QUAERITUR: Did Rome say “versus populum” is “the norm”?

From a priest reader:

I thought I read, when Mother Angelica opened her new shrine, there was somewhat of a dispute, because she wanted Masses said "ad Orientem" and others said she couldn’t.  The matter, I think, was appealed to Rome, and the decision came down that "the norm for Mass was facing the people."  I interpreted that as Sunday and Holy Day Masses had to face the people, but other Masses of devotion were open for discussion. 

Am I wrong?  Has Rome made a declaration such as this establishing the norm of orientation for Mass, or is it up to the celebrant, or whatever the local ordinary allows?  Would love clarification if you can get around to it. 

I don’t think Rome would ever have said that versus populum was the norm in such a way that ad orientem worship was or could be forbidden.

I am pretty tired right now, so I will let readers cope with the documents and citations to help you out.

But allow me to commend you for your interest in this matter.  Thank you!

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37 Responses to QUAERITUR: Did Rome say “versus populum” is “the norm”?

  1. Peggy says:

    My recollection from reading Ray Arroyo’s bio of Mother Angelica (a year ago or more) was that the bishop of Birmingham said that EWTN Masses-in his diocese–could not be ad orientem. The issue was the bishop’s authority. The conclusion was that the bishop had a right to require versus populum as he has authority over liturgical matters in his diocese. So, Mother Angelica had to accept the bishop’s prohibition on ad orientem. The finding was not necessarily that ad orientem was prohibited by the Church or not considered the norm by the Church. But simply that the bishop said no and he had a right to say no.

  2. D says:

    I heard something similar, except that it was the Bishop’s right to restrict TELEVISED Masses.

  3. Vincenzo says:

    “I heard something similar, except that it was the Bishop’s right to restrict TELEVISED Masses.”

    That’s what I heard.

  4. Woody Jones says:

    My recollection is the same as D’s; as I recall it, Bishop Foley said that he had received complaints that the faithful were “confused” by the televised ad orientem masses. It seemed to me when I read this that it was a pretty lame explanation for his decision, suggesting that he had been gotten to by progressive types of either a clerical or lay persuasion, or both. The whole thing was very disedifying.

  5. Woody Jones says:

    Just to expound a bit further: what possible “confusion” could there be presented by an ad orientem celebration except the fear in aging liberal hearts that the “bad old days” were coming back?

  6. Peggy says:

    Thanks for the clarification of the “televised” Mass.

  7. Jeff M says:

    I saw a reference to this in an excerpt from a book called “EWTN: A Network Gone Wrong.” See:

    http://www.catholictradition.org/Mary/fatima43.htm

    …the section called “Bishop Foley vs. Mother Angelica”. I don’t want to quote the whole thing in the combox, but it cites the above-mentioned Arroyo biography. The link basically says what Peggy said above, but has a bit more detail.

    I never bought the book, by the way…

  8. Fr. Anthony Forte says:

    CONGREGATIO DE CULTU DIVINO
    ET DISCIPLINA SACRAMENTORUM

    Prot. N. 564/00/L

    April 10, 2000

    Reverend and Dear Father:

    This Congregation for Divine Worship wishes to acknowledge reception of the documentation in which you raise certain questions pertaining to the authentic celebration of Holy Mass and about the proper interpretation of the relevant liturgical legislation.

    That documentation, and in particular, a transcript of your lecture of May 22, 1999, in which you present your opinion about the intention of the post-conciliar liturgical reform in implementing the decrees of the Second Vatican Council, has been carefully studied by this Dicastery. This study has not found anything doctrinally erroneous in the text and therefore, no basis for an allegation of heterodoxy against you. Indeed, the Congregation would point to the fundamental right of all the faithful to make their views known to other of Christ’s faithful, provided that they always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals (cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, no. 37, §1; Code of Canon Law, can. 212, §3).

    With respect to you question regarding the positions of the priest celebrant permitted by liturgical law, this Dicasstery wishes to state that the Holy Mass may be celebrated versus populum or versus absidum. Both positions are in accord with liturgical law; both are to be considered correct.

