QUAERITUR: Can “ad orientem” worship be forbidden?


I checked with a friend who is in a position to know these things in an authoritative way:

Lawfully, I do not think so.  Provision is made for it in the Institutio Generalis.  cf. Medina’s response to a quaesitum published in COMMUNICATIONES 25 September 2000.


From a reader:

Does a local ordinary have the authority to prevent a parish/ priest from celebrating the Novus Ordo ad orientem? Didn’t the Vatican have a clarification in the 80’s that permitted either versus populem or ad orientem celebration of the Novus Ordo? I am concerned because for years a parish in my diocese celebrated the Novus Ordo ad orientem until a few years ago when a new ordinary forbade it. Does he have the authority to do this or is there some politics at work here? I’m not including any names so as not to stir controversy but perhaps a letter to the CDW is in order – just wanted to check my facts before I did. Feel free to post this on your blog for general feedback.


My impression is that an ordinary does not have the authority to forbid Mass from being celebrated ad orientem.   Nor does he have the authority to require that all Masses be celebrated versus populum

It seems to the rubrics for Mass assume that Mass is ad orientem.  The priest is instructed to turn to the people at certain times and then turn back to the altar.   So, it seems to me very difficult for anyone to be forbidden from celebrating Mass according to the rubrics.

At the same time, if an altar is constructed such that Mass can be celebrated from either side, then it should be possible to use the altar from either side.  GIRM 299 actually assumes that you are using the altar for ad orientem worship because it provides that you can when it is opportune use it also for versus populum Masses.

No… I don’t think a bishop can either forbid or require this, just as I don’t think he can forbid Latin, or Gregorian chant, or forbid Roman vestments, etc.

A query to the CDW would be interesting.  I’ll dig some more.

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  1. Didn’t this question come up with Bp. David Foley and the chapel at the EWTN studios in Irondale? Even after the sisters left for Hanceville, the Mass was still celebrated there facing the cloister side of the chapel. Bp. Foley acknowledged that he could not mandate every Masses be versus populum, but he got around it by mandating that any Mass that was televised must be so.

  2. miss book says:

    Sorry if I’m going over old ground, or asking a silly question- Can a Bishop refuse permission for Mass in the Gregorian Rite on Sundays?The Bishop says he has been generous in permitting Greg.Rite Masses for weekdays but thinks that the people should come to the Novus Ordo Mass on Sundays.

  3. Fr Ray Blake says:

    This raises a more general question: when there are choices in the Liturgy, such as orientation or even choices of text, what principles should be used to determine which is followed.
    As far as texts are concerned I tend to opt for the first: but for other things?

  4. miss book: That is not the topic. And NO, he cannot. The pastor has the right to determine this according to the precepts of Summorum Pontificum. The pastor does not need permission from the bishop to implement Summorum Pontificum. But that is not the topic.

  5. TJM says:

    If the rubrics assume ad orientem celebration, I would think the bishop would have some serious
    explaining to do at the Vatican. I believe the matter is serious enough that a bishop who forbids it should be forced to take remedial courses in sacred liturgy and the proper celebration of the Mass. A man who would forbid what the Church permits in my opinion is mean-spirited, an ideologue, and highly unfit for the office he holds. Tom

  6. Celebration of Mass ad orientem is fully in accord with the liturgical norms. No episcopal permission is needed. Therefore, if a bishop forbade celebration ad orientem, he would be acting contrary to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

  7. O. D. says:

    In response to a priest who broached this topic, my ordinary said that he’d have problems of a political nature with the conference if he “allowed” it.

  8. TJM says:

    One thing I would like to add. ALthough ad orientem is assumed by the rubrics, it would seem the right way to implement ad orientem is through proper catechesis. Father Newman of St. Mary’s in Greenville, So. Carolina, a reform of the reform type of parish, did this and I think
    it’s a good idea to do so, so the congregation doesn’t assume you are being as high-handed and arbitrary in one’s ars celebrandi (if you can dignify what they do with that term) as liturgical progressives have been over the years.

