Cardinal Ratzinger vintage 1991 in Dallas addressing the U.S. Bishops Conference had it that we cannot begin to have any kind of viably working conscience such as we have with the grace of enmity over against Satan as promised in Genesis 3:15 if we do not have an inkling of the Sacrifice outlined in that verse, whereby the Redeemer and, please God, our Savior, takes the initiative to reach out His heel to crush Satan, knowing that He Himself would be crushed, that He would lay down His life for us, taking on the punishment we deserve for sin, the Innocent for the guilty, so that He might have the right in His own justice to provide us with forgiveness and eternal life through, with and in Him.
In other words, we tend to want to congratulate ourselves that we are “nice people”, you know, that because of whatever nice thing we think we are doing we are now back more or less to the pristine Garden of Eden, so that we can do no wrong, giving ourselves a license to sin, ignoring that those were the conditions in which original sin took place. We cannot begin to know, to live in the least way what it is to be in the grace of God analogous to what it was like before original sin – that anamnesis, that living memory if you will – if we we do not first of all have the anamnesis, the living memory if you will – of the Sacrifice promised in Genesis 3:15 and accomplished by Christ our God, who Himself said: “When you do this, do this in memory of me.” We cannot live the grace of redemption without first accepting redemption in salvation.
As has always been the great liturgical tradition, we look to the East, the pristineness, the early morning rising – to go waaay back in the etymology of the Scriptural vocabulary involved – to meet with our Redeemer, Immaculate Mary’s Divine Son. As we are reminded in the book of Revelation, we will all look upon Him whom we have all pierced, men of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, together, priest and laity, for Christ Jesus is our One High Priest.
How can a priest dare to shove his own face versus populum, toward “the people”, instead of being with them ad orientem, looking toward the One High Priest who is Himself the Altar and the Lamb of Sacrifice. How can the laity not get sick of looking at the face of a mere human being, a merely ordained priest.
(1) Anecdote time: In my own parish, I remember one day the other year when my congregation literally shoved the altar back and changed the candles around to the correct side of the altar so that we would all be facing the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass together. They did this without me asking. It is to rejoice.
(2) Anecdote time: In this account don’t be thinking that you know who I’m talking about since I’ve been in a zillion cathedrals in a zillion [arch]dioceses right around the world. I’ve been friends with a multitude of bishops, archbishops and cardinals.
The back story of this account is that, traditionally, a bishop’s cathedra, a bishop’s chair in the sanctuary of a cathedral, his teaching chair, is off to the side, a symbol that he is NOT the teacher, but that Christ Jesus is the One Teacher, the One Magister.
Traditionally (and not speaking of exceptions such as massive basilicas), the tabernacle is most diocesan cathedrals has been situated in the high altar, front and center, that to which the entire architecture of the sanctuary and church pointed, as it should be. More recently, we have seen most tabernacles in cathedrals cast to the side while the bishop’s chair is moved up front and center where the tabernacle had been. This paradigmatically changed perspectives of people: the bishop is god and he is alone the teacher.
In our present anecdote, a bishop of my acquaintance was sitting in his cathedral, empty at that time of day, except for the rector of the cathedral who was in the pew behind him. At a certain point the rector learned forward to start a quiet conversation with the bishop along the lines of the Prophet Nathan with King David:
- Rector: “Are you finally sick of it, bishop?”
- Bishop: “Sick of what?”
- Rector: “Look up in the sanctuary. Aren’t you finally sick of sitting where Jesus should be?”
- Bishop: “Do what you have in mind.”
And so it happened that the rector of that cathedral forthwith placed the cathedra, the seat of the bishop, off to the side of the sanctuary, demonstrating that the bishop is submitting to the teaching of Jesus, the Son of God, so that then the tabernacle could once again find its rightful place front and center, enthroned as King, as it should be. It is to rejoice.