CWN gets it right about Benedict XVI and ad orientem versus

We have seen a string of panicky or simply ignorant articles on the Holy Father’s Mass for the Baptism of the Lord when, in the Sistine Chapel, he celebrated ad orientem versus.

I am pleased that Catholic World News, as you would expect, got it right.  My emphases and comments:

Pope celebrates Mass ad orientem, speaks on Baptism

Vatican, Jan. 14, 2008 ( – Pope Benedict XVI baptized 13 infants, the children of Vatican employees, in keeping with a Vatican tradition on the feast of the Baptism of Christ.

The Holy Father used the ad orientem posture, facing in the same direction as the congregation, [WHAT??  He didn’t "turn his back on the people"??!?] using the magnificent altar of the Sistine Chapel rather than portable altar ["magnificent" vs. "portable"] that had been set up in previous years. This provoked widespread comment, with many journalists reporting that the Pope had revived an old liturgical tradition. (In fact, the ad orientem posture was never abolished.)  [As a matter of fact, it is assumed by the rubrics of the Missale Romanum.]

Msgr. Guido Marini, the new master of ceremonies for papal liturgies, said that the traditional posture was used to emphasize the "beauty and harmony of this architectural masterpiece," as it was originally designed for liturgical ceremonies. [If that was his explanation, Papa Ratzinger has other, theological explanations.] He noted in a public statement that in celebrating ad orientem, the Pope was not breaking with existing practice but "making use of a possibility contemplated by liturgical norms." Still the Pontiff’s return to a traditional practice revived rumors that Pope Benedict will soon celebrate a public Mass using the "extraordinary form"— the traditional Latin Mass.

The Pope baptized 8 girls and 5 boys at the January 13 ceremony. (One of the boys was named John Paul.) In his homily he reminded the parents and godparents that in Baptism the child enters "into a personal relationship with the Creator, and this lasts forever."

"It is for this reason that Christian parents bring their children to the baptismal font as soon as possible," the Holy Father continued; "knowing that the life they have communicated to them invokes a fullness, a salvation, that only God can give." By having their children baptized promptly, he said, "the parents become God’s collaborators, transmitting to their children not only physical but also spiritual life."

"Unfortunately," the Pontiff continued, "man is capable of extinguishing this new life through sin." For other animals, death means only the end of life,  [You mean Fluffy doesn’t go to heaven?!?]

Later on Sunday, at his midday Angelus audience, Pope Benedict reflected on the Baptism of Christ, noting that the event marked the beginning of Christ’s public life. "By having Himself baptized by John together with sinners, Jesus began to take upon Himself the burden of sin of all humanity," he said.

The Pope continued: "The whole of Christ’s mission may be summed up in this way: Baptism in the Holy Spirit to free us from the slavery of death and open us to heaven– in other words … to true and full life."


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  1. Thank you, Father, for this post.

    Well done, Catholic World News, for reporting it correctly.
    There is no need for a change, either in canon law or in the GIRM, to allow for ad orientem celebration of the Novus Ordo.

    The Pope has just demonstrated the fact.
    Positive reporting like this is essential.
    Let many others now follow the Pope’s example.

  2. RichR says:

    You mean Fluffy doesn’t go to heaven?!?


    In today’s society, this statement is one of the few remaining anathemas. Oh yeah, along with “Homosexual acts are wrong”, “birth control is wrong”, and “Christ is God”.

  3. TNCath says:

    This may have been asked before, but, here it goes.

    In light of this publicly televised ad orientem Mass by the Holy Father himself, I wonder if EWTN will resume celebrating televised Masses ad orientem from their chapel in Irondale, Alabama? I realize that several years ago the ordinary of the Diocese of Birmingham at the time, Bishop David Foley, had issued norms for televised Masses that required that the celebrant face the people. I also am aware that these are norms particular to the Diocese of Birmingham. However, I would think that, in light of the Holy Father’s obvious use of the ad orientem posture on television that these diocesan norms would not only be irrelevant but also a bit defiant.

