There is discussion of Mass ad orientem in another entry. I remember some time ago I wrote a response on one of my columns to a writer asking about rubrics and ad orientem celebrations. Here is the relevant part (some emphasis added):
Long-time reader and now frequent participant on the WDTPRS internet blog, HE of TN, sent a note via e-mail relative to this interview. Here is HE (edited): “…the notorious pessimist Prof. L. Perrin has a … post today including this claim: ‘As Abp Ranjith is stressing, a Latin versus Deum Novus Ordo Mass is entirely faithful to the Vatican II Constitution, even more faithful. But what Abp Ranjith is ‘forgetting’ is to mention the 3rd edition of [the Missale Romanum] (2002) is pushing for versus populum … against the two previous Pauline editions and Vatican II.’” Then HE asks me directly: “Do you know anything in the 3rd edition of the Missale Romanum that says this? Aside from the well-known mistranslation of GIRM #299 that you have discussed several times? Anything in the MR 2002 rubrics themselves? For instance, does it still say several places that the priest is to turn and face the people?”
Indeed, HE of TN, Yes. Welcome to “What Do The Rubrics Really Say?” There are still indications in the rubrics of the 2002MR which presuppose that the priest is celebrating ad orientem. Here are two examples. In #132 we find:
Sacerdos genuflectit, accipit hostiam, eamque aliquantulum elevatam super patenam vel super calicem tenens, versus ad populum, clara voce dicit: Ecce Agnus Dei,…. The priest genuflects, takes the Host and, holding it raised a little way over the paten or over the chalice, having turned toward the people, says in a clear voice: Behold the Lamb of God….
The people make their response and then in #133 we find:
Et sacerdos, versus ad altare, secreto dicit: Corpus Christi…. And the priest, having turned toward the altar, says silently: May the Body of Christ…
In these two rubrics there is a specific order of actions. First, the priest turns to the people. Then, he turns to the altar. This is only possible if the priest is celebrating Holy Mass facing the altar and the people are behind him facing the same direction as the priest. The rubric is clear in this moment before Communion.
Somewhat less immediately clear is the rubric at the Orate Fratres in #29, which says that the priest, while standing at the middle of the altar, turns to the people (versus ad populum) to say “Pray brethren, that my sacrifice and yours…”. Then in #30 the priest is directed to speak the Super Oblata prayer, but there is no indication that he turns back to the altar: there is no second versus. Why? The priest, turning to the people to invite their response, simply continues to turn in the same direction back to the altar. The single versus in this case indicates a completed turn in circle. In #132 and #133 (above) the two different instances of versus indicate two turns, one toward the people by the priest’s right and one toward the altar by his left. There is no complete circle. In this way the Novus Ordo is consistent with the older “Tridentine” Rite at this same moment in Mass. In the older, traditional way the priest turns by his right away from the altar and toward the people. He speaks the invitation. He turns back to the altar, always by his right, in the same direction, thus completing the circle. The rubric in the 2002MR has language very similar to the corresponding rubric in the 1962MR. Thus, HE of TN, we have clear support in the 2002MR for ad orientem celebration.
If anyone (read: parish priest) were looking for suppport in the rubrics themselves, here you go.
Not only that. Some years ago I did a translation of an article in Notitiae for the journal Sacred Music about celebrations ad orientem versus. Then I wrote an examination of those articles. The bottom line is this: the principle if the unicity of the altar is strong enough that if there is a serious altar of artistic or architectural merit, and it is ad orientem, you should not put another altar in front of it. That was in Notitiae.
The famed liturgist Klaus Gamber, so appreciated by Joseph Ratzinger, thought that the changing of the direction of the altar was more damaging than any other change after the Council. Both Jungmann and Bouyer said they were wrong in their initial support of versus populum celebrations.
There is a lot more, but chew on that for a while.