Turning a parish “eastward” in South Carolina


At the parish of St. Mary in downtown Greenville, South Carolina, the pastor, Fr. Jay Scott Newman, is helping his people get re-oriented… liturgically.

He is shifting them to ad orientem worship.

He has been carrying on a good catechesis about this extremely important issue through his parish bulletins which are also posted on the parish website.

I am of the mind, along with great scholars like Klaus Gamber, that turning altars around after the Council devastated our Catholic identity and understanding of Catholic worship.  I have made several PODCAzTs about this.  Papa Ratzinger has written eloquently about this important topic.

Here are some excerpts from Fr. Newman’s pages.  My emphases and comments:

1st Sunday of Lent:

Before he became Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger was one of the most thoughtful and respected critics of the unintended consequences which flow from the priest and people facing each other across the altar during the Eucharistic Prayer. Ratzinger argued that this arrangement, in addition to being a radical novelty in Christian practice, has the effect of creating a circle of congregation and celebrant closed in upon itself rather than allowing the congregation and celebrant to be a pilgrim people together turned towards the LORD. And this closed circle, in turn, too easily renders the Eucharist more of a horizontal celebration of the congregation gathered than a vertical offering of the sacrifice of Christ to the Father. This flattening of divine worship into a self-referential celebration [Well put.] is, in part, what leads many Catholics to experience Mass as much less than the source and summit of the Church’s life, and the remedy for this malady is to open the closed circle and experience the power of turning together towards the LORD.

This can be done primarily in two ways: 1) return to the ancient and universal practice of the priest standing with the people on one side of the altar as they together face liturgical East, the place from which the glory of the LORD shines upon us, [Preferable, but perhaps too much of a first step.] or 2) even when the priest and people remain separated on opposite sides of the altar, place a cross at the center of the altar to allow both celebrant and congregation to face the LORD. [A first step.] Pope Benedict, through his writing and by his example, is encouraging priests everywhere to work towards these goals to enrich the experience of divine worship and free us from the danger of solipsism which is contained in self-referential ways of praying.


Fr. Newman made some good points here, based on Papa Ratzinger’s work and on his example as Roman Pontiff.  Pope Benedict has been celebrating in the Vatican Basilica with a Crucifix placed between himself and the congregation.  This is important even in a building which by its physical location on the Vatican Hill is liturgically oriented to the geographical East, but in such a way that the congregation and celebrant seem to be facing each other over the altar.  In fact, in ancient times, there was a moment at Mass when the people in the old Constantinian Basilica literally turned around to face the East along with the celebrant, thus putting the celebrant physically behind them.

That’s how important eastward celebration was.

The Second Sunday of Lent.

I want only to make this point: there is no essential connection between the liturgy of Vatican II, the freestanding altar, and the priest facing the people at the altar. In fact, even now the rubrics in the modern Roman Missal are written with the assumption that the priest and people are together facing liturgical East during the Mass, and as I explained last week, Pope Benedict XVI wants Catholics everywhere to understand that to be faithful to our own tradition, we must live in continuity with the Church’s worship in every age. 

Exactly.  Nowhere do the documents of Vatican II or the rubrics of the Mass, or the GIRM require that Mass be celebrated "facing the people".  The rubrics assume the opposite.  There are moments when the priests is (in Latin) instructed to say something in the direction of the congregation and then turn back to the altar.  No document requires that an existing altar be detached from the wall or that it cannot be used.   Yet, far and wide terrible vandalism was done to churches based on an ephemeral ideology and incomplete scholarship

The Third Sunday of Lent

Moreover, because the Eucharistic Prayer is addressed to God the Father and not to the congregation, the normal posture of the priest has always been to face the East with his congregation and offer the sacrifice of the Mass with and for them to the Father. Accordingly, it is a simple mistake to think of the priest as “having his back to the people” when they stand together on the same side of the altar; rather, the priest and people by their common “orientation” show that they are turning towards the LORD, a physical metaphor for the interior work of conversion which can be thought of as the “reorientation” of our lives. This is why in nearly every place and for almost all of Christian history, the priest has stood with his people on the same side of the altar so that, together facing the East of the sacred liturgy, they could offer their lives while pleading the sacrifice of Christ, and it is this deep dimension of our common prayer which Pope Benedict wants us to retrieve from our own tradition.

What Father points out here is also important for reorienting our Catholic identity, who we are as a pilgrim people on a journey to meet the Lord who is returning.  It also helps us understand who the priest is in the Church, who he is for the people, what their relationship is.

It sounds like Fr. Newman is on the right track, and his people are fortunate to have him at their helm.

Among the important things we must address in our liturgical lives, the position of the priest in relation to the congregation and the altar might be the most important.  This is an issue which transcends the edition of the Missale Romanum being used.  A return to ad orientem worship must be sought out again, patiently and with catechesis, for the Novus Ordo.  