    O.D., what does the conference have to do with his? Given the number of US bishops who now celebrate the EF themselves, it would seem this sort of concern should be dissapating. I certainly wouldn’t be concerned with offending folks like Cardinal Mahony or Bishop Trautman on this issue. If I were a bishop and another bishop confronted me over this, I would suggest that they read the rubrics and then let’s have another conversation.


  9. prof. basto says:

    That’s why authority to regulate the celebration of the one Roman Rite should again (as in the old days) be vested solely in the Apostolic See, with local Bishops empowered to regulate matters only when given explicit permission by Rome.

    After Christus Dominus, there are too many things being decided at the local level, and that impairs the unity of the Church and, in the case of the liturgy, the unity of the Roman Rite.

    Yes, Bishops are successors to the Apostles — and that was explicitly declared at least since Trent, although this doctrine was more fully examined at the Second Vatican Council, albeit with some confusion (which led the Pope, when approving Lumen Gentium, to add an explanatory note “from higher authority”) — but still, it is the Pope who dictates how much power the other Bishops will hold, and we have already witnessed on several fronts the harmful effects of the de-centralization of authority.

  10. Ave Maria says:

    The fact that any priest ‘can’ offer the extraordinary form or offer Holy Mass ad orientem may be negated if the bishop is hostile to these things and if persecution follows. We all know this happens in one diocese or another.

  11. O. D. says:

    TJM, precious little. The problem is that my relatively unimportant diocese has been shackled with a bishop who considers this appointment temporary. “Allowing” a priest to celebrate “ad orientem” would evidently give him a bad rep in certain circles. Ironically, the prelate on whose coattails he came into town has a good track record with the EF, including personally celebrating Mass.

    In some ways our bishop has done this diocese good, but sadly not on the liturgical front. (Probably where most of us need the help.)

  12. ALthough ad orientem is assumed by the rubrics, it would seem the right way to implement ad orientem is through proper catechesis. Father Newman of St. Mary’s in Greenville, So. Carolina, a reform of the reform type of parish, did this

    For the 5 weeks of catechesis Fr. Newman provided his parish before turning:


  13. RichR says:

    People need to grow a spine and just do it. My gosh, are we behind the Pope’s Marshall Plan or are we a bunch of wimps whose primary concern is to stay below the radar screen? Is that what we want to be able to tell God on our last day? “God, I didn’t rock the boat.”

    Yeah, it’s tough. I’m one of those in the trenches as a leader for our local schola (going on our 5th year). We get flack from some parish “ministers”, but we get a ton of support from the laity. We’d love to have one of the nine priests in town say an EF (or even a Latin OF), but none are interested right now. One told us flat out that he didn’t want to get in trouble with the bishop. We try to be understanding and are kindly biding our time.

    So we just keep on practicing chant, and people are settling for guitar Masses and bongo Masses. Whenever a priest is ready to try something better, we’ll be waiting. But we can’t do anything until then. That’s the frustrating part. We can’t do anything. Despite our hours, days, and years of practicing chant, we are nothing more than a sideshow or a “club” that occasionally shows up at a Mass or devotion twice a year (needless to say, the parishioners are always very appreciative). That’s fine. We’re thankful for the opportunities.

    So be bold and take a step in the right direction – especially those that have the power to make a decision. Ad orientem is not going to be seismic. Just catechize beforehand and people will appreciate it more.

  14. RichR says:

    Sorry, I shouldn’t admonish priests. Just try and understand the position of the eager laity.

  15. The Bishop does however have the ability to regulate the building and renovation of Churches and mandate plans that prevent the celebration of either form of the Mass ad orientem. (Though obviously, I think they’d be wrong to do so.)

  16. Woody Jones says:

    The odd thing about the Bp. Foley prohibiton of televised ad orientem Masses as I recall it was that he gace as his reason that it would “confuse” the faithful, based on complaints he had received. Now who do you suppose those complaints came from? My own guess is from people who read more than John Allen’s column in the National “Catholic” Reporter.

