I came across these insightful words by John Shelby Spong, about priests facing the congregation, which seem accurate. Spong is the wildly liberal bishop of the Episcopalian Church in the U.S.A.
"This shift has become almost universal in liturgical churches over the last fifty years. Though it seems a minor change and has been defended by proponents in a variety of ways, it signifies to me the gradual realization of the death of theism. The priest or pastor with his or her back to the people is addressing theI think he is right. As I grow older I have come to think that, of all the changes brought about by Second Vatican Council, it is this change which I most regret - more than the loss of the Latin Mass. The Council, in one sentence of one document, merely permitted the priest to face the congregation, so there is no reason why this practice should be adopted
theistic God, out there, beyond the sky. The priest facing the people is addressing the God present in the midst of creation."
in almost all Catholic churches (just as there is no reason why Latin Masses should have been abandoned - Mass in the vernacular was only permitted, not commanded). I was last month in Bergamo Cathedral and was delighted to see a priest celebrate Mass with his back to the people.
This article explains that the priest facing the congregation was based on a mistake about the practice of the early church.
Spong is old now and has retired. He denied the whole of the Creed implicitly or explicitly, said the idea of sin had been a mistake on the part of the Church and that Jesus did not die to save us from our sins. God, for Spong, is inside each of us but not ‘out there’.
I wish I fully understood this since each man contains the whole universe within him. But the universe, it is accepted, is transcendent as well as immanent. Or maybe it isn't. ‘Out there’ has never been proven by philosophers to exist except in my mind and, according to Wittgenstein, yours.
I am sure Spong is wrong and that God does intervene in the world, moment by moment, but Spong asks some very good questions, as do out-and-out atheists. This is one that has always troubled me and I wish I knew the answer to it.
The idea that God killed Jesus to pay the price of sin is a barbarian idea because human sacrifice is a barbarian ideas. Why doesn't God just say 'I forgive the sin of the world'? Why does God insist that the murder of his son be a part of the forgiveness?...
Spong is old and will be forgotten after he dies. This is the fate of most heretics. Belloc said in his Ballade Against Heretics,
The wind has blown them all away.But the wind did not blow all the heresies away. Lutheranism and Calvinism seem to be in retreat but they are still in business, though I cannot imagine Calvin or Luther approving their followers' shifts of teaching on women clergy, the sin of Sodom, inter-faith dialogue or sharia courts.
Heresies are truths taken out of proportion and Marxism is a Judaeo-Christian heresy which is still very much alive, in the universities and in many other places. Islam, which Belloc classified as a Christian heresy, is flourishing. The whole anti-discrimination, equal opportunity ideology seems to me a kind of Christian heresy. Belief in it and in welfare are taking the place of the sacred in the Western mind. Spongism will not last but the decline in Christianity will continue.
Spong said he was trying to save the church by making it relevant, but admitted that if Christianity were to fade away,
"I don't think it would be a disaster."I prefer to end on a more cheerful note. Belloc again.
Heretics all, whoever you may be,
In Tarbes or Nimes, or over the sea,
You never shall have good words from me.
Caritas non conturbat me.