Tuesday, August 10, 2004


Today I set out on a glorious voyage of self-aggrandizement.

A friend has been after me to establish my own blog. I think, at heart, she is tired of my long tirades in response to her postings. And so I've set up my own space to set out some thoughts on a random basis (my daughter claims that my conversation is always heading in "random" directions -- apparently that's one of the hot words among her friends.

In any event, I shall be setting out some thoughts occasionally at this site. I have no idea what I'm doing or whether I'll be able to sustain this thing. I'm not particulary self-motivated. BUT this is a chance to try something that I have long wanted to do -- to engage on a semi-regular basis with brothers and sisters, known and not-yet-met, on various theological and political themes and issues.

It's strange to send thoughts out to no one in particular. Consequently, each post will likely be directed to someone who may or may not recognize himself or herself in the address.

So with those prefigurings, let's begin.

But first, this: "Versus Populum" means, as I understand it, "toward or over against the people." I pick it up because it is a hot-button item in liturgical theology right now. There is controversy, again, over whether the presiding minister (whether that be priest, presbyter, minister, elder, or whaterver) ought to face the congregation over the altar/table during the liturgy (mass, service, etc.). Vatican II began -- or arguably, reinstated -- the practice of "versus populum" -- i.e., of the presider facing the people. It caught on in all liturgical traditions -- to the point that churches were remodeled (in some cases, sacrificed) to accommodate the new "model." Now, with the help of Cardinal Ratizinger in the Vatican (arguably the most influential thinker in the Vatican hierarchy -- and probably the most brilliant), that model is being challenged. "Face East," the cry goes, because in so doing, the presider leads the people in their reverence, honor, and worship toward God. God is less "in our midst" than "on His way" from the seat of power.

It's a debate that has remarkably good and telling points to be made on both sides. And I chose the term for the name of my blog because it seems to me to raise the possibility of active disputation (my favorite way to relax). Where I worship, we have never gone versus populum; the pastor does, however, turn to elevate chalice and paten during the (words of institutioni) in the weekly Eucharist. So I'm used to one kind of practice. I was trained, however, by a theologian who insisted that the only sensible way to celebrate was versus populum. And since he was the theologian who made the biggest impression on me, that ideology has stuck.

I, thus, turn to the people with questions, with ranting, with thoughts; I set them out with the hope that somebody will respond with arguments, information, corrections -- and, of course, compliments for the tightness of my reasoning and the enlightment obvious in my expressions of my position!


Anonymous said...

Brother Dwight,

Welcome to the Bloggosphere! It is truly meet, right and salutary that you do this. This is so you!

I am more pleased than I can say, and am grinning from ear to ear.
Sister Dash

Anonymous said...

Versus Populum

I, too, have a preference for this practice. I, too, learned to prefer it through the opinion of the theologian who first and most influenced me. The ideas on both sides are compelling, and I see the value of all sorts of arguments pro and con.

Ultimately, though, it's not high on my list of things to feel persnickety about. For example, a far more important worship issue to me is whether the presiding minister skimps on the Great Thanksgiving. I feel so cheated when a pastor glosses over the GT and just picks up the paten and baldly metes out the Words of Institution.

(But then, you could sponsor a good debate over that, too, brother!)

Dwight P. said...

Sister Dash,

For my money, the single most important "innovation" in the Lutheran Book of Worship was the ASSUMPTION that the so-called canon of the mass among Lutherans (so-called by about 2 of us Lutherans) would include a Eucharistic Prayer or Great Thanksgiving. It recognized the non-magical nature of the Eucharist.

To this day, I think that those who use only the Words of Institution are repristinating pre-Reformation Transubstantiationists, believing that magic words transform bread and wine into Jesus. That ain't what's goin' on. Similarly, those who bow during the recitation of the "verba" (words of institution) betray a certain magic-orientation, suggesting that there's something special about the words that transmogrifies the molecules of the wafer and wine.

Lutheran understanding is that the entire action -- from "The Lord be with you" through the Amen following the Our Father -- is the consecrecation. Prayer is the nature of the consecration. The import is placing what happens "here" witin the context of the history of God's mighty deeds of salvation (i.e., the history of salvation). That's why I also am dissatisfied with GTs that don't review that history, but rather focus just on Jesus. I don't think we understand Jesus a whit if we don't know our Old Testament (which is a backhanded way of sneaking in a compliment to your reading your way through the Old Scripture).


Steve said...

The only comment I have is that, although versus populum began sometime after VII, nowhere in any of the VII documents does it mention changing the Mass to "face the people". It is my contention that liberals in the church purposely introduced this innovation. It should never have started. The Mass was hijacked with this and all the other invalid changes supposedly stemming from VII.