Good “ad orientem” news

How nice it is to be able to share pleasant bits of news like this, which I received by e-mail.  Apparently, the main altar (the real altar) of the National Shrine is getting some use!

Dear Rev.  Father,

Last Sunday, at the 4:30 pm Mass, the Mass was said from the great High Altar.  The movable altar was cleared away.  I have it on good authority that the Shrine’s Liturgy Chief, Fr. Weston, confirmed that the Shrine was going to use the "old" altar on an experimental basis.


If you attend Mass when the older altar is used, be sure to give them feedback so they have something to work with! 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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


  1. Patrick Rothwell says:

    Now THIS is good news if this is an ad orientem mass. However, in years past, I have seen weekday masses at the old high altar, but it was versus populum with the small congregation in the sanctuary.

  2. RichR says:

    I hope this is the beginning of a trend.

    After reading Fr. Lang’s books, “Turning Toward the Lord” with preface by J. Card. Ratzinger, I think Papa Bene would look favorably on such an “experiment”.

    May Fr. Weston’s tribe increase.

  3. Daniel Latinus says:

    I remember watching televised Masses from the National Shrine in the 1970s, and they used the old high altar at that time, but the celebrants stood behind it, facing the congregation.

  4. I’m not sure if they stood in front of or behind the old altar.

    But it is good to see that the old altar is getting some use!


  5. Serafino says:

    I could never understand why with such a glorious high altar they wanted to use a “card table” for Holy Mass. It looked all the more foolish when the chior was standing behind it.

  6. Matthew Mattingly says:

    This is wonderful news. The high altar is so beautiful. I know of many who have visited the Shrine, and objected to the portable altar because it is #1, ugly and #2 looks 100% Protestant (Anglican).

    The Main altar should always be used, either “ad orientam” which is the prefered way, or facing the people. Regardless, it’s better than what they have been using. I hope when the NCCB has it’s meeting, they have Mass at the Shrine, using the high altar .

  7. RichR says:


    Though we must show reverence to the altars as the place where the Sacrifice is re-presented, I think that the artistic merit of these “ironing boards shoved into the sanctuary” inspires little, if any, conteplation. They generally are cheap, wooden tables that try hard to make this august Sacrament anything but.

    For those priests out there: please look at your sanctuary, and if you have an old High Altar up against the back wall, compare it to the newer altar that is freestanding. Ask yourself these questions: “Which one, architecturally, iconographically, and materially conveys the permanence of the Faith, the glory of Christ’s sacrifice, and the transcendent nature of Almighty God?” Then ask yourself, “Does either altar convey a sense of homeliness, casualness, or unimportance?”

  8. B. T. says:

    Great news!
    But, check out these pictures of some altars of the shrine:

  9. Emmanuel Perez says:

    Don’t know if anybody here was at the Shrine last Sunday, but I was at the 10:30 Mass and was pleasantly surprised to see the portable altar gone. It always seemed rather pointless and redundant to me to see the Mass celebrated on that “altar on wheels” when there was a perfectly good altar behind it. However the Mass was “versus populum” which was a bit disappointing, especially since they took the Crucifix and altar candles off the altar and arranged them on the stairs leading up to it, which gave it a rather bizarre look. I don’t know if it was like that at any of the other Masses, but that’s what happened at 10:30. But, it’s a step in the right direction, I’ve been going to the National Shrine for many years now and have noticed very small and incremental shifts in favor of tradition over time, hopefully they will keep it up.

  10. Papabile says:

    I thought this was the reserved pontifical altar?

  11. Ooh, this is great news! It seems as though most “experimental” things in the Church often end up becoming almost permanent! [cough]Communioninthehand[/cough]

  12. Michael says:

    If only St. Patrick’s in New York would do the same.

  13. Fr Martin Fox says:

    If memory serves, the apse of the Basilica is northward, so if the priest starts offering Mass in that direction, watch for an Orthodox bishop to walk out of ecumenical talks over this as yet another example of the baleful influence of the Franks over the Western Church . . .