A growth in celebrations of the older form of Mass will help this process, through the "gravitational pull" it will exert and the awareness it will bring to new generations.

UPDATE: 4 March 08: 15:10 GMT 

4th Sunday of Lent: 

Fr. Newman gets into "active participation".

… [I]n the years following the II Vatican Council, the Church’s desire that all the faithful participate fully in the sacred liturgy was too often rendered a caricature of the Council’s teaching, and misconceptions about the true nature of active participation multiplied. This led to the frenzied expansion of “ministries” among the people and turned worship into a team sport. But it is possible to participate in the liturgy fully, consciously, and actively without ever leaving one’s pew, and it is likewise possible to serve busily as a musician or lector at Mass without truly participating in the sacred liturgy. Both of these are true because the primary meaning of active participation in the liturgy is worshipping the living God in Spirit and truth, and that in turn is an interior disposition of faith, hope, and love which cannot be measured by the presence or absence of physical activity. [A true WDTPRS description!] But this confusion about the role of the laity in the Church’s worship was not the only misconception to follow the liturgical reforms; similar mistakes were made about the part of the priest.  [A very good way to track back to the position of the altar.]  … [T]he priest was gradually changed in the popular imagination from the celebrant of the Sacred Mysteries of salvation into the coordinator of the liturgical ministries of others.  … Once these falsehoods were accepted, then the service of the priest in the liturgy became grotesquely misshapen, and instead of a humble steward of the mysteries whose only task was to draw back the veil between God and man and then hide himself in the folds, the priest became a ring-master or entertainer whose task was thought of as making the congregation feel good about itself.   [In Sacramentum caritatis] the pope teaches that “the primary way to foster the participation of the People of God in the sacred rite is the proper celebration of the rite itself,” and an essential part of that work is removing the celebrant from the center of attention so that priest and people together can turn towards the LORD. Accomplishing this task of restoring God-centered liturgy is one of the main reasons for returning to the ancient and universal practice of priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar as they offer in Christ, each in their own way, the sacrifice of Calvary as true worship of the Father. In other words, the custom of ad orientem celebration enhances, rather than diminishes, the possibility of the people participating fully, consciously, and actively in the celebration of the sacred liturgy.

5th Sunday of Lent <— UPDATE

Well… it seems he has gone and done it!


5th Sunday of Lent
8 March 2008

Dear Friends in Christ,

In the last four bulletin columns, we’ve seen that:

+ until the 1960’s the vast majority of Christians in every time and place offered the sacrifice of the Most Holy Eucharist with the priest and people standing together on the same side of the altar. [Yes.  Gamber is strong on this.  Support from a historian.]

+ this ancient and universal practice of offering the Eucharistic Prayer ad orientem, or facing East (whether geographical or liturgical East), is rooted in Judaism and the practice of the first Christians and emphasizes the vertical dimension of worship by opening the circle of priest and people to the presence of God among us in the sacred liturgy. For this reason, the custom of facing East is also described as praying ad Deum or towards God.  [This is the line of Ratzinger/Benedict XVI.  Support from a theologian.]

+ when properly understood and celebrated, this form of prayer not only does not constitute an impediment to the full, conscious, and active participation of the people in the sacred liturgy, it actually enhances that possibility by removing the priest from the center of the action and allows him to be once again merely a steward of the Sacred Mysteries rather than a host charged with entertaining his guests.  [Another point Benedict stressed in Sacramentum caritatis.  Support from the Magisterium.]

+ the II Vatican Council said not one word about the direction in which the priest should face at the altar, and even now the rubrics of the modern Roman Missal are written with the assumption that the priest is facing East at the altar. Moreover, the Congregation for Divine Worship has clarified that facing East and facing the congregation are both equally lawful and that no special permission is needed for the priest to face the East, a fact underscored recently by Pope Benedict’s public celebration ad orientem, something he does everyday in his chapel.  [Support from modern Church documents.]

For all of these reasons, we will begin to celebrate Mass ad Deum at St. Mary’s sometime between Easter and Pentecost, after all the clergy and servers have been prepared for the logistical changes which will attend this development. We will celebrate the Mass in this fashion for several months until both priests and people have had the opportunity to grow accustomed to a practice that is unfamiliar to us, despite being the norm of Christian worship for nearly all of our history. After a suitable period of acclimation, we will evaluate our progress and review the best practices for our parish, and during the months of testing, I ask only that everyone (no matter whether you support this decision, oppose it, or have no opinion) exercise patience, prudence, and charity. This return to our own tradition is not an exercise of change for the sake of change; it is, rather, an effort to respond to the leadership of our Holy Father, who reminds us that what has been held sacred by all generations of Christians is to be held sacred by us. Let’s work together in this retrieval of an ancient and noble part of Christian prayer to see how it might strengthen our union with the Lord Jesus and deepen our capacity to worship the Father in Spirit and truth.

