Wednesday, September 11, 2013

FSSP Priest Caught Celebrating Versus Populum!


Never mind that it was at St. Clement's in Rome!


  1. Excuse my ignorance: Can the Mass not be celebrated ad orientem in St. Clement's?

    1. That's part of the joke! At St. Clement's, one of the ancient churches of Rome, the altar, situated at the west end of the church, is both ad orientem and versus populum.

  2. So what was the general practice of the early Church?

    1. In Rome it was common for architectural reasons. Many of the churches of Rome (the Lateran Cathedral, St Peter's, St Paul's, St Lawrence, St Clement's, St Mary Major and a few others) were built on top of relics of saints. The relics, located in underground chambers called "confessions," were located in the west ends of these churches and the entrances at the east end. So as to 1-keep the altar ad orientem and 2-have the altar over the relics, altars were built on the west ends of the church. This also meant that the altars were not built in front of the doors of the churches, as would have been the case if they were at the eastern end. In short, it was a common practice at some Roman churches for practical reasons. Note that it was done primarily so ad orientem worship could be preserved.

  3. Why do the altars of the eastern Church tend to be smaller, squarer, and free-standing?

    1. The reason is (so I've been told) for keeping continuity with OT worship, i.e., the altar in the Holy of Holies. Also, Eastern bishops' vestments still tend to have bells, like that of the Jewish High Priest.

    2. Bells? They do? There are bells on the censers, but I've not seen bells on Orthodox vestments. Then again, I don't often attend eastern liturgies, and when I do, I find it hard to concentrate on any one thing. I'm constantly distracted. I find the oriental aesthetic florid at best and decadent at worst. Give me the cold, plain stone of a Gothic cathedral, and priests in Roman chasubles muttering quietly in Latin before a lone gold cross and a few candles.

  4. There is also an altar where Mass was celebrated versus populum in the church where I was married. I'll try to find a picture of it.

  5. This is way off topic, but do you know when lace was incorporated into Catholic vestments? And why?

    1. Lace probably enters in the early baroque period, 16th or 17th century. I think it probably became part of servers' vestments prior to use in ministerial vesture. Servers, in ancient times through the Middle Ages, wore full length albs with appareling (meaning some details cloth that matched the fabric and color of whatever the priest was wearing that day) and wore tunicles over them on greater feasts. During the Renaissance period and baroque period tunicles ceased and albs progressively became shorter, giving us the surplice/cotta of today. Lace seems like a way of adding detail and ornament to what is an inherently boring vestment. Priestly garb then followed suit.

  6. It is funny that some liturgists, like Matías Augé, still use the old Roman basilicas to justify the practice of versus-populum Mass.

    To Philip: if you like albs, surplices and laces, here there are some comments (in Spanish) and images about these liturgical dressings:

    Kyrie eleison

  7. Dear Trad,
    Can you confirm absolutely all the basilicas you mention – the Lateran Cathedral, …St Paul's, St Lawrence, St Clement's, St Mary Major – are westward-facing?

    I ask because a person in the clerical estate with scholarly pretensions wrote last month in ‘the Tablet’ – that publication is perhaps known across the Atlantic – that the importance of the position of the Altars in two of these Roman churches was proximity to the people. I can’t recall if it was actually implied that the church buildings faced East, but it was certainly not acknowledged that they faced West. I was aware that S Peter’s faced West but in searching for this specific architectural information about the others, I drew a blank.
    I intended to comment on the assertions in the magazine but was not sure enough of the facts.

    The writer also entertainingly suggested that if it was the custom in Catholic churches ceremoniously to carry a book of the Scriptures from the Altar to a raised ambo in the nave, instead of the Vatii-mandated legilium near the Altar, this would help ecumenism with evangelical protestants. My experience was that such protestants already tended to have similar vatii-style platforms and also to keep their Scriptures there.

