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"Full of himself" Print E-mail
By James Schall   
Friday, 01 May 2009

A student recently asked me if I could recommend any nearby Catholic churches. He had just heard a sermon that, as far as he could make out, justified relativism.

I often hear parishioners comment that their pastor or assistant is “full of himself.” The very remark is enough to give any reflective priest pause. Every priest is there in persona Christi, not in his own charming or otherwise qualified personality.

The priest is not there to call attention to himself. He is not the main course. Such considerations, plus strange liturgical rubrics, send folks off looking for other parishes where they do not preach relativism or where the pastor is not “full of himself,” where the Mass follows the norms of the Church.

Such thoughts came to mind in reading comments by Australia’s George Cardinal Pell on the new English-language liturgical translations of the missal (he is in charge of coordinating the effort). On hearing these newly translated words, we may finally realize how vapid the present ones we use are. But we are people of habit. Some people won’t like it. A “conservative” will henceforward be someone who does not want to change the present translations, whereas a “liberal” will be one who likes the new ones.

Pell was asked about the direction the priest should face during Mass. He would favor the priest and congregation facing the East, all together facing towards the Lord, the proper focus of attention. Why? “Because it makes it patently clear that the priest is not the center of the show, that this is an act of worship of the one true God, and the people are joining with the priest for that.”

“The priest is not the center of the show” – that is a great line and a great truth.

Joseph Ratzinger made this same point in his Spirit of the Liturgy: “A common turning towards the East during the Eucharistic Prayer remains essential….Looking at the priest has no importance. What matters is looking together at the Lord.” A drum-major marches with his back to the band because he is leading them all to something in front of them. All go in the same direction. An orchestra director has his “backs to the people” so that both he and the audience can see and hear something beyond and in front of them.

Cardinal Pell adds something that I had not seen stressed before. If we insist, as many will, on the priest looking at the congregation and they at him, a “crucifix” should always be placed between the priest and the congregation. It reminds those on both sides of what is going on here. Neither priest nor congregation is the center of attention.

The temptation of the priest at Mass is to be an actor. Not a few excel at it. Ratzinger says, however, that, at the altar, the “priest must decrease, the Lord increase,” referring to John the Baptist.

The following Ratzinger words constantly remind us that the “silence” within the Church is there for a reason: “Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.” We do not attend Mass to be entertained, or to see a good performance, but to worship God. This awe in the presence of the Almighty ought to envelope priest, musicians, and congregation.

Cardinal Pell also touched on something that strikes me as of great importance. In his encyclical on the Eucharist (Ecclesia de Eucharistia), among other places, Pope John Paul II specified that neither the Mass nor the priest is a function of the community. Without the Mass, as it is in its integrity, no community exists. The community does not “ordain” its ministers. The Church is not a club or meeting hall or a political party.

All ministers in the Church testify to the truth as it is found in the Creed. This is why the Creed must be said every Sunday. It should begin, as in Latin and Greek, with “I believe,” not the present “we believe.” We stand at Mass attesting to our personal affirmation in the intelligibility of what we hold. We are a religion of intelligence.

At Mass, we are full of the Lord, not ourselves. What makes the community is the Mass, not vice versa. The priest is not an actor. He is a priest. He points beyond himself. What he does is not of his own making. He is a servant. He literally follows the books. He does not write them. With his people, he praises the Father through the Son in the unity of the Spirit, Whom he, along with them, worships. This worship is what goes on at Mass, nothing less.

James Schall, S.J., is a professor at Georgetown University, and one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America.

