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Bishop Peter F. Christensen

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BOISE, Idaho, April 2, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) ―  An Idaho bishop has prohibited priests in his diocese from saying the Mass facing toward the tabernacle (ad orientem) and from using communion rails for Catholics who prefer to kneel to receive the Eucharist. In addition, the bishop wants to be informed of every traditional Latin Mass that takes place in his diocese. 

Bishop Peter Christensen, 67, of the Diocese of Boise, issued a memo to the priests of his diocese to enforce his liturgical preferences on February 28. It was subsequently published in the Idaho Catholic Register in late March.  

In the memo, Christensen underscored that priests are not to “imply a particular superiority or greater holiness of approach amongst the valid forms of worship in the Roman Catholic Church” before aiming at priests’ worship ad orientem

“Priests in the Diocese of Boise will face the people when presiding at the Ordinary Form of the Mass,” he instructed and cited 1970’s General Instruction to the Roman Missal, saying that Paragraph 299 “makes it plain that the universal Church envisions the priest presiding at Mass facing the people.”

“This is unambivalent, and I am instructing priests in the diocese to preside facing the people at every celebration of the Ordinary Form of the Mass,” Christensen wrote. 

However, author Dr. Peter Kwasniewski told LifeSIteNews that the bishop is “factually wrong” about what GIRM Paragraph 299 says about facing the people.

“And he should know better as this has been discussed extensively,” the scholar added.  

But Bishop Christensen also believes that the priest celebrating Mass facing the people has contributed to their “sanctification.” 

“There are priests who prefer ad orientem,” he acknowledged.  

“I am convinced that they mean well and find it a devout way to pray. But the overwhelming experience worldwide after Vatican II is that the priest faces the people for the Mass and that this has contributed to the sanctification of the people.” 

Christensen rejected “attempts to justify” priests facing the east with their people, saying it was “clearly in the mind of the Council that the priest should face the people.”

This statement was contradicted by expert Gregory Di Pippo, editor of The New Liturgical Movement online magazine, who pointed out that the Council Fathers had no explicit plans to radically transform the Mass.  

“Dietrich von Hildebrand once joked that in the case of Vatican II, it is the spirit that killeth, and the letter that giveth life.” Di Pippo told LifeSiteNews from Rome. 

“Bishop Christensen is entirely wrong to say 'It was clearly the mind of the Council that the priest should face the people,'” he continued. 

“The Council's declaration on the Sacred Liturgy, Sacrosanctum Concilium, mentions ‘the people’ more than 40 times, and not once does it suggest in any way that the altars should be turned around, or that celebrant of the Mass should be looking at them while addressing God.”

Boise’s Ordinary also took aim at the practise of receiving Holy Communion while kneeling. While acknowledging that the faithful have the right to receive the Eucharist in this way and may not be refused Communion because they kneel, he ordered that they not be assisted in doing so. 

“While it is the right of the faithful to kneel to receive, nor may any communicant be denied Communion based on posture, given that the established norm in this country is standing, I am instructing that priests do not use furniture or such items as prie dieus or communion rails, as these may seem to undermine the norm or to imply a preference for kneeling to receive,” he wrote. 

Peter Kwasniewski told LifeSiteNews that “it is always a bad sign for a bishop to want to discourage the faithful from kneeling before their Lord and God.” 

In an article he prepared for the Remnant newspaper, Kwasniewski stated that the ban on prie dieus is “vindictive.” 

“It amounts to saying: ‘You knuckleheads can get down on your knees if you really want to—but not if you’re elderly. Tough luck for you cronies. No help from the church,’” he wrote.  

“Isn’t it surprising, too, just how rigidly some bishops want to exclude kneeling before the SON OF GOD? ‘Hey you—cut it out—no kneeling around here to the Word made flesh! We don’t do that anymore. It’s okay for the three kings and medieval peasants and what not, but not in this democratic age. Besides, the USCCB has spoken, and it has more authority than a millennium of Catholic practice’.”

Christensen's focus on traditional elements was not confined to the Mass of Paul VI, however. In his memo he also indicated that he wants to be informed “as a matter of courtesy” when the Mass of John XXIII, otherwise known as the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, or the Traditional Latin Mass, is celebrated in his diocese. 

While acknowledging that Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum pontificum freed priests from the obligation of seeking episcopal permission to celebrate the ancient rite, Christensen wrote “I request that you report the practise to me, along with frequency and attendance.” He explained that this was for “accurate record-keeping” as the Holy See demands such information during ad limina visits. 

Kwasniewski found the bishop’s tone here “sinister.” 

“It’s almost like he’s asking for a confession of mortal sins in kind and number,” he wrote.  

“And as for his barb that the TLM should not be anything other than extraordinary in its occurrence—one wonders when he will issue the next memo stating that extraordinary ministers should also be of rare occurrence, since the priests and deacons are the ordinary ministers of the Holy Eucharist. It’ll be a long time before that buskin drops.”

Christensen cited “confusion” among Catholics as his reason for vetoing the traditional elements. 

“In order to reduce the confusion among the faithful and the increasing disinformation regarding liturgical matters in the Diocese, and to promote harmony and unity that is strengthened in our Eucharistic celebrations, I am promulgating this Instruction,” he wrote. 

Subsequently the bishop suspended all public masses in his diocese as a response to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. 

Christensen’s approach is contrary to that of the Prefect for the Divine Worship, Cardinal Robert Sarah, who in 2016 asked priests to pray with their people towards the east, which represents Christ’s return.

In an interview earlier that year, Sarah, now 74, said that one way to return God to the center of divine worship would be for priests and people “to turn together in the same direction.” 

“To convert is to turn towards God. I am profoundly convinced that our bodies must participate in this conversion,” the cardinal said. 

“The best way is certainly to celebrate — priests and faithful — turned together in the same direction: toward the Lord who comes. It isn’t, as one hears sometimes, to celebrate with the back turned toward the faithful or facing them. That isn’t the problem. It’s to turn together toward the apse, which symbolizes the East, where the cross of the risen Lord is enthroned,” he continued. 

“By this manner of celebrating, we experience, even in our bodies, the primacy of God and of adoration. We understand that the liturgy is first our participation at the perfect sacrifice of the cross. I have personally had this experience: In celebrating thus, with the priest at its head, the assembly is almost physically drawn up by the mystery of the cross at the moment of the elevation.”

Sarah also asked the faithful to kneel to receive Holy Communion. 

The “Complicit Clergy” website has offered a means to Catholics to voice their disapproval of Christensen's prohibitions here.