QUAERITUR: Your impressions of “ad orientem” worship

In another entry there is discussion of the reintroduction of ad orientem worship in a parish.

A priest made this comment:

it helped VERY much when laypeople actually gave me positive comments about attending Mass ad orientem.


I put to you a couple questions:

First, priests and lay people…. what was your impression of ad orientem worship when you encountered it for the first time?

Positive?  Negative? 

Certainly priests and lay people will have very different comments to make about this. 

Let’s hear both.

Did you have problems with it?  Preferences?

Second, if ad orientem worship has been introduced in your parish, how do you perceive others are adjusting to it?

Was there a fight?  Did it go smoothly?

Down the line somewhere, I will give my impressions of ad orientem versus versus populum.

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  1. Sacristy_rat says:

    The only AO worship in the Albany Diocese is at the EF Mass. No one seems to have the gumption or ambition to do this.
    This is troubling. What I mean to say is that the clergy in this diocese just don’t seem to care about the liturgy.

    I would like to see it done. There should be a continuing challenge about what is normative for the OF Mass.

  2. mysticalrose says:

    I’m a lay person. My first response to AO was very positive. It put the emphasis on God, on the actual sacrifice of the mass, and it made the priest seem like a a fellow worshiper. On a more superficial note — it was also less awkward. It’s just weird to be praying the mass and looking at the priest, who is trying carefully not to make eye-contact for too long with any one parishioner. And AO makes the mass more about God and less about the “priest show.” (no offense, but most of our Churches look like stages — you can’t help but to see a VP priest as an actor).

  3. Jerry says:

    I grew up with it and was an altar server under the “A O” Mass for years. I have only been to one recently as there are none offered anywhere in this region. I hope and pray that at some point in the near future there will be.

  4. Mitchell says:

    First time I encountered AO worship was in the EF that I currently attend. First few weeks, it was difficult to follow along in the Missal because I could not hear much of anything. Also with a rotating Priest every week it makes it more difficult to adjust due to the different tones of their voices. I did not give up though as I believe it is what the Church wants and is correct for us. I like the idea of the Priest leading souls and ultimately we have to trust them with our souls in Mass. I know some are audible prayers and some not, but it just makes it more difficult when you can not follow the Missal. I am still all for it (AO) and really do not agree when the Priest in the NO walk down off the altar and even up the aisle while speaking during Mass. Everyone’s eyes follow him and heads turn away from the altar. Now unfortunately, that many of us have experienced both it will be difficult to persuade people to support its’ re positioning once again. Never should have been done (AP). If we are going to go all the way to AO worship in the TLM and NO, I still think that small mics are necessary now, with the construction of many Churchs now inhibiting the “transfer” or “flow” of voice into the pews. It would help making AO more appealing to people. At least in the short term.

  5. Ken says:

    I was starting at a boarding school run by an order of priests in Southern California that had the ad orientem setup in their chapel. I was a high school freshman, the year was 1977. I was not shocked but came to appreciate it almost immediately. It just … made sense, somehow. A few years later when their permanent chapel was constructed, they were, as I recall, asked to turn the altar around.

    To this day, they are one of the few strongholds of sanity in Southern California and are now planning a massive new abbey near San Juan Capistrano.

  6. PeterHWright says:

    I don’t know if Fr. Z is looking for this kind of comment, but I see the question the other way round.

    Ad orientem worship should not be seen as a novelty, even in churches which have not seen ad orientem worship for forty years.
    The real novelty is celebrating versus populum.

    What was, and still is, my impression of Mass celebrated versus populum ?
    I was shocked and repulsed by this liturgical novelty. It seems to me to be expressing a revolutionary theology and ecclesiology. It was a break with many centuries of tradition. Suddenly, the present was divorced from the past. It was rootless.

    On the other hand, celebration of the novus ordo ad orientem is traditional and maintains continuity with the Church’s past. The present and the future are both rooted in the past and cannot be divorced from it without losing something very real, very valuable. Therefore, as the Church rediscovers its past, and its rich spiritual heritage, the reintroduction of ad orientem worship is to be welcomed.

  7. I introduced ad orientem celebration in this parish, originally out of necessity. In the winter we abandon the Church on weekdays and use a weekday chapel set up in the parish room (too expensive to heat the Church). The numbers attending meant that it was necessary to say Mass ad orientem in the OF Mass as well as at the EF Mass. Class Masses in the school changed for a similar reason. There is so much clutter in a school classroom these days (computers, smart white-boards and projectors, etc.) that placing the altar (it’s on wheels to get around the school) against the wall made more space. When we moved back into the Church in the Spring I saw no reason to change back to face the people. I explained this to the people and there were no complaints.

    Thus, in the parish things stand thus:
    all EF Masses ad orientem
    all OF weekday Masses in the Church, school, or weekday chapel ad orientem
    OF Sunday Masses facing the people

    This doesn’t seem to cause confusion, and it is where we are on the reform process.

    Fr Steven Fisher
    Ramsgate, Kent, UK

  8. Paul Haley says:

    If we are all together with the priest who in the name of Christ is offering the ultimate worship and sacrifice to God, the Father in Heaven, should we not all be facing the same way – the way Christ ascended to the Father and from whence He shall come again at the end of time? It seems only proper and right to do so. Ad orientem is, to me, the only way to go.

  9. a catechist says:

    I’ve only seen AO once, but it seemed quite natural & I was not at all put off by it. Frankly, it made me think Joseph Campbell’s famous remark that VP/NO made the priest look like Julia Child was spot on. (For our non-American readers, Joseph Campbell was an American Transcendentalist who popularized Jungian myth theory.)

  10. Sean says:

    My first impression of ad orientem worship was that it really brought out the fact, by the symbolism of everyone facing the direction that we know our Lord will return from, that we are a pilgrim Church. The eschatalogical significance of the Eucharist is really emphasized.

    Also, the priest’s personality vanishes–Christ really becomes the chief actor in the liturgy.

  11. Lucia says:

    I’ve never been exposed to it. Not once.

  12. ABooth says:

    Whenever I say this, I normally upset pretty much everyone, but my experience of a.o. worship was completely… neutral. Not only did I neither love it or hate it, I simply didn’t find it made much difference to how I was praying at Mass at all.