Father Newman

WDTPRS applauds Fr. Newman.  I pray that he will be able to weather the storm that I fear will come from some quarters… probably from very few.

This will only benefit his parish.

WDTPRS will happily follow their progress and post reports as they come in over time.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. RosieC says:

    Our pastor first did something ad orientem for Good Friday, several years ago. While reading the intercessory prayers, he did the description facing the people and then as he said, “Let us pray,” he turned toward the liturgical east. That was right before the TLM indult.

    I’m no theologian, but I do think it’s better ad orientem. For one thing, there’s a sense that we’re all facing God together, just as I’ve seen and read in many discussions on the subject.

    Kind of a goofy other thing, though: From the back, all priests seem more like Jesus. Not that Jesus turns his back on us or anything, but the personality of the priest doesn’t seem as important or dominant or something. It’s easier to recognize the reality that Jesus is there.

  2. John says:

    It’s surely laudable to wish to restore the ad orientem tradition, but where does Fr Newman stand on the Motu Proprio? If he follows this blog, I hope he will be more open minded
    on this subject than he has been in the past.

  3. John: where does Fr Newman stand on the Motu Proprio?

    As far as I know, Fr. Newman has not been much of a promoter of the older form of Mass. Rather, to my knowledge, he has emphasized reverent celebrations of the Novus Ordo in a way consistent with the traditional Roman style.

    I am sure, however, that Fr. Newman, as a loyal son of Holy Church and a man who would properly respect the Holy Father’s provisions and the rights of the faithful, has rejoiced that we have Summorum Pontificum. He is also entitled to his own pastoral plans and preferences. In giving such support to the reverent celebration of the Novus Ordo, he follows in the gigantic footsteps of men like Msgr. Richard Schuler, whose vision has born great fruit.

    After all, this is a win/win for everyone on the correct side of the issues.

    This WDTPRS blog is not a single issue blog. As a matter of fact, it rose out of examination of the English translation of the Novus Ordo. It is just that, right now, the Motu Proprio is of such vast importance that we are giving it due attention and energy.

    I applaud Fr. Newman for what he is doing to bolster reverent celebrations of Mass with the Novus Ordo. This is very necessary work. His successes will help the spread of the older form, and the spread of the older form will be of aid to his efforts.

    The goal?: Let Christ be made known and loved in the sacred mysteries of Holy Church.

    Whatever else might be the case, this is common ground.

  4. Quilisma says:

    No document requires that an existing altar be detached from the wall or that it cannot be used. – Fr. Zuhlsdorf

    If the latter be true, then how are we to get around article 303 in the current GIRM?

    …In ecclesiis vero iam exstructis, quando altare antiquum ita situm est, ut difficilem reddat participationem populi nec transferri possit sine detrimento valoris artis, aliud altare fixum, arte confectum et rite dedicatum, exstruatur; et tantum super illud sacrae celebrationes peragantur.

    In already existing churches, however, when the old altar is positioned so that it makes the people’s participation difficult but cannot be moved without damage to its artistic value, another fixed altar, of artistic merit and duly dedicated, should be erected and sacred rites celebrated on it alone.

    I am aware of the CDW essay in Notitiae some years back, to which you have referred several times. But this GIRM provision seems to give little wiggle room. It seems to almost require that another, freestanding altar be erected in front of the “old altar” — provided that it be a) fixed, b) of artistic merit, and c) duly dedicated. That would seem to rule out portable altars and anything of that “ironing board” or “picnic table” variety that have sprung up like weeds…even in Rome itself.

  5. RichR says:

    I like Fr. Newman’s verbage. He turns a lot of complaints on their heads, and stresses the positive aspects of ad orientem with an attractive style. How could one hear this and not be open to worshipping this way?


  6. Zach says:

    Okay, so at my parish, Church built post Vatican II, when the priest faces the people, he is facing the East. So even though he is facing the people, he is infact celebrating the Mass Ad Orientem?

  7. Kiran says:

    Quilisma, I suppose one can deal with it by creative redefinition. Eastward/attached altars do not render participation difficult at all. And this much is true. We have much to learn from ven. John Henry Newman’s attitude to the 39 articles.

  8. Cory says:

    I thought for a minute when I saw this post it would be about the Benedictine who serves the Maronite Qurbono every week at the St. Mary’s school auditorium under the auspecies of St. Rafka’s Mission parish. A friend and I made the trip down to Greenville from Belmont Abbey to go assist at the Qurbono last weekend, and took a peek inside the church proper on the grounds of St. Mary’s–very beautiful Church.

