QUAERITUR: From the Shrine, a question about “ad orientem”

There is an interesting entry over at The Shrine, where a Latin word/term common to WDTPRS has caught my eye.  Make sure you check it.

Let’s have a look.

In Spirit of the Liturgy, Cardinal Ratzinger famously writes that the "versus populum" orientation (Mass with priest facing the people) makes the priest more important than he is. That makes sense to me, personally. Plus, "ad orientem" (Mass with priest facing the same direction as the people) is cool: it orients the whole assembly into a posture of encountering God together.

Recently someone defended "versus populum" precisely on the grounds that it does make the priest important, emphasizing his uniqueness in persona Christi, and so "versus populum" better reflects a Catholic theology of ordination, while "ad orientem" reflects a more Protestant theology of ordination.

That was a new position for me, so I’m interested in hearing some thoughts.

 

Nah… this doesn’t work for me.

FacebookEmailPinterestGoogle GmailShare/Bookmark

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in ASK FATHER Question Box, SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.

45 Responses to QUAERITUR: From the Shrine, a question about “ad orientem”

  1. dcs says:

    so “versus populum” better reflects a Catholic theology of ordination, while “ad orientem” reflects a more Protestant theology of ordination.

    That must be why the Reformers adopted the versus populum posture.

  2. Gideon Ertner says:

    Seems like an utterly pathetic attempt to square the circle.

  3. The priest’s position at the altar, and/or his place in the hierarchical procession thereto, would be enough to distinguish him as “in persona Christi.” The position “facing the people” was based on prior bad scholarship that Christ faced His apostles gathered around a table at the Last Supper, and that this was how the early Christians “broke bread” together. We have since learned otherwise.

  4. Phil (NL) says:

    Even when we ignore the fact that history shows it has been precisely the other way around for centuries (as dcs notes), it still leaves us with the following question: Is it better to emphasise the uniqueness of the priest due to his ordination, or to emphasise that the principal object of Mass is God? Seems clear to me.

    Even for someone with little feelings either way regarding ad orientem or ad populum, this line of arguing should clearly be faulty.

  5. Jeff M says:

    I think the priest’s “uniqueness” is already “emphasized” by his vestments, the fact that he is the only one offering the sacrifice, distributing communion (EF and occasionally OF), etc. Part of his unique role is offering the sacrifice on our behalf, and ad orientem emphasizes that more than versus populum. It always seems odd to me that so many modernist-types love the “community” aspect of the Mass, but putting the priest, musicians, lay helpers, etc., in the sanctuary facing the people changes the relationship between them from fellow-worshipers to performer/audience. Where’s the community in that?

  6. Tominellay says:

    …agreeing with Gideon…

  7. John Vicente says:

    Father Z,

    Can you let me know where I can find an objective history/explanation of the whole “Ad Orientem – Versus Populum”
    question? I’m certainly favour the Ad Orientem posture, but I’d like to understand the background of this highly
    controverted issue.

  8. RichR says:

    Ad orientem emphasizes the un-Protestant idea of priestly mediation on behalf of the people. By facing God, standing closer to that destination which the people face, and addressing the person whom the people worship, you clearly convey the idea that the priest is standing between man and God. Versus populum “turns a community in on itself” (to quote Ratzinger) and portrays more of an egalitarian mentality.

  9. No one says:

    “he is the only one offering the sacrifice”

    That’s an oversimplification.

    Ad orientem is the right way to go, but it’s bad when it leads to such oversimplifications.

  10. Paladin says:

    All I can say is, “Ditto, ditto” to the above. Since “in Persona Christi” is of the priest’s *office* (and ontological character) and not of his specific personality, whyever would ad orientem *diminish* it? Emphasizing the priest’s importance as being “in Persona Christi” by showcasing his *specific human personality* (as versus populum is virtually designed to do) is a bit like emphasizing the sacredness of the Name of Jesus by tattooing it on one’s forehead. The very situation and arrangement distract from the intended message.

  11. Mary from the Amarillo Diocese says:

    The following is a part of an article that I submitted to our diocesan newspaper, it will probably never be printed as the Bishop here is not really wanting to see the Latin Mass celebrated here…keep us in your prayers…
    The priest does not face the people, he leads the people. How appropriate that he stands with his back to the congregation, he is leading us on this journey of faith. Yes he turns at times to face the people but most of the Mass is spent looking towards the altar which faces the wall. If we focus on the wall this makes no sense to us. We must focus on the altar. Jesus is truly present at the Holy Mass. Jesus is there, not between the priest and the people but ahead of all of us as we work to one day spend eternity in heaven with Him. The priest is there to lead; he must focus on where we are going. If he turns his back on where we are going he will himself surely stumble and fall. If we look at it this way it makes sense to have the priest facing the same direction as the people, while he is Christ’s representative at Mass, he is also man and working towards the same goal as all the faithful.

