Monday, March 05, 2007

"Versus Populum" versus "Versus Orientam"

When I named this blog "Versus Populum," I chose the title deliberately. Because of my interest in liturgy, I intended a slight nod in the direction of what had been for some time a relatively minor controversy among church-types -- viz., whether the mass ought to be celebrated with the presbyter/pastor/priest facing the altar or facing the people. "Versus Populum" translates as "facing the people," but I did not intend to act as a proponent of that liturgical posture: I, in fact, prefer (for aesthetic, theological, liturgical, and pastoral reasons) the opposite -- called "ad orientem" or "toward the East" -- in which the pastor faces the same direction of the people, traditionally east, to face the rising sun/Son. I was convinced of the propriety of this position -- in contradiction of what I was taught by Robert Jenson decades ago -- by no less an authority than then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in a book written "before he changed the color of his cassock" (as Fr. Newman -- see below -- describes the situation).

I chose the title because I wanted to raise issues of church life face-to-face, as it were, with the people of the Church. I want to speak eye-to-eye, not from some great tower from which my wisdom can fall like rain on the needy. Just so it's clear: My choice of a title was word play.

Now comes a blog with a title the opposite of mine which does, in fact, stand for what it says: Fr. Jay Scott Newman writes "Ad Orientem," and he strenuously argues regularly for all kinds of re-orientation in the Church. Fr. Newman is a robust scholar, debater, writer, and priest. Even when I disagree with him (as I often do), I find that he is worth reading. (That, in this case, we agree both in principle and in level of enthusiasm on the matter of east-facing priests pleases me.) At this entry, he commends a book on the subject of the direction a priest ought to assume in leading the mass. I will try to read the book soon, especially given that it argues for a position with which I agree (and that it is endorsed by the person who convinced me of the propriety of the posture).

I commend further Fr. Newman's blog to you. He is a good friend of Fr. Al Kimel, whose work in "Pontifications" I regularly recommend here. And by reading the two of them (with a critical eye), one could get a quite decent education in classic Christian theology.

By the way, my title to this post is also meant humorously. I do not mean to suggest that there is a battle of the blogs going on between Fr. Newman and me. I'm smarter than that: I'd lose any such contest hands down. The lawyer in me just couldn't resist using "versus" three times in one heading.


Anonymous said...

Thyen there's also this Orthodox guy that I read from time to time:


Fr Jay Scott Newman said...

Dear Dwight,

I'm just a simple, Bible-believin' Christian and country pastor who enjoys the sport of a good fight! But I'm grateful for the traffic your post may bring to my fledgling blog. Keep up the good work.