Uwe Michael Lang has an M.A. in theology from the University of Vienna and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Oxford. A priest of the Oratory of Saint Philip Neri in London, he is currently Lecturer in Theology at Heythrop College, University of London, and on the Visiting Faculty at the Liturgical Institute in Mundelein, Ill. Among his publications are Turning Towards the Lord and The Voice of the Church at Prayer, both published by Ignatius Press.
Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayerby Uwe Michael Lang
Turning towards the Lord presents an historical and theological argument for the traditional, common direction of liturgical prayer, known as “facing east”, and is meant as a contribution to the contemporary debate about the Catholic liturgy. Lang, a member of the London Oratory, studies the direction of liturgical prayer from an historical,/em>
Turning towards the Lord presents an historical and theological argument for the traditional, common direction of liturgical prayer, known as “facing east”, and is meant as a contribution to the contemporary debate about the Catholic liturgy. Lang, a member of the London Oratory, studies the direction of liturgical prayer from an historical, theological, and pastoral point of view. At a propitious moment, this book resumes a debate that, despite appearances to the contrary, has never really gone away, not even after the Second Vatican Council. Historical research has made the controversy less partisan, and among the faithful there is an increasing sense of the problems inherent in an arrangement that hardly shows the liturgy to be open to the things that are above and to the world to come.
In this situation, Lang’s delightfully objective and wholly unpolemical book is a valuable guide. Without claiming to offer major new insights, Lang carefully presents the results of recent research and provides the material necessary for making an informed judgment. It is from such historical evidence that the author elicits the theological answers that he proposes.
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U. M. Lang has written a very thoughtful work that describes the historical significance of the celebrant¿s facing the same direction as the congregation in the Latin rite. This arrangement has largely been discarded in the days after the Second Vatican Council in favor of the priest¿s celebrating mass facing the congregation. Many Catholics who prefer shared direction of prayer complain that the change in favor of allowing the celebrant to face the congregation was based on faulty historical investigation. It is clear that historians are still unable to give a conclusive answer either way as to exactly what the situation was in the early Latin West with regard to direction of prayer. Although L. is to be congratulated for writing a book that is thoughtful, generally clear, and unintimidating to general readership, I am afraid that the conclusions that he wishes us to draw regarding the preferability of a shared direction of prayer is not wholly successful. L.¿s most successful chapter features a discussion of eastward (ad orientem) prayer in the earliest years of Christianity. His evidence includes the arrangement of the earliest Christian churches and early Christian writers. Even so, there were a few points of unevenness. His discussion regarding churches whose entrance is in the eastern part of the church, which seems to be more common in the western Mediterranean than the eastern, needed to be more fully developed. One of these churches is the Constantinian basilica of Holy Savior (St. John Lateran), Rome¿s cathedral. He states that the reason for this arrangement has been discussed previously, and he refers to one article in Dutch by Sible de Blaauw. Not knowing Dutch, most of L.¿s readers would have benefited from a fuller footnote, at least to explain this historically normative church. L. also neglects to add that according to de Blaauw in another work (thankfully for me, translated into Italian), the altar in Rome¿s cathedral was between the nave and throne. Although L. maintains that it would have been impossible for the congregation to turn their backs upon the altar, this is most what would have had to happen in that church when the congregation faced east if de Blaauw is correct. L. makes no allusion at all to the recent work of Noel Duval on the layout of North African churches, although Duval¿s conclusions bear directly on L.¿s argument. Most of the ancient writers upon whom he bases his argument are eastern rather than western. Rather than long direct quotes of some of these authors, a fuller exposition of western writers would have made his point more convincing. He makes a glancing reference to the Carthaginian Tertullian but proceeds to give a lengthy translation of Origen, who wrote far to the east. L.¿s discussion of Augustine¿s concluding his homilies with ¿conversi ad Dominum¿ (having turned to the Lord), would have benefited from the homily numbers that include this phrase, in order to demonstrate how frequently Augustine used it. I am still rather unclear how frequent it was. Although eastward posture was an important element of early Christian prayer, exactly how central this idea was to Latin-rite liturgies is not as successfully demonstrated as L. perhaps hoped. It clearly was not without significant exception or scholarly uncertainty. The following chapter was certainly L.¿s least convincing. In it he attempts to demonstrate the importance of a common direction of prayer even when the arrangement of the church precludes an eastward direction. The writer to whom he is most indebted is Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. Unfortunately, L. does not assemble a succession of similarly minded theologians, doctors of the church, councils or bishops throughout western Christian history to bolster the claims. Even Cardinal Ratzinger¿s conclusions are not beyond question. L.¿ discussion on Anglican liturgical posture vis-à-vis liturgy as sacrifice was nearly impenet