    I think it probably does help prevent some priests from getting overly chatty, but between well-done vp and ao, I literally have no preferences.

  13. Jacob says:

    I’ve never been to an AO Mass. But I’ve been to a few things like Vespers where the priest faced the altar and knelt with the people. It was cool.

  14. Legisperitus says:

    The first time I went to a Mass ad orientem was almost 20 years ago, but I remember thinking what a relief it was not to feel that the priest was “performing” for us and that we had to “perform” back for him. I could just get down to the business of praying.

    To use an analogy to cinema, when the camera is behind the actor or looking over his shoulder, we unconsciously identify with him and what he is doing. At Mass, in this posture, we can be much more phenomenologically aware of the union of “meum ac vestrum sacrificium.”

    It’s a bit harder to unite yourself spiritually with the sacrificial action of somebody who is facing you at the time. Instead, you feel some admixture of a need to respond to the person who is looking at you.

  15. ekurlowa says:

    I was on AO Mass two times in my life (this summer in Moscow – on Sunday was regular parish TLM, on Monday – private Mass of FSSP priest).
    This was wonderful, I felt, that something great was done. I particullary lost this feeling in my parish, because mostly I’m on the Mass “versus organo”. It can be very distracting.

  16. A Brother says:

    I am a religious brother who is also beginning my studies for the priesthood, and I would like to say that the first time I encountered ad orientem was, in a certain sense, reading about priest saints, and specifically their spiritual understanding of the mass. I realized when I first encountered ad orientem in pictures and at mass that this is the mass that these saints who inspired me to the priesthood were talking about. The priestly spirituality of the mass just doesn’t really properly fit versus populum worship, at least not in any inspiring way. It has a disordered feel to it, whereas ad orientem just feels Divinely ordered.

  17. TNCath says:

    My first experience with ad orientem worship was back in 1987 on my first trip to Rome. When I attended the Mass being said in this manner, I was very surprised because I was given the mistaken impression (by my religion teachers in grade school and high school) that the new Mass HAD to be said versus populi. After several trips back to Rome and elsewhere in the years that followed and after reading the truth about ad orientem worship, I was amazed that we had been given such erroneous information.

    As to my impressions of ad orientem worship, at first I found it awkward because I had never experienced the hearing of Mass in this manner. I then later realized that ad orientem worship was not “Father’s turning his back to the people,” but rather the priest leading the people in worship.

    The Mass versus populi position has many drawbacks. Mass facing the people tends to put the celebrant on the spot to constantly make eye contact with the congregation. Very little of the text of the Mass is directed toward the people; the prayers and texts of the Mass are directed to God. I can’t begin to tell you how many Masses are said with the celebrant praying the Eucharistic Prayer and the orations looking at the congregation as if he was directing the prayers to the people. Additionally, Mass facing the people tempts the celebrant to engage the congregation in ad libs to the parts of the Mass and other extraneous commentary as if he were a performer. The “Good Morning, Father!” response in the introductory rites, Father’s giving the weather report (“We want to warmly welcome you to Mass this morning on this beautiful/rainy/windy/warm/cold morning”)or the score of the football game being broadcast during Mass (Notre Dame 7, Michgan 3) and other remarks that have nothing to do with the text of the Mass are a direct result of saying Mass versus populi. In short, Mass in the ad orientem position takes the personality (and showmanship) of the celebrant out of the picture and puts the focus on God, where it is supposed to be. It was, without a doubt, the single most tragic change in the Mass since the Second Vatican Council and opened the door to most of the abuses we have been experiencing in the liturgy the past 40 years.

    Unfortunately, I do not get the opportunity to attend ad orientem Masses unless I am out of town. I hope and pray that, in time, the Pope’s “Marshall Plan will” eventually make it to where I am.

  18. Andrew says:

    My first experience with AO was in a Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy and it felt very natural. I think it actually makes the priest and people more at one with each other than VP because, when facing the people, the priest surveys them; looks OVER them; and certainly seems in charge. With AO we are all facing the same direction, that is, towards Christ and it is He who is charge.

    AO brings more equality to the whole People of Christ, the type of equality that, I think, the Fathers of the Council had in mind rather than what happened. We are now all equal children journeying towards the Lord rather than experiencing a self-affirming exercise in equality within a closed circle.

    I’ve since heard Mass in the EF and found a beautiful similarity with the Divine Liturgy. The repeated “Dominus vobiscum…” call and response keeps calling people to remember the Lord who is central to the whole action of the Mass. It seems even more appropriate in the Divine Liturgy where the priest comes through the Holy Doors and blesses the people while saying it because the blessing helps remind us that we are approaching/responding to the Lord, not the celebrant.

  19. Ioannes Andreades says:

    I know that it sounds trite to say that in ad orientem masses, the priest celebrates “with his back to the congregation,” but that really was my general impression. The crucial idea that the priest celebrates facing the same direction as the congregation and together with them was not what I would have guessed was happening in a hundred years.

  20. Folks… if you have NO experience of ad orientem worship, then perhaps you might just read the other comments of those who have?

  21. Jim says:

    Ad orientem worship was the norm when I converted to the Catholic Church from the Episcopal Church in 1961. It was also the norm in the Episcopal church at that time. I encountered nothing but grief at the time of the big switch, except on the part of those affectionally referred to as “litnicks.”

    To my knowledge the only AO worship in the Diocese of Santa Rosa, California, is one TLM mass celebrated near San Rafael, and at my Eastern (Ukranian) Rite parish in Ukiah. The Bishop of Santa Rosa has displayed no interest in implementing summorum pontificum, and neither have his clergy. Of course, my parish is part of a separate eparchy.

  22. Jake says:

    I’ve known ad orientum for the better part of my 30 years mainly because my mom was raised in the Byzantine-Ruthenian Rite. There were times we would go with her mother (or her little brothers) to the Divine Liturgy, and I would get more out of that than the standard OF Mass.

  23. Howard says:

    I would no doubt find an ad orientem Mass in the Ordinary Form easy to follow, and I would prefer it in principle (never having actually been at one), but the few times I’ve seen it have been in the Extraordinary Form. Knowing very little Latin and being unfamiliar with the form, the fact that I could not hear well made it difficult (the first time, practically impossible) to follow.