  4. Prof. Basto says:

    “… There is nothing in the Council text about turning altars towards the people; that point is raised only in post-conciliar instructions. The most important directive is found in paragraph 262 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani, the General Instruction of the new Roman Missal, issued in 1969. That says, ‘It is better for the main altar to be constructed away from the wall so that one can easily walk around the altar and celebrate facing the people (versus populum).’ The General Instruction of the Missal issued in 2002 retained this text unaltered except for the addition of the subordinate clause, ‘which is desirable wherever possible’. This was taken in many quarters as hardening the 1969 text to mean that there was now a general obligation to set up altars facing the people ‘wherever possible’. This interpretation, however, was rejected by the Congregation for Divine Worship on 25 September 2000, when it declared that the word ‘expedit’ (‘is desirable’) did not imply an obligation but only made a suggestion. The physical orientation, the Congregation says, must be distinguished from the spiritual. Even if a priest celebrates versus populum, he should always be oriented versus Deum per Iesum Christum (towards God through Jesus Christ). Rites, signs, symbols and words can never exhaust the inner reality of the mystery of salvation. For this reason the Congregation warns against one-sided and rigid positions in this debate.

    This is an important clarification…”

    J. Card. Ratzinger, preface to Uwe Michael Lang’s book Conversi ad Dominum. Zu Gechichte und Theologie der christlichen Gebetsrichtung

  5. Henry Edwards says:

    There is no need for a change, either in canon law or in the GIRM, to allow for ad orientem celebration of the Novus Ordo.

    Just curious: Is there anyone here who has ever thought or been told that the Novus Ordo could not or was not supposed to be celebrated ad orientem?

  6. Mark says:

    My pastor told me he had no right to celebrate ad orientem, even though he wished he could. When I showed him evidence that he could do it (this was before the Pope’s ad orientem celebration), he told me he would not impose his preferences on the parishioners. I believe his preference is to keep things as they are, and not bother re-orienting either the Mass or the minds of the people.

  7. Tom says:

    “Msgr. Guido Marini, the new master of ceremonies for papal liturgies, said that the traditional posture was used to emphasize the “beauty and harmony of this architectural masterpiece,” as it was originally designed for liturgical ceremonies. He noted in a public statement that in celebrating ad orientem, the Pope was not breaking with existing practice but “making use of a possibility contemplated by liturgical norms.”

    As Papal MC, Monsignor Marini certainly enjoys an insider’s perspective as to why the Holy Father offered Mass ad orientem.

    Therefore, Monsignor Marini made it clear that the Pope’s action did not signal that the Pope is determined to restore the tradition in question.

  8. Nathan says:

    + JMJ +

    Mr. Henry Edwards said, “Just curious: Is there anyone here who has ever thought or been told that the Novus Ordo could not or was not supposed to be celebrated ad orientem?”

    I’ve been told more than once by both priests and laity when I’ve brought up the issue. Most often, they refer to GIRM’s statement that the altar should be freestanding to allow the celebration of Holy Mass versus populum. The logic, apparently, is that because the GIRM mentions this, it mandates versus populum.

    When I’ve pressed them further on the rubrics, etc., the forthright ones have told me that either the bishop would not support Mass ad orientem, or (more commonly) there would be a hue and cry from vocal laymen which would make the effort “not worth it.”

    Apparently, up to now there has been a lot of pressure from all sides to make priests conform to the norm of versus populum.

    God bless you, Mr. Edwards. I enjoy your comments—your insight is keen.
    In Christ,

  9. Chironomo says:

    The tactic here, as it was with Summorum Pontificum (excuse me if I’m implying a “motive” or something other than the actual reason..)is to demonstrate and re-affirm that ad orientem was never abrogated, just as the 1962 Missal was never abrogated, and as it will be shown that Gregorian Chant was never abrogated, nor was latin in the liturgy ever abrogated, nor was communion kneeling and received on the tongue ever abrogated, etc…etc… this is brilliant! Rather than having to fight the fight of making allowable what is currently not allowed, just point out that it has always been allowed… the claims of the liturgical progressives are demonstrably false! Just take the high ground and do what is right.