  12. Honestly, it sounds like some argument someone made up just hoping to convince traditionalists to get behind versus populus. Oh well. I agree, it doesn’t work for me, either.

  13. Andrew, UK and sometimes Canada says:

    On the surface this is actually an eminently logical conclusion. But when we dig deeper into the mysteries of the liturgy it doesn’t appear to be tenable.

    Having said that, we should be careful not to exclude the possibility, indeed the likelihood, of future organic change to the liturgy. My favourite thing about the Baronius Missal is their inclusion of the Luminous Mysteries, illustrating that the EF is not a fossil. Just as the middle ages gave us a deeper understanding (NOT accretions) so today might, eventually, lead us to still deeper understandings. Thus the “Benedictine arrangement”. I really do not see it as a pre-cursor to ad orientem but, rather, a re-orienting within the versus populum that makes clear the ad Deum nature of the liturgy.

  14. nw says:

    Michael has nailed it. That argument isn’t even specious…it’s disingenous. I can hardly imagine the person making it to
    really want to bring focus on the priest acting “in persona Christi.” More like focus on the priest as “presider.” Basically a cynical turningof the tables.

  15. Father Totton says:

    “sounds like some argument someone made up just hoping to convince traditionalists to get behind versus populus.”

    Kind of like a liturgical version of professor Douglas Kmiec!

  16. puella says:

    Once I was told that versus populum was to be preferred because then the Mass resembled more closely the situation at the Last Supper: Our Lord and His disciples gathered around the table.

    I don’t buy it, but I couldn’t come up with a refutation. Would someone like to help me with ideas? :)

    Many thanks and a holy Christmas to everyone! I’m off to the land of No Internet soon, so I’ll leave my Christmas greetings to Fr. Z. et al here ;)

  17. David Young says:

    The problem with the argument, in my opinion, is that it turns the “christ-ness” of the priest against the “christ-ness” of the baptized in the pew. All the “christs” in the church should be turned, in the Spirit, toward the Father.

  18. Chironomo says:

    If this is the case, where are all the Ad Orientem Protestant Churches? The Versus Populum posture was adopted by the protestant sects because it better reflected their theology. This seems like an attempt at trying to appeal to theological reasoning for something which has no theological reason!

  19. dcs says:

    Mr. Vicente,

    A great discussion of this issue can be found in Msgr. Klaus Gamber’s book The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: Its Problems and Background (now happily back in print).

  20. dcs says:

    Once I was told that versus populum was to be preferred because then the Mass resembled more closely the situation at the Last Supper: Our Lord and His disciples gathered around the table.

    I don’t buy it, but I couldn’t come up with a refutation. Would someone like to help me with ideas?

    Read Msgr. Gamber’s book where he thoroughly refutes this. Our Lord and His disciples would not have been gathered around a table, they would all have been on one side of a table, the other side left empty so as to permit them to be served.

  21. RBrown says:

    BXVI’s point is that the principal actor in the mass is Christ the Priest, with the celebrant being His instrument. His understanding of the Eucharist is Christocentric.

    And so he thinks that versus populum underemphasizes (and all but suppresses) the importance of Christ the Priest as the principal actor because it overemphasizes the role of the celebrant.

    IMHO, the Action of the Community understanding of the Eucharist is simply a sociologized version of the Ecclesiocentric Eucharistic theology that is common in Counter-Reformation theology.

  22. The easy answer is simply to ask your opponent to provide you examples of protestants using ad orientem and if he cant why cant he if his theory is right?

    Also ask him to explain why if his theory is correct was it the protestants who adopted versus populum and opposed ad orientem long before Catholics switched to vesus populum.

    Then ask them which thing they consider more important in the mass that the priest is persona chrsiti or that God is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.

    Then point out that if the priest is acting in persona Christi then he should be showing the people the way to God as Christ did which is accomplished better by ad orientem were the priest shows people in which direction they need to look to find God.