  24. Jeff Reese says:

    It’s interesting – I had read quite a bit about Ad Orientem and the theological principles behind it before I ever experienced my first AO Mass. I have had the blessing and the pleasure to experience both the EF and the OF ad orientem, and so I knew going into both all the comments about the priest leading the people, the priest and people together facing God, the Liturgical East of the rising Sun of Justice, etc.

    But you know what actually hit me the most about the experience? It wasn’t any of that (though of course all of that was in my mind and did contribute to my experience). The kicker was that the prayers MADE MORE SENSE. When the priest had something to say to the people, he faced the people. When he had something to say to God, he faced God, and when we were ALL talking to God together, we were all facing the same direction together. In this context, the things that we were actually saying came alive and made sense.

  25. Josiah Ross says:

    I didn’t feel alienated at all. The first time I saw it was in a low mass said in a small chapel in an Episcopal church in Philadelphia. We were very close to the priest, and it did feel like he was leading us in worship. I prefer AO, but it’s very hard to find. There are three parishes in my diocese that offer the TLM, and one that offers the NO in Latin on Sundays, AO.

  26. Sandra in Severn says:

    (response to anti-spam) Of course I do!

    My formative years the Mass was AO, even as I had my First Communion. This orientation seems “natural” to me.

  27. Raphaela says:

    Absolutely, totally right on all levels.

    I’m talking about the EF Mass only as I’ve never seen the OF celebrated ad orientem. But while I did find that the silences in the EF took a bit of getting used to, the direction the priest was facing just felt utterly natural and appropriate from the very first moment.

  28. Marilyn says:

    I much prefer AO to VP. I go to the TLM in our area, and I have never been to the NO mass celebrated AO–I would if I could. The superiority of AO came home to me most dramatically when the priest who regularly said our TLM was moved. He was and is a magnificent priest, and I remember thinking how much I was going to miss his saying mass. I didn’t. The first time we had a new priest he looked and acted pretty much the same, and the emphasis was not on him but on the sacrifice of the mass, as it should be.

  29. Fr Ray Blake says:

    We do it once or twice a week, and on few major occassions, my 20th anniversary of ordination, a visit from some young singer from a major music college on a Sunday. I have heard a few objections from one or two of the elderly but young people seem to prefer it and comment favourably on it. Indeed, it actually seems to be a draw, especially for young men for some reason.
    I haven’t the courage to do it more often, but we have a newly ordaind priest coming to say a first Mass next week who wants to celebrate ad orientem.

  30. I’ll try not to bore everyone with my Faith journey but I need to give some context to explain my conclusion.

    I was born in 1968 and for much of my life I was only exposed to the versus populum Mass. I was a notorious dissenting Catholic for a long time and a member of one of the most extremely dissenting parishes there is. I started reverting around 1994 and I have to say my first exposure to an ad orientem Mass (after decades of experiencing “anything goes”) was not pleasing to me. I was upset that I could not hear everything Father was saying and, even worse (to me) I could not SEE everything he was doing either. It was like being at a play and sitting behind a column.

    Yes, the final sentence in the paragraph above is the “kicker”. I was reading and studying authentic Catholicism at the same time I was still attending my former parish. I was between both schools of Catholic thought for a long time. I began meditating upon three things: What does it mean to receive Communion? The Real Presence. What is the Mass?

    It occurred to me that the Mass is not, and should not be, a “performance piece” Once I accepted that I turned away from the “creative liturgies” and started seeking out authentic worship. But, I found myself still more often attending Masses that were versus populum rather than ad orientem. The ad orientem still puzzled me and, yes, made me angry since it seemed to be complete repudiation of what I, then erroneously, thought were the reforms of Vatican II.

    One day I had a “ah-ha” moment when I perceived that with versus populum the priest looks like he is set against us when he faces us. It seems like he’s pushing us back and away. I saw at ad orientem Father is PULLING us towards God when directionally he faces the same way as we do but he is the leader. Father is up front.

    Today, I prefer ad orientem over versus populum. However, I will attend either as long as they are properly celebrated. I’m blessed in that I have several opportunities for ad orientem worship in the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis.

    My parish does not offer ad orientem worship. The parish was “wreckovated” in the 70’s. The high altar is gone and we have a freestanding altar now. However, I think most of us reading this blog know that ad orientem, while challenging with a freestanding altar, can be done.

    I would totally support ad orientem worship in my parish and I would try and help Father any way I could in implementing it since I know it will probably not be heralded by all. With most things that change a status quo , implementing it would have to coincide with education about its spiritual advantages over versus populum .

  31. sacredosinaeternum says:

    I grew up-like the majority of Catholics today-with the experience of Holy Mass versus populum. The first time that I attended a Mass ad orientem was my second year in college seminary at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Hanceville, AL. At first, is was awkward because I had never experienced it before. However, the more I saw it, the more I grew to love it. Now, as a priest of Jesus Christ, and understanding the Sacred Liturgy as the Church does, I offer Holy Mass ad orientem as much as possible, certainly on my days off. As a parochial vicar, I do not have the opportunity to make this most important change to all Masses yet. But I eagerly look forward to my days as a Pastor…The Holy Sacrifice facing the Lord will be the norm!

  32. Al says:

    I was ‘brought up’ ad orientem in an Anglican cathedral which stuck solidly to the old (Anglo-catholic) ways and the Book of Common Prayer. From an early age I associated versus populum with the happy clappy family services that made my skin crawl even at the age of eight.

    It was a great disappointment to me when I found that all the Roman parishes in the area were so low-church, with their polyester vestments, their hand-holding, their awful modern altars (not properly dressed) facing the people, their cheerful yet strangely dispassionate priests. Cliches all, but sadly and and tellingly prevalent.

    Then I discovered the London Oratory and I realised that authentic Catholic prayer was not dead, but merely difficult to find.

    To me, ad orientem is just obvious. It is the natural way for a priest to be at the altar.

