Saturday, May 27, 2006

concession to the “left”?

I think I’m about to lose one of my “conservative” stripes.

I am starting to agree with those who say the tabernacle should not be in a place of prominence for the Mass. It really has nothing to do with the Mass, it seems to me - which means that a separate chapel for the tabernacle makes lots of sense.

Am I missing something? Someone out there with a really good argument for keeping tabernacles front-center of the nave? Is there a good argument for keeping them on an altar?


At Sunday, May 28, 2006 11:33:00 AM, Blogger Jeffrey Tucker said...

Well, one simple point occurs to me (not having brushed up on all the arguments here): when the Tabernacle is front and center, the seated Celebrant usually isn't, which is good protection against the problem of personality cults and egomania. Who should be on the throne? Perhaps that's the issue.

At Sunday, May 28, 2006 4:41:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

a) The presider’s chair is a legitimate focus of the liturgical action.

b) Removing a tabernacle is just that - putting a presider’s chair front-and-center (which I agree is a little showy) is a separate, albeit slightly related, issue.

At Monday, May 29, 2006 9:40:00 PM, Blogger Father Martin Fox said...

Once the tabernacle is removed from the main body of the church, the whole climate changes.

Technically, you are correct, it can be done; but practically, it is the wrong move, in my opinion.

At Monday, May 29, 2006 9:46:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Fr. Fox,

Can you explain a bit of what you mean by how the climate changes? Do you think front-center is the optimal placement? Is there a way to satisfy the argument that the altar should not “share the stage” with a tabernacle?

At Tuesday, May 30, 2006 8:39:00 AM, Blogger Dr. Malcolm C. Harris, Sr. said...

Dear Singer,

Is the presider's chair the legitimate focus of the liturgical action? I think not.

The mass is a prayer to God. The orientation particularly toward the Father comes across clearly in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I.)

The focus should be on praying to the Lord: Jesus the Son, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.

The typical English church before the Reformation reflected that. The rood screen held the crucifix aloft before the congregation. Above, behind the altar, was typically a picture of God the Father above a picture of the Last Judgment. (See Eamon Duffey's "The Stripping of the Altars.")

This emphasis on the presider's chair is a misreading and of Justin and is contradicted by the archaeological evidence.

From the earliest times, Christian prayer was toward the east (the rising sun=the Rising Son on EASTer morning.) The earliest archaeological find of a church (Dura Europa, second century) confirms this as do the pictures in the catacombs. The earliest basilicas were an adoption of an imperial building in the time of Constantine. The apse was where the emperor or an official sat. It was an appropriate place for a bishop to sit if he took the place of the emperor or the official. But I do not believe that is what happened. In Christian churches of this design, typically the apse would have a mosaic of Christ Pantocrator (Ruler of all, i.e., Christ the King.) Stand in Ravenna’s San Apollonare in Classe and look toward the front of the church, and you will know what is the legitimate focus of the liturgical action: it is not the "presider," it is Christ. You can get the idea in a much later church, San Monreale in Sicily: < >. The classical Latin rite mass (i.e. before 1969) expressed this well when both the priest and congregation faced east together (assuming the church building was "oriented.") The priest was an anonymous cipher, the focus was on God not man. Nothing in the General Instruction for the current mass nor in Vatican II’s constitution on the liturgy prevent the priest and the people from facing the same direction today. Both Cardinal Ratzinger (now Benedict XVI) and the new head of the Vatican congregation for the liturgy (Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith) encourage it.

The alternate form of basilica that was constructed in Constantine and subsequent times was the Martyrium. This was built over the resting place of a martyr and its structure reflected this. Saint Peter’s is a martyrium, it is built over St. Peter’s grave. This results in an altar which is not up in the apse and invites a “theater-in-the-round” type of mass. Ironically, it is the priest (bishop/pope) who faces east and the congregation has its back toward the east. (This is true at John Lateran as well.) Having the priest face the congregation rather than both face Christ has been the dominant pattern fsince 1969, but it is a break from the practice of the early church. (Restoring the practice of the early church was supposed to be a guiding principle of the reforms called for by the second Vatican council.)

The use of the word "presider" seems to be based on a reading of Justin Martyr's First Apology. (His feast is Thursday, June 1st.) I can not find the noun "presider" in the original; I do find it in many translations (although not in the Catechism's translation.) Justin uses circumlocutions (e.g., he who stands in front of the assembly.) I suspect he was trying to avoid using the word "priest" since he was defending Christians against the charge of cannibalism. He and his students witnessed the faith in the arena during the reign of Marcus Aurelius.

Having the tabernacle in the front and center helps provide the focus on Christ. Our eyes and knees are psychologically “oriented” toward it, even if it is not in the east. Writing this a thought occurs to me: Although “tabernacle” comes from the word that means “tent,” among the earliest historical evidence of reserving the Eucharist (sixth century Spain) is the practice of having a “tomb” between Good Friday and Easter. The image of the tabernacle as His tomb is an appropriate link between the sacrifice reenacted on the altar and the Rising of the Son on Easter morn.

If this is of any help, please use it as an excuse to pray for me.

-Malcolm Harris

At Tuesday, May 30, 2006 10:38:00 AM, Blogger Cantor said...

Dr. Harris,

A few points:

1) Your argument isn’t with me, but with the U.S. Bishops. Check “Built of Living Stones”, paragraph 90.

2) The celebrant does not face the people for the entire Mass in the modern rite. He definitely faces them when greeting them or otherwise addressing them. When the prayer is directed to God, he turns around.

3) There is a presider’s chair either way.

I am well aware of the arguments for ad orientem posture, and I fully agree with them. This doesn’t mean, though, that there should be no presider’s chair; I think you’re on a tangent.

As to the tabernacle, does the crucifix not establish “liturgical east” anyway?

I use the term “presider” because, if memory serves, I find it in the liturgical books.


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