    And I seem to recall that in the ancient basilicas of Rome that still have old ambos – is it S Clemente and S Sabina? – they are, or were originally, linked to the altars and their canopies by solid low walls built to keep those in orders quite separate from the ordinary faithful. The ambos – not one but two, one each for Epistle and Gospel, are part of the exclusive barrier that divides the insiders from the less committed. Not quite such a radical vision of equality.
    I seem to recall too that only the Gospel ambo has stairs on two sides, while the Epistle ambo has stairs on the entrance door side and the reading desk facing the altar – or the bishop in the centre of the apse. So ancient ambos were not there to serve the laity it seems.
    The writer stated that the he liked them, because such a raised ambo with space below was an icon of the empty tomb.

    The feature of the cathedral in London the writer went on to applaud as an ancient style ‘ambo’ has always been described as a pulpit designed to accommodate a cardinal archbishop and his attendants, when preaching. [So they said and nothing about the using the throne – which is still where it has always been since the cathedral church was built, on the LHS of the Altar.] It is not an space for a deacon or even subdeacon too to read the Gospel from (although it may have been so used). It’s on the Epistle side, for one thing, although admittedly the book support faces across the church to the other. There is no ‘empty tomb’ image below it but just the space that results from a void surrounded by enough columns to support the weight of the large platform.

    This writer also stated quite disingenuously that people sat behind the Altar – I think he said on all four sides – ignoring the fact that there were no chairs for the people before around the fourteenth century – long after the arrangements in these basilicas has gone right out of fashion. The article never acknowledged that the people sitting to the rear – we presume the West – of the Altar were all clergy only, nor that those attending in the sides were there because they were outside those stone walls separating them from the ministers within in an era before architecturally separate chancels existed.

    This is what the liberal Church press fills its pages with in august.

    1. Yes, all those churches are facing West (and hence have Eastward altars). I have been to several of these churches and can verify it personally. If you would like verification, type in the names of those churches on Google Maps and notice the direction of the churches relative to the compass in the corner.

      St Clement and St Sabina do indeed have old (probably medieval) ambos. I have not been inside St Sabina, but I know St Clement has three: one for the Gospel (tall one on the north end), one for the Epistle/Prophecies (facing the altar, Westward), and a low one to the right for the choir conductor. All of them are enclosed behind a stone wall, a forerunner to the altar rail, and are clearly part of the sanctuary:

      As for the claim that the altar was arranged "close to the people," these two images of the old St. Peter's should clear up that perspective: one is of how the basilica would have appeared during the first millennium and the other is more in line with the Middle Ages. The bishop (Pope in this case) sat in the apse, with his concelebrants, deacons, subdeacons, and other servers. They are not only elevated with the altar, but separated from the people by the open wall, which evolved into the Rood Screen in the West and into the Iconostasis in the East (and in the first millennium, by the curtain around the altar which would close for the consecration). The more open, visible arrangement with an altar rail is a consequence of Trent's emphasis on the Eucharist and desire to make it a visible miracle for people.

      The "ambo" at Westminster is indeed a pulpit, only styled after a real Roman ambo and probably only used as one a few times a year before Vatican II, as the English Catholics opted for the Roman rite during the 19th century restoration.

      That said, in the Hagia Sophia there was a massive ambo in the nave for the proclamation of the Gospel. In the Byzantine tradition the singing of the Gospel is an event that takes place among the people and in their midst. This, this ambo was special, had two stairwells, was covered in a canopy, and was used only for the Gospel, not for preaching which, like in the pre-Tridentine Roman rite, took place from the episcopal chair. For an idea as to what this looked like, check out the re-construction in the first video:

      People sat around the altar on all sides, eh? Prior to Renaissance polyphony (to which you cannot sing along) no one sat down; rather, they continued to sing the ordinary chants and said other prayers during the propers. The exception would be pontifical Mass, during which the bishop would sit for the Epistle and Gradual. As you point out, you could only sit on three sides of the altar anyhow, and the people on those three sides, were they there, would have been clergy. These people should realize that the Tridentine arrangement was actually more open to the congregation than what preceded it (and what I prefer).

      Silly Tablet!