  33. J W says:

    This past July was my first experience with AO, at my first EF mass. However, I’ve been reading about it on blogs like this one for years, so I kind of read myself into liking it “in theory” well before seeing it in person. I really liked it, and would be perfectly happy if all masses were said that way. Strangely, it felt more intimate since there wasn’t anything between us and the priest, save for the rather inconsequential altar railing (it’s always puzzled me how some people get so hung up on a two-foot tall decorative railing “blocking” the people from the sanctuary).

    Growing up, we always sat in the back and I couldn’t really see the priest most of the time, so I don’t have some big attachment to making eye contact with him or seeing the expressions on his face. The priests at my usual church tend not to make eye contact with anyone during the Eucharistic prayers anyway (they either look down, or look up).

    I attended the EF mass with a non Christian (I didn’t want to go alone, since it was an hour way, and she volunteered to go with me since we could have some fun afterwards). She’d only been to one rather contemporary “multicultural” style mass before and was weirded out by it. I did have to reassure her that there’d be no hand-holding stuff and that she wouldn’t be expected to do anything embarrassing. She did like the EF, though she chose not to make an effort to find out what was going on. I mentioned afterwards that a lot of people don’t like how the priest in the old mass is turned away from the congregation, and she answered “why? it seemed like he was ‘one with’ the people?” because he was facing the same way…she also added that she wouldn’t have been able to see his beautiful green robe had he been turned around (the priest wore a shiny green and gold fiddle-back).

  34. J W says:

    Oh, I forgot to a put a smiley face after “she also added that she wouldn’t have been able to see his beautiful green robe had he been turned around (the priest wore a shiny green and gold fiddle-back).” since that was sort of said jokingly.

  35. I also grew up with it. Love it!

  36. Bill says:

    My first encounter with ad orientem was a NO Mass at a local parish that my wife (non-Catholic at the time) suggested we visit. I had attended a typical modern NO parish my entire life, but in college and the early years of my marriage, I only went to Mass occasionally, when we felt like it.

    I had never even known of the possibility of ad orientem, and when I saw it that first time, along with the rest of the reverent NO liturgy, I immediately realized what the Mass was supposed to be. It’s kind of difficult to describe, but in all my years of Catholic education (from 1st grade through high school) and attending Mass all those years, I had never connected the Mass with a sacrifice, yet after this one encounter, I did.

    We joined the parish, my wife entered the Church less than a year later, and now we attend that same Mass every Sunday. They do offer the EF every Sunday, but it is usually a low Mass — and the ad orientem NO is mostly sung, most of the congregational responses are in Latin, and it is very reverent, so that is the one we usually participate in.

  37. Doc Angelicus says:

    For me, ad orientem took a little getting used to. On the one hand, the “me” factor was somewhat disturbed. I couldn’t see what was going on, and in Latin, it made the Mass harder for me to follow, and it didn’t seem like I was as relevant to the Mass as I wanted to be. And, there is something to be said for being able to see what the priest as facilitating the understanding of what he does.

    On the other hand, it is clear that the priest is not in the role of celebrity as celebrant when saying the Mass ad orientem. He isn’t performing for an audience, but rather is doing a sacred rite, and he can concentrate on the Mass in that way, and not as keeping an audience happy. The sense of the sacred is better preserved with ad orientem. And, if one knows what the priest is doing (from being educated about the Mass), one doesn’t need to see it clearly to understand it, and if one watches closely, one can still follow the Mass without much difficulty. And, the fact is, my presence at Mass has no bearing on its value or validity, which is something that can be understood on a very high plane of thought: The Mass is beyond me and it doesn’t depend on me. And that is often for me an entry into simply contemplating the Mass wordlessly (small children fidgeting on my lap notwithstanding), which is almost impossible in a Mass ad populum, even when it is celebrated with chant, Latin responses, proper vestments and all the dignity that the rite can hold.

    Overall, ad orientem is “Mass as Sacred Rite” while ad populum is “Mass as Community Action, with a tendency to becoming a bit of a show.”

  38. mitch says:

    all my expiriences with it have been good. locally there is one parish that offers a AO Latin NO and there is a TLM as well. The first time I ever went to a TLM was at a SSPX chapel about 5 min from my house, I wanted to hear a TLM (this was before summorum, and my bishop refused to grant indults for the EF) and I was very impressed with the AO worship. I also expirienced it several times in Rome at St. Peters. Most of the private Chapels and side altars only give you one choice and ya know its fine by me! It just seems so much more reverent and unifying of the community with the priest.

  39. Gloria says:

    This is about acceptance. If I can’t get down to Sacramento to my TLM parish for some reason, I attend a TLM Mass in Auburn, just down the hill from Grass Valley, CA. The pastor there studied for months and can celebrate an acceptable, reverent Mass in Latin, ad orientem, of course. Attendance seems to be growing, to the point that they are considering starting a choir. The problem is the people who do not attend that Mass. They seem to resent it. While we try to make our thanksgiving after Mass and spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament, they come in for the next Mass (NO), purposely bang the kneelers and talk loudly. Some make it a point to stand right beside you as they chatter away. Recently two gentlemen came in just before Mass ended and sat in a front pew. No sooner had Father left the church than they walked up to the microphone and started talking about signing up for a religion class, making it impossible to stay and pray. They literally drove us out.

  40. Dan says:

    As a 7 year old boy in 1973, I used to offer “Mass” Ad-Orientem on a big beautiful wooden bureau in my parants room.
    It was breathtaking.
    God bless.

  41. Ave Maria! says:

    I am sure that as a small child, the Mass was the Mass of tradition but I cannot recall it. So for my
    formative and adult years I have only known the priest facing the people and Mass as a spectator sport
    of sorts. I have witnessed running dialog with the musicians and elvis impersonations and more as
    attempts to make Mass more entertaining.

    My first real experience with the AO was at a faithful Franciscan friary. And the reverence and holiness
    of the Mass really came home to me. At that same time, we had Holy Communion at a rail too. I stil
    experience Mass in this way at some friaries when I visit. I also am blessed to experience it at
    Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio when I visit there.

    I have now been to several EF of the Mass and this would be my preferred form if I had a choice. But also
    the OF offered in this manner is an improvement as well. Less aboutt father looking here and there
    and having to practice in front of a mirror as I am told some do.