    Finally you could point out that mass it not supposed to focused on the uniqueness of the priest and this is adequately accomplished in the Old Form by not allowing anyone else to touch the Blessed Sacrament or the sacred vessels with their hands or to give the Blessed Sacrament to the people, a good reason to stop the constant use of the EMHC, which is actually protestant in spirit just like versus populum as shown by the reality of how protestants worship.

    Reality, history, and the facts are not on his side, you can make a argument for anything but if it is opposed to reality that argument is false no matter how well reasoned it seems.

  23. Paul S. Quist says:

    Growing up Lutheran (first the old Swedish Augustana Synod, then LCA) our Sunday liturgies were celebrated ad orientem until we pulled our altars away from the wall and put our pastors behind them in the late 60’s and early 70’s (following the example of the Catholics, I suppose). Now that I’m Catholic (since Easter ’05) I hope and pray that ad orientem will will spread through the celebration of Novus Ordo.

    Paul

  24. RBrown says:

    Once I was told that versus populum was to be preferred because then the Mass resembled more closely the situation at the Last Supper: Our Lord and His disciples gathered around the table.

    I don’t buy it, but I couldn’t come up with a refutation. Would someone like to help me with ideas? :)

    Many thanks and a holy Christmas to everyone! I’m off to the land of No Internet soon, so I’ll leave my Christmas greetings to Fr. Z. et al here ;)
    Comment by puella

    Perhaps the key question in Eucharistic theology is whether the mass is a reenactment (thus memorial) of the Sacrifice of Christ or of the Last Supper (cf. Protestantism). For centuries it was considered a memorial of the Sacrifice that was instituted at the Last Supper.

    Paul VI tried to unite the two–he said that it is a memorial of both the Last Supper and the Sacrifice. The new catechism returns to the previous understanding–a memorial of the Sacrifice institued at the Last Supper.

  25. Mila says:

    ” Our Lord and His disciples would not have been gathered around a table, they would all have been on one side of a table, the other side left empty so as to permit them to be served.”

    Right, dcs. Not only would they all have been on one side of a table, they would also not have been sitting, but reclining as was the custom at the time. Do we want to be reclining in church? I don’t think so.

  26. Once I was told that versus populum was to be preferred because then the Mass resembled more closely the situation at the Last Supper: Our Lord and His disciples gathered around the table.

    On EWTN Live Wednesday night, Fr. Mitch Pacwa interviewed Bishop Athanasius Schneider, author of the new book Dominus Est: It Is The Lord that calls for a return to communion on the tongue while kneeling and has been endorsed at high levels in the Vatican.

    Bishop Schneider, who grew up in a German family that heroically preserved its Catholic faith in a labor camp in the former Soviet Union, is an expert on the apostolic fathers — the disciples of the Apostles themselves — and came across as that rare bishop who exhibits that real apostles still walk the earth today.

    Very careful and mild-mannered, I recall only one strong word in an hour-long interview that was very moving and powerful. When asked about those who insist that in belief or liturgy we should do only what was done in apostolic times he said … That’s heresy! It denies God’s providence in the unfolding of Christian doctrine and liturgy under the guidance of the Holy Spirit throughout the intervening centuries of development from the seeds that were left with the apostles.

    Anyone who’d like to hear an interview at the opposite extreme — in every conceivable sense — from the wretched one under discussion today in another thread — can go to

    http://www.ewtn.com/vondemand/audio/latestadditions/selectseries.asp

  27. Joe K says:

    Does anybody have a picture they can post of what the Last Supper might have really looked like. If Leonardo’s depiction has some historical inaccuracies, then perhaps I’d like to upgrade to a better one.

    Thanks

  28. josephus muris saliensis says:

    But don’t worry Mila, because the Mass is not primarily a reenactment of the Last Supper, but is the of the Sacrifice of Calvary, and Mary and the Disciples were not lying down there.

    I prefer to take my lead on posture from the Centurion, who knelt, and the Good Thief, whose soul knelt, and in whose company I most readily fit, now in my earthly state, and one day, God-willing in Heaven.

  29. Brian says:

    Once per year, one blessed Jewish priest was selected to enter the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people. No one else was allowed to go near the Holy of Holies. No one saw him in there. They were not worthy. People did not need to be looking at the priest for him to be important. The sacredness of the act made the priest important. So much greater is the honor of a Catholic priest who offers our Father the sacramental sacrifice of his Son. He does not need us sinful goofballs looking at him for him to be important. He is set apart, he is Holy. We need the action of that Holy Priest so that we too can be made Holy.

