Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Eastward Position

EASTWARD POSITION. A posture some times adopted by the minister officiating at the Lord’s Table. There is no reason whatever why one side of the Table of the Lord should in itself be better than another for the officiating minister to stand at. North, south, east, west what can it matter? except, indeed, that the eastward position is clearly the most inconvenient, because it makes an obstacle to the sight of the congregation. But just as an unreasonable idea sprang up shortly before the Reformation that the chasuble was a sacrificial garment, which idea was totally unknown, not only to the Primitive Church, when it was merely an outer cloak, but to the earlier Middle Ages also, so a sacrificial character was assigned to the eastward position of the minister before the altar. There is no adequate ground for this opinion. Indeed, it was maintained, rightly or wrongly, by Dean Stanley that the fact of the minister standing in front of the congregation, and looking in the same direction with them, symbolised that he was with them humbly offering prayer to God, and not that he was Christ’s representative offering the sacrifice of Him to the Father; but however this may be, the notion more and more prevailed that the eastward position of the minister was that which meant the sacrifice of Christ, and that any other position ignored, if it did not condemn, that suggestion. Hence it has been reintroduced in many churches where doctrines identical with, or approaching to, that of the Sacrifice of the Mass have been believed and taught.

As there are no grounds in reason for the eastward position, so there is no authority for it. Not even did the Jewish priest, who was really a sacerdos, stand either facing eastwards, or with his back to the people, as his duties kept him moving from side to side of the altar. The Christian priest or presbyter never took up such a position in the early Church. For many centuries the Table of the Lord stood, not against the wall of the church, but in the centre of the arc of the semi-circular apse, which ordinarily formed the end of the church (Bingham, Ant., viii. 6.) Behind the Lord’s Table, in the bay of the apse, was situated the bishop’s cathedra or throne, and on each side of him were the seats of the clergy. The old throne with the seats on either side of it, still remains,in situ, in the cathedral of Norwich, which was built in the twelfth century; and the same spot is the place of the bishop’s throne in the Eastern Church, as marked by Dr. Wright in his Service of the Mass, p. 18, where he gives a plan of a Greek Church. When the administration of the Eucharist took place, the bishop or the officiating presbyter proceeded from behind to the Lord’s Table and took his stand on the farther side of it, looking over it, and facing the people ; and in this position he performed the service, the communicants kneeling on either hand at the north and south sides of the Table. That such were the primitive positions of priest and people is clearly shown in Mr. Tomlinson’s The Liturgy and the Eastward Position.

The Italian and Spanish Old Catholic reformers have so far resumed the primitive position that their officiating clergy stand to the east of the Communion Table, facing west; and Signer Ugo Janni, arguing for the practice has shown it to be the ancient position by quotations from the Abbe Guillois’ Catechism, Canon Salmon, of Chalons, Histoire de l’art Chretien, and Canon Martigny’s Amico Cattolico.(See the Labaro for June 1899, and the Foreign Church Chronicle, vol. xxiii. p. 138, 1899.) Canon Farquhar, in confirmation of the same fact, has pointed to the frescoes in San Clemente, Rome (of the eleventh century), and in Raffaelle’s Loggia (of the fifteenth century), representing the priest on the east side of the altar, and has stated that a picture by Sacchi, in 1600, is the first painting that represents the officiator with his back turned to the people (F. C. C., ibid. p. 141). The well-known Dr. St. John Mivart in his Essays and Criticism (i. 192), says, “In the ancient Ambrosian rite of Milan . . . the priest never turns round to the people at any Dominus Vobiscum. The last circumstance is due to the fact that according to the strict Ambrosian rite the priest should celebrate facing the people (i.e. standing on the farther side of the altar), and no doubt the former existence of a similar custom in Spain accounts for the fact that the priest does not turn round to the people at the Dominus Vobiscum in the Mozarabic rite. The whole Mass (Gallican) bears traces of having been originally said with the celebrant facing the people. In the Ambrosian rite the assistants pass behind the altar instead of in front” (F. C. C., xxiii. 72). In the Mozarabic Missal the position of the officiator, which was looking westwards, has been somewhat obscured by some modern rubrics, framed in accordance with the later Roman use, having been inserted by Ortiz, the compiler of Ximenes’ edition of the Mozarabic Liturgy in 1500. Cardinal Lorenzana, in his edition of Missa Gothicain 1770, explaining the reason why the priest turns only once or twice towards the congregation (instead of six times, as in the Roman Canon), writes,”It is only in this (the final) benediction, and in the offertory, when it was customary for him to have withdrawn a little from the altar, that the priest turns towards the people in the Mozarabic Mass; the chief cause of which is the antiquity of the Mozarabic rite, for in t first ages of the Church the altar was in the same direction as the faithful, and the priest faced the people, so that he had not to turn in order to address them, as is now necessary, for now the people stand behind him” (p. 132). See further the illustrations in Mr. Tomlinson’s The Liturgy and Eastward Position, and Canon Swainson’s Greek Liturgies, pp. 77, 117, 139, 141, 144.