    We have a monthly TLM and then sometimes, when I can, I will make a trip to attend one.

  42. Austin says:

    I was an Anglican for decades, and attended only churches that used the Anglican MIssal dn followed Tridentine norms. I’ll never forget the shock of seeing my first Novus ORdo mass facing the people. I was literally nauseated and sweating with indignation at the casual brutishness of both the language and the ceremony. The priest looked like a shopkeeper selling over his counter, and the language was that of a social science major turned left wing bureaucrat. Instead of concentrating on the Lord in the Eucharist and on the crucifix, we were looking at the face of an annoying man, alternately over enthusiastic and bored, whose movements lacked all grace and reverence. It was many years before I could bring myself to enter a Catholic service again, and it delayed my conversion until the present when I could no longer fool myself that Anglicans were Catholics and gritted my teeth for the worst.

  43. TMG says:

    Mass ad orientem was the norm for me growing up and attending Catholic school, until 1969. All was then turned upside down with the Novus Ordo Missae and its orientation of facing the people. Many faithful were so bewildered and confused by that change and the myriad changes following Vatican II that they experienced a crisis of their Faith, myself included. These changes shook my Roman Catholic Faith to the core – this was one of the bitter “fruits” of the “reformed” Mass and Vatican II changes. Probably like a lot of others, though, I limped along and attended the Novus Ordo Missae.

    Fast forward to last spring when I attended, for the first time in decades thanks to Summorum Pontificum, a TLM with the priest ad orientem. It immediately felt right. The priest was facing the Crucifix and the Tabernacle. With ad orientem the faithful’s focus and worship is centered not on the priest, but on Our Lord’s presence where it truly belongs.

  44. ekurlowa says:

    A question – “ad orientem” means “coram Deo” or “ad orientem” in the strict sense?

  45. Geoffrey says:

    The only time I see ad orientem worship is at Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Growing up knowing only the Ordinary Form, I can understand why people would feel “left out”, but I also understand the theology behind it, which makes perfect sense (praying in the same direction).

    My confusion lies in the readings. Those are not “technically” prayers being addressed to God, but are readings from Sacred Scripture for our instruction (the priest-celebrant reads them in English and gives his homily facing the people, so why not in Latin?). Ad orientem in the OF makes sense in this regard, as it occurs only at the Liturgy of the Eucharist.

    I would like to see ad orientem used in the Ordinary Form. I think it would work in a much clearer way than at the Extraordinary Form. The people would easily see the differences at the various points in the Mass and perhaps say “Hey, that makes sense!”

    Just my two cents!

  46. cheyan says:

    I was startled the first time I saw Mass celebrated ad orientem – I had read about it, I knew it was the way things used to be done, I had seen pictures of priests facing the wall behind the altar rather than the wall behind the people, but it was still disorienting, pun not intended.

    It (still) makes me feel like someone’s hiding something from me, though not in a bad way, like somebody shielding a note or sketch with his hand so it can’t be seen until it’s finished.

  47. josephus muris saliensis says:

    Our priest in London England has introduced ad orientem, and at the high altar, for all Masses in the NO.

    He tried AO once, and found, so he said, that he could feel the prayer coming with him from the people; he was really very moved, and found it a great aid to his celebration of Mass. He has never changed back. This is an elderly priest, ordained before the changes, who has spent his whole life obediently in the NO VP. There were two comments from old women (who said they were “old-fashioned” and like VP!), otherwise everyone was happy, and there is a much greater sense of reverence, particularly in receiving communion, which is still done in a NO procession. That is perhaps the next change.

    Go on, Fathers, try it!

  48. paul says:

    I’ve been exposed to ad orientem for many years- this is standard in all the Orthodox churches as well as the oriental orthodox. The AO style is of course the norm for the EF and the novus ordo can be offered that way. I just think it is interesting when the changes were made in the late 60’s no one thought it would by traumatic or upsetting to the laity the change from AD orientem- and now people think the laity will go beserk or something by being exposed to a form which is the norm for most traditonal christians and a form of great antiquity. I don’t however believe forcing changes however good is the way to go about it, our Holy Father Pope Benedict has a very wise style- introducing changes slowly- but still introducing changes.

  49. Thomas says:

    I remember in my freshman year of high school, our chaplain said more than half the Masses ad orientem. I don’t remember what I thought; I may have liked it a little but didn’t really care much, and I never heard anyone make comment.

    Four years later, for fours Sundays, my pastor turned the altar back at the youth Mass. It was tremendously popular, though I heard that the coolest guy at school made the comments “yeah, like I want to see father’s rear end…” I explained to my Jewish teacher what was going on, and she said that common orientation made more sense than what she saw each week at school. Now this was in a church of funk, hexagonal shape which is very distracting, but I noted that the moment the church went ad orientem, all focus went up to the altar and crucifix.

    The priests here are very exaggerated in the way they place their eyes to get an impression of the direction of worship; I have some trouble understanding why not go east. Though I’ve heard that one priest in town does quite frequently…

  50. RichR says:

    The first time I experienced an AO Mass was at Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio. This was before I really understood the history or theology behind this orientation. However, even without an explanation, I immediately felt a sense of peace. Now I could pray at Mass without distraction from priest and people (it helps that the pews were also arranged facing the same direction, as opposed to the semi-circle arrangement you see now).

    I eventually joined that parish, sang in the choir, and then started a men’s Gregorian chant schola in my hometown when I moved. We have assisted at many AO Masses both in town and out of town (including the first ever Pontifical Nuptial Solemn High Mass in the EF since the Second Vatican Council!). Every time, there is a crowd. Every time, the priest that celebrates that Mass leaves the Mass on cloud 9.

  51. Woody Jones says:

    Jim: if my memory serves right, your pastor would be Fr. David Anderson, some of whose tapes I have and listen to with great edification. Please give him my best regards and strongest possible encouragement. I have followed his progress over the years (both as an intellectual matter and as a faith matter) and am really an admirer from afar, especially seeing as how not much comes from him to the general public lately that I am aware of. I hope some day to be able to assist at liturgy there with you all, whenever I can get back out to the Coast.