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Comments (36)Add Comment
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Holy Change
written by William Dennis, May 01, 2009
Excellant article! Over the last 40 years Mass in some places has degenereted into a dinner theater. Wherever did this liturgical music come from? Inacurate translations and acting are I am sure not what Vatican II had in mind. There will be resistence to the change and God forbid a bit of Latin get thrown into the mix. The progressives will not be happy. Fr.Schall your traditional and Classic writings are the best!
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written by John Kasaian, May 01, 2009
Beautifully said, Fr. Schall!
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written by debby, May 01, 2009
Dear Fr., This article even tho remarkably concise, is the best explanation i've read on this deeply signifcant matter. I am printing it out to give a local wonderful pastor & several friends. This is not rocket-science or even anything to be upset about. But we all need to be taught these points, it needs to be repeated over & over, even printed in every bulletin & missalette so we all know the what & why of worshipping Jesus, Truly Present in the Priest, Altar, Eucharist.
Thank you.
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HELP: I have questions
written by Jim, May 01, 2009
I worship at a modern AND reverent Mass. My questions:
- Isn't the Eucharist supposed to follow Jesus' command at the Last Supper? Did he and the Apostles all face the Eastern wall in the Upper Room, or did they sit around a table? If the priest is there "in persona Christi", shouldn't he do the same as Christ did?
- Why East? Isn't God everywhere?
- Why the same direction? Can't we worship, with reverence, facing one another and seeing God's image in the priest and in the faithful?
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written by B.A., May 01, 2009
Thank you Fr. Schall! I must admit there are certain masses I prefer to go to because a certain priest will say them. I have even known people who leave a church to follow a priest to his newly assigned church. This has reminded me that we go to church not for the priest, but for "Looking at the Lord." It's all about Him, not all about us. I give thanks to God for all of you wonderful priests out there who do point us to Him. Blessings!
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Translations
written by Howard Ng, May 01, 2009
I read an article a few years ago published in America magazine (Jesuit) about the new translations. Without denying that existing translations can be improved, it highlighted some of the awkward wording that will be introduced in the new translations, including: sullied, unfeigned, ineffable, gibbet, wrought, prefiguring, suffused. Should the goal of translations be elegant and majestic prose, or wording that can be understood by the faithful?
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written by Joe, May 01, 2009
Are you sure you teach at Georgetown?! Excellent article.

Howard Ng: "I read an article a few years ago published in America magazine..."