    2. Silly Tablet indeed.

      Thank-you again, Rad Trad.

      I did read Papa Ratzinger's 'Spirit of the Liturgy' when it came out, but I could not recall its referring to anything other than S Peter's. I was looking at another map that did not even show the shape of the buildings in the street pattern, let alone where the doors were.

      I forgot about the choir conductor. So the singers were not lay people in a gallery but in orders and inside the screens. S Clemente was illustrated in a school textbook and it made an impression. Never personally had a copy. If people have trouble visualizing, the walls I am speaking of ran parallel with the church side walls and then turned in to a gateway (some distance) in front of the Altar. The reading ambos were in the middle of the two long side walls. Looked like a modern sanctuary rail, but different shape.
      Was there a picture of the full arrangement on a previous post of yours?

      Sorry about the description of the author that manages to sound both coy and pompous but I simply do not remember the details, the magazine having gone for kitty litter a while ago. The writer was in orders, may have been connected with some monastic house and had apparently recently completed postgraduate studies somewhere. No recollection where, but disturbing that someone who had recently been involved in scholarship could write a piece that may have contained some erors, but certainly used half-truths to bolster utterly modern ideas of liturgical practice, leaving out both the point and many of the facts of the history.

      'Empty tomb'?One wondered if someone connected with his school had asked the students to imagine what the cubby hole under some architectural features reminded them of. This is imagination, not scholarship. Two ambos - two tombs?

      In their book The Architectural Setting of Anglican Worship, and talking mainly about something else, the anglican writer, Dr G.W.O. Addleshaw and the architect Frederick Etchells identified three types of Christian altar, including the 'mysterious' of the East and the 'dramatic' of the Catholic West. In the latter category they included Gothic ones set below a coloured window as well as the baroque sort with reredos and statuary. The important thing in this analysis was that both were up steps and designed to be seen from a distance. So we have never really been used to a small hidden alatr in England. Not sure which I like best. Both have their merits.
      [The book is mainly a fascinating historical account of anglican practice of the last fine hundred years but it is still useful for the wider church. The stuff about 1960's anglican responses to the liturgical movement is a wonderful period piece.]

      The ambo in the Great Church in Constantinople has interested me too. I have seen another reconstruction that suggested the Gospel ambo was part of the screen - obviously not an iconostasis in those days. I think this account also suggested that there was a structure designed for the emperor to use in state under the main dome, and the writer argued that the Patriarch - uniquely in this church - was ministering to the state in the person of the Emperor. I think that book dated from the seventies. Do we know the schoalrship has moved on since then?
      Both reconstructions however do show the ambo as having the conical roof, while placing it in different locations.
      Ah, the rebuilt 1810's Church in Moscow is where I have seen THAT brought to life. Are the Russians using out of date liturgico-architectural scholarship?

    3. Here is the most revealing image of St Clement's layout: The choir in the Roman churches were indeed in orders. Many first millennium Popes started off as singers in the basilicas. I sense the shortage of people in orders who could sing well is what led to the choir loft: lay people had to perform the function and it was most appropriate that they not be in the sanctuary (I disagree with it, but it is a telling illustration of how the "early Church" viewed the place of music).

      The Rad Trad prefers freestanding medieval styled altars topped with a grand ciborium! It makes the Sacrifice and the Liturgy, in which Our Lord actively makes Himself present, the forefront of the Church's faith. Many baroque reredos remind the Rad Trad of the stages in Italian operatic performances, trite secular vulgarities.

      I am not aware of the most recent scholarship about the layout of the Hagia Sophia. While the idea that the Patriarch was ministering in the place of the emperor sounds a bit extreme, its spirit may not be far off. It would be hard to overstate the union between the emperor and the Byzantine Church. Much of what Ultramontane Roman Catholics believe about the Pope, the Byzantines believed about the emperor: that he could actively manifest the words and will of the Holy Spirit. Historian Brooks Adams believes that the layout of Byzantine churches is round because it duplicates the layout of the meetings of the Imperial court: with the emperor in the center, surrounded by circles of his citizens. The emperor had at least one throne in the Hagia Sophia, and probably one in his Great Palace. Many spiritually read certain aspects of the architecture, such as the Patriarch's elevated episcopal chair for purposes of instruction, but the imperial undertones are very apparent (not to say similar things did not influence the Papal rite of Mass in the West).