  14. Matthew Mattingly says:

    On a humerous note, one of my friends went to Mass recently where the parish is being renovated back to a more traditional expression of Catholicism. New Stations of the Cross in marble replaced the simple wooden crosses which marked each station.
    The Main altar is free standing under a baldacino, with six candlesticks and a huge golden cross on it. It dates from the early 1940’s. In front of it has always been (since 1968), a portable roll-away altar. This is what they have always used. And it has always made the Church look very Protestant. Which is sad because the high altar is beautiful.
    Well, they were making some more ornamental changes last week, restoring the use of votive candles (now their electric rather than real candles), but their in blue and red, and when flickering look almost real.
    One of the habitless nuns who ran the liturgy for years (a crew of three who have been largely demoted by more traditional pastor and 2 lay helpers) came into the Church all aflutter seeing what was being added (the votive candle racks). She thought that the candle racks on either side of the sanctuary and the new golden candlesticks on the high altar detracted from the portable altar, standing in the center in all it’s “Vatican II” bareness.
    “This is all too distracting, it takes away from the altar table” She said. She used the term “altar table” like the Protestants do, not just “altar”
    She walked about the sanctuary very aggitated, snapping at parish volunteers and griping about the new traditional decor of the Church. She walked over to the portable altar and practically hugging it cried ” And what are you going to do with this!!!”
    “We’d like to wheel it out to the trash bin, but we don’t have Father’s okay yet” came a sarcastic reply. Several of the parish volonteers laughed at this nun, who is about 67 and with her 2 nun assistants devoted years and years to turning the parish into something just like the neighboring Methodist Church instead of Catholic.
    The nun apparently turned on her heel, stomped across the sanctuary showing no respect for the blessed sacrament, and slammed the door so hard it broke the stained glass in it.
    If this is the reaction of the dissidents and liberals, like Archbishop Marini etc. and his clones like this nun across the world….then Pope Benedict XVI did the Catholic Church a far greater service with his Moto Proprio than even He realizes.
    Long live the Pope.!!!

  15. Petrus says:

    I have also heard that the High altar may be moved to the front where the portable altar is/was.

  16. TNCath says:

    Whenever I watch a Mass televised from the National Shrine, I always cringe when I see the choir in those blue choir robes directly behind the celebrant and concelebrants. Not only are they distracting, they are completely out of place. I hope not only St. Patrick’s in New York, but also Notre Dame in Paris, follow Washington’s lead.

  17. I have also heard that the High altar may be moved to the front where the portable altar is/was.

    Yes, that is what the Ceremonial of Bishops says about the altar. It says that the high altar should be free standing to allow for Mass to be said facing the people. If the high altar cannot be moved because it is too hard or it destroys the artistic continuity, then another altar is to be constructed in front of it. I think that is where all this freestanding altar and facing the people mess came from.

  18. Matthew: That was amusing? It was terribly sad, as far as I am concerned.

    Sure it is better to get main altar back into use and get rid of the ironing boards.

    However, this should be brought about with as little bitterness as possible.

  19. Roman Sacristan: It says that the high altar should be free standing to allow for Mass to be said facing the people. If the high altar cannot be moved because it is too hard or it destroys the artistic continuity, then another altar is to be constructed in front of it.

    NO! NO! NO!

    There is no obligation to construct a second altar if the main altar is not able to be used from either side.

    If the existing altar is still attached to the wall, or cannot be moved around, there is no obligation to change the position. If there is extensive reconstruction or new construction, then GIRM 299 applies. Remember, that was the paragraph that was MISTRANSLATED in the USCCB’s “Built of Living Stones” even after the CDWDS responded to a dubium about its point and even explained the Latin grammar of 299.

