Monday, 11 November 2013

A few observations on versus populum vs ad orientem in the Syro-Maronite Church

The comments that led me to write a previous post regarding the term "Syro-Maronite" were rather broad in scope, so I suppose it would be in order to address another one of them here.

There is a bizarre idea prevalent among certain Maronite revisionists that we are some kind liturgical freak show, wherein many of the innovations introduced by the Latin Church with the Novus Ordo are claimed to be part of our tradition. There's a one word answer to that: WRONG! Had this been the case, we would have been exterminated from all sides: The non-Chalcedonians, the Byzantines, and the Latins. And I'm sure the Assyrians would have shot an arrow or two as well. As it happens, however, we were NOT exterminated.

Those Maronites espousing this unique revisionist position invariably deride "latinizations" and make de-latinization a cause célèbre. But when the say "latinization" they mean only those latinizations through the 19th Century, the vast bulk of which are from the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. They conveniently ignore the fact that what is being done today, even as we speak, is equally a latinization. But because this new wave is of Novus Ordo provenance, they look away and turn a blind eye. Actually, no, they don't look away: they wholeheartedly embrace Novus Ordo-inspired neo-latinizations with open arms. And that is 100 times worse.

For one example, we can look at the versus populum table. That practice is about as authentically Maronite as snow balls are authentic to the Amazon rain forest. The very idea that the Maronites, alone in the Levant, yeah, alone in the entire Church, developed a usage so divergent from the norm is preposterous. In other words, this versus populum table business is nothing more than another post-conciliar Novus Ordo-inspired neo-latinization, and it is really the most obvious one of all. 

The same versus populum disease has affected other Oriental Churches as well, including the Syriac CC, the Chaldeans and Syro-Malabars, and the Alexanrenes, to varying degrees. Even the Byzantine Meklites have been affected, at least to some extent. It's simply "monkey see, monkey do" syndrome: they see Rome and its innovative practices and just have to copy them, all the while disregarding their own patrimony and tradition. On the other hand, and to their credit, the Syro-Malankara Church has not, at least to my knowledge, veered from the authentic ad orientem practice.

Unfortunately, the Maronites have done absolutely nothing to rectify this grievous error. Equally unfortunate is the fact that the Syriac Catholic Church seems to be moving ever more in the wrong direction, meaning toward versus populum instead of away from it. It's truly sad, but there are some bright spots: the Chaldean reform from several years back has restored ad orientem, although numerous bishops have yet to implement it in their jurisdictions. The Syro-Malabars, under the guidance of Major-Archbishop Mar George Allencherry, have moved in the same direction. 

The idea of ad orientem worship is most traditional and not, as the revisionists would have people believe, something to be avoided. There are many things in favor of ad orientem, but nothing in favor of the alternate.

From an ancient Maronite instructional manuscript:

4. Pray towards the East. Because, "as the lightning which lightens from the east and is seen even to the west, so shall the coming of the Son of man be:" that by this we may know and understand that He will appear from the East suddenly.
And from the Didascalia Apostolorum:
Let the place of the priests be separated in a part of the house that faces east. In the midst of them is placed the bishop’s chair, and with him let the priests be seated. Likewise, and in another section let the lay men be seated facing east. For thus it is proper: that the priests sit with the bishop in a part of the house to the east and after them the lay men and the lay women, and when you stand to pray, the ecclessial leaders rise first, and after them the lay men, and again, then the women. Now, you ought to face to east to pray for, as you know, scripture has it, Give praise to God who ascends above the highest heavens to the east.

Note that, in both of the above quotes, Mass was NOT celebrated facing the people as some Novus Ordo revisionists insist was the practice of the early Church. Everyone was to face to the east, clergy and people alike. Everyone faced one direction. The texts cite Scripture as the reason for this. God is to the East, the origin of the light.

I suppose it's worth mentioning here that "east" need not necessarily be geographical east. In olden times, most churches were built with the proper geographical orientation, but in modern times, what with zoning laws and property parceling, that isn't always possible. Where true geographical east is not possible, the concept extends to what is often called "liturgical east" (sometimes called "ad apsidum" meaning toward the apse).

It seems to me that restoring the ad orientem posture in the Maronite Church is the first and most obvious step needed to begin stripping way the neo-latinizations. When this is accomplished, it will pave the way for  restoration of our traditional practices and the concurrent abolition of Novus Ordo-inspired innovations.


  1. I find a priest celebrating the Divine Mysteries versus populum to be extremely distracting. It seems to draw out attention away from God and on to the person of the priest.

    Versus populum worship is a godless protestant innovation that is a blight on the Catholic Church. May its death be swift and complete.

  2. i sure wish that full citations were given for quotations.