Sunday, September 9, 2012

Custody of the Eyes and the EF Mass

Fr. Eric M. Andersen of SacredHeart-St. Louis parish, Gervais, Oregon, has posted an excellent homily on his Face Book page; you can also view the entire homily here, and it’s well worth the read.

I would like to focus on just one aspect of his homily here, adding a few comments of my own.

Fr.  Andersen, after developing the notion of appreciation for and consecration of our senses to God, goes on to use this example (my emphases throughout):

There is also the ancient practice among Christians of keeping custody of the eyes. This deprivation of the senses aids us in our growing in holiness. The ancient rubrics of the Mass instruct a priest to keep custody of the eyes even with God. So for instance, at the beginning of the Mass, the priest keeps a downward glance, not looking at the people nor at the Crucifix. Even after he approaches the altar, he keeps his eyes cast down through the Confiteor and the Kyrie Eleison. He does not look up at our Lord on the Cross until the singing of the Gloria, having been thus reconciled with God. But why does he avoid looking at the people? He avoids eye contact with the faithful because he is not to draw attention to his own person, but only to his office as priest. His office is that of the Eternal Priest, Jesus Christ. So his actions are those of the Church and not of his own personality. In this way, the man who is the priest becomes invisible, and the priest, who is a man of the Church, communicates the sacramental actions of Christ and not his own actions.

Mass: It's not a media event!
Yes. Wouldn’t it be nice if more than a handful of priests recognized this aspect of their priesthood and of the liturgy, and actually put this into practice? It makes the ad orientem celebration of Mass appear all the more appropriate, doesn’t it? We don’t need to see the priest’s face, and he doesn’t really need to see ours! The Mass is not about him or us…it’s about God. When the priest faces the people, especially if he is using the vernacular, there is the ever-present temptation – and even pressure – to become the talk-show host, the entertainer.

That also reminds me of a comment by Fr. Paul Nicholson in one of the videos available on ChurchMilitant.TV (“Weapons of Mass Destruction, Part II”). In discussing his own “discovery” of the EF Mass and ad orientem worship, he notes that people don’t need to see whether Father has a happy face this morning, or if he looks upset about something so that they think they need to say something to him. And he also points out quite humorously that the priest “doesn’t need to see people getting up and going to the bathroom!”

When the priest and the people all turn toward the Lord, they don’t focus on each other or themselves, but instead place the focus exactly where it belongs, all together, of one accord.

Back to Fr. Andersen’s homily and the healing of the deaf-mute:

This is what Christ Himself shows us in the Gospel today. His action is a sacramental action. Looking up to heaven, he touches the man’s ears. He spits on His own finger and touches the man’s tongue, but He looks up to heaven while He does this. He does not look at the man while he heals him. This is so that the man will understand that the healing comes from heaven. It comes from God and not from man. It comes from the divinity of Christ, and it is communicated through his humanity.

The man is deprived of his sense of sight in order to be healed. We can see this in the sacrament of Confession. The modern practice allows for the hearing of confessions face to face, but I would argue that it does not communicate what is actually happening in the sacrament. We do not confess our sins to the man who is the priest facing us. We confess our sins to Jesus Christ, through the priest who is a man. But it is Jesus Christ who is listening to our sins and who absolves our sins through the sacrament. When we are deprived of looking at the face of the priest, whether through a screen or by closing our eyes, then we are more aware that it is God to whom we are speaking. It is God who forgives our sins. There is a man who becomes invisible to us so that we can see God.

That makes so much sense! I think we fall too much into the trap of modern psychological counseling sessions with face-to-face confession. Certainly, the priest is to offer some spiritual advice, but few priests have training in psychological counseling – which I think is what people often come to expect in face-to-face confession. Face-to-face interaction with an untrained counselor can lead to subtle reinforcement of certain ways of thinking or confessing which the penitent might have (in fact, in any situation, if the listener nods and makes “affirming” comments, this will increase the frequency of those types of comments).  If the priest is “invisible” to the penitent, and the penitent is “invisible” to the priest, both can remove some of the human hindrance of the sacrament and give the Holy Spirit more opportunity to do what He wants to do.

Fr. Andersen also makes the following point about the Eucharist:

Likewise, in the consecration of the Holy Eucharist, there is a reason why this has traditionally been hidden from our eyes. It is hidden so that we may believe. When it is so open, we see the piece of bread now at this moment as the priest picks it up, says some words and lifts it above his head. But all the while we see the piece of bread and it does not appear to change. Our minds need a transition. That is why it has historically always been slightly obscured or hidden altogether so that we do not see it clearly until after the consecration when it is lifted up to God and what we see is Jesus Christ. Through the deprivation of our senses, we see more, we believe more.

Back in my Pentecostal Christian days, we used to sing a song that said, “We walk by faith”, etc. There was the implication that we had more faith than anybody else. In the process of becoming Catholic, though, I learned about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. And I have thought to myself more than once that that is a teaching that really requires faith. That teaching requires more faith than anything I was taught in my Pentecostal church, because that mystery is greater than any other mystery.

In communities and groups where the extraordinary form of the Mass is preferred and accessible, all of these aspects discussed by Fr. Andersen are present. The Mass is said ad orientem; the faithful seem to prefer confession with a screen separating priest and penitent (and seem to value frequent confession); the consecration is obscured. Consequently, the faithful who attend the EF Mass, compared to those who attend the NO Mass exclusively, appear to have a greater awareness of the Real Presence – or at least they show more outward signs of reverence for it.

And, in my experience, the priest who knows how to celebrate the extraordinary form of the Mass – and does so regularly – gives a better homily than his NO-only brother priests; he speaks the truth clearly and concisely in an effort to get his sheep to Heaven.

Just sayin’.

For more posts on the TLM and liturgical abuse, click on the tab at the top of the page.

For more homilies by Fr. Andersen, click on the tab at the top of the page.

1 comment:

  1. Fr. Andersen obviously has a clear understanding of his awesome responsibility!

    In the Sacristy prior to the Tridentine Mass, vesting prayers are said by the priest.

    As the priest puts on each garment, he says a special prayer. This helps to put the priest in a proper frame of mind to maintain "custody of the eyes" as they approach the Altar.

    I don't know if NO priests say vesting prayers, but the following is what I found online:

    Such prayers are no longer obligatory but neither are they prohibited. It is recommended in the 1969 Missal of the ordinary form promulgated by Paul VI. They help in the priest's preparation and recollection before the celebration of the Eucharistic sacrifice.

    Functions and Significance of the Liturgical Vestments
    1. It helps one to be detached from the everyday concerns.
    2. It puts the individuality of the one who wears them in order to emphasize his liturgical role.
    3. It is a statement that the liturgy is celebrated "in persona Christi" and not in the priest's own name.


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