'Nuf said.
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Student
written by Achilles, May 01, 2009
I can't imagine how anyone could read Fr. Schall's beautiful words and not understand deeply. He always speaks to the heart of the matter and with an uncanny and gentle reverence for the Truth. I can not thank you enough Fr Schall. A.
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written by William H. Phelan, May 01, 2009
As we have been living through what the Blesssed Mother foretold in the Third Secret of Fatima, we will place the last forty years with all the other punishments that God has visited on us, to whit, The Flood, the Black Death, the Reformation, the French Revolution, WW I, WWII, the Cold War, etc. It will be called the Great Apostasy wherein the Church, from top to bottom, lost the Faith. Of course, no one will admit this for at least 100 years. The excuse, "the dead guy did it", always works.
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To Wiliam H. Phelan
written by Pio, May 01, 2009
By proclaiming the Great Apostasy and judging the Church's faithfulness, you have placed your own judgment above that of the Church's Magesterium. You are a classically orthodox....Protestant. Despite outward change and tumultuous years post-Vatican II, the faithfulness of the Church (led successively by Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI) and the eternal truths of her dogma have remained intact. With prayer, we'll eventually get the liturgy right too.
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To Joe
written by Howard Ng, May 01, 2009
Joe, thanks for an enlightening response to my question. Perhaps we should ask the ICEL to include the word "nuf" in the new translations.
Howard
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written by William H. Phelan, May 01, 2009
Dear Pio (Is that Nono?): We had the liturgy correct for 1,500 years (with 22 modifications since Trent). It was deliberately subverted to change our BELIEFS. Enter a Protestant liturgy. The minister (who CANNOT confect the eucharist, sic, he is a preacher) is facing YOU. In the 1,500 year old Mass, the sacerdotal priest (he has the charism to confect the Eucharist) is facing GOD. ICEL will eventually reintroduce the original Latin into English, which will obviate the Novus Ordo Mass!
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written by Stephen Phelan, May 02, 2009
Jim: I used to think the modern mass I went to was reverent until I went to the real deal. The point made here is that by the priest's turning to face the people after Vatican II, he became for too many the focal point of the Mass. When all faced the tabernacle, which USED TO BE behind the altar, the priest was simply leading the faithful in worship in persona Christi. Finally, adults should do better than "Why not..." when making a moral or other argument.
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Reply to Mr. Phelan
written by Pio, May 02, 2009
You miss the point. Both the Tridentine Mass and Novus Ordo are valid, per Paul VI and Benedict XVI. Ad orientem and versus populem are also both permitted. This is the current teaching of the Church...period! The issue here is the supposed defense of "traditional" Catholicism, including fealty to Peter's successor and the Magesterium, except when we disagree and have a different opinion. Then conspiracy theories emerge and we become the only "true believers", AKA cafeteria Catholics.
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To Stephen
written by Jim, May 02, 2009
Stephen, chill out, man. I was not making a grand moral argument, just asking a question. If you are related to William Phelan, the two of you would have been great warriors in the Crusades.
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...
written by Stanley Polkowski, May 02, 2009
I think Benedict made a mistake in allowing parallel Novus Ordo and Tridentine usage. He said that they are two usages of the same Roman Rite, but if the comments here are any indication, the faithful simply don't believe it. Latin may provide a unifying lingua franca, but having two Masses risks balkanizing the Church in a very real way. He should have done what Paul VI did: declare one Mass the single standard of Rome. If that is Tridentine, so be it.
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FE: HELP: I have question
written by Bill, May 02, 2009
Jim: (sorry for the long responces)
- While the Mass was commanded by Jesus at the Last Supper, it is not a reenactment of the Last Supper. The Mass is a participation in the Sacrifice offered by Christ on the Cross. While elements of the Mass do draw from the Passover ceremony, they also draw from Temple and synagogue worship. The Mass, the unbloody re-presentation of Christ’s Sacrifice, takes on a new dimension which goes beyond a communal meal and the seating situation at the Last Supper.
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Re: HELP: I have question
written by Bill, May 02, 2009
It has been the tradition of the Church to pray to the East since the beginning. The Fathers tell us that when Christ was crucified, He was crucified to the west of and facing towards Jerusalem. This being the case, then anyone coming up to see Him would have to be facing east. Also, the early Christians saw in the rising sun a natural symbol of Christ’s Resurrection and Second Coming, so they faced east in anticipation of Christ’s return. For more info see U.M. Lang’s Turning Towards the Lord.
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RE: HELP: I have question
written by Bill, May 02, 2009
While the Divine does dwell, in a way, within each of the baptized, the Lord is ultimately beyond both the priest and the congregation. During the Mass, the faithful come to worship a God who is in their midst but who is also throned above the heavens. By everyone facing the same direction in worship, we mark our common pilgrimage to the Lord, to salvation. Just as Moses led the Israelites during their years of wondering, the priest leads the faithful in their journey to the Lord.
0
...
written by Lorraine, May 02, 2009
I think Mr. Schall has forgotten the reason that the communion rail and looking at the back of the priest during Mass was changed by the Vatican Council. Worship was distant and meaningless to the catholic community. When Jesus said, "Do this in memory of Me" he sat at table with his friends. He did not turn his back on them. I have attended Mass at several different parishes in several different states in the past year. All he priests have shown reverence during the celebration.
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Thank you!
written by Jim, May 02, 2009
Bill, Thanks for the reply. Are you ordained? If not, you should be. You know what's going on and how to explain it. God bless.
Jim
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RE: HELP: I have question
written by Bill, May 02, 2009
Correction please, Christ was crucified to the east of Jerusalem. The Early Church Fathers wrote that as He hung on the Cross He was facing back toward the city, facing west. So for someone to approach Him, they would have to be facing east. Sorry for any confusion.

I am not ordained but I am in the process of discerning my vocation.
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...
written by William H. Phelan, May 02, 2009
I appreciate the chance to read the communications on this site. The Church has an enormous task of education ahead of It. The Mass was changed in order to make it more attractive to Protestants so some common communion could be achieved. They, to show their good faith, immediately "ordained" women which had NEVER been done in 6,000 years of Judeo-Catholicism. Ecumenism was dead on arrival and the purpose of the Novus Ordo Mass was largely vacated.
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...
written by William H. Phelan, May 02, 2009
Allow me to complete my previous e-mail. Bp. Fellay, the superior of the Society of Pius X, has written a worthwhile essay titled "From Ecumenism to Silent Apostasy" in which he describes how in order to accomplish ecumenism with Protestants and Jews, vital Catholic Truths were suppressed. Apologetics (why Catholicism is true!) and moral theology were no longer taught. The result? Forty years later a Church with no intellectual core, cf Notre Dame and Obama.
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written by Elaine, May 03, 2009
Several years ago, I attended a Bar Mitzvah. The rabbi began the service facing the altar with his hands raised, and he said (in English, it was a reform synagogue), "I go up to the altar of God. The God who gives joy to my youth." It was exactly the words the priest used to say after the Sign of the Cross to begin Mass. I thought to myself this went back to our very roots and we abandoned it without a backward glance.
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Bishop Fellay (to Mr. Phelan)
written by Pio, May 03, 2009
You quote Bishop Fellay, who until recently was formally excommunicated and is still not in communion with Rome, as an authority on "vital truths." Yet it is our Holy Father, Benedict XVI, who made it abundantly clear that the Society must accept the full teaching of Vatican II. We are entitled to our opinions, but the boundaries of "truth" are set by the Magesterium, not lay people or schismatics.
0
Question
written by Tobias, May 03, 2009
Some readers probably equate ad orientem with a return to Latin and the Tridentine Mass, but they are really separate issues. The arguments for ad orientem apply to Novus Ordo Masses too. Does anyone know of resources to explore this option for a mainstream but conservative parish (ie, ad orientem for a Novus Ordo Mass in the vernacular at a free-standing altar)? I am on our parish liturgy committee and want raise this with our pastor and fellow parishioners.
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written by Michael, May 03, 2009
Well, I feel that regardless of the direction the priest faces, whether we kneel to receive or pray, or whether we stand to sing is not the point. Regardless of this, the supreme moment is when the priest transfigures the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. That can be dione in a prison cell, a damp basement while hiding or in a glorious cathederal...Vatican II did not change the ordination and the eucherist is still as valid as it was pre-Vatican II. Thats the big thing.
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written by Wiliam H. Phelan, May 04, 2009
Pio: As someone who has challenged me twice on this article, please enumerate the teachings of V II which were not taught before. Be specific.

