Fr. Trigilio works for “orientem worship” in his parish

Following on various entries concerning ad orientem worship, and my request that people post their experiences of Holy Mass celebrated ad orientem…. Fr. John Trigilio now posts this, about implementing ad orientem worship in his parish.

My emphases and comments.

Tonight was the maiden voyage, so to speak, and the comments after Mass were overwhelmingly POSITIVE. In fact, not one complaint and only compliments on the REVERENCE of the Mass, which is accentuated, I believe, by celebrating AD ORIENTEM. I also preached on PROPER FRATERNAL CORRECTION which means people MUST speak to me PRIVATELY IN PERSON if they have any complaints, problems, questions or issues we can discuss them confidentially and charitably. I told them if they choose to whisper behind people’s backs and gossip, then they need to go to confession. Gossip is a sin and the Catechism spells out three bad fruits of gossip: rash judgment, calumny (slander) and detraction. Too many of my colleagues are afraid of celebrating AD ORIENTEM because of gossip and the infamous rumor mill. [I suppose that is true in many cases.]  Best to be out in the open with the people and they with their pastor. I told my people I am more than happy to explain the liturgical and theological reasons for what we do as Roman Catholics, including all legitimate options. BTW, people loved the analogy of the airplane pilot and the bus driver. [Good tip for for priests.] Are they turning their backs on the passengers OR are they facing the same direction as everyone else in the hope of arriving at the same destination?


Thank you Fr. Trigilio for your confident work to deepen the participation of your people at Holy Mass.  You are playing your part in the Benedictine "Marshall Plan".


This is from Fr. Trigilio’s site The Black Biretta


Another aspect of our human life is the work we do in sacred worship. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is also called the Sacred Liturgy. His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI has set the stage for a renewal and renaissance of Catholic worship. This was the intention and objective of the Council Fathers at Vatican II. As mentioned before, we will be learning and using some Latin for common parts of the Mass on one weekend a month. The first Sunday (and evening before) in Marysville and the last Sunday (and evening before) in Duncannon, we will be using the Kyrie (Greek: Lord Have Mercy), Gloria (Latin: Glory to God), Sanctus (Latin: Holy, Holy), Pater Noster (Latin: Our Father), and Agnus Dei (Latin: Lamb of God). They are found in #862-869 of the large Music Issue of Today’s Missal. ‘Catholic’ comes from the Greek word katholikos which means ‘universal’ One obvious and poignant way to demonstrate the universality of our church is to use a universal language as well as our own vernacular.

If you watch the TV Mass on EWTN, you will be familiar with these. Even though only once a month, we will become more comfortable and familiar with our rich patrimony. Eastern Orthodox Americans speak fluent English yet use plenty of Greek in their weekly worship just as Jewish Americans use Hebrew in theirs. Latin is the official and traditional language of the Roman Catholic Church and coexists with the vernacular.

Once a month we will also utilize one of the options afforded the celebrant. Every priest is allowed to celebrate Mass facing the people (versus populum) or facing the Tabernacle (versus apsidem). I will do the latter once a month so you can appreciate and experience one of our beautiful customs going back to antiquity. Originally, all priests had to celebrate the Sacred Liturgy AD ORIENTEM, i.e., facing east. Churches were literally built so that the priest AND congregation both faced EAST during public worship. The reason was that the sun rose each day in the east. The Son of God rose from the dead on Easter morning, when the sun rose in the East. Hence, Christians were keen to respect that by facing east when they worshipped their Lord and Savior. Churches were built from Ancient to Mediaeval times facing east. The priest was not seen as ‘turning his back’ on the congregation, rather, BOTH priest and congregation were facing east TOGETHER. Does the bus driver or airplane pilot have his/her back toward the passengers OR rather is he/she facing the same direction of the destination everyone hopes to arrive at?

One of the dangers of exclusively celebrating Mass versus populum (facing the people) is that the Celebrant may be tempted to see himself as performing for the congregation. He is not on stage as an actor nor is a director or conductor guiding those in the audience. He is a LEADER of prayer and leaders POINT in the right direction. Great Generals led their armies in battle and both faced the same direction to victory. When the priest and the people both face the same direction, they are also doing the same thing, i.e., worshiping God.

The Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches, the Byzantine Catholic Churches, and many Lutheran and Anglican churches have worship services where the celebrant faces east with the congregation. Where it is geographically impossible to face east (ad orientem), the custom arose for the priest and people to face the Tabernacle (versus apsidem) since that is where the Body & Blood, Soul & Divinity of Christ was always present. Facing the Blessed Sacrament was in essence facing east since the east symbolized the Rising SON (and not just the rising SUN). Therefore, once a month, I shall celebrate Mass facing the Tabernacle, just as you do every time you sit in the pews. WE will be facing the same direction TOGETHER and not me turning my back on you as some would erroneously claim. It is only once a month but I think it important to do since it is part of our legacy, it is done all the time in the Extraordinary form of the Roman Rite (Tridentine Mass) and it is a valid and licit option in the Ordinary form (Novus Ordo or Vatican II Mass). The Scripture readings and homily will still be given facing the people since they are directed toward you. The prayers of worship directed toward God, however, will be facing Him as He IS present in the Tabernacle. Just as we have a diversity of music and language, we have a diversity of proper liturgical forms as part of our Catholic heritage. We should embrace the fullness of whom we are and how we worship.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Yes, the analogy of the airplane pilot and the bus driver is excellent At Mass versus populi, the analogy is to the performer. An airplane pilot/bus driver leads his people to a destination; the performer entertains. What a huge difference! Thank you, Father Trigilio, for leading your people to the Divine Destination in such a beautiful way.

  2. Shane says:

    My previous pastor used the analogy of the shepherd – leading his flock, watching for danger, and looking for lost sheep.

  3. Kradcliffe says:

    That Fr. Trigilio is the bomb-diggity. I really like him.

  4. Volpius says:

    “people loved the analogy of the airplane pilot and the bus driver. [Good tip for for priests.] Are they turning their backs on the passengers OR are they facing the same direction as everyone else in the hope of arriving at the same destination?”

    That’s a great analogy and you can even make it more personal by using any normal person driving a car, are you turning your back on your wife and kids by looking where you are going? No! you are trying to get all your passengers safely to the right destination while avoiding killing you all in a car crash which is what will happen if you take your eye of the road (the straight and narrow path that leads to life).

  5. RichR says:

    More people should ask their priests to consider an ad orientem Mass at their parishes some time in the near future….say, for a daily Mass, like First Friday. That way, it’s not a big deal to the average Sunday Mass-goer. If it really takes off, then they can consider doing one Sunday Mass like that.

    Start small, and be generous in your praise (and encourage others to be generous, too). If Fr. X. decides to do this, he will be sticking his neck out. Naysayers will inevitably arise, but what’s new? However, if there are even a handful of supporters, it goes a long way. Some priests are natural-born leaders. Others will stand on the front lines more confidently if they know the army is right behind them.

  6. David Andrew says:

    I dream of the day that the Benedictine arrangement appears on our altar. However, given the deeply-rooted prejudice against anything remotely orthodox on the part of certain members of our pastoral staff, it’s not likely to happen any time soon. Let alone ad orientem celebration on the part of the priest at the altar.

    Once in a recent casual conversation about some of the problems with the architecture of our church, (a typical post-VCII “gathered seating” arrangement) the issue of ad orientem celebration came up. The staff person, who holds a highly influential catechetical position on staff, literally turned on her heels and walked away, saying, “I can’t talk about this,” so deeply runs her prejudice.

    These are both exciting and trying times in the life of the Church and for her Faithful. So much prayer is needed.

  7. David Andrew says:

    Oh, and it should be said that Padre Trigilio’s courage and integrity are truly awe-inspiring, and I hope more priests take after his example.

  8. Jayna says:

    Fr. Trigilio has set a wonderful example and, really, a great step-by-step program that priests can go by to introduce these elements in their parishes. That analogy is so bang on, I may have to steal it.

    Here’s kind of an odd (and potentially really stupid) question; my church doesn’t face east and nor is the tabernacle located in front of the congregation (it’s in the chapel in the rear of the church). In addition to that, there is no crucifix on the altar anywhere, there is a “risen Christ” statue…thing on the wall beyond the altar, but there isn’t even a cross. If my priest were to celebrate facing the altar with the congregation, would it suffice that he is simply symbolically facing the Lord with us? Like I said, possibly a stupid question, but it is what it is.

