A Lutheran View of Ad Orientam vs Versus Populum

Hat tip to William Tighe for this one. Some of you might be interested. See: http://gottesdienstonline.blogspot.com/2010/08/about-face.html.

To help you understand, traditional Lutheran liturgical theology divides the liturgy into “sacramental” parts (ie. God to man) during which the pastor faces the congregation, and “sacrificial” parts (ie. Man to God) during which the pastor faces the altar (ie. East). Given the strident Lutheran rejection of the Sacrifice of the Mass, it always seemed strange to me when I was a Lutheran that the same traditional Lutheran theology preserved the practice of the consecration of the eucharist facing the altar, ie. the “sacrificial” stance.

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8 Responses to A Lutheran View of Ad Orientam vs Versus Populum

  1. Matthias says:

    I found this comment on a Mennonite website and thought it interesting.
    “With liturgical worship we can get on and worship God and make God the centre of our attention rather than listening to and watching a preacher, (who wipes his/her —- the same way the rest of us do), making him/herself the centre of attention, which what I see in a lot of churches today.”
    The writer was brought up Plymouth Brethren became catholic,left and joined the beachy amish and now attends a Anglican church. Here is the link http://www.thirdway.com/talk/?SS=all

  2. Weedon says:

    I think the answer to the nearly universal rubric that the pastor face the altar for the consecration in the old Lutheran Church orders is that the consecration does not easily fit into the sacrificial/sacramental schema. It has elements of both (clearly a promise of God, but also a prayer that that promise may be so for this assembly), but is finally a third thing – a consecration strictly speaking. The coming of the Lord’s words to the elements that they might be for us all that He declares them to be. Accedat verbum etc.

    • Schütz says:

      Hi, Pastor Bill!

      That’s what the writer on Gottestdienst Online said, but I don’t quite buy it. On the one hand, I agree that the Lutheran “sacrificial/sacramental” schema is a little too neat – but that’s because while the distinction can be made in thought, it is not so easy in practice. Secondly, however, I do not know if consecration – any more than its first cousine, blessing – can be said to be “something else”. And while the elements of the Eucharist are clearly “consecrated” by the Verba, is it the soul purpose of the Eucharistic Anaphora to “consecrate” the bread and the wine? I know that Lutherans often refer to these words as “The words of consecration”, hence making the “consecratory” act the focus, but this largely seems to be the result of excising the rest of the Eucharistic Anaphora (Roman Canon) from the Mass. It is precisely because the eucharist is both “offered” (sacrifice) and “given for us” (sacramental) that it is “consecrated”.

  3. Christine says:

    Good points, David, especially as regards the sacrificial aspects of the Mass.

    My sister’s ELCA congregation is housed in a magnificent Gothic building with traditional woodwork, crucifix, etc. and the altar is affixed in the traditional manner so that the pastor used to conduct much of the service ad orientem.

    In a Missouri Synod congregation that I attended briefly the altar was free standing and, to their credit, had a small crucifix on it but the pastor would stand in FRONT of the altar and face the people when he proclaimed the words of institution.

    I found that rather strange.

    • Schütz says:

      Just out of interest, has your Catholic parish adopted the so-called “Benedictine” altar arrangement, with a crucifix on it facing the priest (ie. facing away from the congregation)?

  4. Christine says:

    Well, actually, my parish, which is staffed by Benedictine priests, has retained the tabernacle immediately behind the altar and the crucifix is suspended over the altar facing the assembly. But that arrangement was in place before the Benedictines came to serve at the parish. The building dates back to around the early 70’s.

  5. William Tighe says:

    Luther, of course, held that the ideal “New Testament” mise-en-scene of celebrating the Eucharist was for the priest to face the congregation over the altar (his imagination of the Last Supper was clearly the same as that which Leonardo da Vinci depicted in his painting of the same), and a few, very few, Lutheran landeskirchen in small principalities and cities of Saxony adopted it — but most Lutheran landeskirchen did not do so, at first (as I think) out of a desire not to upset folks set in their ways, upon whom “Reformation” had been forced rather than chosen, but later — and not that much later, from the 1530s or 40s — out of a deliberate desire to (if you will pardon my vulgarity) to “give the finger” (tantamount to “the fig of Spain” in Elizabethan parlance) to those Reformed folk who liked to accuse Lutherans of retaining “popish customs” in their churches; it became a way, I might almost say, of “glorying in” (as the Reformed might have thought) “their shame” — and has lasted in Lutheran churches, much more than in Anglican and Catholic churches, out of a combination of “Lutheran traditionalism” and a desire to emphasize that they are “reformata” rather than “reformanda.”

    • I think you’re right, William. My immediate response to David was that it isn’t strange at all if one understands the deeply conservative nature of the Lutheran Reformation. Inconsistent perhaps (if you want to hold to the sacramental/sacraficial aspect strictly), but certainly not strange. Most of our altars in the LCA, even those some years after Vatican II made facing the people popular, only permit the presiding minister to face ‘eastward’. I’ve seen pastors face ‘north’ at such altars in a bid to get around the problem, but it only looks awkward.

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