is worth reading, of course, but here I want to quote just one paragraph. It’s not the main thrust of the paper, but it caught my attention because it is related to what some see as a major problem with the Novus Ordo: the priest faces the people and is tempted to perform in the role of “talk-show host”.
Before presenting that paragraph from Don Vallauri’s paper, it’s probably best to give some background, since readers may not be familiar with the silent prayers to which he refers. And yes, the priest is to pray silently, or very quietly, during some parts of the Mass – even the Novus Ordo Mass!
Don Vallauri refers first to the prayer the priest or the concelebrant who is to read the Gospel is to say to himself – the munda cor meum – “Cleanse my heart and my lips, almighty God, that I may worthily proclaim your holy Gospel.”
Next, he refers to two prayers, of which the priest may choose one or the other to say quietly between the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) and the “Ecce Agnus Dei” (Behold the Lamb of God, where the priest holds up the Host). The rubrics specify that the priest joins his hands and says the prayer inaudibly; this is his private preparation for Communion. The two choices are:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, who by the will of the Father and the work of the Holy Spirit, through your death gave life to the world; free me by this your most holy Body and Blood from all my sins and from every evil; keep me always faithful to your commandments, and never let me be parted from you.
May the receiving of your Body and Blood, Lord Jesus Christ, not bring me to judgment and condemnation, but through your loving mercy be for me protection in mind and body, and a healing remedy.
Now, here is the paragraph from Don Vallauri’s paper (emphases added):
On the few occasions when I assist at a Novus Ordo celebration, I can honestly affirm that, in the majority of cases, the celebrant practically omits the Munda cor meum: usually he or the concelebrant that is to read the gospel makes at most a cursory bow to the altar, if at all and goes straight to the ambo. Of course, he can recite the prayer while going, but even trying to be very optimistic, I doubt it very much. The prayer which is invariably left out is one of the two set before Communion, each one a shorter version of “Domine Jesu Christe” and “Perceptio corporis tui”. I have seen even devout and traditionally minded priests pass directly from the Agnus Dei to “This is the Lamb of God”, sometimes even failing to genuflect before hand, as it is prescribed in the new missal. This is one further proof, if ever one more was needed, that simplification does not mean improvement. A shorter prayer is not necessarily recited better than a longer one. The problem lies elsewhere. Most celebrants of the Novus Ordo see themselves as presidents of the assembly: now, a president or chairman at meeting cannot afford to whisper quietly to himself.
What a shame to leave out any of the required prayers at Mass! And how sad that a priest may be short-cutting the prayers because he feels the pressure of the “talk-show host” mentality imposed by the Novus Ordo – and perhaps by the pressure of some parishioners who want their time at Mass kept to a minimum!
We have probably all experienced this phenomenon. Any priest who celebrates the Mass facing the people is susceptible to it. He becomes the director of the liturgy, basically – the talk-show host.  In addition, facing the people seems to pull a standard “verse and response” from the priest and the people at the beginning of Mass: “Good morning,” says the priest. And the people respond, “Good morning, Father.” One begins to wonder if it’s actually written into the rubrics!
It should be noted that the Novus Ordo does not require a priest to appear as a talk-show host! The Novus Ordo may certainly be celebrated ad orientem – with the priest facing the same direction as the people; in fact, certain sections of the GIRM assume that he is doing so (e.g., the instruction says something similar to “facing the people, the priest says…” If he were already facing the people, such instruction would be unnecessary).
When all are turned toward the Lord, the Mass becomes the Body of Christ all worshiping God together, with the priest truly leading us toward the Lord, rather than facing us and “directing” or “conducting”, as choir director does.
And it does not mean that the priest is “turning his back” on us!

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