QUAERITUR: Priest – “Can I celebrate ad orientam publicly without permission?”

A question from a priest reader:

I am a diocesan priest.  Can I celebrate the Novus Ordo ad orientem publicly without special permission?  Are there rubrics on how to celebrate ad orientem?

Reverend and Dear Father,

Yes, yes, yes!

You can certainly celebrate Holy Mass ad orientem without any special permission.

As a matter of fact a careful reading of the rubrics in the Latin edition of the Missale Romanum presume that you are celebrating ad orientem.

As far as those rubrics are concerned, just say the black and do the red.  Looking at the rubrics in the Latin edition will help.

At the same time, I will remind you (as if I needed to) that there will be pressure on you not to do this.  Some of it will come from priests and maybe the chancery.   Therefore, be prepared.

I think a good example of how the transition to ad orientem worship was carried out was in Greenville, SC.  You might contact Fr. Newman and chat with him.

Also, other priests here have chimed in in the past about ad orientem worship.  Some folks here might be so kind as to dig up links of those discussions from this blog about that topic.

Celebrating ad orientem is important.  I think, as do others, that turning the altars around was the single most damaging thing that happened as a result of skewed ideas of liturgical reform.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Even the English rubrics aren’t that hard, IIRC. If we presume ad orientem, then the instructions for facing the people make sense. Might just have to walk through them once or twice.

  2. In my small parish, there was little room in the sanctuary for both the freestanding altar and the beautiful high altar behind it. Father and the altar boys were like too many people trying to cook simultaneously in a small kitchen.

    Then came Father’s first Good Friday as the new pastor. He looked at the sanctuary and thought, “there’s no place for the deacon and I to prostrate ourselves.”

    So on Wednesday of Holy Week, he removed the freestanding altar and celebrated mass ad orientam throughout the Triduum and Easter. It was beautiful. Next week, the altar was back. The difference was so disappointing, I think there was little objection when the freestanding altar was removed permanently shortly thereafter.

  3. Tominellay says:

    A great point: turning the altars around was the single most damaging thing!

  4. I used to help out occasionally in the lovely tiny Catholic Church in Jacksonville OR. It has a lovely 19th-century high altar that is 3 feet from the communion rail.

    They used to have a 1.5 foot square pedestal that fit onto the high altar steps to permit “facing the people.” A server had to hold the Missal because it could not fit on this makeshift “altar.”

    Whenever I helped out, I banished the pedestal. No one ever complained.

  5. C.G.W. says:

    This might be helpful to cut and paste on an index card for a priest celebrating the Ordinary Mass ad orientem. I find it useful to do so for visiting priests who often become disorientated when they approach the altar of our church during the weekday mornings. The presumption is there is an altar cross on (or above) the center of the altar to which priest and people together look towards.

    1. Face Cross to read Antiphon & Sign of the Cross
    2. Turn to the people for “The Lord be with you” & then introduce Mass
    3. Face Cross for Penitential Rite & Opening Prayer
    4. Face Cross for Offertory
    5. Turn to the people for “Pray Brothers and Sisters”
    6. Face Cross through Preface, Eucharistic Prayer, Our Father.
    7. Turn to the people for “The Peace of the Lord Be with you”
    8. Face Cross for “Lamb of God”
    9. Turn to People with Host and paten for “This is the Lamb of God…”
    10. Face the Cross for Prayer after Communion
    11. Turn to People for “The Lord be with You” & Blessing
    12. Face Cross to kiss Altar.

  6. John says:

    I would have to disagree that turning the altar around was the single most damaging thing about the Conciliar liturgy. I think it was Bugnini’s attempt to strip the Mass of Catholic theology in order to avoid offending Protestants. The altar deviation seems to flow logically from the denaturing of the Mass.

  7. One thing that really helped in my parish when Fr. Perrone first started celebrating ad orientem, is that he took time to explain what he was going to do some weeks before he did it. He gently brought people along. The vast majority of people kind of went along with it all, without a word. However, in all cases there is a vocal minority that will make a big ruckus and make it seem like the whole parish is against it. Listen to their complaints and ask them to ride with it for a while before they pass judgment. If they persist, just ignore them and think about the many who are probably fine with it and just not being vocal.

    I have found that an effective point is to help people to understand that they ought not be seeking the face of the priest in the Mass, but the face of Almighty God.

    I know people who resisted changes at my traditional parish, including those who initially resisted the TLM after Summorum Pontificum unleashed it.