    With respect to AO worship, I first encountered it at the London Oratory and even thiugh I was a rather new convert at the time and had only experienced versus populum up to that time, AO seemed right off the bat to be a more reverent manner of celebrating the Holy Mysteries. Of course, the incense, six foot long candles, etc. there at the Oratory also helped! I migrated from a progressive N.O. parish over to Our Lady of Walsingham (of the Anglican Usage of the Roman Rite) and was able to encourage our founding pastor there to switch from VP to AO entirely, as was always done by Fr. Christopher Phillips at Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio, kind of the mother church of the Anglican Usage.

    Since I have to go to Mass during the week at the local downtown chapel, where the liturgical practice is still rather aggressively Novus 1980’s style (“Gather” hymnal, lay claice beaers, no Benedictine altar arrangements even though the ecclesial movement who run the chapel trumpet their mind-meldedness with the Pope), I very often contrast the two styles, and believe me, the AO is far, far superior in every way; this works best if the eucharistic prayer is said aloud, in the Roman Rite, I think, but that’s the one concession I would make.

    Too bad there isn’t a UGCC presence downtown here in Houston.

  52. Woody Jones says:

    “chalice” obviously. Also the practice of the chalice bearers of handing the whole thing to the communicant seems not right to me, although it works better to avoid spills, for sure. I thought there was a requirement that the person giving the communion had to keep hold of the cup, as the s symbolism is better (i.e. that one is not just giving oneself communion).

  53. Raphaela says:

    JW: “Strangely, it felt more intimate since there wasn’t anything between us and the priest…”

    Yes! Exactly. I’ve never felt more intensely involved in the proceedings at the altar than when the priest is facing the same way I am. I wasn’t consciously aware of this before I had the opportunity to experience the EF frequently and at close range this summer, but when the priest celebrates versus populum I feel like an audience member. It’s much easier to just take things in passively in that situation than in the EF.

  54. Eric the Read says:

    The very first time I encountered AO worship was during my first experience with a Low Mass in the Extraordinary Form, so it’s a bit difficult to tease apart the two experiences. I’d say my first impression was very uncomfortable, but I suspect a lot of that was due to the Low Mass, and not being comfortable with the Latin or the EF.

    Eventually, after moving and finding a parish that held High Mass every week, I got more comfortable with it. Now, I find I prefer it, but I’m not sure again if that’s a function of the AO posture, or the High Mass. I suspect the latter, but I’d love to attend an AO Novus Ordo Mass and find out how that works for me.

  55. Susan Peterson says:

    I am a lay person. I began my Christian life at the age of 20 by being converted at and baptized in, an Episcopal church. Ad orientem celebration was still the norm there. We had a daily eucharist by the priest who baptized me, also a professor at my college. I remember very clearly when he turned to the people and when to the altar, how clear the distinction was and its obvious import. He somehow knew how to make even the motion of turning one of great dignity. My conversion to Catholicism is what brought me in contact with ad populum celebration. It also brought me in contact with poor singing, music that wasn’t great (but far better than that to which the church later exposed me) and “cafeteria lines” for communion rather than kneeling at an altar rail. As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote to his father, “I am surprised that you should say I do this out of fancy and aesthetic tastes. These would have been better satisfied in the C of E. ”
    Nevertheless I became a Catholic, drawn by grace and JH Newman. To have become a Catholic in 1972 was to have jumped on near the beginning of a wild ride.

    So when I first encounted Ad Orientem celebration as a Catholic (which was at the Anglican Use mass, later on at the Extraordinary Form and in the Byzantine rite, only recently, at the Toronto Oratory the Novus Ordo celebrated that way) I think my reaction was basically a sense of relief, of having survived the wild ride , and having arrived where I can stop worrying about what they are going to do next with the liturgy, and can instead simply be a trusting part of the praying congregation.

    This is not to say that I haven’t attended many devout ad populum celebrations, don’t get me wrong.
    Susan Peterson

  56. Liam says:

    Fairly indifferent. It was less of a change than I expected. Didn’t have a noticeable impact on the Mass.

  57. Mila says:

    I am lay woman. I had not been to an ad orientem Mass since boarding school in the mid ’60s, until I attended Mass a few years ago at the Carmelite convent in Des Plaines, Illinois, where the Carmelites also request that people kneel at the altar rail for communion. I was so happy! Fond as I am of Latin, I think it’s not so much the use of English in the liturgy (although a better translation would be a blessing; I speak as professional translator) as it is the priest celebrating versus populum that bothers me. When one is aware of all the eyes being focused on you, one tends to put on a show. And Mass should never be a show.

  58. Karen says:

    As a youngster AO bugged me then, bugged me now. I want to see what’s going on. If I could sit in a transcept aisle or move people out of the front row far oblique seats so I could bag that spot, it wouldn’t be so bad. And I WANT the priest to speak up and not keep the EF to himself while people zone off into rosary land. The rosary is a great prayer, but Mediator Dei, though it allows for the people to say such prayers, clearly prefers people to actually make an effort and follow the Mass if you’re bright enough to. That said, there are a few priests I would *require* to say the Mass AD – the ones who can’t say Mass without performing. Dialog EF please.

  59. Whenever I offer Mass in my rectory chapel it is Ad Orientem. I am also friend of some good Sisters in PA and they prefer Ad Orientem. I also began Novus Ordo Latin Mass in my parish and that is offered Ad Orientem. Slowly, I am teaching the people. They seem to love it. I find Ad Orientem the best possible way to offer Holy Mass. The distractions are removed. You can’t see the people chatting in the pews, fumbling with missellettes, leaving to go to the rest room and the list goes on. My only hope is that the Holy Father will celebrate Mass Ad Orientem more frequently. I would even suggest he do it in St. Peter’s, because in Spirit of the Liturgy he talks of Liturgical East regardless of physical east. It would be a lesson for all.

  60. meg says:

    My first experience with AO was at my first TLM in my mid-thirties. It was as if a light went on – I thought, “Ohhhh, now I get it!” It literally all suddenly made sense like it never had before. And then upon leaving, I said to my mother, “We’ve been deprived!”, quickly followed by, “How could you have let this happen?!” Of course I meant all the parents of children in the 70’s who went along with the changes. She looked so sad and replied that they were raised to believe in absolute obedience to the Church and were told they had no other options. My mother now attends the TLM exclusively, as do I with my husband and children.