  30. josephus muris saliensis says:

    Leonardo’s picture is way off beam.

    This is more accurate, byzantine examples:
    http://www.holytransfiguration.info/wp-content/uploads/2007/01/LastSupper55.jpg

    http://100swallows.files.wordpress.com/2008/02/last-supper-rossano3.jpg

    http://voxnova2.files.wordpress.com/2008/03/mystical-supper.jpg

    19th century archaoligical interpretations howing the couches, and the way of lying down:
    http://www.joyfulheart.com/easter/images-tissot/tissot-the-lords-supper.jpg

    http://www.sonofman.org/images/lastsup.jpg

    The romans and greeks all ate like this until the Middle Ages. In the middle east among the arabs, and turks, this is still normal.

  31. dcs says:

    Mila writes:
    Right, dcs. Not only would they all have been on one side of a table, they would also not have been sitting, but reclining as was the custom at the time. Do we want to be reclining in church? I don’t think so.

    I am not arguing necessarily for a return to ancient practice, simply noting that the ancient practice cannot be used to justify the modern practice (versus populum celebration of Mass).

  32. patrick finley says:

    Doesnt work for me. Protestant thought takes the “leader” or “intermediary” out of worship, atleast in thinking, and you end up one big happy bunch all worshipping. However, central to protestant theology many times is a fierce independence, and lack of authoritative teaching. So in a sense, anyone is equal to the pastor in those churches, the pastor just has “job training”.

    Priests do more then a job. Its a calling. Its more then a function, its a “rite”. As such ad orientam I think properly reenforces this the most, and places him int he proper focus, becuase he is leading us in prayer. He is our contact with the mystical heaven that is present on the altar, which we as unworthy as we are, by grace are privileged to approach in awe and humility.

    When a priest is Versus Populum, it takes away from that. The priest is no longer something special in teh right since. He has become part of the show, rather then truly leading people in prayer.

    The protestant idea of lack of a mediator really eludes me. A good protestant will say ” that is old testament”. Yet, you see several times where Christ himself offered prayers for the apostles “Father I pray that they might be one” , or the exactp rayer he prayed at Lazarus’s tomb (which unfortunately eludes me at this moment). So if we see in scripture someone who is actually leading, with followers (which is what Ad Orientam at its functional core is), then how can one even pose such an arguement against it? Seems we have always had a person to “lead us”, whether it was the Son of Man himself, or his apostles and their sucessors.

  33. Jason Keener says:

    When the priest faces the people, it just has the negative effect of drawing undue attention to the priest’s personal quirks and mannerisms. It almost has to be that way because when the priest faces the congregation, everything is out in the open for everyone to see. This focus on the priest’s personality is only exacerbated in our culture where people are so accustomed to entertainment and even seek out entertainment in the Mass itself.

    When the priest offers the Holy Sacrifice facing in the same direction as the people, the priest’s body acts as a sort of protective veil to what is taking place on the altar. This protective veil emphasizes the truly sacred nature of the Sacred Mysteries. This feeling of the sacred is almost totally missing from the versus populum Novus Ordo Masses where everything is laid out in the open on the altar like at an ordinary meal or gathering.

    Moreover, celebrations where the priest faces the people do not fit our theology of the Mass. Pope John Paul II taught in Dominicae Cenae, “The Eucharist is above all else a sacrifice.” (paragraph 9) What sense does it make then for the priest to face the people when in reality the priest at Mass is offering the Holy Sacrifice to God on behalf of the people?

  34. paul says:

    Okay everyone a few thoughts…..
    the Church views Orthodox orders and sacraments as valid- the priests in these churches face ad orientem behind the iconastasis. Ad orientem is much more reflective of catholic practice in my opinion- especially since the Eucharistic prayer is mainly directed toward the Father- not to us the laity. Protestantism- makes much more sense for them to have ministers versus populum- as they believe communion is a symbol and not the Real Presence.

  35. henry, I too was watching EWTN Live with Bp. Athanasius Schneider and remember that quite distinctly. I can’t think of the name of the heresy off the top of my head (but I know it)

    Versus populum by default of the position of the priest lends itself to entertainment. As with any situation. I know that if I’m facing a person the habit is to want to entertain them. What I’ve done to fix that is to put my chair when I’m teaching to the side makes me less important (except when i actually need to be at the board)…VP just needs to go, the quicker, the better.