    There was an article some years back in Notitiae (a reaction to the posthumous publication of Klaus Gamber’s works) also stating that when there is a main altar of sufficient merit and is the architectural focus, no other altar should be set up in front of it. This is because, in that article, it was held that the principle of the unicity of the altar (i.e., hving just one altar to focus attention on) overrides what they argued was the benefit of Mass facing the people.

  20. Scott Smith says:

    Yet it seems that in 1993 this commentary from the CDW was given, and no heed has been paid:

    “3. The arrangement of the altar “versus populum” is certainly something desirable in the current liturgical legislation. Nonetheless, it is not an absolute value over every other one … It is more faithful to the liturgical sense in these cases to celebrate at the existing altar with the backs turned to the people than to maintain two altars in the same sanctuary. The principle of the oneness of the altar is theologically more important than the practice to celebrate turned towards the people.” (Notitae 29 (1993) 249) As taken from an article by the St. Joseph Foundation on

  21. FGilbert says:

    Freestanding altars look Protestant (anglican), huh? Before Vatican II, the altars in my former Episcopal Diocese of Northern Indiana were ad orientem. Most parishes did like Rome did and went freestanding, but there are still multiple examples of ad orientem altars in the diocese as there are in the larger Anglo-Catholic world.

  22. Anonymous Seminarian says:

    Just a quick note…the Masses at the Shrine this past weekend were, yes, on the high altar, but were facing the people. This will be done over the next several months, on certain weekends, as an “experient.”

    I must say, it was amazing to serve Mass at the glorious high altar. The sense of mystery was incredibly magnified. Now we just have to wait and see how people respond…

  23. TJM says:

    Father Z, I am generally always in agreement with what you say.
    I have little sympathy for that “nun” who has probably made a
    spiritual hell for many of her fellow parishioners over the years
    likely foisting “the spirit of Vatican II” down everyone’s throat.ought
    What was said to her was a fair remark and like the typical liberal she is, she got her nose out of joint and acted like a juvenile when someone ventured an honest opinion. It is a good thing for Holy Mother the Church that the shelf-life of that nun is relatively short. Tom

  24. EJ says:

    As a former server at the Shrine, this is very positive news. I’m quite surprised, because the former directors of liturgy considered the high altar to be too far from the assembly, which is why the portable “Volksaltar” was set up. I’m surprised the post is entitled “Good ad orientem news” since the Mass, although celebrated on the high altar, was celebrated versus populum. I certainly hope ad orientem will be taken into consideration at least as an option, but I doubt this will happen soon. The TLM will have to make a stronger presence of itself there first, with public and private pilgrimages and events- and priests courageous enough to celebrate it there regularly, much to the chagrin of the administration there, and to the chagrin of the “Beast” just down the street. Thank goodness the altar is portable at the Shrine and they didn’t do something permanent as in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York or St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans.

  25. RichR says:

    I have read Fr. Uwe Lang’s book, Turning Toward the Lord, and I’ve read bits and pieces of articles promoting ad orientem, but I owuld love to see a pre-packaged homily that a priest could use to start teaching people about the merits of this orientation.

    If people are going to embrace a change in (or, rather, return to) paradigm, it will take some preparation. It’s easy for a priest to simply re-orient himself at the altar. It’s harder to get the people to accept it without explanation.

    I hope that this becomes more popular because it changes the ethos of the Mass in an incredible way.

  26. joe says:

    Great news!

  27. Tommaso says:

    This is an exciting time to be in love with the Mass in either form. I wonder if Benedict could have imagined the beneficial results his Motu Proprio would have so soon? Ad orientem Novus Ordos for one.
    Then tradition minded Anglicans seeking union with Rome.

    And NOW! “Indult” Fr. Echert is interviewed respectfully on SSPX radio:,071021,from_indult_to_tridentine_mass,fr_echert,j_bagnoli_final_cut.mp3

    Let us rejoice at this opportunity for a true and lasting peace!

Comments are closed.