Some readers may not be aware that our more-than superb Ordinariate Missal, while tolerating a variety of ritual uses, demonstrates a distinct and habitual preference for ad Orientem. I give just two rubrical examples: "The priest kisses the altar and, turning towards the People, extending and then joining his hands, says aloud: Pray brethren ..."; and "He kisses the altar and, turning to the People, making the Sign of the Cross over them, he says: And the blessing of God Almighty ...".
Cardinal Nichols reportedly wrote recently to his clergy that the Mass was not an occasion for a celebrant to "exercise personal preference or taste". This phraseology rang an instant bell in my mind. Haven't I heard him say that before? Readers may like to have a bit of context here.
In September 2014, addressing by invitation laity and clergy of the British Ordinariate, Nichols spoke in terms very closely similar to this. I will share with you a few of his 2014 phrases; the rather obvious feature which you will notice is the insistent repetition of the same theme in very much the same words.
"What you do, if it is done in the spirit of your Patron, will not be done as matter of personal taste, of subjective likes and dislikes. Whether in matters of liturgy ... what matters is ... striving not to satisfy your own taste, your own personal preferences ...
"the fashioning of this Ordinariate contribution is not a matter of personal taste ... I also suggest a criterion by which that discernment between subjective taste and service of the truth may be made ... Does what you do, in pursuit of a proper distinctiveness, clearly lead to holiness?
" ... fashioning the patterns of the Ordinariate, be they liturgical ...
"We live in an age of deep individualism. The priority of personal satisfaction ...
"So I hope that as the Ordinariate develops, its parishes and groups will not be shaped by the individual personal preferences of its members, by personal likes and dislikes which are often so contentious.
" ... whatever we may be doing, whether in liturgy ...
" ... no other preoccupation, whether aesthetical ..."
I just love that the word contentious. Clearly, ex contextu, it means "what I personally dislike". So much, surely, is obvious. But I would like to be permitted a few contingent observations.
Firstly, both of the Forms of the Roman Rite allow for either orientation. This is clear in each case from their Rubrics. I am on record as suggesting that those who celebrate the Extraordinary Form should not be closed to the possibility of celebrating it facing the people, in a church building which is orientated so that facing the people is the same as facing East. I have myself happily celebrated the EF versus populum.
Secondly; this whole sad episode vividly warns us of the broader potential dangers of transfering competences from Roman Dicasteries to Bishops' Conferences. Nichols' recent email to his clergy was, of course, addressed only to the clergy of his own diocese. It is of highly doubtful authority even within his own jurisdiction (readers may remember how the local ordinary of EWTN once tried to compel Mother Angelica's people to conform to his personal preference for versus populum but was compelled by Rome to withdraw his ultra vires 'regulation'). But Episcopal Conferences, if Papa Bergoglio gave them the sort of powers disallowed in the Apostolos suos of S John Paul II, could make things very bad for priests and parishes. I can imagine 'local regulations'. There are persistent hints that some pushy Conferences want more powers "in the interests of subsidiarity" ... and one suspects what that could mean in terms of wholesale local bullying and the attempted elimination of lawful liberties currently enjoyed.
We need to remind ourselves of that superb example of real subsidiarity, given when Summorum pontificum established the competence of celebrating the EF in the hands of the celebrating presbyter. Ecce Subsidiaritas vera et authentica! Here is another piece of subsidiarity: "Any priest of the Ordinariate may ... celebrate the Mass according to Divine Worship outside the parishes of the Ordinariate when celebrating Mass ... publicly with the permission of the rector/pastor of the corresponding church or parish." No need for episcopal approval! Vivat Benedictus papa!
Thirdly: we in the Ordinariates should admit that we do ourselves have duties and important obligations towards the broader church. Perhaps we have been negligent. We owe it to the 'diocesan' Church to be much more proactive in explaining what it is about our own liturgical patrimony which makes it (in Pope Benedict's view) such an important gift to the entire Church. The importance of things like versus Orientem and Communion received kneeling are not understood by many in the Novus Ordo ethos; and how can the poor chaps and chappesses understand if nobody ever explains these matters to them? The Ordinariates are in the splendid position of being able to say "Here am I: send me"!
And perhaps we should be less reticent about explaining what is so contentious about the musical texts, the soggy and dodgy drivel, often sung among 'diocesan' congregations; and why (coming as we do, like Blessed John Henry, from an 'Anglican literary and patristic' background) we prefer scriptural, patristic, and doctrinally orthodox chants and hymnody. Another contentious matter is the unnecessary use of "Extraordinary (sic) Eucharistic Ministers" in the diocesan Churches. I once said a weekday Novus Ordo Mass in a diocesan church; the congregation consisted of two ladies ... one of whom duly came up to administer the chalice to the other! Not that I minded in the least ... a lifetime of ministry in the Church of England has left me with an almost endless capacity for amused tolerance of liturgical silliness ... but this sort of thing is, if we are to be pedantic, an abuse. Yet another contentious disregard of the mens of the Novus Ordo is the almost universal disuse of the First Eucharistic Prayer, and its replacement even on Sundays (against the advice of the GIRM) by the 'Trastevere Trattoria' Eucharistic Prayer. A final example of something contentious: in the early months of the British Ordinariate, there were accounts at our 'formation' sessions of Ordinariate clergy being angrily criticised by some of the older diocesan clergy for their unwillingness to disregard the canonical restrictions imposed by the Church on the giving of General Absolution.
Lastly: the See of Westminster is not Primatial. Nichols' own views and opinions on versus Orientem and his personal tastes and preferences with regard to Liturgy generally are of interest, if at all, only to his own diocesan subjects in his own half of Greater London. When he spoke to the Ordinariate, he was addressing the subjects of another Ordinary (of whom he is not even the Metropolitan). In fact, Mgr Newton has as much and as little power over Cardinal Nichols' subjects as Nichols has over Newton's. Our Ordinary is not some sort of Vicar General ad Anglicanos.
We should do more; we should be more frank. We in the Ordinariates have been too downbeat; too reticent; too shy; too inclined to keep our heads below some imaginary parapet. The Diocesan Church needs our input! Let us raise again the marvellous phrase of Benedict XVI: "Mutual Enrichment"!