    Just another example of rupture versus continuity. It all comes back to that, in my own estimation.

  17. I wonder whether there\’s an underlying assumption here — that most people and priests want Mass ad orientem, or more Latin, or more beautiful music, or generally more reverence in the liturgy — but that the typical bishop, for reasons all his own that no one understands, opposes such good things. If this is so, what would be a rational explanation for it?

  18. Mitch#2 says:

    I would like to hear that explanation too. The more they resist with feeble excuses the more disobedient the lay faithful become. Many of them have helped lead us into this mess and now they want to wash their hands of it. From the “young” people’s perspective, myself included, we are more than ever frustrated with them, now that so many truths are coming out. The age of the internet gives us the insight into the fact that many things have gone terribly wrong and we blindly followed. If they await absolution from us it will never come with all these resistance and belligerent politics they are playing. Personally I do not feel they care about my soul or well being. Not only did they let us down, in the face of everything they still do. They may well just reap what they sow. What gets me is how they still “ask” for much of their parishoners with such bold expressions. I think the Holy Father needs to knock them all down a peg. To hear that The Pope asks their help and obedience and they ust ignore it or set up obstacles is just disgusting. So many lay people have more sense and THEY are supposed to be guiding US. Imagine if in the incorrect interpretation of Vat II docs we suddenly eliminated the office of Bishop as being archaic or for the good of the people. More reforms, let’s see if they back that.

  19. miss book says:

    Thank you Fr.,and I’m sorry for being off topic…

  20. I have been celebrating Ordinary Form AD ORIENTEM in my two parishes on one weekend every month. I gave verbal and written catechesis, much like Father Newman of SC did in his parish. I also celebrated O.F. AD ORIENTEM for an entire week (M-F) every month as well. I celebrate the E.F. once a week

    So, far, no complaints, only compliments. We are also teaching the congregation the common parts of the Mass in Latin (Gloria, Sanctus, Pater Noster, Agnus Dei). We use two kneelers at every Mass and give people the option of receiving kneeling or standing (or genuflecting) and in our diocese they can receive on the tongue or in the hand.

    When you explain and show that you (the priest) are offering and protecting their legitimate options (as well as your own as Celebrant), the people respect and appreciate it. We have had deacons as well as priests preach our annual Forty Hours Eucharistic devotions. When the sacraments and all sacred liturgy are done REVERENTLY and PROPERLY (licit and valid), the people are grateful that you care enough to provide all that they need and deserve. The more they see how beautiful and elegant some options are, the more they will prefer them, too.

  21. O. D. says:

    Henry Edwards, I do not see that assumption in the postings. The appreciation and understanding of good liturgy is taught. Most people in the pews have been taught the opposite and do not desire the things you list.

  22. Anne says:

    No, simply put, bishop has no say in the matter. The priest at his own discretion may choose to offer the N.O. ad orientem. Period. Now, whether priest will be berated, harassed, threatened or persecuted by his bishop into reneging his rightful choice, that is another question.

  23. I can’t see how a bishop could have the authority to do that. I would say look to the Pope who is the teacher and supreme legislator of liturgy, and see what example he sets. Given that Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have celebrated Masses ad orientem, I would say it is a completely legitimate option in the Rite, as is evidenced by the fact that it has been a part of the rite for so long. The “hermeneutic of continuity” would come into play here, especially since ad orientem is allowed (and from what I hear, assumed) in the Novus Ordo.

  24. priest in America says:

    I was directly asked by my bishop to stop celebrating ad Orientem Mass in the ordinary form. I will not get into details because the identity of place and bishop could then be guessed. I will only say that Mass ad Orientem was being done for a long period of time and after a great deal of catechesis. While I obviously know that, according to liturgical law, Mass ad Orientem is permitted (and pastorally/theologically preferred), the voice of the bishop impels his priest to obedience unless he commands sin (and Mass versus populum is not a sin). And so, I have submitted, hopefully, gracefully. Vox episcopi vox Dei.