    In re-Zach’s comment about the priest facing the people and facing east:

    When the priest is facing the compass direction east and facing the people, he is indeed facing east in that he is looking somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 degrees on a compass dial. However, liturgically speaking, he is not celebrating Mass ad orientem (even though that phrase means “unto the east”). Read Pope Benedict’s Spirit of the Liturgy for more on what it means to “face east.” Some commentators have abandoned the usage of “ad orientem” for the practice of facing the altar as such, because it raises that same comment that you made. Rather, they have gone to the usage of “Ad Deum/Versus Populum.”

  9. This is good news to hear.

    Ad Deum/Versus Populum are prehaps better words to use. Slowly but surely, Ad Deum (Ad Orientem) worship, shall be re-discovered, and hopefully soon everyone shall be doing so.

  10. Gregor says:


    regarding the IGMR norm you quote I would say

    a) this is one of the (many) IGMR norms which has to be scrapped in the next edition. After all, the reform of the reform is not only about “do the red, say the black”, but also about a reform of the rubrics and texts (“the red and the black”) themselves.

    b) even as no. 303 IGMR now stands, it does not refer to altars attached to the wall. Cf. no. 299: “Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum …, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.” As the CDW has clarified, this means that it is not even strictly prescribing that new altars must be freestanding, much less that additional freestanding ones be built. no. 303 refers more to very deep sanctuaries, or sanctuaries which are separated from the nave by a screen or very many steps, so that the altar can not be easily seen by all people in the nave, something which is not uncommon in European churches from the middle ages.

  11. Fr Newman is obviously a good sociologist, a study which proponents of the New Order seem to have neglected.

  12. ALL: Regarding GIRM 299, I wrote ane extensive examination of the situation here.

    The bottom line is that the English translation in circulation was probably a purposeful mistranslation of 299.  The CDWDS responded to a dubium about 299 and, in its response, actually took tome to explain the Latin, if you can believe it.

    There is no document of the Church that requires Mass “facing the people” or that existing altars must be detached from the wall.

  13. The orientation of “priest facing the people” produced not only an impoverished liturgy, but also an impoverished understanding (among catholics) of the Mass.

    Adherents of the “versus populum” liturgy frequently talk about how Christ (probably) celebrated the Last Supper as if the Mass were no more than a memorial of the Last Supper (a Protestant theology).

    Catholics who argue for a return to the traditional orientation of “priest and people facing God together” are, I have found, more aware of the full Catholic doctrine of the sacrificial nature of the Mass, where we are all gathered at the foot of the Cross.

    This deeper, more fully Catholic theology of the Sacrice of the Mass, in my opinion, is not truly compatible with the new liturgy of “priest facing the people” which superficially is more reminiscent of the Protestant service of Holy Communion.

    At any rate, this “versus populum” liturgy in its externals simply does not express the fullness of Catholic doctrine, so how can it be supeior to, or better than, celebrating “ad Deum” ?

    I’ve never seens a convincing answer to this question.

    It has been said before elewhere, but “priest facing the people” in practice means “priest v. the people”.
    When they face “ad Deum”, the priest and people are all on the same side, addressing God, which is as it should be.

    In any case, there is simply no denying tht the novelty of Mass facing the people is a striking departure from Catholic tradition.
    It has (not surprisingly) had the catastrophic effect of producing in many Catholics a Protestant understanding of the Mass as an assembly of the people, a memorial meal, a celebration of thanksgiving and praise.

    Almighty God is not the centre of attention in these assemblies.
    The people are.

    This is not what the sacrifice of The Mass is about.

    Let everyone turn towards God.

  14. Paul Murnane says:

    I applaud Fr. Newman and pray that this is the start of a trend here in the US.

  15. David Andrew says:

    For those who wish to get a more indepth view of Fr. Newman’s work, I highly recommend visiting the St. Mary’s website. There you will find a wealth of well-reasoned, sensible information on the promotion of the OF and active evangelization of the Catholic Faith in the midst of the Bible Belt.

    Fr. Newman is, by all accounts, at the top of the list of truly wise, well-read, well-educated and most truly pastoral priests of the Church today. Go check out the church’s website, and don’t miss the audio files of homilies delivered by both him and his able associate!

  16. Brian Mershon says:

    The Birth of John the Baptist
    24 June 2007
    Dear Friends in Christ,

    Pope Benedict XVI has often written about the reforms of the sacred liturgy which began at the Second Vatican Council, and since his election to the papacy, there has been speculation that the new pope either would begin to make changes to our present liturgy or would make it easier for priests to use the old liturgy. In recent weeks there have been reports that the pope is preparing to publish a document about the Tridentine Mass, and when or if that document should ever be published, I will take great care to explain what it means for the liturgical life of the Church. For now, however, I write to warn you about a group of renegade bishops and priests who are leading people out of full communion with the Catholic Church in the name of the old liturgy.

