This is the second and final interview with a duo of Byzantine Rite Catholic priests on the benefits of traditional elements in worship; principally, the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass ad orientem. The first interview with Fr. Thomas Loya can be found here. Today, we sit down with Fr. Alexander Wroblicky, a young priest of the Ukrainian-Greek Catholic Eparchy of Saint Josaphat in Parma. We discuss why ad orientem worship, as well as other elements of traditional liturgical practice, are something good for the people of the Church.
Ad Populum in Tight Spaces
Catholic Stand: How did you react to Robert Cardinal Sarah’s call last year to “return as soon as possible to a common orientation, of priests and the faithful turned together in the same direction”? That is, the call to implement ad orientem worship more broadly?
Fr. Wroblicky: It wasn’t that big of a deal for me because we worship ad orientem, so he’s not asking us to do anything that we aren’t already doing. For the Latin Rite, I thought it was a good thing, I think it would be a good thing to return to ad orientem because it is the apostolic worship. From what I understand … some of the research to justify ad populum liturgical worship had looked at certain anthropological and architectural realities in the underground Church during the time of persecution in the Roman Empire but didn’t look at the historical or the theological aspects, and therefore, it was slightly unbalanced research.
So it’s not something that you really can justify except on small occasions. For instance, if you’re in an underground cave, worshipping, and you’re in a tight space, and the only way you can do the Mass is to be ad populum, of course, you’re going to do that, but then you get into actual places where you can actually do worship. [And] ad orientem has always been the apostolic tradition because Christ will return from the East. We worship towards the East in expectation of the eschaton [end-time] and Parousia [Second Coming], and that’s a fundamental aspect of worship that is completely lost in the Latin Rite because of the way the Mass is celebrated—ad populum.
The Young Embrace Ad Orientem
CS: It’s interesting that you say we’ve lost that, you being someone who works with Roman Catholics often. Do you get the sense that at the same time Byzantine Catholics have become reacquainted with their legitimate traditions—do you feel like Latin Rite Catholics are suppressing and forgetting their own legitimate traditions and heritage?
Fr. Wroblicky: I don’t think they are. I think that the new generation, the millennials and the younger Catholics, they are going to embrace a lot of those traditions, whereas with the Baby Boomer generation, the generation from the 1960’s during the time of the Council, there were a lot of ideas that got intermixed with the intentions of the Council that kind of shaped their worldview.
I wasn’t alive during the Second Vatican Council, nor were you, so we don’t have any lived experience of this. But from the people that I’ve worked with and the people that I know in the Roman Church, over the years the stories they would tell me about the pre-conciliar Church is that it was a Church that did, in fact, have a lot of issues that needed to be resolved. They don’t want to return to a Church that is highly clerical, a Church that does not allow the people to participate in the Mass, a Church that has lost the sense of the universal call of [sic] holiness that creates a very clerical, structured kind of Church. And none of those things are actually related to ad orientem worship or chanting in Gregorian chant or any of those things [like] bringing back devotions or Eucharistic adoration. None of those things have anything to do with what they’re fighting against.
You can have a universal call to holiness, you can have participation in the Mass, you can have a church of mission and service that worships ad orientem and chants Gregorian chant. They’re completely unrelated things, but the worship style is associated with the pre-conciliar Church because that’s how things were done then. So they see young people wanting to stay in Adoration. They see young people wanting to chant in Gregorian. They see young people wanting to have the priest face East. And they’re freaking out because they think that these young people want to return to the pre-conciliar Church, and that’s not at all what the young people are embracing. So in many ways, people aren’t communicating about what is really happening. You really have to sit down and have a very deep conversation to really understand where people are coming from to unearth this. At least that’s been my experience with it.
Church in America “Influenced by Protestantism”
CS: So when you listen to people like that, that have this unfounded resistance to these traditional things you described—as a Byzantine Catholic, how does it make you feel when you hear certain Latin Rite Catholics talking about how, for instance, they don’t want to “go back to the 16th century” and return to the “priest facing the people with his back”? How does that make you feel seeing as that’s the only way you worship during Divine Liturgy?
Fr. Wroblicky: It doesn’t really bother me at all. I don’t really care. It’s not something that affects me. It’s not an issue that I have to deal with in my Church. And that’s essentially their battle. I guess my response would be, if you don’t want to go back to the 16th century, I’d say, “Well then go back to the 6th century.”You know? “Well fine, go back to the 4th century!” [laughter] I mean, it’s just kind of silly, right? “You don’t want to speak Latin in your liturgy? Fine, let’s just go back to the 4th century and you can speak Greek.” [There’s] the joke, where someone says “We don’t want Latin in the Mass, you know, Kyrie Eleison!” [laughter] That’s actually Greek!