    It could be that in some circumstances, because of the sensibilities of the faithful, celebration of Holy Mass versus populum would be indicated, however, it should be borne out in mind that there is no preference expressed in the liturgical legislation for either position. As both positions enjoy the favor of law, the legislation may not be invoked to say that one position or the other accords more closely with the mind of the Church. For the same reason, a priest’s choice of position to offer Holy Mass, whether facing the apse or facing the people, may never be used to call into question his adherence to Catholic Doctrine. Priests, and indeed any member of the faithful, are free to develop sound theological arguments to support their convictions and even to posit a certain personal preference for one manner of legitimate celebration over another based upon what they consider to be most pastorally beneficial for the faithful (cf. Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, no. 313). As noted above, the Second Vatican Council and the Code of Canon Law require only that the faithful always respect the integrity of faith and morals, show due reverence to the Pastors and take into account both the common good and the dignity of individuals in expressing their opinions.

    The disposition made by the Most Reverend David E. FOLEY, in the Norms for Televising the Mass in the Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama, dated February 22, 2000, concern only Masses which are broadcast or taped for television and are produced in that Diocese. The Bishop has explained his intention as that of seeking to promote a manner of celebration which would avoid any risk of confusion among those who view the broadcast. The publication of such norms falls within the responsibility of the Diocesan Bishop in virtue of his role as moderator of the Sacred Liturgy in the particular Church entrusted to his pastoral care. In exercising this responsibility, even though he is unable to exclude or mandate the use of a legitimate option, the Diocesan Bishop is competent to provide further guidance to priests in their choice of the various options of the Roman Rite. As a sign of his acceptance of this disposition of law, His Excellency Bishop Foley has kindly withdrawn the preceding Decree dated October 18, 1999, on March 13, 2000, and the Congregation for Divine Worship is grateful to Hie Excellency for this decision.

    In the celebration of the Sacred Liturgy, priests for their part should be sensitive to the legitimate attitudes of the faithful, which is to say, those which are compatible with the doctrine, the traditions and the liturgical law of the Church. As a result, when priests – or for that matter, any of the faithful – express their legitimate personal preferences, they are to avoid demeaning other opinions approved by the Church.

    With every good wish for a fruitful Holy Week and blessed Easter, I am,

    Sincerely yours in Christ,
    +Jorge A Card. Medina Estévez
    Prefect

    +Francesco Pio Tamburrino
    Archbishop Secertary

  9. Fr. Anthony Forte says:

    I left out that the above letter was addressed to Fr. Joseph Fessio.

  10. Brandon says:

    Does the Ordinary actually have that kind of authority — To order that a priest pray the Mass versus populum? In the vernacular? With female altar*boys*?

    Can a bishop actually mandate that, when the opposite of these would still (and moreso?) be in accord with Law and tradition?

  11. Fr Andrew Wadsworth says:

    Congregatio De Cultu Divino
    Et Disciplina Sacramentorum

    Prot. No. 2036/00/L

    Quaesitum

    The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in n.229 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which the position of the priest versus absidem is to be considered excluded.

    The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, re mature perpensa et habita ratione [after mature reflection]and in the light of liturgical precedents, responds:

    Negative et ad mentem. [Negatively, and in accordance with the following explanation].

    The explanation includes diverse elements which must be taken into consideration.

    Before all else, it is to be borne in mind that the word expedit does not constitute an obligation, but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar
    a pariete sejunctum . The clause ubi possibile sit refers to different elements, such as for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of an existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations of a particular church, etc. It reaffirms that the position towards the assembly seems more appropriate inasmuch as it makes communication easier (Cf. the editorial in Notitiae 29 [1993] 245-249), without excluding, however, the other possibility.

    Whatever the position of the celebrating priest, however, it is clear that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered to the one and triune God, and that the principal Eternal High Priest is Jesus Christ who acts through the ministry of the priest who visibly presides as His instrument. The liturgical assembly participates in the celebration by virtue of the common priesthood of the faithful which requires the ministry of the ordained priest to be exercised in the Eucharistic Synaxis. One must distinguish between the physical position particularly in relation to the communication between the various members of the assembly and the internal spiritual orientation of all concerned. It would be a grave error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is toward the community. If the priest celebrates versus populum, which is legitimate and often advisable, his spiritual attitude ought always to be versus Deum per Jesum Christum, as representative of the whole Church. Furthermore, the Church, which takes concrete form in the assembly which participates, is entirely orientated versus Deum in its first spiritual movement.

    It appears that the ancient tradition, though not unanimous, was that the celebrant and the worshipping community were turned versus orientem, the direction from which the light which is Christ comes. It is not unusual for ancient churches to be “orientated” in such a way that the priest and the people were facing versus orientem during public prayer.

    It may well be that when there were problems of space, or some other kind, the apse represented the east symbolically. Today, the expression versus orientem often means versus absidem, and in speaking of the position versus populum it is not the west but rather celebration facing the community present that is intended.