    In 1970, a French bishop named Marcel Lefebvre formed the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) as a group of priests dedicated to preserving the form of the Mass codified by the Council of Trent, and for five years, the SSPX functioned within the Catholic Church. In 1975, however, the Society lost its canonical standing, and in 1976 Marcel Lefebvre was suspended from all priestly faculties. For twelve years, authorities in Rome worked with Lefebvre to prevent a permanent rupture, but in 1988—against the specific instructions of Pope John Paul II—Marcel Lefebvre consecrated four bishops for the SSPX, and by that act both Lefebvre and all four new bishops were excommunicated. This was an act of schism, a grave offense against the unity of the Catholic Church, and from that day in 1988, the bishops and priests of the SSPX have been in a state of schism and have incurred the penalty of excommunication. Moreover, the Holy See has made it clear many times over that it is morally illicit for any Catholic to attend Mass celebrated by a priest of the SSPX or to receive any sacrament from one of these priests.

    If the anticipated papal document is published, there will be considerable attention given in the media to the Tridentine Mass and to the Catholics who prefer to pray according to the Missal of 1962. And it is possible even now to participate lawfully in this Mass when it is celebrated with proper permission, as is done here in Greenville on the first Sunday of each month at Prince of Peace Church. There are even entire communities of priests within the Church which are dedicated to preserving the old Mass, and it is lawful to receive the sacraments from those priests. What is never lawful, though, is for Catholics to attend a Mass celebrated by a priest of the SSPX or to receive any sacraments from priests of the Society. The SSPX maintains chapels in Mt. Holly, NC and in Atlanta, and you may have heard of Catholics attending Mass in these places while offering a variety of bogus justifications for this disobedience. As your pastor, I must warn you that it is gravely immoral to participate in any way in these illicit and schismatic acts of worship, and I urge you in the Name of God not to do so or to encourage others to do so, even by your silence. Our constant goal must be to live and die in full communion with the Lord Jesus and His Holy Church, and that cannot be accomplished by acts of schism.

    Father Newman

  17. Brian Mershon says:

    “Whatever else may be the case, there will certainly be no changes made in the present way we celebrate the Missal of 1970 in our scheduled liturgies, and pending a careful study of the document, I do not anticipate that a regularly scheduled Tridentine Mass will be celebrated here at St. Mary’s. For now, simply know that a document will probably appear this summer, and when it does, we will study it together.”

    Thirteenth Sunday of the Year
    30 June 2007
    Dear Friends in Christ,

    The Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul is kept each year on 29 June, and this year on the vigil of this great feast of the two Apostles, Pope Benedict XVI announced a “Pauline Year” to commemorate what one ancient tradition identifies as the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of St. Paul. The Pauline Year runs from 28 June 2007 to 29 June 2008, and the pope indicated in his homily that the Year should include liturgical, cultural, and ecumenical events as well as pastoral and social initiatives inspired by St. Paul’s spirituality. The announcement of this Pauline Year did not come much in advance, so I have not yet had the opportunity to plan for the specific ways in which we will celebrate the birth of St. Paul here at St. Mary’s. In the coming weeks, however, watch for announcements about the special events which will take place in the parish during the Pauline Year, and plan now to spend time in the coming year reading, studying, and praying with the New Testament Letters of St. Paul.

    Also in Rome this week there were further reports about a document on the sacred liturgy from Pope Benedict XVI to be published soon, perhaps in July. This document will discuss the form of Mass in the Roman Rite which was in use from the 16th century Council of Trent until the years just after the Second Vatican Council. This ritual form is often called the Tridentine Mass because it was codified after the Council of Trent in the Roman Missal of 1570, and with minor adaptations from time to time, this Missal remained in use until the Missal of 1970 was promulgated by Pope Paul VI. The last normative edition of the Tridentine Mass was published in the Missale Romanum of 1962, and in addition to the now normative liturgy of 1970, it is this 1962 Mass which may be celebrated with the permission of the local bishop. The anticipated document from Pope Benedict is said to review the ways in which the celebration of the Missal of 1962 may be made more easily available, but until now the text of this document remains unknown except to the pope and his closest collaborators. When this document is finally published, there will no doubt be a circus of media attention of the most sensational kind, but please do not be confused or disturbed by what you read in the papers or see on television. Whatever else may be the case, there will certainly be no changes made in the present way we celebrate the Missal of 1970 in our scheduled liturgies, and pending a careful study of the document, I do not anticipate that a regularly scheduled Tridentine Mass will be celebrated here at St. Mary’s. For now, simply know that a document will probably appear this summer, and when it does, we will study it together.

    Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever!