  9. MarkAA says:

    In my local a Lutheran church, the pastors there celebrate portions of the service facing the congregation when the liturgy is talking to the congregation (the readings, the sermon, the introduction) and faces “east” during the prayers to the Lord. It’s totally natural, sensible and defensible, and nobody runs for the exit when Pastor X faces away from the people. There aren’t hushed or hysterical gatherings to battle against it or run the pastors out of town. Reading about the VII Catholics who simply can’t even consider the idea the priest might face AWAY FROM THE PEOPLE strikes me as just absurdly and ridiculously thin-skinned of them. When the leader of the church says how things ought to be, the people ought to obey it and not attempt to put their wills above the Pope’s, eh? Especially when some Protestants have no trouble with this “Catholic tinged” style of worship. There are just SO MANY other issues that really matter, and these protest-minded folks wasting time and breath on ad orientem worship is so self-centered.

  10. Jayna: If my priest were to celebrate facing the altar with the congregation, would it suffice that he is simply symbolically facing the Lord with us?

    Yes, this is sometimes referred to as facing \”liturgical east\”.

    Incidentally, having attended many parishes in several states since Vatican II–most of them quite liberal–I am convinced that at the present time a solid majority of people in most parishes will support almost anything done to make the liturgy more beautiful and reverent. Even though a distinct minority — who have not outgrown their formative experiences in the 1960s and 1970s — may be quite vocal, at the expense of the \”silent majority\”.

  11. David Andrew says:


    My understanding is that the “Risen Christ” in place of a proper crucifix with Christ suffering is a big “Bozo No-no” that was to have been corrected many years ago.

    Apparently those on staff (the pastor?!?) never “got the memo” from the home office (the Holy See).

  12. Jayna says:

    Henry: That’s what I think, too. But the outspoken ones are the ones controlling (crafting, more like) the liturgy at the church. They jokingly refer to me as their Pre-Vatican II friend. Whenever I mention that perhaps we could celebrate a more traditional Mass every once in a while (much like Fr. Trigilio is doing), I’m told that no one would show up because so few people are “into that kind of stuff”. Actually, I’m usually told that right after they say that there’s room for everyone…unless you disagree with them. Then you’re supposed to find another parish.

    David: Actually, our pastor hates the thing (unfortunately, he doesn’t seem keen to assert much authority, I’m assuming it’s because he hasn’t been there very long), but apparently it was donated by a family in honor of their son who died, so they’re kind of reticent to remove it. The problem is that everyone I’ve talked to about it, with the exception of very few, say that they don’t want a crucifix because they don’t identify with Christ’s suffering, but rather His resurrection. They say in place of the “Risen Christ” statue, they’d accept a cross without the corpus.

  13. Maureen says:

    I have never understood this “I don’t identify with Christ suffering” stuff. I guess some people are lucky enough never to suffer, but I’ve always experienced plenty of suffering even in an ordinary American suburban life.

    There’s actually an urban fantasy/paranormal romance series out right now (written by a non-Catholic Christian), where the heroine is so disturbed by the crucifix that she can’t even wear one to fight vampires. So she runs around wearing a sheep pendant — but geez, that’s even more disturbing and violent if you think about it! Especially to fight blood-sucking predators!

    In a way, folks like the author are right to be disturbed by the scandal of the crucifix. But they’re in the wrong religion if they think they can escape it by not thinking about it.

    BTW, speaking of people saying uncomfy things — our Pope just praised old Bishop Lucifer of Sardinia for his anti-Arian activities.

  14. Jayna says:

    “I have never understood this ‘I don’t identify with Christ suffering’ stuff. I guess some people are lucky enough never to suffer, but I’ve always experienced plenty of suffering even in an ordinary American suburban life.”

    Well, it seems to be either that line, or the “it’s too depressing” sentiment. It all has to do with my parish being more focused on religious entertainment (pack ’em in liturgy) and the characterization of the Eucharist as a banquet rather than a sacrifice. I think the music used in Mass really epitomizes my parish; apart from the Assumption, we haven’t in the past two months or so sung a song that was written before 1985. Unless, of course, you count “Amazing Grace”. It could be longer than that, but I only started checking the copyright dates two months ago.