    In the ancient architecture of churches, the place of the Bishop or the celebrating priest was in the centre of the apse, from which, seated and turned towards the community, he heard the proclamation of the readings. Now this presidential position was not assigned in recognition of the human person of the Bishop or the priest, nor his intellectual gifts nor even his personal holiness, but rather in acknowledgment of his role as an instrument of the invisible Pontiff who is the Lord Jesus.

    When it is a question of ancient churches or churches of great artistic value, it is appropriate, moreover, to bear in mind civil legislation regarding changes or re-orderings. The addition of a further altar may not always be a worthy solution.

    There is no need to give excessive importance to elements which have changed over the centuries. That which remains is the event which the liturgy celebrates. This is manifested through signs, symbols and words which express various aspects of the mystery without, however, exhausting it, because it transcends them. Adopting and rigidly adhering to a particular position could become a rejection of some aspect of the truth which merits respect and acceptance.

    From the Vatican, 25th September 2000.

    Jorge A.Cardinal Medina Estévez.
    Prefect

    + Francesco Pio Tamburrino
    Archbishop Secretary

    Translation prepared by Fr.A.R.Wadsworth, Department of Italian, Harrow School.

  12. Joan Moore says:

    And, lest we forget, the Masses that were being celebrated (and televised) on EWTN were, in fact, being celebrated versus populum, since they were being celebrated with the priest facing her community of nuns!

  13. Jonathan says:

    What is the view of the new Bishop of Birmingham, Alabama? Will he be more favourable to ad orientem being televised daily. EWTN has televised already FSSP masses.

  14. Fr Paul F says:

    I also seem to remember that one of the issues at the Shrine was that the altar was positioned against the wall which does violate the liturgical norms.

  15. puella says:

    And, lest we forget, the Masses that were being celebrated (and televised) on EWTN were, in fact, being celebrated versus populum, since they were being celebrated with the priest facing her community of nuns! – Joan Moore

    The daily televised Masses are not in the main body of the shrine itself, as I recall. The upper church is arranged so that during Mass the priest stands ad Deum with respect to the people. During Mass the enclosed community’s choir is to the side of the sanctuary, not behind it.

    The “other choir” is indeed behind the altar, completely hidden from view from the public side. As far as I know, it is used for the Office, and of course for perpetual Adoration, but not for Mass. So when Mass is offered in that church, the priest does not stand facing the community.

  16. The altar of sacrifice is free standing, however, the space between the tabernacle and altar is narrow and only allows one person width whereas the space in front of the altar is much larger. Hence, the priest, deacon and several concelebrants can conveniently stand versus apsidem. If celebrating versus populum, it is a tight fit.

    Cardinal Medina and later Cardinal Arinze confirmed that the PRIEST himself has the option of celebrating Mass ad orientem (versus apsidem) OR versus populum.

    ONLY the televised Mass has restrictions, which hopefully will be removed ASAP.

    The sisters (Poor Clare Nuns) are in choir at Mass, off the RIGHT SIDE of the Celebrant. They are not on the other side of the Tabernacle for Mass as they were in the original chapel in Irondale where the current daily Mass is televised.

  17. Brian Wisconsin says:

    My understanding was that no bishop can prohibit the celebration of the Mass ad orientem, just as none can prohibit its celebration in Latin, Tagalog, Deutsch, or Persian (i.e., any language). The issue was indeed the TV taping (although Foley tried to make it seem like he had the authority to ban ad orientem totally.

  18. To boil this down and correct the priest reader’s original misconceptions, some of which appear also in preceding posts:

    1) This matter began when the Bishop of Birmingham issued a regulation requiring that all Masses in his diocese be celebrated by the priest facing the people.

    2) In response to a question, the Congregation in Rome replied that — because the norms do not specify the direction of celebration, a bishop does not have the right to prohibit ad orientem (towards God) celebration within his diocese.

    3) The bishop consequently withdrew his probibition, but his right to regulate Masses televised from within his diocese was sustained.

    4) Therefore, since Mother Angelica has insisted that all main-church Masses at the Shrine in Hanceville be celebrated ad orientem, the televised versus populum Masses have remained instead at the friars chapel in Birmingham.