On account of the practice of early times, and the false signification attached at present to the eastward position, the Old Catholic Reformers of Italy hold tenaciously to the westward position as a “reform of great importance.” “In modern Churches of the Papal Confession the altar is generally against the wall, and the priest celebrates Mass standing between the people and the altar, and turning his back on the people. Our Catholic Reformed Church of Italy has abolished this use, moving forward the Eucharistic Table from the wall, so that there is no difficulty in walking round it, and the minister who celebrates places himself behind the Table with his face toward the people. This reform has met with, and meets with the approval of our congregations, and of all those who come into our churches and chapels. In truth, to turn the back to the people is not in accordance with the rules of aesthetic, nor indeed of sound belief. . . . This reform of ours is not an innovation, but a return, pure and simple, to the practice of the ancient Church” (Labaro, June 1899).

Signer Ugo Janni sums up his estimation of the difference of teaching in the two positions as follows: “The position of the priest at the altar, according to the use of the Roman Church, signifies that the priest, who puts himself between the people and the altar, turning his back to the people, is a sacerdote, a mediator, in virtue of the sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Christ which he offers on the altar. This is the reason why some Romanising Ritualists of the Anglican Church, who would cancel the glorious page of the Reformation, hold to this position as a thing of vital importance. For the opposite reason, we are firm in retaining this most beautiful practice of the ancient Catholic Church” (Labaro, June 1899).

In England the eastward position was ordered in 1549, no alteration being made in the then prevalent use. But the position was felt to be unsuitable to a reformed Prayer Book, and the rubric was not generally obeyed. “There were so many exceptions taken and opposition made to that order,” says Bishop Cosin, “(some standing at the west side of the altar with their faces turned towards the people, others at the east, others at the south, and others at the north), that at last they agreed to set forth this rule [the present rule ordering the priest to stand at the north side], in the fifth of King Edward, instead of the former set forth in the second year” (Notes, p. 458). Therefore the position ordered for the clergyman since 1552 is the north of the Table (which seems to have been adopted as a compromise between east and west, and to prevent unseemly difference of use), and he is to keep that position throughout the service, except that immediately before the consecration prayer he is desired by a rubric insertedin 1662 to “stand before the Table” to “order the Bread and Wine, that he may with the more readiness and decency break the Bread before the people, and take the Cup into his hands.” In other words, he is to place the paten and chalice, which had been standing since the offertory in the middle of the Table, nearer to the north end of it, in order that he may reach them easily from thence. Having done so, he resumes his place to the north of the Table, where he is able readily and decently to break the Bread before the people, which he cannot do if he stands on the westside of the Table, and to reach the Cup and take it in his hands.

A difficulty has been raised from the use of the word “side” instead of “end” of the Table. It is probable that the word “side” was originally preferred, because at the same time as the enactment of the rule “at the north side,” permission was given (confirmed in 1559) to remove the Table into the chancel or church at the time of Communion, where it would, sometimes at least, have been placed length wise from east to west, and then the word “end” would not have been applicable; it would have meant either the eastward or the westward position. But every parallelogram or square is a four-sided figure, and the term “side” would cover the longer or the shorter side, which the term “end” would not. The “north side of the Table,” therefore, where the priest is ordered to stand, is the same thing as the “north end.” Accordingly, Laud’s biographer, Heylin, arguing against Bishop Williams, wrote, “It is plain that if we speak according to the rules of art (as certainly they did that composed that rubric), every part of it is a side, however custom hath prevailed to call the narrower parts by the name of ends” (A Coale from the Altar, p. 21). And Bishop Wren said, “Custom of speech led men to call the north end or north part of the Table the north side thereof” (Answer to Impeachment). The Scottish Liturgy, authorised in 1637, directs the presbyter to stand “at the north side or end,” the terms being equivalent. [Frederick Meyrick]

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