  10. Habemus Papam says:

    Chironimo, indeed. If the Pope were to mandate change the progressives would argue that he goes against Vatican II. By demonstrating that these traditional practices were never ruled out, he “runs rings around” the progressives.

  11. Actually, Fluffy goes to Dog Heaven. When I was little, that’s what Mom told me.

  12. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    I've seen priests throats metaphorically slit because they offered Mass ad orientem. They are marginalized, shuned as the scum of the earth. Really. It's horrific.


    Some linguistic work is worth the effort regarding (GIRM 299):

    1. The altar should be built apart from the wall,
    1. Altare exstruatur a pariete seiunctum,

    2. in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people,
    2. ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit,

    3. which is desirable wherever possible.
    3. quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.

    Now, “which is desirable wherever possible” is, in fact, a subordinate clause, but, seeing that it is a relative clause, it has its referent back in the constructing, not in the adverbial, purpose clause about being able to walk and celebrate. Thus:

    There is no reference to versus populum being desirable in any way.

  13. Dan Hunter says:

    As we all know, absolutely no permission is needed for a priest to offer the Mass ad orientem.
    I know of a priest that just pushed the altar up against the tabernacle and just started offering all of his Masses ad orientem, NO and Tridentine.
    He did not say a word about this, he just began what every priest has a right to do.
    No one complained.
    And no one has the right to complain. Some people asked some basic questions and they were answered correctly.
    There is NO good reason why priests do not offer Holy Mass ad orientem.
    There is every good reason to offer it.
    God bless you.

  14. David: Fluffy goes to Dog Heaven. When I was little, that’s what Mom told me.

    Your mother, as wonderful as she is, should no that there is no Dog Heaven.

    And if there were I don’t think Fluffy (the cat) would enjoy it very much, though I suspect the dogs wouldn’t object.

  15. Fr. Renzo: I’ve seen priests throats metaphorically slit because they offered Mass ad orientem. They are marginalized, shunned as the scum of the earth. Really. It’s horrific.

    I have lived this.

  16. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    Fr Z,

    Thanks, if I can say that on behalf of the Church, for your suffering.

    A toast with a prayer: “To Fr Z: May the Lord continue to bless you according to the perfect intercession of the Immaculate Conception.”

  17. Jeff Miller says:

    Is it still called Ad Orientum when the chapel altar is built into the Western wall. Or is this a more generic name towards facing the altar?

    Regardless I totally agree with you that having the priest face the congregation instead was one of the worst decisions in the aftermath of VII.

  18. Oh yeah, thanks. I’ll break the news to her. (This is gonna be hard…)

  19. Maureen says:

    Obviously Fluffy wouldn’t go to heaven. Heaven is only for angels and for people with souls.

    However, _after_ heaven, when we enter into the new heaven and new earth, I don’t think it would be wrong to theorize that the Lord may reconstitute a new Fluffy. Fluffy would not be glorified then, but would participate in the joy of all redeemed Creation.

  20. Little Gal says:

    “You mean Fluffy doesn’t go to heaven?!?”

    I wonder if Chico, the Pope’s cat, is aware of this? Perhaps not, as he has been busy writing the Pope’s biography…

  21. Habemus Papam says:

    I hardly think Fluffy can be compared to Chico. Really.

  22. Melody says:

    Bless you Father Z, I wish you would come to my parish and offer mass. If only people could get that ad orientem emphasizes humility for the priest, rather than making it all about power and “inclusiveness.”

    As Fluffy’s fate (or cuddles) and tend to think along the same lines as Maureen. The keeping of pets and human need for it may go back to Eden.

  23. Henry Edwards says:

    Fr. Renzo: I’ve seen priests throats metaphorically slit because they offered Mass ad orientem.

    In the case of such retribution — by or at the instance of the priest’s bishop, presumably — I wonder whether the bishop’s motivation is typically ideological or pastoral.

