A transitional “ad orientem” proposal

Over at Standing On My Head Fr. Dwight Longenecker has something to say about saying Mass ad orientem.

Let’s have a look with my emphases.

Here’s a suggestion and question about the liturgy. I was celebrating Mass on Sunday away from St Mary’s and so I did not celebrate ad orientem.

I did, however, go around to the front of the altar, and facing the people, administered the Kiss of Peace. After sharing the Kiss of Peace with the altar servers, I turned East, (facing the altar) for the Agnus Dei, fraction, priest’s prayers before communion, and then turned with the chalice and host back to face the people for the "Behold the Lamb of God."

It seems to me that this is a dignified and sensible way that those who wish to move toward the East might do so in a simple way which begins to introduce people to this posture. It also has the advantage of setting off the Kiss of Peace. I came around the front of the altar marking this part of the liturgy as my address to the people, and by turning my back to them and going to the altar facing East for the Agnus Dei etc. there was a clear indication that the Kiss of Peace was over. (This is a good way to conclude a Kiss of Peace that has turned into a happy time to greet one’s friends)

That’s the suggestion. The question is, "Is there any reason why this should not be done more widely?"


My initial reaction is that this could be a good way to begin shifting people now unused to ad orientem worship back to the proper direction.   

At the same time, there is something about using both sides of the altar that leaves me a little unsettled.  There is nothing against it in the rubrics, obviously.   I think this might be an initial impression that may not have a very good basis.

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  1. Father Bartoloma says:

    It would seem better to simply be ad orientem from the offertory onwards as many have proposed for the Ordinary Form.

  2. Scott RP says:

    So much confusion and innovation since priests were led away from the Mass of All Time.

  3. michael says:

    A visiting priest did this recently at my church and began the Agnus Dei in Latin. For just a few minutes the Mass was transformed. People in the congregation went up to him after Mass to thank him.

  4. Perhaps this will come up when Fr. Longenecker is interviewed on EWTN this coming Monday night — at 8 pm (Eastern), Nov. 3 on “The Journey Home”.

  5. dcs says:

    At the same time, there is something about using both sides of the altar that leaves me a little unsettled. There is nothing against it in the rubrics, obviously. I think this might be an initial impression that may not have a very good basis.

    I wonder if all the movement around the altar might not be a bit distracting.

  6. czemmike@gmail.com says:

    There is nothing against [using both sides of the altar] in the rubrics [of the new Mass], obviously.

    Isn’t the lack of rubrical instructions one of the fundamentally disturbing things* about the new Mass? Without precise instructions — do the red, say the black — how can you know you’re doing things correctly in the first place?

    * The “kiss of peace turning into happy time” is rather disturbing as well… then again, if that’s not in the ruberics either, why not skip that entirely?

  7. Father Totton says:

    I am in agreement with Fr. Bartoloma. Most parishes transitioning to Ad-Apsidem worship will begin to shift the focus (if they have not already) with “the Benedictine Arrangement” which would preclude shifting the priest’s position between the Pater Noster and the Communion Rite.

    There are other subtle ways to begin moving toward ad-apsidem (sorry folks, my church is backwards-oriented!). Consider offering the collect and the postcommunion from the chair, but turned obviously toward the apse. Also, at funerals, you may offer the collect standing between the casket and the altar. When it is time to pray, turn to the apse – following the same procedure for the prayer of commendation. When making one’s way from the chair to the pulpit/ambo, consider passing IN FRONT of the altar (rather than behind), let your reverence include the altar without excluding the tabernacle. People will begin to understand these things – the canon will be the only inconsistency, then it will only be a matter of minor catechesis to correct the inconsistency and shift to ad-apsidem worship for the Canon as well.

  8. EJ says:

    I am a lay MC and know well to NEVER enter the danger zone of telling a priest “how to celebrate Mass” – but care should be taken to not introduce more and more innovations and changes, even if it’s with the good intention of gradually reintroducing ad orientem prayer. The latest revision to the New Missal suggests that the Collects are to be prayed from the chair, and one is logically left to conclude that the celebrant will be facing in the same direction that the chair faces. To turn around and face east at these moments seem very awkward to me in the Novus Ordo – leave this for the liturgy of the Eucharist, when the time is right. The “Benedictine” arrangement seems to be a great and sensible way, a “via media,” to “reorient” the faithful’s own understanding of the true direction of prayer, and with enough catechesis a community will be on its way to fully restoring ad orientem worship in the community.

