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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

We Are Not Actors at Holy Mass

I mentioned about a week ago that I was having a conversation with a fellow Catholic about the Mass and how it is viewed.  You can read about that HERE.

During the course of that conversation another Catholic piped up and said the following:

You (the first Catholic I was speaking to) convinced me in the last long thread that your understanding of the term "acting" is valid, but it isn't exclusively so, and nothing prohibits its overlapping with a simultaneous use in Andy's sense in the Mass, and that is unfortunate. 
Given the ubiquity of performance art, especially in its televised and cinematic forms today, versus populum is going to strike a responsive chord in the congregation that is not at all desirable. Most of the congregation will have been socialized and conditioned by big and small screens to see versus populum through the filter of modern visual media that are heavily devoted to programming at odds with Catholic doctrine. It's inescapable, except perhaps for the blind, who are a very small segment of the population.
The very fact of turning the priest to face in the same direction of the population, on the other hand, will serve as an immediate visual cue that the Mass is fundamentally different from cinematic and other such experiences. 
My response to this is as follows:

I think that I agree with (the second poster) regarding the ad orientem position on one hand, but on another, I think that it can be developed a little more.

He says, "The very fact of turning the priest to face in the same direction of the population, on the other hand, will serve as an immediate visual cue that the Mass is fundamentally different from cinematic and other such experiences."

The Mass is fundamentally different from "acting." There is action taking place to be sure, but those in the sanctuary are not acting out a role. That is to over emphasize the idea of participatio activa. Are they merely doing something or are they completing an action? 

That's the real question here and one that has been ignored. The answer is that they are doing both, but that does not constitute that they are acting. Because I am writing this post doesn't mean that I'm a writer. It means that I am writing this post. I am completing an action.

However, the more important thing to understand in this is that the Mass shouldn't be seen as something akin either positively or negatively to the cinema, the stage, or television. No. The Mass is an action which is completed not by those playing a role, but rather by those who are genuinely completing an action. They are actually doing something, not just being active. And that is what is being misunderstood.

There is a fundamental difference in posture. The priest is mediator. That is precisely what he does when he acts in persona Christi. He is mediating between God the Father and the faithful worshipping in the pew. Nothing more, nothing less. He isn't presiding, he isn't proclaiming, he isn't acting. He is BEING a mediator. His soul is marked for this and for this primarily. He is not acting, he is being.

When the priest faces the same direction as the people, several things are happening...

1. He is leading the faithful as Moses led the Israelites.

2. He is offering on behalf of the faithful. Speaking to God the Father as one of them, but specially called to do so.

3. He is making an offering which is private. It is not for "all to see." It is the priest's offering on behalf of the faithful. It is not something which is necessarily seen as communal, primarily, but rather it is a time for the priest to gather the intention of the faithful and for him (in persona Christi) to offer the unbloody sacrifice.

The communal aspect comes from the fact that the faithful gather to worship as one while the priest offers the Mass. What happens outside the rail has little to do with the ritual action inside the rail. In other words, if my mother meditates on the Mass and I meditate on the life of Christ and my girlfriend meditates on the PDR and her sister meditates on the Immaculate Heart of Mary...we are all worshipping as a community, but that in no way changes what the priest should be doing on our behalf. It is how we unite to him prayerfully, not how he proclaims to us publicly.

The idea that the Mass must be a communal and cinematic experience is directly in conflict with the purpose of the Mass. The priest and his ministers are not acting. He is BEING and they are assisting. That is why it is most proper that we assist at Holy Mass, from the pew.  

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