    Actually, though, I’ve been thinking about the various priests in my parish and how they tend to celebrate Mass and I think I might have some luck with our new priest. We have Adoration after noon Mass every day and while the pastor and the other priest in the parish either don’t stay to pray at all or, if they do, they remain on the side of the altar facing us, our new priest comes around to other side, kneels and actually spends a substantial amount of time praying with us in front of the Blessed Sacrament. He may be worth pursuing in this matter.

  15. Michael says:

    May add to the “back to the people” nonsense, that those in front are turned with their backs to all those behind, and those at the bottom face the backs of all those in front, and nobody bothers, even the priest-facing-people enthusiasts do not bother.

  16. RichR says:

    Jayna wrote: Whenever I mention that perhaps we could celebrate a more traditional Mass every once in a while (much like Fr. Trigilio is doing), I’m told that no one would show up because so few people are “into that kind of stuff”


    It’s funny you mention that. We have a local bongo-drum parish that says the same thing when the men’s Gregorian chant group I’m in volunteers our services for a Mass. The “funny” thing is, people love it when we show up. It’s the music directors that are still stuck in the 70’s with the Gather Hymnals and folk music jamborees. Most people hunger for the sacred, and bongos just don’t deliver.

    Give it time. In a decade or so, the naysayers will be decrying the return of Gregorian chant from their nursing homes.

  17. Jayna says:

    “We have a local bongo-drum parish…”

    Do you know how weird it is that you used that phrase? The choir at my church just this morning broke out the bongo drums for the first time (it’s gone from bad to worse, it seems), I was so mortified I nearly died right there. Tell you what, you should go on tour, but just come to Atlanta and maybe live here and sing at my church every Sunday.

  18. Fr Paul McDonald says:

    But Father ! But Father !
    It’s not really about facing the tabernacle as such, is it? Recall severe restriction before, and absolute prohibition now of offering Mass before the exposed Blessed Sacrament.

  19. An American Mother says:

    Jayna, if you just can’t stand it anymore, come around to Holy Spirit up on the north side of town. We chant the Ordinary in Latin (and Greek in the case of the Kyrie) every First Sunday. Our music generally is also very good, the parish choir sings at the 11:30 Mass. This Sunday was the “Cantique de Jean Racine” and William Billings’s “When David Heard that Absalom Was Dead”, but you’re likely to hear mostly Renaissance motets, especially English Renaissance, and lots of Palestrina. We are singing the Faure’ Requiem for All Souls, and we have Advent and Lenten concerts of classical sacred music.

    Our organist/choirmaster is a genius and plays like an angel, you will hear outrageously brilliant music before and after Mass. In fact, I asked him what the postlude was at the New York Papal Mass — he had not seen the entire broadcast, so I Emailed the music director at St. Patrick’s and found out what it was — the Henri Mulet “Tu es Petrus” — and told our organist at Wednesday night choir practice — and he played it next Sunday! (just happened to have it in his back pocket I guess).

    The church is architecturally quite traditional, and ad orientem celebration certainly would be possible but hasn’t happened yet. Moving the altar back to the roodscreen, however, would require some heavy lifting since it consists of a few tons of marble . . . .

    Sometimes stuff from “Gather” and “Glory and Praise” sneaks into the hymn lineup, and our crucifix is a depiction of Christ the High Priest. But I love our parish, and not just for the music — our priests are good holy men and on fire for Christ.

  20. Michael says:

    Fr Paul McDonald

    “But Father ! But Father ! It’s not really about facing the tabernacle as such, is it? “ – Indeed, not the tabernacle, but Christ in the tabernacle, who is the “liturgical east” in those churches which are not Oriented.

    Isn’t it a liturgical nonsense, scandal in fact, when priest faces congregation with his back to Him; or when he, after the Consecration, genuflects toward the “active Christ” with his back to the “spare Christ”. Or, when he moves across behind the altar to read the Gospel, and bows toward the altar with his back to Christ in the tabernacle.

  21. Patrick says:

    Dear Fr Z.,

    Might I suggest a new word for you? It is: BRICKMEAL. (!)


    Best wishes!

  22. TJM says:

    Annibale, as in Annibale Bugnini? News Flash! Father Trigilio is restoring an inveterate practice which should never have been abandoned in the first place. It was abandoned based on false scholarship so it is right and just that it be restored. It is the pastor’s responsbility to lead his flock, teach his flock, and bring them to holiness. I would exchanged by “entertainer” pastor, where it’s all about him, in a New York minute for Father Trigilio. Tom

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