  9. paul says:

    Father, I do not understand why the clergy are having such a difficult time implementing ad orientem posture at Mass. When vatican 2 occured most all priests faced ad orientem- over night basically this change to facing the people was brought about. Why can’t some priests face the traditional way? This posture is the norm in the traditional Mass as well as all the Eastern churches to this day. Really facing the people is in my opinion more of a minority position than the majority in the present situation of the church. If the laity don’t like it- 95% of the masses are facing the people- they should leave the clergy who like the traditonal ways alone.

  10. I appreciate the spirit behind it, but it is ultimately an innovation and will be seen as a quirk of individual priests. So, I would not like to see priests do this.
    There’s not rubric to defend such action as there is for Mass ad orientem.

  11. Father Totton says:


    I would never suggest turning and facing in opposite direction of the chair, but if the chair is placed ala the sedile in the extraordinary form, there is no awkwardness in the celebrant turning slightly to the right as he says, “Oremus” Again, it highlights the intendend audience of the prayer – God. This is dramatically obvious (in a good way) when the priest, finishing the postcommunion, then turns toward the people for the blessing and dismissal.

  12. Jeff Pinyan says:

    I’m curious what side of the altar is being kissed. I think it is proper that the altar be kissed (at the entrance and exit processions) from the side which the priest will offer the sacrifice; that is, where the relics are (or should be!) and where the corporal is placed.

  13. Mitch says:

    In my parish the priest says the confiteor, kyrie, gloria, opening prayer, creed, and post communion prayer all ad orientem. I know he wants to celebrate the whole Mass ad orientem, but is nervous to do so. Hopefully he will be able to do this soon enough! (our versus populum altar is the old wooden pulpit with a piece of plywood on top… not the best altar in the world…)

  14. EJ says:

    Father, to quote you, you suggested to be “turned obviously toward the apse.” My point is that we are speaking of the Ordinary Form, not the Extraordinary. Again, I will not go so far as to tell any priest what to do, but I feel that one has to work within the parameters of what is given. It goes back to the touchy subject of a priest arbitrarily inserting this and that from the older form of Mass into the newer form, to the confusion of the faithful, who have already been subjected to enough confusion. I agree with the commenter above in that some of these well-intended gestures might prove more of a confusing distraction than to serve the intended purpose. To “do the red, say the black” – I would add “and don’t pencil in anything in between.”

  15. Michael says:

    Everything done to “subvert” the NO, within the limits of its own rules, is better than nothing; but, really, the essential thing is that, if the Tabernacle is behind the table (“altar”), the priest should turn back to the Tabernacle only to greet, bless etc., and even then he shouldn’t do it from the centre, but standing a little aside.

    The best solution is, for example, in the London Oratory, where during the Liturgy of the Word the priest stands behind the Lectern, on the left or right side, facing people but not with his back toward the Tabernacle, and facing East/Tabernacle during the Liturgy of the Eucharist. This has been their standard practice ever since the NO was introduced. The Chair is near the Lectern, facing the centre of the Sanctuary.

    I would add to this, that the Confiteor should be said facing the Tabernacle.

  16. Angela says:

    “Really facing the people is in my opinion more of a minority position than the majority in the present situation of the church.” This is just not so. It is a sad reality that many many Catholics aren’t even AWARE that Mass was offered ad orientem in the past, let alone understand the reasons why. Many of those that do remember will give the party line of how the priest gave his back to the people, how terrible that was, and how wonderful it is now that Father faces us and we can all “participate” and have a grand ole time feel happy about ourselves. Alot of damage was done because those responsible knew that they first had to change the faithful’s understanding of the nature of the Mass. But it is true that more and more people are becoming informed of what went on in the 1960s and ’70s, and are slowly but surely welcoming the return of the traditional elements of the faith that had been discarded or not appreciated for their worth. Ad orientem is one of them. Catechesis is extremely important and I agree with those above who caution against even small innovations, as creative and well-intentioned as they may be. Happily the tide has turned, seminarians are more and more traditional, more orthodox bishops are being appointed, and how can we fail to mention the great blessing of Pope Benedict’s reign.

  17. What is the latin term for offering the sacrifice sideways to the people as in some pre_Christian
    pagan rites?

  18. pelerin says:

    Angela comments on ‘how we can all now participate’ at Mass. This reminded me of a conversation I had last week after attending an anniversary Requiem Mass in the EF (with sung Dies Irae and magnificent black and gold vestments). I commented on the beauty of the celebration and that I had chosen to attend because it was an EF. ‘But we don’t DO anything at this kind of Mass’ she said ‘we just stand there’ and seemed incredulous that I should have found it so beautiful. I refrained from saying that I was under the impression that it was the Priest who was the celebrant and that we should be praying with him which surely is not ‘doing nothing.’ It is internal participation which those used to external participation seem to fail to understand.

