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Foreword to U.M. Lang's Turning
Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer (2nd edition) | By Joseph Cardinal
"...Two excellent works have been published in which the question of the orientation of prayer in the Church during the first millennium is clarified in a persuasive manner. I think, first of all,
of the important, brief book by U. M. Lang." -- Pope Benedict XVI, Preface to Theology of the Liturgy, the first published volume of his Opera Omnia, June 2008.
To the ordinary churchgoer, the two most obvious effects of the liturgical
reform of the Second Vatican Council seem to be the disappearance of Latin
the turning of the altars towards the people. Those who read the relevant
texts will be astonished to learn that neither is in fact found in the decrees
of the Council. The use of the vernacular is certainly permitted, especially
for the Liturgy of the Word, but the preceding general rule of the Council
text says, 'Particular law remaining in force, the use of the Latin language
is to be preserved in the Latin rites' (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 36.1).
There is nothing in the Council text about turning altars towards the people;
that point is raised only in postconciliar instructions. The most important
directive is found in paragraph 262 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis
Romani, the General Instruction of the new Roman Missal, issued in 1969.
That says, 'It is better for the main altar to be constructed away from
the wall so that one can easily walk around the altar and celebrate facing
the people (versus populum).' The General Instruction of the Missal
issued in 2002 retained this text unaltered except for the addition of the
subordinate clause, 'which is desirable wherever possible'. This was taken
in many quarters as hardening the 1969 text to mean that there was now a
general obligation to set up altars facing the people 'wherever possible'.
This interpretation, however, was rejected by the Congregation for Divine
Worship on 25 September 2000, when it declared that the word 'expedit' ('is
desirable') did not imply an obligation but only made a suggestion. The
physical orientation, the Congregation says, must be distinguished from
the spiritual. Even if a priest celebrates versus populum, he should
always be oriented versus Deum per Iesum Christum (towards God through
Jesus Christ). Rites, signs, symbols, and words can never exhaust the inner
reality of the mystery of salvation. For this reason the Congregation warns
against one-sided and rigid positions in this debate.
This is an important clarification. It sheds light on what is relative in
the external symbolic forms of the liturgy and resists the fanaticisms that,
unfortunately, have not been uncommon in the controversies of the last forty
years. At the same time it highlights the internal direction of liturgical
action, which can never be expressed in its totality by external forms.
This internal direction is the same for priest and people, towards the Lord-towards
the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit. The Congregation's response
should thus make for a new, more relaxed discussion, in which we can search
for the best ways of putting into practice the mystery of salvation. The
quest is to be achieved, not by condemning one another, but by carefully
listening to each other and, even more importantly, listening to the internal
guidance of the liturgy itself. The labelling of positions as 'preconciliar',
'reactionary', and 'conservative', or as 'progressive' and 'alien to the
faith' achieves nothing; what is needed is a new mutual openness in the
search for the best realisation of the memorial of Christ.
small book by Uwe Michael Lang, a member of the London Oratory, studies
the direction of liturgical prayer from a historical, theological, and pastoral
point of view. At a propitious moment, as it seems to me, this book resumes
a debate that, despite appearances to the contrary, has never really gone
away, not even after the Second Vatican Council.
The Innsbruck liturgist Josef Andreas Jungmann, one of the architects of
the Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, was from the, very beginning
resolutely opposed to the polemical catchphrase that previously the priest
celebrated 'with his back to the people'; he emphasised that what was at
issue was not the priest turning away from the people, but, on the contrary,
his facing the same direction as the people. The Liturgy of the Word has
the character of proclamation and dialogue, to which address and response
can rightly belong. But in the Liturgy of the Eucharist the priest leads
the people in prayer and is turned, together with the people, towards the
Lord. For this reason, Jungmann argued, the common direction of priest and
people is intrinsically fitting and proper to the liturgical action. Louis
Bouyer (like Jungmann, one of the Council's leading liturgists) and Klaus
Gamber have each in his own way taken up the same question. Despite their
great reputations, they were unable to make their voices heard at first,
so strong was the tendency to stress the communality of the liturgical celebration
and to regard therefore the face-to-face position of priest and people as
More recently the atmosphere has become more relaxed so that it is possible
to raise the kind of questions asked by Jungmann, Bouyer, and Gamber without
at once being suspected of anti-conciliar sentiments. Historical research
has made the controversy less partisan, and among the faithful there is
an increasing sense of the problems inherent in an arrangement that hardly
shows the liturgy to be open to the things that are above and to the world
In this situation, Lang's delightfully objective and wholly unpolemical
book is a valuable guide. Without claiming to offer major new insights,
he carefully presents the results of recent research and provides the material
necessary for making an informed judgment. The book is especially valuable
in showing the contribution made by the Church of England to this question
and in giving, also, due consideration to the part played by the Oxford
Movement in the nineteenth century (in which the conversion of John Henry
Newman matured). It is from such historical evidence that the author elicits
the theological answers that he proposes, and I hope that the book, the
work of a young scholar, will help the struggle-necessary in every generationfor
the right understanding and worthy celebration of the sacred liturgy.
I wish the book a wide and attentive readership.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Rome, Laetare Sunday 2003
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Excerpts:
The Altar and the Direction of Liturgical Prayer | Excerpt from The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
How Should We Worship? | Preface to The Organic Development of the Liturgy
by Alcuin Reid, O.S.B. | by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Learning the Liturgy From the Saints | An Interview with Fr. Thomas Crean, O.P., author of The Mass and the Saints
The Mass of Vatican II | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
Walking To Heaven Backward | Interview with Father Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory
Does Christianity Need A Liturgy? | Martin Mosebach |
From The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy
Music and Liturgy |
Excerpt from The Spirit of the Liturgy | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Rite and Liturgy | Denis Crouan, STD
The Liturgy Lived: The Divinization of Man | Jean Corbon, OP
The Latin Mass: Old Rites and New Rites in Today's World | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
Worshipping at the Feet of the Lord: Pope Benedict XVI and the
Liturgy | Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D.
Reflections On Saying Mass (And Saying It Correctly) |
Fr. James V. Schall, S. J.
Liturgy, Catechesis, and Conversion | Barbara Morgan
Fr. Uwe Michael Lang, a native of Germany, is a priest of the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in London. He holds a Mag. Theol. in Catholic theology from the University of
Vienna and a D.Phil. in theology from the University of Oxford. Fr. Lang is a staff member of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, a Consultor to the
Office for the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff and Academic Coordinator of the Master program in "Architecture, Sacred Art and Liturgy" at the Universitą Europea di Roma. Turning
towards the Lord has been published in several languages, including German, Italian, French, and Spanish. Recently, Fr. Lang has edited the volume Die Anaphora von Addai und Mari: Studien zu
Eucharistie und Einsetzungsworten (2007).
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