    4. I don't really understand what that big "corral" is: the walled-off area.

    5. Forgive me, but I have misled the Rad Trad! I thought I was making sense, but what I wrote is indeed unclear.
      I meant to say that in Hagia Sophia the Church was ministering to the state in the persons of their respective heads. But of course the idea that the Patriarch represents the now absent emperor is a fact of modern Orthodox life. The flag of the patriarchate is now the imperial eagle. In the wake of 1453, there was little the remaining Christians could do but seek their protection through the Patriarch and the ottoman sultan recognized this role. That said, caesaropapalism did rather begin among the Orthodox – something of a pity THAT got taken up in sixteenth century England to say the least.

      I only mentioned the emperor because the video in the link showed the great Gospel ambo of the Holy Wisdom in one position – under the dome, while a book evidently published a generation ago depicted an ambo of the same style actually on top of the screen entrance. This had suggested the centre of the Great Church was given over to some place, fixed or otherwise, for the emperor and the entire court, with the ordinary citizens relegated to the sides behind the columns, with the two levels probably intended to separate men and women. In fact I think the decorative scheme is thought to indicate the empress and her ladies were upstairs on the gallery.

      (Do we happen know where the emperor’s throne was in the Church? Was it in the same position the sultan later occupied do we think, or was that governed by rather different considerations?)

      This arrangement was argued to be unique. Fascinating to know that at least one historian thinks all byzantine churches were influenced by the idea.

      I suppose the emperor and court could have worked round a central ambo for the Gospel.
      Thinking about it, it would make sense, if the Patriarch was in the Eastern apse on his throne, for the emperor to be in the apse opposite on a matching throne of his own. (Cf the throne room at Schloss Neuschwannstein). Then there would be plenty of space under the dome for any other symbolic ceremonial added to the Liturgy.

      The Moscow church (‘The Saviour’?), rebuilt reportedly to the original design, has a conical roof on top of a feature containing the gate in the middle of the iconostasis but I don’t think it contains an ambo. So I suppose back in the early nineteenth century at least the Russians thought the Holy Wisdom ambo was connected with the screen.

      “altars topped with a grand ciborium” – I’m quite keen on Bernini’s work. Curtains would certainly be an interesting addition. The twentieth century British architect Ninian Comper seems to have been as keen as you on such ciboriums: and HE managed the trick of combining gothic with classical forms. (Sounds crazy but it works). Big fan.

      “the stages in Italian operatic performances, trite secular vulgarities” – oh yes; down with Verdi, I say. I do have a soft spot for Rossini, tho’. He wasn’t that good and he knew it, so he didn’t try to write for the Church.

      PJ - ‘big corral’ – just so. This is the odd thing to modern eyes, whether brought up on Vat-ii or Tridentine spaces, or protestant versions of the divided chancel dreamed up in the nineteenth century.
      When the early church moved out of the catacombs into the basilicas, it thought it important to divide those who might casually turn up to church from those who were in some sort of orders. They were evidently serious about this. It was suggested in my text book that the committed were expected to be in some sort of minor orders; exorcists, readers, etc. Perhaps our host can confirm or otherwise. The western emperor Julian the Apostate was a reader - before his apostasy obviously. (I believe it was permitted for people to marry after receiving those orders.).

    6. If I'm not mistaken, Trent still allowed for married exorcists.

    7. Basilican practice :

      I forgot to ask the question that was the point of my returning to the subject. Must have cut it out by accident.

      In a westward-facing basilica, in which direction did the people face? Always to the East with the priest - therefore with their backs to him - or to the West, towards the Altar? OR a mixture. If facing ad Orientem was important I thought people must have turned that way for prayer - some of the time, but I assumed the people must have faced the Altar and the Blessed Sacrament.
      Are there relaiable records?