    5) All Masses at the main (upper church) altar at the Shrine have continued to this day to be celebrated versus populum. Thus:

    http://www.ewtn.com/pilgrimage/gallery/26.jpg

  19. TJB says:

    There was a petition going around shortly after the Pope celebrated Ad Deum in the Sistine Chapel to have this restriction lifted in Birmingham. The reasoning being, that if the Holy Father himself is celebrating televised Masses Ad Orientem, then how could someone possibly argue that it is wrong in their Diocese. I don’t know what ever became of this petition.

  20. RC says:

    It’s good of Mother Angelica (God bless her!) to prefer this ancient form, but I hope she didn’t overstep her prerogatives. It seems the decision is up to the priest celebrant.

  21. Jim says:

    Fr. Paul F,

    So its permitted to say mass ad orientem so long as the altar is not “fixed” against the wall? Is that corrent?

    This can’t be right as the response from the quaesitum the Cardinals state that “the addition of a further altar may not always be a worthy solution.”

    Would somebody be so kind as to elucidate this for me?

    Thanks

  22. RC: First, it’s is not about “this ancient form”, it’s about the Novus Ordo Mass, whose official norms in Latin I understand appear to assume — in several spots where the celebrant is instructed to turn to face the people — that he is celebrating ad orientem. Second, few would be so rash as dispute with Mother Angelica her authority in the convent of which she is superior.

  23. Jim: First, it is permitted to celebrate Mass ad orientem whether the altar is free-standing or “fixed to the wall”. Second, as Father Z has discussed regarding the principle of “the unicity of the altar”, when a existing fixed (“against the wall”) altar is present, it is not necessary or even always desirable to add a free-standing altar in order to accomodate versus populum celebration.

  24. Martin_B says:

    @ Fr. Paul F

    It’s also permitted to say mass “ad orientem” at an (old) altar, that is standing against a wall.

    The prescription for an altar to be “freestanding” does only pertain to new altars.

  25. Joan Moore says:

    “The daily televised Masses are not in the main body of the shrine itself, as I recall. The upper church is arranged so that during Mass the priest stands ad Deum with respect to the people. During Mass the enclosed community’s choir is to the side of the sanctuary, not behind it.”

    I am aware of this. However, when this whole thing arose, it was in Irondale.

    The Mass there was versus populum – facing the cloistered nuns, with visitors and other lay people behind the priest – so, it could look like the priest was celebrating ad orientem. He wasn’t, though!

  26. irishgirl says:

    When I visited EWTN the first time in 1998, I think the priest faced the people in the Irondale chapel-the nuns were still there, because they could be seen behind the screen.

    When I went the second time in 2005, the Mass at the Shrine was ad orientum. You could hear, but not see, the nuns in the choir section to the right of the sanctuary.

  27. I believe it was the Bishop who took the matter to Rome and Rome said if it was a public Broadcast then it had to be Versus Populum, however in their masses for the public (not telivised) then they can have ad orientem. As I understand things, it’s up to the discretion of the priest as ad orietem was never actually abolished.

    Also, the Pope does it and Mons. Marini said if the architecture was suited to it then it would be better to say the mass ad orientem.

  28. Altar Boy says:

    From research, the XI Synod of Bishops (2005) seemingly discourages versus populum, but do their recommendations constitute norms?

    ” …Some [Lineamenta] responses reported other occurrences, opposed to afore-mentioned Church tradition, which obscure the sense of the sacred and the transcendent character of the sacred mysteries. For example, many new Churches—not to mention older ones after renovation—are built on the fundamental architectural plan of bringing the faithful into close proximity to the altar to ensure visual contact and communication between the celebrant and the assembly. Likewise, the tendency to turn the altar around to face the people—in practice eliminating the presbytery—is based on the same idea. In doing so, what might be gained in communication might not sufficiently safeguard a sense of the sacred, which is also an essential part of liturgical celebrations.” (Instrumentum Laboris 64)

  29. ssoldie says:

    Irishgirl, you are right. I was thier Sept 11 2001 and it was that way also. Bishop Foley would be at some function, and would be asked which Diocese he was Bishop of,w hen he would say Alabama, the usual remark would be, Oh! Mother Angelica. Hopefull that was not the reason that he told her the ‘TELEVISED’ Mass would be facing the people (as I don’t remember that Vatican II said that it was to be done that way). As far as confusion goes, that has been going on since Vatican II counsel ended, and is still ongoing. God bless you all.