    When we switched over for good a year ago, my children surprised me by saying not a word of complaint (they were 11, 9 and 5 at the time), even with a 45 minute drive each way instead of a 5 minute drive. They never said the expected, “But I can’t understand what they’re saying!” or, “Why do we have to drive so far?” or anything at all. They accepted it totally and without question, with God’s grace and because instinctively they knew it was right.

  61. My first experience of Ad Orientem worship was at the TLM at St. Thérèse Parish in Alhambra.

    I’ve had the fortune to read about the Theology behind Ad Orientem, and had just started reading Spirit of the Liturgy by then Cardinal Ratzinger so I was much looking forward to it.

    Everything seemed to fit together when I was at Mass in the TLM (although I was a bit lost in following along at first)..you could truly tell that the Mass was a Sacrifice and that the priest was leading the people.

    For me, it’s like having a conversation, if you’re talking to someone you should face them. When we’re talking to God likewise we should face him.

    It is through the Ad Orientem worship that the words of my friend finally started to hit me that I might make a good priest. It was from there I started to want to learn how to serve at the Altar (and I did)

    I find it to be a chore to go to the NO and survive VP Masses. I love Ad Orientem so much. I didn’t grow up with Mass Ad Orientem. I might have never left the Church for that 3 year period if I knew of both the TLM and the Ad Orientem Posture.

    As a matter of fact I’ve taken to the posture when I’m teaching Catechesis and we address prayers to God, I do not face my students since I’m not addressing them. (In my class we have an “altar” set up Benedictine Style). It frees me to not worry about what the students think of me, and avoids the focus upon me.

    Deo Gratias for the Ad Orientem Posture, Long live Pope Benedict XVI, I also hope that more parishes return to the Ancient Christian Tradition of praying to the East.

  62. tradone says:

    After nearly 40 years I was reaquainted to AO. I had tears and felt overcome with joy. There are no words to describe it!
    I left after NO was established. I was taught that if I ever witnessed things against what I was taught, then I would know that it was wrong.
    The NO, communion in hand and standing, no confession, community reconciliation, no head coverings, community gathering in church before and after mass talking out loud, no communion rail and hand holding and eucharistic ministers, etc, all of this made me physically sick. Eventually, I just stayed away.

  63. Margaret says:

    I spent a week attending NO Masses in Latin AO. It was done out of space considerations rather than liturgical. I found it really delineated for me the parts of the Mass that were truly “dialogue” between the priest and us, and the parts that the priest was praying to God on our behalf. Very striking, very effective, not at all alienating.

  64. Karen says:

    Tradone \”, no head coverings\”

    Please. Some woman wearing a Kleenex on her head makes you NOT feel physically ill?

    The EF is a beautiful form of the Mass – but a woman with an uncovered head makes you ill?

    Mark this one down as a reason I tend to steer clear of some of the traddie types.

  65. Jayna says:

    I went to about half a dozen NO Latin Masses at the Brompton Oratory when I was living in London last year, so that was my first and last exposure to it. It was also my first dose of the Latin Mass, so I was spending more time with my nose buried in the missal trying to keep up (do they really need to speed read through it?). Taking that into account, my impression certainly wasn’t negative, I knew it was coming and the Mass was in Latin, so it didn’t seem out of place, but I wasn’t as focused as I would have liked to have been. I think experiencing a vernacular Mass celebrated ad orientem would, at first, seem slightly disorienting, for lack of a better word, only because I’ve never experienced it before. I would certainly fully welcome the opportunity, though my chances of convincing a single person (and I’m not pointing out my priests here, I mean everyone) in my parish of the virtues of AO worship are, well, non-existent.

  66. Antonia says:

    I encountered the AO worship 2 years ago in a Novus Ordo Mass celebrated in a very tiny chapel. It was really a small chapel that I thought (then) there’s no way they can build in more space behind the altar for the priest to stand and face the congregation! How naive I had been then, but it is a good introduction to AO worship.

    As for the experience itself, I did not notice significant difference in reverence in praying the Mass, probably because it was in an opus dei center, where they celebrate the Holy Mass really reverently, whether ad-orientem or versus populum. The only other factor is the language: the first AO mass was in Latin, and the effort to follow the priest made the ‘mystery’ more of a reality!

  67. puella says:

    I think the first Mass I attended ad orientem was in Brompton Oratory; a one-off occasion during a school trip in sixth form. I don’t really recall my impressions other than “Oh, right, ok, that’s how they do it here.”

    The first time I regularly attended an ad orientem Mass was at the Oratory (spot a pattern?) in Toronto. I’d left St. Basil’s because of a priest’s attitude to kneeling for Communion. At the Oratory I was too busy trying to focus on a) Mass, b) getting my page no. right for the sung Ordinary, c) being a bit gobsmacked by the fact that EVERYONE in the congregation was singing their guts out, and d) ignoring the sciatic pain that had reared its ugly head.

    At Bootcamp this year all our Masses (both NO and EF) were ad orientem. Now versus populum altars look…strange.

  68. puella says:

    Sorry, Fr., I waffled and didn’t finish my sentence properly above:

    I was too busy with a), b), c) and d) to feel excluded about where the priest was standing. When I managed to notice it didn’t bother me: I was simply blown away by the movements: smooth, controlled, dignified, and the fact that the entire church sang the Ordinary With Great Gusto.

    Loved it. Didn’t go to Mass anywhere else on a Sunday til I left Canada.

  69. My first experience with an AO mass was an AO OF this past Monday. It was with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate. At first I felt something was missing. Later I realized it was the “show”. I grew to appreciate the mass part way through. It was a series of things that led to that “noble simplicity” which “normally should not require much explanation” (both quotes from Sacrosanctum Concilium). The ad orientem worship was only part of it. There was also the kneeling and the use of the paten that added to this. There was no need at this mass to explain that something amazing was happening. The focus came away from the priest and was directed towards the action of the mass. I don’t need to “see” what is going on. It doesn’t help me to watch the priest while he says a list of silent prayers.