      On the 'big corral', again

      Everyone baptised could go in the church. IT was clearly felt important to make a distinction between the committed and the uncommitted and the way chosen seems to have been by the conferment of minor orders. The wall is not so big that people could not see over it. One presumes it had the psychological effect of reminding people that to get physically closer to the Sacrament was dependent on public commitment.

      It seems probable that the order of reader was a natural fit in an educated society, and would have looked like the modern practice of having the regulars on a list to read in church. Just a pity that the ability of the average laity to do that seems to have declined since the days of the Roman empire.

      I checked out Sta Sabina on wikipedia and the apse has been interfered with, and there is no longer a ciborium, but the low walls are clearly present with the ambos. All in all, S Clemente is the more complete and indeed, more aesthetically attractive, example.

    8. The great and good Fr Blake has a picture of the octagonal feature of the Moscow Church of the Saviour.

      I believe the royal doors can just be seen on the outer archway and that the whole of the lit area is a gateway to the usual sanctuary of the cruciform Church behind. I had forgotten how large the octagon was. Readers may recall in the reconstruction you linked to of Haghia Sophia the octagon was free standing. In Moscow it nearly is, providing a rather curious iconostasis.

  8. Again, off topic, but can anyone recommend any scholarly but orthodox (by which I mean, Tridentine-friendly) examinations of the liturgy? I'm reading Jungmann now, but he is obviously less than enthusiastic about many of the so-called "accretions" which distinguish Vetus Ordo.

    1. Try "The Mass" by Dr. Adrian Fortescue and "History of the Roman Breviary" by Msgr. Pierre Batiffol, both excellent scholars and certainly friends of the old rite. Another interesting writer would be the Anglican Gregory Dix, who wrote "Shape of the Liturgy," a more comprehensive history that goes beyond, but includes, the Roman rite. Lastly, perhaps the writings of Dom Aidan Kavanagh, a Benedictine monk; I know a priest who knew him as a monk and describes him as one more in favor of "renewal" than "reform." Hope those suggestions get the ball rolling.

  9. I've read the Shape of the Liturgy. He seems more Tridentine-friendly than Jungmann! Thank you, though.

  10. While we're on the topic of Gospel readings, perhaps some one can clarify something for me. I've heard trads say that the Alleluia in the NO has a different function from the traditional Roman liturgy, yet I've never heard any explanation for this claim. Any ideas, anyone? I'm guessing this is just more empty anti-NO claptrap.

    1. As is commonly the case, the traddies are right and do not know why. In ancient times the Gradual was an entire psalm. The psalm was called the "Gradual" from the Latin word for step, "gradua," because the deacon would be on the steps of the altar preparing to sing the Gospel (as he does in the pre-Conciliar rite still). During Paschaltide the word Alleluia (Hebrew for "Glory to you, oh God") was sung. Over time, in the Middle Ages, the Gradual was shortened to a fragment of a psalm as we have it today. Gallican influences kept the word "Alleluia" within it, not unwise considering every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection. Septuagesima season and Lent were exempt from this (but certainly are not in the Eastern rites, which sing the word in every service, every day) for the sake of austerity, hence the ceremonial burying of the Alleluia so common in some places.

      The Pauline liturgy purports to restore the Gradual to its ancient psalm form, which would involve a complete elimination of the Alleluia. The Alleluia was retained as a ceremonial speed bump between the second reading and the Gospel. It's really a silly little thing made to fill an interstice and is unrelated to the ancient or Tridentine praxis.

    2. So how do East and West traditionally and mystagogically explain the Alleluia?

  11. The Pauline psalm reading is perhaps the worst part of the Mass, at least in America. The psalms are butchered, the refrains facile. The relationships between the psalm and the other readings (and even the psalm and the refrain) are often inscrutable. And then there's *how* the psalms are sung ... Like an off-Broadway sing-along. As our Jewish "elder brothers" (that's the ecumenical term, no?) would say, "Oy."