Three things which contributed to the prominence of the priest's personality in the new mass were the range of choice allowed with regard to texts of the ordinary, the instruction allowing the celebrant to introduce readings and other parts of the mass and the celebration of mass facing the people. It is difficult to imagine, in retrospect, that any of these were really thought through. We had announcements like "I shall be using the third Eucharistic Prayer with the second acclamation after the consecration." And this after the climactic words of the Preface and Sanctus! Then there were the priests who went to such pains to introduce the readings that when we finally heard them even a Jeremiah or a Saint Paul seemed to fall somewhat flat. There was also one priest who insisted upon barking "Response!" at the congregation after each verse of the responsorial psalm. Thankfully these kinds of performance mostly seem to have faded into history and although there is still the occasional "Good Morning, everyone! Good Morning, Father!" I am still waiting to hear the Bruce Forsythe dialogue: "Nice to see you, to see you...." "Nice!" Ultimately, however, the most distinctive change foregrounding the priest was the move to mass facing the people.
I can remember the enthusiasm with which our Parish Priest, on a visit, announced the arrival of a new altar and of his looking forward to being able to celebrate mass facing the people on the following Sunday. Many years later, shortly before my mother died, I recalled this event with her saying that I felt that, of all the changes introduced, this was probably the least beneficial. I joked that "The trouble is that the priests now too often think that we are there to see them!" Her reply was more serious, "The thing about the new mass," she said, "is that it is very hard to say a prayer".
Just over half of her life had been spent with the old mass and until that occasion I had never heard her critcise the new. It wasn't a question of aesthetics or language or music or, as some of the new rite's loopier critics would have it, of legitimacy but one of prayer- the raising of the heart and mind to God. In responding thus to my observation I think she was, in part confirming it. How easy is it to direct one's attention towards the Lord when someone appears to be addressing oneself?
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