    Father Newman

  18. Henry Edwards says:

    In response to a previous question, I believe Fr. Newman’s full commitment is to the “reform of the reform” rather than the TLM. A couple of years ago I traveled to Greenville to attend Mass at St. Mary’s, and then wrote the following account of what I observed:


  19. Brian: This entry is really about reinstating ad orientem worship and how Fr. Newman has started doing that. 

    This entry is not about what Fr. Newman thinks, one way or another, about the Motu Proprio.

    No more off topic clutter, please.  I don’t want this derailed.

  20. David Andrew says:

    I hope I haven’t misunderstood; at this point the priest celebrants are still standing on the side of the altar opposite the congregation so that all are, as he explained, gathered around the crucifix (and the center of the sacrificial act) at the center of the altar. That being the case, and having read his ongoing catechesis presented in the bulletins, he is building up to a great climax of all facing ad orientem, which when it happens will be a powerful moment for the whole congregation indeed. Fr. Newman seems to be instilling in them a great hunger for this form of prayer, taking time to close some of the rupture created by the self-proclaimed “liturgical experts” out of the Second Vatican Council.

    Not to state the obvious, but this is a brilliant approach, and one that many priests could learn from.

  21. Henry Edwards says:

    David: he is building up to a great climax of all facing ad orientem, which when it happens will be a powerful moment for the whole congregation indeed.

    Wouldn’t it be an extraordinary moment if the St. Mary’s priest and congregation, after six weeks of Lenten preparation, for the first time turn toward the East together on Easter Sunday?

  22. david andrew says:


    That’s exactly what I suspect is going on here. The energy and momentum is remarkable.

    St. Mary’s is not your average parish, by any counts. And, it’s not small. It boasts a register of around 7,000 members. So, it’s not just the smaller, urban, “intentional” parishes that can accomplish great things for the advancement of the Faith.

  23. I am not Spartacus says:

    Fr. Z. I’d be interested in reading what you have to say about this from The Mass of the Roman Rite (p. 166 Vol 2) Jungmann

    But in the text of the Memento itself the circle is broadened. Into it are drawn all those present, since they did not come to church in order to honor God by this communal oblation. They are called circumstances or, in the more ancient texts, circum adstantes. During the first thousand years, standing was the principle posture even during the canon. Note, however, that the circum is not to be construed as though the faithful had ever completely surrounded the altar. Rather the picture intended is what is suggested by the structure of the old Roman Basilicas, where the altar stood between the presbytery and the nave, so that the faithful – especially if there was a transept – could form a semi-circle or “open ring” around the altar.

    I have to write that is very appealing to me as a wonderful way for we Christians to worship God. It not only has the advantage of being very traditional – a thousand year tradition ain’t too shabby – but I think the description of what occured is calculated to bring into the minds of Communicants their obligations/duties as the priesthood of the Faithful.

    I’d be interested in reading your thoughts about this.

    P.S. I have been called quite mad for even suggesting this whenever I raised the matter in the past but there is something about celebrating Mass this way that strikes a chord deep within me.

  24. Not Spartacus: Some years ago I wrote for my weekly column about the translations of the four main Eucharistic Prayers. I dealt with cicumstantium. This is what I wrote:

    Circumstantium is an active participle of circumsto, which means “to stand around in a circle, to take a station round; and, with the accusative, to stand around a person or thing, to surround, encircle, encompass.” The people who are circumstantes are those who are “standing around”, not in a sense of being idle, but of location. In more ancient manuscripts this was circum adstantes. Standing for the whole Canon was the practice for the first thousand years or so. As our understanding of the Real Presence grew and deepened, the practice of kneeling developed. This is not some historical encrustation that needed to be scraped off of the Mass in a desire to return to the “pristine” way of liturgy. Circum means “around” but that does not mean that in the ancient Church people literally stoop in a circle about the altar. In Roman basilicas the altar was between the presbytery, the large semicircular part of the apse where the clerics, especially priest(s) were properly situated, and the nave, the proper place of the faithful. Often there is found a semi-circular area in front of altars which was the entrance to the crypt below and the remains of martyrs were found. The most famous of these is the “Confession” of St. Peter’s Basilica. If there were transepts, the people were then on three sides of the altar, but in no way standing around the altar in any close or proximate way.

  25. Maureen says:

    Anyway, the Last Supper would have been celebrated with everybody on one side of the table. The servers use the other side to deliver the food. Duh. You can see this in pictures of banquets in the ancient world, and the custom continued up through the Middle Ages. Much easier than reaching around people to put food on the table.

  26. I am not Spartacus says:

    Fr. Z. Thank you.

  27. Brian Mershon says:


    You said St. Mary’s boasts about 7,000 registered members. I am a former parishioner, and when I heard this number emphasized repeatedly I wondered why so few of these 7,000 “registered” parishioners attend Mass on Sunday? In fact, the last Holy Day, there was only ONE Mass offered for 7,000 parishioners in a church that fits 450 and has two other priests assisting.