  25. Brent says:

    I’m definitely a fan of Mass being celebrated ad Orientam, my question is that regarding GIRM paragraph 299. I can certainly understand the point of saying that the GIRM says we should have space around the altar to walk to celebrate Mass versus populi. That’s clear. But how does the rest of the paragraph come into play with regards to orientation: “which is desirable wherever possible” that follows the section on facing the people? It confuses me a bit because in the wording, whic seems to imply versus populi is the standard and should be done. But if you look at it another way, it could mean that the altar should be built away from the wall whenever possible. How ought one to understand this paragraph?

  26. Brent: Over the past 8 years, GIRM 299 has been the subject of lengthy and repeated explanation here and in Father Z’s WDTPRS columns. The long and short of it is that the English version you quote appears to be a deliberate mistranslation of the official Latin. Apparently deliberate because, in response to an explicit question, the CDW explained the error, but it was not corrected in subsequent re-publication. I regret a lengthy cut and paste post, but perhaps this will lay the matter to rest for another year or so. From a 6/28/2006 post:

    What follows is quoted from the Father Z’s super oblata column for the 5th Sunday of Easter (2002).

    In WDTPRS last week I said we might review the translation controversy surrounding the now-in-force General Instruction of the Roman Missal’s (2002GIRM) paragraph #299, about the placement of the altar and the direction of celebration of Holy Mass. Background: the U.S. Bishops’ Conference issued on 16 November 2000 a document called “Built of Living Stones: Art, Architecture, and Worship” (BLS). BLS was intended to replace the heinous 1978 statement Environment and Art in Catholic Worship which served at the foundation for the “denovation” of countless churches even though it really had no authority. BLS has a section about the placement of the altar in which it quotes 2002GIRM #299 (remember that what I now call the 2002GIRM had been released in Latin in 2000, far in advance of the release of the 2002 Missale Romanum). The bishops’ BLS gives an English translation of #299 in footnote #75:

    In every church there should ordinarily be a fixed, dedicated altar, which should be freestanding to allow the ministers to walk around it easily and Mass to be celebrated facing the people, which is desirable whenever possible ….

    In the National Catholic Register of 7-14 April 2002, a statement was made that, according to the new GIRM, it is now preferable to celebrate Mass “facing the people.” If the Register is making this mistake, it would appear that there was some serious damage caused from the mistranslation of #299 used by the bishops. Let us look at #299. The last time we examined it at length was in the third article of WDTPRS for the 2nd Sunday of Advent in the year 2000:

    Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.

    The English version in BLS (above) is faulty. The translator failed to see that quod refers back to the main clause of the sentence. The bishops’ translator fell into the common trap of translating the Latin word by word, rather than reading the whole sentence. Their translator made #299 read as if there is a preference or even a requirement in the law itself to celebrate Mass facing the people. But #299 indicates nothing of the kind. That paragraph really says:

    The main altar should be built separated from the wall, which is useful wherever it is possible, so that it can be easily walked around and a celebration toward the people can be carried out.

    This paragraph explains the distance of separation from the wall: at least far enough so that it can be used from either side, rather than just an inch or two of separation. The Latin doesn’t even hint that Mass must be said versus populum (toward the people). It only provides that it can be. And that is not an absolute, either. What makes this very troubling is that on 25 September 2000 the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments issued a clarification (Prot. No. 2036/00/L) regarding #299 in the new Latin GIRM. That clarification says:

    The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in n. 299 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which the position of the priest versus absidem [facing the apse, i.e. ad orientem] is to be excluded.

    The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:

    Negatively, and in accordance with the following explanation.

    The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account. First, the word expedit does not constitute a strict obligation but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum (detached from the wall). It does not require, for example, that existing altars be pulled away from the wall. The phrase ubi possibile sit (where it is possible) refers to, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc.

    In short (whew!) the English mistranslation of the Latin description of the placement of the altar is skewed so as to impose versus populum celebrations of Mass, which the Latin does not say.

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