The things priests do are often exasperating to the faithful. Some practices are contrary to the script of the liturgy; some are neither permitted nor forbidden explicitly. So, for example, it doesn't say in the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) third typical edition (2010) that you can't have acrobats performing circus routines behind the altar during the consecration or elephants leading the processions in and out of the Church.
Both sides engage in GIRM warfare. The frustrated faithful want to find rules and regulations to control the imprudent enthusiasms of the pastors; the pastors want to realize their dream of a church revitalized by the "full and active participation by all the people."
How strict are the norms?
Classical dichotomy when trying to interpret the Scripture, canon law, or other published norms:
- "Everything not expressly mandated is forbidden."
- "Anything not expressly forbidden is acceptable."
Don't "strain the gnat and swallow the camel." For the good of our own souls at the very least, we must love our enemies, even if they are the priests who are engaging in liturgical abuse. The law of love must overrule the laws of the liturgy in our hearts and minds. The lawbreakers are not going to stop breaking the laws just because we complain to them about their lawlessness. It is bad enough that they disfigure the sacred mysteries; it is worse if we disfigure our hearts by nursing resentment instead of mercy.
- 117. Sacred vessels for containing the Body and Blood of the Lord must be made in strict conformity with the norms of tradition and of the liturgical books.The Bishops’ Conferences have the faculty to decide whether it is appropriate, once their decisions have been given the recognitio by the Apostolic See, for sacred vessels to be made of other solid materials as well. It is strictly required, however, that such materials be truly noble in the common estimation within a given region,so that honour will be given to the Lord by their use, and all risk of diminishing the doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species in the eyes of the faithful will be avoided. Reprobated, therefore, is any practice of using for the celebration of Mass common vessels, or others lacking in quality, or devoid of all artistic merit or which are mere containers, as also other vessels made from glass, earthenware, clay, or other materials that break easily. This norm is to be applied even as regards metals and other materials that easily rust or deteriorate."
Ad orientem vs. Versus populum
Ad orientem is Latin for "toward the East." Every sunrise reminds us of the day when the Son rose from the dead. There was an ancient tradition that churches should be oriented (literally, "Easted") toward the rising sun, and that both priests and people would face in that direction while praying. More importantly, the entire congregation was spiritually turned towards God, seeking His face and making a joint offering through the priest to Him.
Versus populum is Latin for "against the people," which means that the priest faces against the direction in which the people are facing.
- GIRM, Chapter 5. [Emphasis added.]
- 299. The altar should be built separate from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible. Moreover, the altar should occupy a place where it is truly the center toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns. The altar should usually be fixed and dedicated.
- 303. In building new churches, it is preferable for a single altar to be erected, one that in the gathering of the faithful will signify the one Christ and the one Eucharist of the Church.
- In already existing churches, however, when the old altar is so positioned that it makes the people’s participation difficult but cannot be moved without damage to artistic value, another fixed altar, skillfully made and properly dedicated, should be erected and the sacred rites celebrated on it alone. In order that the attention of the faithful not be distracted from the new altar, the old altar should not be decorated in any special way.
- Wikipedia, "Ad orientem." [Emphasis added.]
- A letter of 25 September 2000 from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments treats the phrase "which is desirable wherever possible" as referring to the requirement that altars be built apart from the wall, not to the celebration of Mass facing the people, while "it reaffirms that the position toward the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier ... without excluding, however, the other possibility."
- Sacrosanctum concilium, §14. "Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy."
- Redemptionis Sacramentum
- English translation of Letter of protocol number 2036/00/L and date 25 September 2000