  19. Angela says:

    pelerin – Those were not my own beliefs, if you re-read my comments and place them in the correct context, you will see that I was actually being critical of that mindset myself – which puts you and I in agreement on this issue. Care should be taken to not misquote others.

  20. pelerin says:

    Apologies Angela – I did not phrase it at all well and did not mean to infer it was your comment.

  21. Father Totton says:


    I don’t subscribe the notion that the ad-orientem posture is okay for the EF but not for the OF. Recovering Ad-Orientem worship is a crucial flank in restoring the Sacred Liturgy in either form.

    I think there is a debate (with an underlying ideological component) about the placement of the chair. When the chair is placed facing the people (whether on a pradella or not) it is referred to (and yes, I know even the IGMR makes this reference) as the “presidential chair”. I think the shift of late is moving away from referring to the celebrant as “presider” or “president” and moving more toward celebrant.

    The placement of the chair such that the priest faces the center of the sanctuary, with the faithful on his left and the altar (near the apse) on his right more clearly highlights the role of celebrant as steward in the King’s court. The focus is moved away from the priest-celebrant being the center of attention. to almighty God, as the center of attention – this is the case whether or not the Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the sanctuary, which should be the case in most parish churches.

    If one is a proponent for ad-orientem (or ad-apsidem) worship, then such posture would be reasonably adopted whenever the prayer addresses the Father.

    The Liturgy of the Word (in the Ordinary Form) is logically proclaimed from the ambo in the direction of the people, but for the priest to stand at a chair and look out on his congregation as he leads them in praying to the Father just seems so ridiculous.

    I don’t see this as a case of penciling in anything unnecessarily, but as one commenter said above, the Ordinary Form leaves too many things open to interpretation. My own lens for interpretation is Tradition (the hermeneutic of continuity) rather than innovation.

    Having made these comments, they shouldn’t be taken as a priest arbitrarily imposing his own liturgical sensibilities on an already confused congregation. I am pastor of a parish which has a long tradition of restoring tradition, and a well-reasoned catechetial preparation for such changes.

  22. Many people still have a the mistaken understanding that “active participation” means the congregation must be doing something external in the liturgy. And actuosa participatio doesn’t mean that at all. But unless people are taught about interior receptivity, they will adhere to the mistaken old interpretation foisted on them years ago.

  23. sylvester says:

    Our priest uses the “ad orientum” position every Sunday at the college mass here in Oxford, Miss (home of Ole Miss). I am in college and have been to daily mass and to mass earlier on Sundays before and at those masses he uses the “benedictine” altar, facing the people.

    The college mass is great because it really feels “catholic” if you know what I mean. Everything at the college mass is in English (which is good) except for the sanctus and the gloria and the kyrie, which are in latin. That is also good because with so many of us students from different parishes all over (even from other countries), we can all unite in singing those parts of mass and don’t worry about which “mass setting” is used each week. It really helps us to participate more in the mass and it doesn’t sound like the church is trying to rip off music from the radio. it sounds “catholic”. If I want to listen to the radio I can, but when I am at mass, it is great to “feel” like I am doing something different: worshiping. I wish more priests understood how important that is.

  24. Brian says:

    Another solution might be to use Ad Orientem for progressive solemnity’s sake.

  25. alex says:

    All I keep thinking is that the original rubics for the OF was to for the priest to face ad orientem, it states clearly at certain times he turns and faces the people. I guess it simply boils down to educating people on the nature of Holy Mass.

  26. Aaron says:

    Couldn’t possible have a Benedictine Arrangement then… where would the candles and crucifix be?

  27. What is the latin term for offering the sacrifice sideways to the people as in some pre_Christian
    pagan rites? –Tom in Columbus

    It is also found in the Book of Common Prayer services from Elizabeth to the 19th century. Among Anglicans it was known as the “northward position” (minister on the north side, not because he faced north–since he faced south).

  28. Hiberniensis says:

    I *love* the ad orientem posture and hope to see it recovered in the Church, but it seems to me that if one begins the Liturgy of the Eucharist on one side of the altar, one should continue to use that side rather switching at some point.

    If a gradual approach needs to be taken to the re-implemention of ad orientem worship, then I would very stongly agree with Brian’s suggestion of doing it on the basis of progressive solemnity. The use of Latin and chant could also be re-introduced this way.

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