Monday, July 09, 2007

Turning Towards the Lord and the Worship of Ancient Israel

Photo: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger celebrating the Mass of Bl. John XXIII
The Catholic world is a-buzz with talk about the recently released document, Summorum Pontificum, in which Pope Benedict allows for greater use of the the pre-Vatican II Mass (referred to by Benedict as "the Mass of Bl. John XXIII"). I won't rehash all the issues here... Thomas Peters over at American Papist has done a fine job assembling various links concerning the document here.
The most obvious difference between the Mass of John XXIII and the Novus Ordo is the direction the priest faces during the liturgy. In the older liturgy the priest faced away from the people, however, since Vatican II, the priest has turned towards the people. Now this might seem like a trivial issue, but actually there are a lot of theological issues involved in all of this. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger discussed this in great detail in his tremendously important book, The Spirit of the Liturgy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000).
Among other things Pope Benedict explains why in the ancient Christian worship the priest celebrated the liturgy with his back towards the people. He shows that the early Christians oriented their prayer towards the east. Why? Because the liturgy had an eschatological dimension. For a full treatment on that you might want to see David Aune, The Cultic Setting of Realized Eschatology in Early Christianity [NovTSup 28(1972)]. In the ancient liturgy the people turned and faced to welcome the coming of the Lord. Jesus explains, "For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of man" (Matt 24:27). The rising sun was thus an apt symbol of the coming of Christ.
What I've recently discovered is that Margaret Barker argues that, according to Jewish tradition, this ancient posture was also a part of the ancient worship of the first temple built by Solomon. In her article, "The Temple Roots of the Liturgy," Barker writes,
The Mishnah records that during Tabernacles, a procession would turn back at the eastern gate and face towards the temple saying: ‘Our fathers when they were in this place turned with their backs towards the temple of the Lord and their faces towards the east and they worshipped the sun towards the east; but as for us, our eyes are turned toward the Lord’ (m.Sukkah 5.4). This clearly refers to Ezekiel’s account of men in the temple facing east, holding branches before their faces and worshipping the sun (Ezek. 8.16-8), presumably in a celebration akin to Tabernacles. The Therapeuts (Philo Cont.Life 27) and the Essenes (Josephus War 2.128) also worshipped towards the rising sun... Worshipping towards the east must have been a practice which distinguished the adherents of first temple customs from those favoured by the compilers of the Mishnah.
Barker goes on to argue that the early Christians thus saw their worship in terms of the liturgy of the restored eschatological Temple of the son of David, Solomon.

Given all that, the Pope's letter therefore is not merely reinstating the practice of Christians prior to the 1960's--its reinstating a practice that has roots deep in ancient Christianity and quite possibly ancient Judaism as well.


Taylor Marshall said...

An interesting aside, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, it became customary for Anglican clergy to celebrate the Holy Communion standing at the north end of the altar and facing south!

The origin of this likely to accommodate some form of a versus populi celebration (the altars were fastened to the east wall) so they couldn't stand behind them and face the people.

The high church party eventually reread this tradition in light of the Old Covenant where the priests stand on the north side of the altar in sacrifice. A very interesting "alternative" in the history of liturgy (that I don't advocate for obvious reasons!).

Jeremy Priest said...

I'm of the opinion that a change in the direction of liturgical prayer will cause people to rethink what it is we do at Mass. We are facing each other in everything else we do in our society, that this could help people to recognize that the Mass is different. Here's the link to the third chapter of Ratzinger's SPIRIT OF THE LITURGY, entitled "The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer."

Taylor Marshall said...

I know a priest who said, "If we went back to ad orientem and communion on the tongue, 80% of our liturgical abuses would disappear."

Biby Cletus said...

Hi i just surfed in searching for interesting facts on Essenes in the blogs.
you have a cool blog. Do keep up the good work. I'll be back for more. i live
far from where you live. its nice to be able to see what people from across
the world thinks.

On a related note perhaps you might find the following article interesting.
we are currently doing a series of posts on essenes and their culture and i'll
like to hear your take on the subject via comments. See ya there....

Facts on Essene Culture

Warm Regards from the Other Side of the Moon.
Bijoy Cletus - Kerala, India

David Tomasini said...

I just want to let you know something.

A Roman Catholic is completely different from a True Catholic or "Protestant" Catholic.
I use the word Protestant in its truest form and not with any political connections.
British Irish troubles.

Basically a practising ROMANist is going straight to HELL if he or she die in that state,( I hasten to add Presbyterians,Methodists,Anglicans etc also for they are Protestants (They have protested out of Romanisim) but are not CATHOLIC.)
I use these words with the utmost reverence because I stand before GOD accountable.
I ask you now What will you say to GOD? For HE will say to you "Why did you not believe ME?"But if you are standing before GOD then it will be too late.
Something like the last bus out of town you must be in it to be on it otherwise you've missed it.
And what about all the poor souls' you deceived with your traditions and lies.
They will curse and torment you beyond what will be bearable.
Turn now from your sins and your evil ways and be washed clean made ready for the Kingdom of GOD.
Colossians ch.1.
Please, your soul is begging you, my soul also, to listen and turn for it is infinite and lives for ever and you and your ways are dragging it screaming and fighting against its will into the Abyss of Hades and then the Lake of Fire.


I own this verse, this verse was wrote for me will you accept that you own it also.
"I have sinned and perverted the right way and it profitted ME not."