    After little more than a month, some of these people were the strongest of advocates of the changes. I don’t know anyone at my parish today who likes when the Mass is celebrated versus populum, which is how some of the bishops celebrate when they come, on our table altar. That was not the case some years ago, as explained to me by fellow parishioners who were there at the time. Sparks were flying at first, but they fizzled out quickly.

  8. Father Robert J. Donat, KCHS says:

    I would like to purchase some black vestments, preferably in the semi-Gothic or Gothic style. Where in the U.S. can I purchase some.

  9. mcitl says:

    You only are having a dreadful day, Father? Tsk, tsk.

    Please say a prayer for us as well…

  10. mcitl says:

    Rev Fr Donat –

    Please email me at

    mcitl.blogspot.com@gmail.com and I can put you in touch with some black vestments.

    Pax tecum,

  11. Phil says:

    I agree that turning the altar around was a bad thing. But that only affects us internally, within the church building. I think it was worse when the rule against eating meat on Friday was abolished. Eating fish was a visible reminder to our non-catholic friends that we were different from them. It happens externally, in the world. All your friends knew you were catholic because you had to discuss what restaurant to visit on Friday evening, and sometimes there might be some discussion about what it means to be catholic. And it created a shared bond with other catholic people.

  12. Paolo says:

    What happens if a priest celebrates a mass ad orientem, and his own bishop explicitly tells him not to? What should he do? Be obedient to his bishop, or do what he knows is permitted and disobey his bishop?

  13. TJM says:

    Paolo, perhaps suggest that he and the bishop sit down and review the rubrics together? I think the bishop might just be embarrassed and drop
    his objections. Tom

  14. Paolo,

    Can a bishop order a priest to give Communion only in the hand? Would a priest be disobedient in any way if he delivered Communion on the tongue for someone who presents themselves that way for Communion?

    In the same way, I don’t believe a priest would be disobedient to celebrate ad orientem, even if a bishop, through ignorance, ordered him not to.

  15. To the priest who sent this question to Fr. Zuhlsdorf:

    I hope and pray that you will find the intellectual, spiritual and moral strength to begin saying Mass ad orientem. It is certain that all three kinds of strength shall be necessary. In praying the Mass ad orientem, you will learn to think the Mass differently; the Mass, when you pray it ad orientem, will become more like itself (I almost said \”something different,\” but the point is precisely the opposite, no?); Fr. Zuhlsdorf has already discussed the possible (likely?) reaction of your chancery, and so you shall require the moral strength to withstand eventual resistance. In fine, you shall find your intellectual, spiritual and moral powers all taxed at once in the performance of the task that your use of the adverb, \”publicly\” entails: explaining to the congregation of the faithful in your charge the reasons for the change. God be with you.

  16. To the priest that has worries: I say go for it. As a lay person, I’m encouraged when Masses are offered ad orientem. The adivce that has been given is great. I think even you can just do it, and explain in a homily why you’re offering Mass that way :)

  17. Lucas says:

    John I think you should really read “The Reform of the Roman Liturgy: It’s Problems and It’s Background” by Monsignor Klaus Gamber who was a personal friend of Cardinal Ratzinger. He goes very in depth about the whole Ad Orientem issue and he says that that change was indeed the single factor that lead the greatest detriment of the Catholic Liturgy.

  18. Jerry says:

    Paolo asked: “What happens if a priest celebrates a mass ad orientem, and his own bishop explicitly tells him not to? What should he do? Be obedient to his bishop, or do what he knows is permitted and disobey his bishop?”

    Obey. He may appeal the decision to the bishop, and escalate it beyond him if necessary. But until the orders are changed he must obey.

    On Nov. 11, 1924, in St. Faustina’s Diary, para. 0534, Jesus said: “I have come to do My Father’s will. I obeyed My parents, I obeyed My tormentors and now I obey the priests.” In Mar.1936, [para. 0639], Jesus said: “My daughter, I desire that even in the smallest things, you rely on your confessor. Your greatest sacrifices do not please Me if you practice them without the confessor’s permission; on the other hand, the smallest sacrifice finds great value in My eyes, … On Jan. 22, 1937 in St. Faustina’s Diary, [para. 0894], Jesus said: “My daughter, know that you give Me greater glory by a single act of obedience than by longer prayers and mortifications.”