    St. Mary’s holds 450 when filled to capacity. With one Saturday vigil Mass and three Sunday morning Masses, even if the church was full for all of them–which it is NOT–that leaves about 5,200 souls who are “registered” not regularly attending Mass there.

    Why the discrepancy?

  28. Doug says:

    4 Sunday Masses Brian and 1 Saturday Vigil. So Brian what is your beef with
    St. Mary’s and Father Newman? Is it the Motu Proprio?

  29. Brian Mershon says:

    Doug: The Spanish Mass and Maronite Divine Liturgy (which has about two dozen people) do not qualify as the registered parishioners.

    Many of the Hispanics do not register, so I doubt many are included in the 7,000 total parishioners. The two dozen Maronites are a separate registration and “parish.” So my question still stands.

    This is not the forum to debate whatever other issues you might have.

    If you would like, please contact me at bcmershon@juno.com and we can take it offline. In the meantime, the questions I posed still stand.

  30. Doug says:

    I don’t have an issue Brian. I think what’s happening at St. Mary’s is great! Just asking a question that’s all.

  31. Diane says:

    Each time I hear of a parish doing this, I get a flashback to the first day I entered Assumption Grotto Parish and encountered the ad orientem posture. As I blogged, in part, today:

    My first interior response was, “You’ve got to be kidding me – he’s got his back to us!”

    Next, I found myself shifting in my pew as if to seek the face of the priest, only to realize that it is the face of God I should be seeking in the Mass.

    Fr. Newman, if you are still reading, I am curious to know if you greet people as you go up the aisle in procession. This was the other thing that really struck me about Assumption Grotto. The priests are deep in prayer, as are the people, just before the Mass begins. From the time Fr. Perrone stands in the back as incense is puffing from the thurifer, it’s as if time stands still. His contemplative Carmelite face is deeply meditative and focused in a way that had me realizing, I should be there too.

    It is just one more element to shifting the celebration of the Mass from that which is people-centered, to God-centered.

    I’ll add, I believe, figuratively speaking, that if a gas tanker overturned and exploded on Gratiot Ave. just outside the church during Mass he would not so much as flinch, such is the depth of his focus. That visible focus is a constant reminder to me to refocus into the deep of the mystery that is the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

  32. Tony says:

    This is wonderful news. I have a grin the size of an slice of grapefruit! I will pray for this this parish!

  33. Diane says:

    I should clarify from my above post what I meant by my question about greeting people during the opening processional.

    There are various elements in the Mass that can make it more God-centered and less people-centered. One is the posture of the priest, ad orientem.

    Another is how much attention the priest pays to the people during the Mass, from beginning to end.

    It is very difficult for me now to maintain meditative focus when a priest is waving at me as he goes up the aisle. It is not about me and that is what such gestures communicate to my mind.

    Ditto with the throne of the priest. It faces sideways at Grotto and is off to the side. The priest is not the center of focus when he sits.

    These are all subtle things that have taken place in a slow, but persistent transition over the last 7 years at my parish. Like Fr. Newman, Fr. Perrone did much to explain why he was about to do the things he did, which is good.

    Trust me, while most were silently and humbly accepting of the changes, there were always a few noisy individuals who made a fuss over it, and then over time, they went silent. Now, many of those same people will be the staunchest defenders of these practices. It is the resistance to change that first has them upset.

    If I have noticed one thing in Fr. Perrone, it is his persistence to do what he thinks is best for all of us, and his willingness to bear patiently, the complaints that will come forth.

  34. TNCath says:

    This takes a lot of courage! Father Newman will probably receive a bit of criticism from a few priests. But, in the long run, I think people will come around. I wish we had more priests willing to do this. I’m waiting to see when the first diocesan bishop decides to celebrate Masses ad orientem in his cathedral.

  35. Diane says:

    Criticism from a few, noisy parishioners (the silent majority are willing to usually, humbly follow along) is one thing. But, that is a good point about criticism from fellow priests.

    Hopefully pastors will consider the courage of early priests and bishops who didn’t worry about what others thought and defended the faith even unto death – painful, agonizing deaths.

    Today in the US and other western countries, the only death a priest must typically suffer is death to self. It is the discomfort of criticism that must be beared among priests and bishops. With the internet and other avenues, a strong network of priests has developed. Just 20 years ago, we would not have known about what was going on in Greenville, to show support for Fr. Newman (ok, perhaps the Wanderer would have told us in about another 4-5 weeks).

    There needs to be a greater focus on virtue which is what it takes to act. There is nothing in the Gospel about “going with the flow” or “not going against the grain” being virtuous in any way. Rather, the Gospel teaches us all different: Be countercultural. For priests, they will need to be countercultural even among their own ranks in order to turn the liturgy, and ultimately the world, back on to the right track.

    Save the Liturgy; Save the World!