  70. amdg0816 says:

    The first time I attended an AO OF Mass was when I visited my university during my senior year of high school. At the time, I wasn’t, even in the slightest, a traditionalist, and I thought it odd to see the priest “turned around.” However, I quickly realized that the Mass went much deeper than theatrics and a booming homily, and it was the first step to my true conversion to the orthodoxy and beauty of the tradition of the Church. My parish at home does not offer AO OF Masses, nor does it offer EF Masses. I’ve taken to attending the FSSP parish, even if it means a long drive. Pray for our priests!!

  71. joel says:

    I had AO as an Anglican, lost it when I converted. VP is a disaster, IMHO, and needs to be corrected.

  72. Maureen says:

    I have trouble “getting” Low Mass even now, although I’m okay with going. Sung Mass or High Mass seems much more Mass-like, to me. I still have real trouble distinguishing EF from OF if both are celebrated ad orientem in sung Latin.

    I never had any trouble with Father facing east; it’s not being sure whether he’s doing anything up there, or where we are in the Mass, which is disconcerting. Hearing Mass sung, you know where you are. :)

  73. tradone says:

    Tradone “, no head coverings”

    Even though this is off topic I must respond.
    I’d rather see Kleenex on a womans head than, underwear showing, scantily clad, ponytail fussing, t-shirt advertisments, etc that we see in the new church. One should prepare spiritually and physically for the Holy Mass. If you forget your hat or scarf then a clean kleenex is appropriate.
    Give me tradition anytime. God help us.
    The rest of the comments I will pray over to myself.

  74. Father Totton says:

    Oddly enough, this conversation came up at dinner last night. I had been invited to dinner at the home of some parishioners. They had also invited the local Ukrainian Catholic pastor and an Indian curate at the Cathedral who is from India (Father is a Benedictine, but also belongs to the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church). We were speaking about Ad Orientem and the use of some barrier (Ikonostasis, Communion rail, etc.) Both priests shared that these practices are standard in their churches – even today. I piped up that such was standard in the Latin Church for nearly 2000 years – that it is only recently that we have deviated from this custom – I guess this was more for the benefit of our hosts (a married couple – she grew up a Ukrainian Catholic on the east coast and he is a Latin rite Catholic – perhaps an adult convert) but as I said it, it hit me how so much novelty has come to be accepted by nearly everyone in the Latin Church as normal – even as tradition.

    My experiences of Ad Orientem have been very positive. I don’t remember the first time I saw a priest use is (it was probably in the EF) but I remember saying Mass AO for the first time myself. There was a small group of seminarians present, and they were all thrilled by the prospect. I have been offering Mass in the OF AO for about two years now (but these are small, semi-private, daily Masses). I have been offering Mass in the EF (obviously AO) for about nine months – what a tremendous grace.

    I can relate the reaction of one young man, now in the seminary. He said the first time he saw Mass celebrated in this manner, he understood it right away – “why should it be any other way?”

  75. Rob says:

    I was born in 1968. I suppose I might have experienced AO in my infancy, but obviously I don’t recall the details. My parish Masses growing up were always VP, but we had regular exposure to the Latin hymns and prayers (it was part of the diversity of our parish) and my glee club years in college exposed me to some of the great Latin choral works.

    The first exposure I had to AO was in my early 30s. My wife and I were part of a fairly active Young Adult group at our parish. We had an educational/spiritual outing one Sunday to a nearby parish that at the time was the home to our Archdiocese’s only regularly scheduled TLM (in a church building that had never been ‘updated’).

    Looking back, going in I was probably more focused on the language than the other details of the liturgy. A little more preparation beforehand would probably have helped. If a succinct reference had been available at the Mass site, that would have been good, as well.

    The only drawback to the experience (that sticks in my mind) was the, I don’t know – bedlam and chaos are too severe – of that particular day. There was a first communion class or a May procession or something, far more people in attendance than a normal Sunday for that Parish, and a torrential downpour which drove the procession inside. Sort of like a subway car at rush hour.

    A couple of years later my wife and I were traveling, spending one Saturday night in transit in the city of my birth. Being only somewhat familiar with the lay of the land, and open to having a ‘postcard’ moment to discuss later with my parents, we went to my family’s old parish for Sunday Mass. With our timing, we stumbled into what I would call mostly a solemn, high Mass (my characterization, not a specific definition), though I don’t recall how much Latin was involved.

    Slightly off-topic: At a recent funeral Mass that I would otherwise describe as no different (liturgically) than many I have attended over the years, I was very impressed when the priest sang the Eucharistic Prayer (1. that he did, 2. that he could, 3. that he could do it extremely well).

    Back on-topic… I don’t know. I’d probably have to grade it incomplete. I have a little more experience and education, now, and would probably seek out a little more (education)before seeking out an AO mass again (at least if jumping into both AO and Latin at once).

    I do know one thing, though. At Mass, when the Priest elevates the Body and Blood, I’m paying attention to that. I don’t worry about AO v. VP, Gregorian Chant/gospel/folk music, antique embroidery v. felt banners, or any of the rest of it!

  76. Michael says:

    The versus populum Mass is inconceivable in the separated Eastern Churches, and has alienated us from them. Their liturgies are God – oriented. The reintroduction of the AO Mass is a step forward in the ecumenical efforts of the Church.

    Personally, it means much to see a priest, the shepherd at the head of his flock, leading us to Christ, and offering in His person the Holy Sacrifice on our behalf, instead of putting up with an entertainer, sharing with us a “meal”, trying to establish an “eye contact” with us, and be “relevant”, “meaningful”, and, to put it bluntly, silly.

  77. QC says:

    When I was a kid, my dad once mentioned to me in passing that Mass used to be in Latin and that the priest faced the “other way.” I remember thinking that having it in Latin made no sense, but having the priest face the other way made more sense to me then facing the people. Of course, I now appreciate the “sense” of using Latin and ad orientam makes more sense than ever!

    As an aside, a parish where many of my friends attend (and where I often do) announced this week that they will begin offering one Mass ad orientam (that particular Mass already has a Latin/vernacular mix and Gregorian chant).

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