A little over three years ago—June 9, 2008—I began a regime of daily mass, praying the rosary, and other daily devotions that have greatly strengthened my internal life and during that time I have attended daily mass at our home parish, very close to home, and another parish a bit further away.
Both were joys to attend, but my heart was yearning for the Latin Mass I had been attending on Sundays prior to beginning the daily practice in 2008, which I had hoped to see begin at either parish after Pope Benedicts opening up of it, as the local parish offering it daily—which we had been attending on Sundays—was a substantial drive away for daily use.
However, as we approach yet another changing of the missal in November, I have embraced the extra drive to fulfill my heart with the beauty and solemnity of the Latin Mass, encouraged to do so after rereading Romano Amerio, the great Swiss scholar of the Catholic Church, from his seminal book, Iota Unum, concerning the change resulting from Vatican II, that of the orientation of the mass.
“An altar facing the congregation presents serious difficulties. If, as often happens, it stands in front of the tabernacle, then the celebrant most unbecomingly turns his back on the Blessed Sacrament in order to face the people. This arrangement recalls the “abomination” deplored in Ezekiel 8:16 [And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the Lord; and behold, at the door of the temple of the Lord, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, worshipping the sun toward the east.] where the priests sacrifice with their backs turned to the Sancta Sanctorum, the Holy of Holies. The unsuitability of this arrangement is all the more obvious when one considers that under the Old Law the Sancta Sanctorum was merely a prefigurations of what was to come, whereas in a Catholic church we are dealing with the Sanctissimum; the Holy One Himself. Again, it should be remembered that pulpits were built at the side of the nave so the preacher would not have to turn his back on the host, and during the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, if there was to be a sermon, the host and monstrance were veiled, as it was held to be irreverent even to be in sight of the Sacrament without directing one’s attention to it.
“But apart from questions of reverence to the Blessed Sacrament, the celebration of Mass facing the congregation has specific difficulties of its own. The spaces in which we move have an emotional and symbolic significance; common space, within which all material bodies exist, is divided not only by physical objects but by non-physical meanings that are the basis of symbolism, which in its turn provides the intelligible face of the sacred. For example, forwards means hope, and backwards means something suspect; the right is favorable, the left unfortunate; high signifies divine, low signifies evil; straight is truth, oblique is uncertainty, etc. Thus in the liturgy too, the placing and arrangement of persons and things has an underlying meaning that either does or does not conform to the sacred realities involved. For the priest to turn his face to the people and the people to face the priest during the most sacred parts of the ceremony expresses a completely different ethos from that which prevailed when they both faced the same way. This face to face celebration breaks the symbolic unanimity of the whole assembly. As Mass was usually celebrated in the pre-conciliar period, priest and people were all of them turned towards a God who is symbolically before and above them all. These positions reflect a hierarchical arrangement and a theocentric orientation; they look God-ward. In the new “back-front” Mass, both people and priest are turned towards man, in an anthropocentric arrangement. The united sense of the Church is spoiled, because the God towards whom the people are turned stands, as it were, in the opposite place to the God whom the priest is facing. The priest’s right also becomes the people’s left. The celebrant stands before a God on whom the people turn their back, and vice versa. Of course one can ignore this arrangement of persons and concentrate instead on the host upon the altar, but it is nonetheless natural for human piety to proceed figuratively and to think of people in symbolic places. As I have said then, the united sense of the Church is spoiled by face to face celebration, because the Church’s sense of worship depends on a united looking towards God, and not upon its members contemplating one another. The Church is reduced to a closed community of human beings, when by nature it is really a community directed outwards beyond itself, towards a single transcendent point.”
Romano Amerio. (1996). Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century. Kansas City: Sarto House. (pp. 646-647).