12 January 2015

KATA ANATOLAS; Eastwards is best

Are there 'Magisterial' explanations of why we should face East to celebrate the Most August Sacrifice of the Mass? I would like to know if there are. Curiously, the only such one that I know is ... YES! ... in the Post-Conciliar Liturgia Horarum!! Turn (if you possess a copy) to the Monday after Lent 4. You will find Origen's passage on Christ our Propitiation, with its quotation of Leviticus 16:14 'and he shall take of the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it with his finger upon the mercy seat eastwards', and Origen's comment 'the fact that he sprinkles eastwards is not something you should take lazily; it is from the East that Propitiation comes. For it is from there that the Man comes whose name is East (anatole), who is made mediator between God and Man'.

Back in my Anglican days, as I celebrated Cranmer's Liturgy in deepest Devon, I explained to the congregation that, having concluded the 'Comfies' with S John's phrase '... for He is the propitiation for our sins', I would turn to the East whence comes our propitiation and sprinkle the Blood of the New Covenant over the Heavenly Mercy Seat which in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is made one with the Altar of our earthly church building. Perhaps I should fish that homily out for use again, now that we have the Ordinariate Use of the Mass, with the 'Comfies' optionally available.

But if the wonderful people of Broadwood Widger (yes! English villages really do have names like that!) had picked up a newer translation of the Bible, they would have found that the word 'eastward' no longer appeared in the text of Leviticus - the translation I have given above is from the King James Version. Exactly in the same way, after the new breviary was authorised (1971), the new edition of the Vulgate appeared (1979), with the same omission made, in deference to the latest developments in Old Testament scholarship. Subsequent editions of the Liturgy of the Hours brought its biblical lections into line with the Neovulgate. So the Patristic Reading for that Lenten Monday, chosen to be a commentary on the Biblical Reading for the same day (Leviticus 16:2-28), now explicates a text different from the one which has just been read, with the crucial words missed out! Such is the wonderful world of endless liturgical Improvement by Experts!

I wonder if enough thought was given when the Neovulgate was devised to the fact that it would create a hiatus between the Bible in people's hands and the Bible upon which the Fathers and the Schoolmen wrote their commentaries (a loss, one might say, in diachronic unities). It was thought that basing one's translation upon the consensus of modern ecumenical scholarship (for example, the Neovulgate New Testament is essentially based on the Aland/Martini text 'qui nostris temporibus, communi consensione, summam habet auctoritatem') would be good ecumenically (reinforcing, as it were, some synchronic unities). But it needs to be pointed out that the old Vulgate is very often in agreement with the Greek Septuagint, which is still the base text used by the Orthodox.

8 comments:

Joshua said...

I recall reading that in medieval days even lay folk naturally turned to face east when praying, quite apart from at Mass; a knight in a tale is mentioned as piously dismounting his steed in order to turn east and utter his private prayers.

Unknown said...

Fascinating. Any idea why the Hebrew qedmah, 'eastwards', has been ignored in some of the more recent translations? It's clearly there, BHS gives no variant, and the JPS version translates it. Are we dealing with a deliberate suppression of ad orientem proof texts?! Fr G. D.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

A very good question, Father. Brown/Driver/Briggs give three meanings for the root QDM: FRONT; EAST; BEFORE(=previously). I can only assume that semitists have a good reason for having changed their options. Not that all of them seem to have done so: The 'Revised English Bible' sticks with Eastwards.

William said...

I wonder if that interpretation was a short-lived scholarly fad, which just happened unfortunately to be prevalent at the time that the Nova Vulgata was being produced? From biblegateway.com, it appears that almost every translation produced in the last 20–25 years has gone back to rendering this occurrence of קדמ as "east". Perhaps even more tellingly, so do the two Jewish translations available on that site (Complete Jewish Bible and Orthodox Jewish Bible). This presumably represents an interpretative tradition uninfluenced by the LXX's κατὰ ἀνατολἁς. What, one wonders, was the justification for adopting a translation in keeping with neither interpretative tradition? (And is it too late to ditch the entire Nova Vulgata as a misconceived enterprise and go with a modern scholarly edition of the "real" Vulgate such as Weber-Gryson?)

Oliver Nicholson said...

Erik Peterson La Croce e la preghiera verso Oriente, Ephemerides liturgicae 59 (1945) 52-68
collects much of the evidence. The East was the quarter in which the Sign of the Son of Man was expected to appear. I have argued (Vigiliae Christianae 2000) that this (rather than 'conversion') is what is behind Constantine's Vision of the Cross.

Jacobi said...

My Bible,(Gibbons,1899) is quite clear.

"seven times towards the propitiatory to the east"

Now to drop "east" from that would be a mistranslation, a falsity.


p s Wasn't Broadwood Widger in one of the Midsomer Murder episodes?

David Chislett said...

I see that the English Standard Version (ESV) reads:
English Standard Version
And he shall take some of the blood of the bull and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy seat on the east side, and in front of the mercy seat he shall sprinkle some of the blood with his finger seven times.

Edwin said...

All very well in (most) Anglican churches, which are properly aligned; but in the two Catholic churches where I regularly celebrate one (in Lymington) faces South and the other (in Bournemouth) due North ..very confusing