  36. Henry Edwards says:

    Fr. Newman, if you are still reading, I am curious to know if you greet people as you go up the aisle in procession.

    I assume your question is rhetorical, Diane. I you have read my description


    of a Mass at St. Mary’s, you will not expect either the priest or the youngest altar boy to exhibit any wandering eyes in procession.

    I pray that he will be able to weather the storm that I fear will come from some quarters.

    I would be surprised to hear of any such storm at St. Mary’s. Fr. Newman has exhibited forthright pastoral leadership since his first day in the parish, as described in George Weigel — in his chapter on St. Mary’s (Greenville, SC) between chapters on Chartres Cathedral and the Sistine Chapel in Letters to a Young Catholic:

    “When the people of St. Mary’s came to church on Sunday morning, July 1, 2001, they noticed that things had changed in the previous twenty-four hours. The tabernacle, which had been banished to the side of the sanctuary in 1984, had been restored to its proper place at the end of the long axis of the church, enthroned on the reredos at the rear of the sanctuary. A large icon of Mary had been hung — the first image of the parish patroness to be visible in the church in twenty years. Burlap banners made by second graders had been removed. The tattered paperback ‘worship resources’ (which is what some confused people call ‘hymnals’) had been removed from the pews and consigned to the parish dumpster; a music program for that Sunday’s Mass had been made for every congregant. But these changes were merely a harbinger what was coming next.”

    It was Weigel’s description of “what was coming next” that led to my first visit to St. Mary’s.

  37. Diane says:


    Excellent to hear.

    It’s amazing how many people (and priests) don’t get it when it comes to the issue of paying attention to those in the pew.

    It especially disturbs my meditative mode when a priest looks around at the congregation, as opposed to looking down at the Host or Chalice. It teaches us not to take our eyes off of the most sacred Things in the Mass, as opposed to returning a glance back at the eyes of the priest in such cases.

    Many do so out of ignorance. This is where I think the TLM will help priests to refocus even in the celebration of their N.O. Masses.

  38. TJM says:

    I went ahead and sent Father Newman a congratulatory note. He is to be commended and encouraged in these endeavors and not criticized because
    he didn’t jump immediately on board the TLM express. I suspect Father Newman is open to the TLM but, as a practical matter, he believes he needs to work with the
    hand he’s been dealt. I don’t know his parishioners, he does. If he believes it is warranted I’m sure the TLM will be celebrated there at some
    point, even if it’s only occasionally. If my pastor did half the things Father Newman is doing I’d be jumping for joy! Tom

  39. Rob F. says:

    Zach asked, “… when the priest faces the people, he is facing the East … he is infact celebrating the Mass Ad Orientem?”

    He is, but only in one sense. “Ad Orientem” means “towards the One Who rises.” It is a rather general term that largely depends on context for its meaning. In a profane context, it clearly can and often does mean “ad [solem] orientem”, or “ad [lunam] orientem”, or “ad [stellam] orientem”, towards the rising sun, or the rising moon, or a rising star, all of which rise in the east, so “ad orientem” can mean “eastwards”.

    But in the context of the Holy Mass, “towards the One Who rises” can and usually does suggest much more than this. When we face towards an altar behind which is a tabernacle, we are quite literally facing towards Christ Who is risen. One might object that this would be expressed “ad [Christum] Ortum” rather than “ad [Christum]Orientem”, but we can still place ourselves in our thoughts on that original Easter day 20 centuries ago when Christ was still rising, still Oriens not yet Ortus; the sacred mysteries transport us back to that day.

    Or the context might be our facing the crucifix, a symbolic representation of the dying Christ Who has yet to rise, “ad [Christum] Oriturum”. But even so we can still anticipate the resurrection when contemplating the crucifix, we can look forward to Easter while celebrating Good Friday, so facing the crucifix we are still “ad Orientem”, still facing the One Who rises.

    In the context of the Forum, “ad orientem” indeed means towards the east, but in the context of the Church, it also means “ad Christum”.

  40. Great commentary Rob.

    I am quite excited to hear this happening especially with the NO. The sense of verticality must return.

    I do with with my Confirmation Students, we pray Ad Orientem. We gaze upon the Crucifix together, reminding them that’s where the focus of class must always be. I have found it to be much relief that I’m not an entertainer when I’m teaching.

  41. Carolina Catholic says:

    TJM: Fr. Newman is no fan of the Tridentine Mass. In fact, from my observation, he has a rather antagonistic view of it.

  42. Carolina: Fr. Newman is no fan of the Tridentine Mass. In fact, from my observation, he has a rather antagonistic view of it.

    Be that as it may (or may not), that is not really the point of this entry, is it?

    The point is that Fr. Newman has taken an extremely important step in his parish to restore ad orientem worship. This is a profoundly positive move. It deserves positive recognition.

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