Mass Facing the People: Option or Obligation?

I happen to have lived in the City of Newcastle upon Tyne in the years 1962-63, when my wife was training as a teacher in the Sacred Heart Sisters' College. I have very vivid memories of Newcastle. My first is its celebrated Brown Ale which I sampled frequently while working as a part-time barman in an effort to supplement our meager income-----I was also a student at the time. My second vivid memory is of the Catholic cathedral, particularly of its sanctuary which was among the most beautiful in any Catholic church in England. The sanctuary was separated from the nave by a delicately carved rood screen surmounted by a life-sized crucifix with statues of Our Lady and St. John. 14 In the place of honor upon the noble and dignified high altar, as prescribed by Canon Law, was the tabernacle containing God the Son Himself. The years I spent in Newcastle were, from a material standpoint, among the most difficult of my life. But to step into the Cathedral was such a joy, such a consolation, that the problems of this world seemed of no consequence whatsoever. Things human were mingled with things Divine; it was the anteroom of Heaven, the mind was lifted beyond the cares of this world to the delights of the world to come. "Respicite volatilia caeli-----Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?" (Matt. 6:26) The consolation evoked by this heavenly sanctuary was mingled with a sense of continuity with the Catholic heritage of my country. Just such an altar and just such a screen would have been found in countless medieval churches until, in all too many cases, the fury of the Protestant Reformers was vented upon them. A clearly defined sanctuary, a rood screen, even an altar rail, were too poignant a reminder that in the sanctuary took place mysteries celebrated by men who were not as other men, men who were priests according to the Order of Melchisedech, each one another Christ, an alter Christus who made our Savior present upon the altar, and offered Him as our Divine Victim each time that Mass was celebrated. But for the Protestant there was no Divinely instituted priesthood ordained to offer Sacrifice. The faithful were all equally priests, and they chose one of their number to distribute bread and wine in a commemorative communion meal. There must be no majestic sanctuary, no sacral language which the people did not understand, and the host should face his guests across the table, not face the east as a papist priest did when offering the Mass. And since what took place upon the table was a meal, the guests should receive both food and drink, the bread and the wine. What kind of host partakes of the wine and does not offer it to his guests? And since the bread is ordinary bread, and the minister is an ordinary man, he should place it in the hands of his guests. If he placed it upon their tongues it might appear that he had some power which they did not. It might appear that the bread they were given was not ordinary bread. The first Protestants correctly sensed that if they were to triumph they must destroy the Mass; if the Mass was to be destroyed they must repudiate the priesthood and without the Mass and without a priesthood, what possible need was there for a sanctuary? A sanctuary is for offering a Sacrifice, and there was no sacrifice now beyond one of praise, and no one part of the church was more sacred than another for the offering of this sacrifice. So let the sanctuaries be smashed, let their destruction signify the repudiation of the Sacrifice they had been built to enshrine. The first Protestant Communion Service was celebrated by the German Reformer Carlstadt in Wittenberg on Christmas Day, 1521. He wore no priestly vestments, used the vernacular, omitted the Canon and any prayers referring to Sacrifice, invited the entire congregation to receive the Lord's Supper under both kinds with the bread taken in the hand. Luther himself felt that Carlstadt had gone too far, or at least had gone too quickly, but he eventually adopted all his innovations and added one of his own-----a celebration facing the people.

14. A rood-beam separated the sanctuary from the nave and derives its name from the large, often life-sized, crucifix mounted upon it, usually flanked by statues of Our Lady and St. John. The word "rood" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word "rod"-----a pole, a gallows, and so, a cross. The Cross upon which Our Savior died was referred to as the Holy Rood. As far back as the thirteenth century, screens were erected beneath the rood-beam. Some exceptionally beautiful carved wooden screens can still be found in the parish churches of Devon, e.g., in Lapford, North Devon, a church referred to on p. 124 of my book Cranmer's Godly Order. The rood-beam was often wide enough for liturgical ceremonies to take place upon it (rood-loft), and the steps giving access to it still exist in some English parish churches where the screen itself was destroyed during the Protestant Reformation. The Feast of the Exaltation (14 September) was often known as Rood Day, Holyrood Day, or Roodmas Day.

Emphasis in bold, that of the Web Master.

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