From a priest starting ad orientem worship in his parish. Heavily edited:
… [The dean] supports my decision for ad orientem in the Novus Ordo this weekend. It will be in English. He warned me that the bishop will give me heck.
My question is: Where does Rome/any documents back up this practice if I get a phone call?
My response right now is that my confrere in the neighboring parish has
“one-sin” penance services, Easter Vigils at 4 p.m., and other liturgical abuses and not one word is said.
I just want to have my ducks in a row.
I wonder how effective it will be pointing to the bishop’s failure in governance as a defense of your own good practice. Just wondering about that.
First, I suppose one could ask for a document which requires that Mass be celebrated versus populum. There isn’t one, of course.
Also, one could point out that the rubrics of the Missale Romanum assume that Mass is celebrated ad orientem, since there are moments when the priest instructed to turn to the people and then turn to the altar.
I want to ask readers to chime in with references to documents or with good and useful arguments. You can keep the “I like X better!” to yourselves.
That said, here is a piece of documentation which could be useful.
CONGREGATIO DE CULTU DIVINO
ET DISCIPLINA SACRAMENTORUM
Prot. No 2086/00/L
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in no. 299 of the Instituto Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which, during the Eucharistic liturgy, the position of the priest versus absidem [facing towards the apse] is to be excluded.
The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:
Negative, and in accordance with the following explanation.
The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account.
It is in the first place 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 [detached from the wall] and to the celebration versus populum [towards the people]. The clause ubi possibile sit [where it is possible] refers to different elements, as, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc. It reaffirms that the position towards the assembly seems more convenient inasmuch as it makes communication easier (Cf. the editorial in Notitiae 29  245-249), without excluding, however, the other possibility.
However, whatever may be the position of the celebrating priest, it is clear that the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered to the one and triune God, and that the principal, eternal, and 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 in virtue of the common priesthood of the faithful which requires the ministry of the ordained priest to be exercised in the Eucharistic Synaxis. The physical position, especially with respect to the communication among the various members of the assembly, must be distinguished from the interior spiritual orientation of all. It would be a grave error to imagine that the principle orientation of the sacrificial action is [toward] the community. If the priest celebrates versus populum, which is a legitimate and often advisable, his spiritual attitude ought always to, be versus Deum per Jesus Christum [towards God through Jesus Christ], as representative of the entire Church. The Church as well, which takes concrete form in the assembly which participates, is entirely turned versus Deum [towards God] as its first spiritual movement.
It appears that the ancient tradition, though not without exception, was that the celebrant and the praying community were turned versus orientem [towards the East], the direction from which the Light which is Christ comes. It is not unusual for ancient churches to be “oriented” so that the priest and the people were turned versus orientem during public prayer.
It may be that when there were problems of space, or of some other kind, the apse represented the East symbolically. Today the expression versus orientem often means versus apsidem, and in speaking of versus populum it is not the west but rather the community present that is meant.
In the ancient architecture of churches, the place of the Bishop or the celebrating priest was in the center of the apse where, seated and turned towards the community, the proclamation of the readings was listened to, Now this presidential place was not ascribed to the human person of the bishop or the priest, nor to his intellectual gifts and not even to his personal holiness, but to his role as an instrument of the invisible Pontiff, who is the Lord Jesus.
When it is a question of ancient churches, or of great artistic value, it is appropriate, moreover, to keep in mind civil legislation regarding changes or renovations. Adding another altar may not always be a worthy solution.
There is no need to give excessive importance to elements which have changed throughout the centuries. What always remains is the event celebrated in the liturgy: this is manifested through rites, signs, symbols and words which express various aspects of the mystery without, however, exhausting it, because it transcends them. Taking a rigid position and absolutizing it could become a rejection of some aspect of the truth which merits respect and acceptance.
Vatican City, 25 September 2000.
Jorge A. Card. MEDINA ESTÉVEZ
Francesco Pio Tamburrino
That is in reference to the GIRM 299, which is mistranslated in the official English translation. That is why the CDW clarified the grammar of the Latin, above.
Remember, no document requires versus populum worship. The rubrics of the Latin Missale Romanum presupposed ad orientem worship. The Latin edition is the norm above all and it is always valid for use everywhere. There are good motives for changing to ad orientem worship, including the catechetical advantage it brings in teaching about the interior orientation we all need at Mass.
At the same time, keep in mind what Joseph Ratzinger wrote about the transition to ad orientem worship. It should be done with care. I made some PODCAzTs about this. Try one here.