But you have to remember, the Church in America is influenced by Protestantism …. It’s not Catholic in the sense that—you go to Austria, you go to Bavaria, you go to Poland, you go to churches there, and it’s just a completely different Catholic culture. I mean, I went to daily Mass in Munich when I was there in 2001 for World Youth Day, and the priest was ad orientem at a novus ordo Mass, and it was just your local neighborhood church. [But] people chanted, people knelt, incense was used; that’s the culture there. In America, all of those things are [viewed] through the lens of a Protestant culture. So the American church is different; it’s even very iconoclastic in some ways. It’s very iconoclastic. From a Byzantine perspective, that probably upsets me more, when I see beautiful churches closed with a disregard for or ignorance of the sacramental nature of the building. Then [you have people] building very gross, modern, bland buildings that are nothing different than the walls in this house; it’s like worshipping in a white white-washed tomb.
In one of these newer churches, I just had to shake my head. It was a brand new church, and you have the altar and the cross on the wall behind the altar. All good! And then next to the cross on either side there are huge air ducts for the air conditioner—you just have this huge [ductwork above] the altar, and I’m thinking, “Really? Come on! Who designed this?!” Does the person who designed the church, do they even believe in Christ? Do they even believe in the sacramental presence? Because how could you put air duct screens there? And this is a church that was just built. We’re already kind of moving past the Second Vatican Council era of confusion, in terms of architecture. So, this was just kind of bizarre.
A Wonderless Age
CS: Now, this last question doesn’t just apply to ad orientem worship, but for everything you just mentioned. Why should Latin Catholics regain and re-embrace the liturgical traditions that they hold in common with Byzantine Catholics, like ad orientem worship or beautiful churches and artwork? Why should we re-embrace those, and how should we?
Fr. Wroblicky: I think that the world today is a world that is completely devoid of imagination, wonder, and beauty; and we need to allow our worship to elevate our minds, and our senses, to the heavenly, to the miraculous, to the wondrous. Apostolic worship allows one’s heart and mind to ascend toward God in that way. So I think it’s extremely important for Catholic identity, and for ecumenism, to recover those traditions and that sense of worship because we’re living in a scientific, technocratic age that is wonderless.
You see, people are so numb and so deaf to beauty and wonder that it even creates this kind of repulsion when people want to create beauty in [our churches]. So the fact that people are fighting it is actually, in some ways, the observable symptom that wonder and beauty need to be restored. And the quicker it is restored, the better it will be for the Church to reclaim aspects of apostolic worship.
I think it’s incredibly important for worship [re-embracing our traditions] because we have to recapture the sense of the eschaton and the Parousia and the new world to come, and that was what always guided worship before. We don’t have that sense anymore in worship, by and large, in Catholic liturgy. I think that restoring some of the liturgical chant and the aspects of the earlier liturgical traditions will help build a more penitential aspect in the rite itself and that’s important because that is essentially the essence of Christian worship.
The East-ness of Worship
Fr. Wroblicky (cont.): That’s a huge component of what we do. We have been claimed by God; we have been claimed by Christ! We are inheritors of the promise of Christ, and we are waiting to join Him in Paradise, and we have to make our time on this world matter; to change and grow and repent. To become more like Him, to join Him in that age to come. So recognizing that the priest faces East with the people—because the priest is leading the people—the priest is the person who the people are pushing up before the Holy of Holies in the name of the congregation, saying, “go before the living God, and bring us back the Bread from Heaven so that we are sustained in our journey toward the eschaton, toward paradise, towards coming home”—which is in a direction, which is East. That’s the symbolic “East-ness” of worship. We’re on a mission together.
It’s not the fulfillment here. The priest facing the people is, in a sense, a fulfillment that we’ve already got there. And you see that in the worship of the Latin Church today. The Latin Church today is very much a “here and now” Church. [For example], the hymns—everything is about we’re making the world a better place today, heaven is here, everything is great and we’re here to be the hands of Christ. All of that is true, but there’s a world to come. There is an age to come. This world is passing. This world is ruled by the prince of darkness. And we’re on a journey and a spiritual combat and a mission to get there [Paradise], not to get here. So here is passing. That doesn’t mean that we don’t care for here. Much of our salvation we work out here, and how we treat the world and treat others is extremely important, but this is not the end fulfillment. And that is all better taught organically, liturgically, by an orientation to something, rather than having already arrived.