  30. Maynardus says:

    Bishop Foley was no raving modernist, but there are some elements in the U.S.C.C.B. about whom that might not be said with the same conviction. The Conference (read: “The liberal leadership of the Conference”) had their hackles up about E.W.T.N. and Mother Angelica in general, and her outspoken criticism of Cardinal Balony Mahony over his infamous manual of liturgical abuses “Gather Faithfully Together” didn’t help matters! Mahony et al put pressure on Foley to curb Mother’s liturgical orthodoxies “excesses” in the use of traditional practices and that was the impetus for his actions…

  31. Nick says:

    Noting the very considerable expense given to the construction of the Hanceville church it is such a pity that more forethought (and taste) was not spent in the planning. Obviously at the time the nuns were hoping to incorporate as much as they could get away with without being too controversial. So much gold, the squeeze at the altar and the six large candlesticks on the floor come to mind. I recall the general saying in Washington D.C. about the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception: that beer cans stacked that high would be imposing but not beautiful. Hopefully there will be similar funding to redo the Irondale church which makes no sense now without the presence of televised cloistered nuns.

  32. Richard says:

    “And, lest we forget, the Masses that were being celebrated (and televised) on EWTN were, in fact, being celebrated versus populum, since they were being celebrated with the priest facing her community of nuns!” – Joan Moore

    “priest facing HER community” – don’t tell me they’ve sneaked in a womynpriest!

  33. RC says:

    Henry wrote:

    First, it’s is not about “this ancient form”, it’s about the Novus Ordo Mass, whose official norms in Latin I understand appear to assume—in several spots where the celebrant is instructed to turn to face the people—that he is celebrating ad orientem.

    Yes, yes, that\’s right. By \”ancient form\” I was referring to celebration ad orientem. I\’m sorry if the way I wrote that confused anyone.

    Second, few would be so rash as dispute with Mother Angelica her authority in the convent of which she is superior.

    Perhaps some readers will think me rash, then. The priest celebrating Mass has the authority to decide among the lawful options in the Roman Missal, even when he\’s saying the Mass in a convent chapel in the presence of a religious community. If anyone has documentation to prove the contrary, please share it.

    Of course, if the nuns do not like his choices, they can arrange not to invite him back.

    Now, I doubt that Mother Angelica would really try to forbid a priest from celebrating Mass versus populum when he is using the current Missal. I\’m sure that the Poor Clare nuns are perfectly respectful of the legitimate prerogatives of a priest saying Mass.

  34. Matt says:

    Brian,
    none can prohibit its celebration in Latin, Tagalog, Deutsch, or Persian (i.e., any language)

    I don’t believe this is true. Latin is universally accepted, so a bishop could not ban it, however, the bishop would be completely within his prerogative in denying it in any other language if he saw fit. There is no law that requires mass to be offered in any language other than Latin (in the Latin rite that is).

  35. Tony from Oz says:

    “In exercising this responsibility, even though he is unable to exclude or mandate the use of a legitimate option, the Diocesan Bishop is competent to provide further guidance to priests in their choice of the various options of the Roman Rite. ”

    Am I missing something here? Some commentators have concluded that the Bishop has the right to regulate TV Masses on the basis of the above clarification. This is true – in the sense that he can issue ‘guidelines’ – yet these are only guidelines and, surely, in no wise constitute the right to command an ad populum Mass! Respectful dissent by EWTN/Mother Angelica would be perfectly allowable, surely.

    In any case – there have been several TLM’s at Hanceville now – I thought that these faux restrictions had long disappeared in any case!

  36. Nick says:

    It is ultimately a matter of individual episcopal taste. The televised mass at San Ignazio, Miami, has to be seen to be believed. The liturgical girl dancers, dressed suspiciously like Old Testament Levites, hopping around at all points of the mass to Mambo-esque music is perfectly OK with the Archbishop. Perhaps now that there is a new bishop in Birmingham the nuns will have a little more flexibility too. Once they set a precedent it can be set in stone, valid and licit.

  37. Gary says:

    Mass confusion…
    All the breaking down of elements of the Mass at the cost of the Mass itself tarnishes the credibility and authority of the church when it is Not demanded and implemented by the church but rather has to be checked against the concerns of the faithful. Is there not one set of codex that consolidates all this matter? Or is it dispersed and displaced making the task at hand most difficult?

    What all this must look like to the non-faitful; let alone the credibility issues that arise from events like the excomminication then lifting of the excommunication then it’s reconsideration amongst the SSPX.

    We Italians say it the best…
    “the fish stinks from the head.” There is conflict from the communities to the candles and everything in between including the conformity of the Mass forms.

    The Papal Offices need to say what they mean…and mean what they say!