  19. PNP, OP says:

    In general, the rule of thumb on obedience is: compliance first, protestation later. In my experience, orthodox priests follow this rule; dissidents priests do not. For some, the protest is the point. In the case of celebrating Mass ad orientem, a bishop most certainly can order a priest to celebrate ad populorum. Whether this order jives with canon and liturgical law is important in theory but dangerous for a priest to test. Much like celebrating the E.F. in a diocese where the bishop is hostile to it, it makes little practical difference that the Holy Father has given the priest all the permission he needs to move forward. If he is willing to risk reassignment to St. Bubba’s by the Gully he can appeal his bishop’s decision to Rome. For religious priests in provinces with superiors hostile to the E.F. the danger is even greater. A bishop may be not able to move the offending pastor due to personnel shortages or the popularity of the priest. In religious communities he can be exiled most anywhere and ordered into almost any sort of ministry. There is also the very real possibility of being ostracized by his community. Having the right to do X is very different from having the freedom to do X. Fr. Philip, OP

  20. English Pastor says:

    If this helps, I have celebrated ad orientem for over two years. I began by celebrating it for Christmas and its ‘octave’, then again at Easter and for the whole Easter Season. Each time I wore an embroidered old chasuable of Christ the King to aid the beauty of the experience for the people. After the Easter I wrote a few articles in the Newsletter on the significance of facing East, and noted that graveyards still bury facing the East, all of which helped people to see this was not a ‘turning away’ but a ‘turning to. I then polled the parish on their preference (not, perhaps, a wise move) but discovered that one third perfered ad orientem; one third preferred versus populorum and the remainded had no preference. I therefore intoruduced it quoting the rubrics which actually state (facing the altar…facing the people…). I would encourage this move, though there does come not a little opposition, most often passively such as Extraorinary ministers retiring, but all is worth it. It may not have helped that at the same time I ended the purification of the vessels by the laity and began to distibute the Host myself, but I had been with this parish only one year and had moved them bit by bit to this point. We now have a sung Sanctus, Pater Noster and Agnus at our principal weekend Mass. I would add that after a while of ad orientem one has a period of feeling isolated from the people, but this resolves, especially when one begins to celebrate the Extraordinary Form (which we have done every Sunday since Septemeber 2007) when one re-learns how to focus on the mystery of the Mass itself. I hope this helps.

  21. richard says:

    I think the answer is, if you are obliged to choose between obedience to the bishop and obedience to the pope, you choose the latter.

  22. Michael UK says:

    At The Holy Name [Manchester UK], a magnificent ex-Jesuit church at one time destined to be a conference centre – only to be saved by Fr. Ray Matus an Oratory priest, Celebrates a TLM each Sunday on the High Altar. During the week, daily Confessions and Exposition, but both an early morning and evening an N.O. Mass are Celebrated, ad orientem, at one of the side altars. Also with very good attendance. Check The Holy Name Manchester web-site – excellent photography.

    St. Mary and St. John Southworth [1690, 1818], one of several post-emancipation churches in the area, Celebrated the TLM on a Sunday once a month. One feast day I attended an N.O. Mass and found the priest celebrating ad orientem. Interestingly, at the TLM the majority of his congregation were parishioners and not LMS travellers. Further, the whole parish appeared to be acclimatised to the N.O. Mass so celebrated, in accordance with the rubrics and none of the accretions found in many churches. Naturally Communion rails and kneeling, et al. The priest no longer provides the TLM due to health reasons coupled to the pressure occasioned by church closures and amalgamations in the Salord Diocese (18 No. closures). One sermon described how the priest had struggled with the introduction of the N.O. and saw it as a matter of obedience to his bishop.

  23. PNP, OP says:

    Richard, oddly that seems right; however, at ordination a priest promises to obey his ordinary. I suppose he can hope and pray that the bishop is obedient to the Holy Father. Fr. Philip

  24. Sylvia says:

    Priests are extensions of their bishops. Priests exist because the bishop cannot provide for all the spiritual needs of his diocese in person. That’s why priests have such a humble and difficult position. They must comply with their bishop or superior while at the same time recognizing their dignity as being in persona Christi. I too think it would be better for all priests and bishops to celebrate Mass ad orientem. However, if they choose, even when no command exists, not to do so in order to comply with the wishes of their bishop, we should not despise them. Like Fr. PNP pointed out, it’s a prudential decision.

  25. Jerry says:

    Richard commented: “I think the answer is, if you are obliged to choose between obedience to the bishop and obedience to the pope, you choose the latter.”

    This isn’t a situation where the priest has conflicting obligations. The “pope” (actually the Church rules) permits a priest to celebrate the Holy Mass ad orientem; there is no direction to do so. A bishop who orders a priest not to celebrate the Holy Mass ad orientem is restricting the freedom of the priest, not directing him to act contrary to an order or obligation from a higher authority.

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