Michael: The bread and wine are not "transfigured" (the Protestant term), but are changed into The Body and Blood of Christ by means of TRANSUBSTANTIATION, i.e., the substance is no longer bread and wine.
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To Mr. Phelan
written by Pio, May 04, 2009
No doctrine was changed - it is timeless. My argument is about the relationship of the faithful to the Magestrium. We are bound to accept the fullness of current teaching and interpretation of such doctrine, and to follow current church discpline. That is why a faithful Catholic would not have attended a Tridentine Mass prior between 1970 and 1984, before Pope John Paul II again made its use avaiable. It is not up to you, me or Bishop Fellay to say that Vatican II got off track or subverted.
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Mr. Phelan - pt 2
written by Pio, May 04, 2009
Why would ANY Catholic use the writings of "bishops" of the Society of St. Pius X to support their positions, when they write the following:

\"...[Benedict] has professed heresies in the past...\"
\"[Benedict\'s] writings are full of Modernist errors...\"
\"...You cannot read Vatican II as a Catholic work..\"
[Re. Vaticn II]: \"The whole of a partly poisoned cake goes to the trash can.\"

Benedict XVI and his brother bishops are the ONLY legitmate source of interpreting Catholic doctrine.
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Deacon
written by David, May 05, 2009
Lorraine said, [pre Vatican 2 worship had become] "distant and meaningless to the catholic community". There is considerable truth to this. However, I think that Vat2 has swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. Too many liturgies are now all about the community, with endless intercessory prayers for the Smith's parakeet, and the success of Molly's entrance exams and a completely misplaced and prolonged kiss of peace that extends practically into Monday,
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...
written by William H. Phelan, May 05, 2009
Bp. Fellay and theologians of the Society of Pius X have been invited to "discussions" at the Vatican on the subject of Dignitatus Humanae which has always been a concern, specifically its teaching on the role of the State when a member teaches falsehoods or errors on religious subjects. The V II document seems to contradict Pius IX and Leo XIII who insisted the State had a duty to correct these errors in order to protect the spiritual and corporal welfare of its citizens.
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Senior Fellow
written by Stephen Haessler, May 05, 2009
Thank you Fr. Schall for reminding me about the importance of where we, and the priest, face during the miracle. God bless.
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Completing last msg
written by Pio, May 05, 2009
The website didn't process the last message fully. The end should have read:

Benedict XVI and his brother bishops are the only ones with the legitimate authority to interpret doctrine. Therefore, while we can legitmately argue that the faithful should be better educated about doctrine, Bishop Fellay and his cohorts clearly demonstrate the risks of private-personal interpretation of Church doctrine. Ironically, Bishop Fellay is doing precisely what Luther did.
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...
written by ROBERT BLAIR KAISER, May 05, 2009
Fr. Schall writes: The following Ratzinger words constantly remind us that the “silence” within the Church is there for a reason: “Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”

Applause in church? From his years in Rome. Fr. Schall knows (I hope) that there is nothing that stands out so clearly inside St. Peter's Basilica as applause.

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