Where the priest should look during Mass

In response to the post Facing the Crucifix, Gem of the Ocean said:
H'mmm...so the pope wants me to look at the cross on the altar, rather than the REAL PRESENCE in his own hands?
I think that it is worth explaining a little more about the question because obviously it would be wrong for the priest to look at the crucifix in preference to the consecrated host. This is a good example of how the rubrics of the old rite can help us to celebrate the new rite better.

In the old rite, the priest learns to look up at the crucifix and then down at the host during the offertory prayer for the bread (Suscipe sancte Pater). Thus his attention is drawn to God, to whom he offers the sacrifice, and to the host which is offered. At the same time, he is reminded to offer himself. Offering the chalice, (Offerimus tibi Domine) he looks only at the crucifix, asking God's clemency for our salvation and that of the whole world.

When "looking up to heaven" in the Canon in union with Christ (elevatis oculis in caelum), the crucifix serves as a focal point if it is suitably elevated. The altars in St Peter's are a good example of construction that is ideal for the Mass. Then he looks at the host intently as it is consecrated. At the elevation of the host and chalice, the priest can look both at the body and blood of Christ now truly present, and at the crucifix which reminds him of the sacrifice Christ offered of his own body and blood, the sacrifice that is made present here and now. Thereafter, he does not look up to the crucifix again until the blessing (when the elements have been consumed). Rather, he looks at the host when saying the Memento of the Dead, the Pater Noster, and the preparatory prayers for Communion.

Unless you take the "wearing your alb back to front" view of the rubrics of the Novus Ordo, there is no reason why a priest could not observe all of these traditional customs when saying the new Mass. The examples that I have given do not constitute an exhaustive list - priests could consult J B O'Connell's "The Celebration of Mass" for more details.

The crucifix needs to be a reasonably tall one and the corpus should face the priest. There is some debate about this on the grounds that it might "exclude" the people. (It would be a good idea to read Fr Z's post on this before commenting on this particular issue.) On following this debate, it becomes obvious, as Cardinal Ratzinger hinted in "The Spirit of the Liturgy" that the only sensible solution is for us all to face eastward together.

The authors of spiritual books for priests also used to emphasise the priest's custody of the eyes. He was not to look beyond the altar rails when saying the Orate Fratres, for example. This might sound odd to modern ears until you consider the effect of the constant "eye contact" that seems to be de rigeur in some celebrations of the new Mass. The priest's personality can dominate the whole celebration of the Mass with unfortunate consequences for the laity who are distracted from the action of God which takes place, and for the priest who can be tempted to pride.

Popular posts from this blog

Cradle Catholic snobbery as ridiculous as any other kind

Saint Ignatius on heresy, and the capsizing boat

CD 291: Confession now I am older and have fewer temptations

An edifying newsletter from a monastery with a welcome problem

Was the Canaanite woman correcting Jesus’ mistakes?