    By “ideological” might be meant that the priest is interpreted as favoring the Church’s traditional view of the Mass as primarily sacrifical, whereas the bishop takes the more recent view that it’s primarily communal.

    By “pastoral” might be meant that the bishop simply wants to avoid controversey or complaints from parishioners who (for whatever reason) don’t like it. Or, in particular, that he fears negative effects on financial contributions.

  24. Bryan Boyle says:

    Mr Edwards:

    I fear, in the end, that your last sentence is more to the point than anyone in the Ordinary’s office would frankly admit.


  25. Fr Renzo di Lorenzo says:

    More about: I’ve seen priests\’ throats metaphorically slit because they offered Mass ad orientem

    An example (not me):

    After a Mass offered by a religious priest, the diocesan parish priest who had requested his help for the Mass (that was offered ad orientem), complained to the religious priest\’s superior about the Mass being ad orientem. That religious priest was thrown out of his community for that reason alone, and he had only committed this \”sin\” of ad orientem once. This action was thought to be a way of demonstrating that the community was not \”traditionalist\” (a dirty word). God provided that the FSSP welcomed him.

    The religious community, which was rather traditional in culture, was given over to political correctness.

    My own experience is that the demand that all be politically correct so as never to offer Mass ad orientem is not merely strong, but is such that one knows that all hell will break loose if one offers Mass ad orientem.

    I agree with Fr Z that non-ad-orientem is the worst thing that has happened. All the rest of the rubbish follows after that. All hell is concerned that there be no going back to ad orientem. So many are the ever so willing agents of the Evil One.

    P.S. I often thought that threats of no more contributions would make the bishops change on matters such as seminary formation, but that simply is not the case. There is much more riding on all of this, and that makes people nervous and confused. Also, I\’ve never given a thought to the contributions of the laity in this regard. There is no life-changing pressure of political correctness coming from them. They are able to be more intuitive about this if an explanation is provided. The pressure, instead, is from the priests and bishops. They are the ones who are nervous and confused, for all hell has already broken out to make them that way and keep them that way. Here\’s another category:

    RSV Ephesians 6:12 For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.

    God bless.

  26. Henry Edwards says:

    In several instances I’ve seen ad orientem Latin Novus Ordo Masses offered without significant criticism, even when many of the congregants likely had never previously seen a Mass celebrated either ad orientem or in Latin.

    I wonder whether the Latin is inoculation against the ad orientem, or vice versa? In at least one such instance, in listening to the generally positive comments afterwards, I had the ineffable feeling that some might have thought … Well, if it’s going to be in Latin, which we cannot hear clearly, why not be ad orientem so we cannot see clearly either. Seriously, I suspected that some definitely associated one with the other.

  27. MD says:

    Can Fluffy go to limbo? hehe

  28. Fluffy goes only into the Void.

  29. DJY says:


    While your statement on Fluffy’s eternal fate (or lack thereof) is certainly unimpeachable theologically, did you have to juxtapose it with the picture? You can almost see those eyes visualizing the impending void. :(

    I would like to hold to Maureen’s view. Certainly, if the Lord can raise descendants to Abraham from a few rocks, the “reconstitution of Fluffy” (a great theological treatise if ever there was one) would barely make it to the level of miracle!

  30. Maureen says:

    I don’t think “reconstitution” is really the right word, though. More like “creation anew”, depending on how totally new the new heaven and new earth turn out to be.

    Of course, if the new and improved Fluffy doesn’t get to run around with the lion and the lamb on God’s holy mountain, Fluffy has nothing to complain about and neither do we. Life and existence are more than big enough gifts for God to give an animal once.

    But given that they serve God, and that the poor dumb creatures have to deal with living in a fallen world through no fault of their own, it might be an example of divine justice to recreate all creatures ever in the new heaven and new earth. (And not just animals and plants, but rocks and stuff.)

    After all, Jerusalem is just a non-living city, and it gets to be created anew. :)

    Though apparently there will be no more sea….

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