  36. Bear in mind that hte Mass is NOT the anamnesis of the Last Supper. The Last Supper and the Lord’s Supper are not one and the same. Protestantism, of course, eliminated the notion of sacrifice and anamnesis and substituted a commemorative meal.

    Aside from that, aside form Leonardo Da Vinci, just who did Christ face during the Last supper?

  37. I think the person making the claim was confusing “importance” with “center of attention.”

    Versus populum makes the priest more important in his own personality but not in his priesthood. Versus populum causes the priest to focus on his own personality and presentation to the people, whereas ad orientem takes the focus and importance away from the priest’s own personality and focuses the importance on his priesthood alone, which is acting as Christ Himself offering the Sacrifice, not as Father John Smith offering (or sometimes performing) the sacrifice.

  38. Sorry, I should have reviewed what I had written. The last line should read:

    Aside from that, other than Leonardo Da Vinci, just who did Christ face during the Last Supper?

  39. Jayna says:

    I always saw it as the priest praying with us, but also, in a way, for us. He is the one saying the prayers on our behalf and offering them up to God. By facing us, I believe it diminishes if not eliminates that aspect.

    That could be completely inaccurate, but that’s how I’ve always understood it.

  40. Mila says:

    dcs writes: “I am not arguing necessarily for a return to ancient practice, simply noting that the ancient practice cannot be used to justify the modern practice (versus populum celebration of Mass).”

    I’m entirely with you. I was trying to point out how absurd it is to argue that we should return to ancient practice just because “that’s the way it was done” blah blah blah.

    Give me Mass “ad orientem” any day. And by the way, I also prefer to kneel (and will do so every time I’m given the opportunity) and receive on the tongue.

  41. Athelstane says:

    Mr. Vicente,

    Can you let me know where I can find an objective history/explanation of the whole “Ad Orientem – Versus Populum” question?

    Since no one seems to have mentioned it yet, another easily obtainable and highly recommended title to look at is Uwe M. Lang’s Turning Towards the Lord (Ignatiu Press) – forewordby one Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, no less. It has a good bibliography at the back to continue your investigation if you so desire.

    http://www.amazon.com/Turning-Towards-Lord-Orientation-Liturgical/dp/0898709865

  42. Johnny Domer says:

    Yes, in ad orientem there is indeed a sense of the priest’s importance; his action is, in many ways, a focus of everyone’s attention attention. However, it is much less HIS action; he is really In Persona Christi, and his actions and personality are subordinate to those of Christ. With versus populum, the actions seem much more to be those of Father Bob; his personality is made that much greater because he is facing us, talking in our direction, etc.

  43. Roland de Chanson says:

    The temple priests in the Aztec rite of human immolation faced the cowering profanum vulgus. The priestesses of the tophet offered the heart and the butchered body of the victim to the suppliant savages who devoured it from their unwashed hands. Prior to the excision of the living victim’s heart, a salutation was issued from the priest to the acolytes to the lesser liturgical ladies and thence to the assembly and, depending on the tribe, a clasping of forearms, or hands, or osculations on the cheek took place. Thus the spirit of the victim was spread amongst the tribe.

    The sacrificed Jesuit was esteeemed for his spirituality and was thus a worthy victim to the local moloch or quetzalcoatl or whatever feathered snake before which the benighted savages cowered. That disciple of Ignatius in the Company of Jesus, expiring in agony, cried out in a clear voice as the barbarian’s knife rent his breast, “Domine Iesu, in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum.”

    Let the Novus Ordo elder face the foolish mob and eat the “Lord’s Supper” in the Protestant fashion. Or let the Catholic priest humbly offer, turned toward Him, the bloodless sacrifice which the Saviour requested on the night before He died, “as often as ye shall have done these things, in my memory shall ye do them.”

    Versus ad populum, versus igitur ad diabolum. Ad orientem solem, ad Filium resurgentem.

  44. NY Priest says:

    ad orientem emphaizes the priesthood in its necessary connection to sacrifice because it brings focus upon Jesus Christ who becomes really and truly present upon the altar, body, blood, soul, and divinity, at the words of His priest.
    (PS How about using “adversus populum” to mean “against the people?” Thus, the priest saying Mass ad orientem stands “with” rather than “against” the people.)

  45. Marc says:

    (Thanks, Andrew in UK and sometimes Canada, for the information about the Baronius missal. Am moving to a city where the EF is regularly available and so must be shopping for a missal soon.)