Papal ad orientem alert!

On Sunday, 11 January, His Holiness will say Mass and confer baptism in the Sistine Chapel for the feast of the Baptism of the Lord.

I suspect this will be, again, ad orientem.

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  1. This is great! I hope even more Ad Orientem will be celebrated outside the Papal Basilica’s

  2. JR says:

    C’mon Fanon! Any rumors out there as to when we might see this thing again?

  3. St. Rafael says:

    When is the Holy Father going to make Ad Orientem permanent?

    It does’t help that most priests never have done it or have a clue about it. It’s time the Holy Father give the message that any priest can celebrate Ad Orientem and that Versus Populum should cease to be celebrated.

  4. Michael says:


    While it is true that it would be ideal to provide that “any priest can celebrate Ad Orientem and that Versus Populum should cease to be celebrated”, in reality it is not possible because it would involve yet another reconstruction of many churches, and probably a liturgical war.

    In his book The Spirit of the Liturgy he makes it clear that the present custom is a mistake (pp 77,78), and that “a common turning to the east during the Eucharistic Prayer…is not something accidental, but of what is essential” (81). But then he says (83): “Where a direct turning toward the east is not possible, the cross can serve as the interior east of the faith”, and “it should stand in the middle of the altar.”

    He doesn’t seem to favour the Liturgy of the Word ad orientem (81).

    And he is definitely against revolution: “Ought we really to be rearranging everything all over again? Nothing is more harmful to the liturgy than a constant activism, even if it seems to be for the sake of genuine renewal” (83).

    My comment. The English translation was published 1999, no information of the year of German original. The publishers might have omited it deliberately. He probably wrote at the time when the EF wasn’t in his domain; so, this should be applicable, I think, to the OF only.

  5. Should we be rearranging everything all over again ?

    Well, yes, (especially since Summorum Pontificum) if an altar has been positioned so as to preclude the possibilty of celebrating ad orientem, then the only thing to do is move it.

  6. Hoka2_99 says:

    Exactly! And in my parish church that shouldn’t be difficult, as the altar is made of wood and is hollow. Where are the relics? Hmmm!

    Most people I know don’t know the difference between the Ordinary Roman Rite and the Extraordinary Roman Rite, don’t want to and the parish priest is certainly not going to catechise during the homily.

    Offer it up! Offer it up!

  7. St. Rafael says:

    The Church shouldn’t celebrate Ad Orientem permanently because It causes too much trouble?

    Let me get this straight, there was a liturgical revolution not called for by Vatican II and versus Populum was instituted as an abuse, yet we shouldn’t get rid of this bad practice because it is too much trouble to change the Modernist and pagan architecture? I want to vomit.

    In order to keep the peace the hierarchy doesn’t feel it should undue unwise changes like Versus Populum. Well that is too bad for all the people who will continue to loose the Catholic faith because of all the liturgical abuse. Too bad for this poor people who have never experienced vertical sacred Catholic worship.

    It’s just much trouble to expect Catholic architecture with fixed marble altars. It’s better to let the priets continue to use picnic tables. That way there is peace and the hierarchy in the Vatican can continue to sleep peacefully at night.

  8. Padre Steve says:

    Fr. Z, I am sure you heard this already, but here is the AP story on possible changes to the placement of the sign of peace:

  9. Larry says:

    I know this will set off a fire-storm but, think about it. This post is so that we are alerted to the Pope who may (likely will) celebrate Mass ad Orientem. I know what this is all about so please spare me the lecture. My point is this God is worshipped because of WHO is on the altar; not by the direction the priest is facing. If this were not true then probably 50% or more of our Masses would be ineffective and that is heresy. It may be nice that the Pope celebrates facing the Crucifix; but, it is not the Symbol of The Sacrifice that we offer The Sacrifice to; it is the Trinity Who is present precisely because whereever one of the Persons is present All are present. That Presence is on the altar not behind or in front of it. If I am incorrect I am open to correction from lawful authority.

  10. Papist says:

    A fine steak and a hotdog are both food. They both give nourishment. Which do you prefer? see a pattern here?

  11. Larry says:

    I fail to see the comparison. In the OF and the EF we are offering the same Christ. We may do so in a more solemn manner at times or in the briefest possible manner on a battle field or prison camp; but, it is the same Sacrifice, the same Victim, the same Priest and the same God to Whom the Sacrifice is offered.

    I do feel (note feelings here) that on certain occasions it seems better for the priest celebrating the Mass to be facing in the same direction as the people. Days like the World Day of Peace would be one because we are asking very clearly that God bestow His gift of peace on the world. There are other times as well; but, even if we are on all four sides of the altar, as at St. Peter’s Basilica, we are still offering ourselves with Jesus to the Father through the Holy Spirit.

    It is not eating and drinking that makes it the Kingdom but rather The Presence.

  12. St. Rafael says:


    While it is the same sacrifice, the two positions convey two different radical messages.

    Ad Oriemtem conveys vertical worship. Everyone is turning towards God. The sacrifice is understood. The sacrifice can been seen by the faithful as the priest does it towards God and he is seen as the high priest that he is supposed to be.

    Versus Populum or towards the people, conveys a flat horizontal worship. It looks like a Communal meal. The direction of the priest puts the focus on the people present. It focuses on the community and not the sarifice. The sacrifice is obscured. It is also a Protestant innovation. It gives the feel of a Protestant service.

    This can be proven by the fact that many Catholics do not even know that the Mass is a sacrifice. Their concern is all about their feelings at Mass. Many believe the Mass is only as good as the emotionalism that they can get from it.

    Most Catholics don’t seem to like it because for decades over two-thirds of all Catholics never even go to Mass.

  13. Larry: I think where you stumble in this is the reduction of the rites of Mass to the valid consecration of the Eucharistic species.

  14. Larry: If this were not true then probably 50% or more of our Masses would be ineffective and that is heresy.

    It seems entirely possible that 50% of our Masses are less effective than they ought to or might be. It is long-established Catholic doctrine that two different Masses can be differently effective as channels of grace — depending on all sorts of “accidentals” including the manner of celebration and the receptivity of the congregants to the grace they make available. Indeed, the latter may be greatly affected by the former.

  15. “Ought we really to be rearranging everything all over again? Nothing is more harmful to the liturgy than a constant activism, even if it seems to be for the sake of genuine renewal”

    In one perspective, I agree, the liturgy needs some sense of permanence. However, a lot of water had gone under the bridge since then, and the Cardinal who said those words is now the Pope. I would take another perspective given his more recent ideas of a hermaneutic of continuity. Going back to a more widespread ad orientem worship is not not a chaotic re-arranging again, but a return to the traditional practice or a correction of a poorly thought out divergence.

    I also think that with things like this, the sooner the better. Rather than have this the expectation of more and more generations, we should undo the damage sooner than later. No matter when a change occurs there will be an awkward stage. I’d rather get that out of the way sooner than later. But, I would also venture to guess the Pope has a bit more prudence than I do, so I’ll follow his lead.

    Thankfully, though, his doing it (even if on rare occasions) is a signal that ad orientem is completely legit.

  16. Mark G. says:

    I’m delighted that the pope is taking the initiative to practice what he preaches, so to speak. I hope we will see more of this as time passes. I think he has done a masterful job of reintroducing genuine Catholic practices in a measured way that teach people why the Church prefers things done a certain way, rather than just imposing it. His goal is conversion of hearts, and he understands that liturgical practices form & inform the faithful. His papacy has been a wonderful gift from God!

    In all charity, I wish to comment on what I see as people dividing up things by their various aspects instead of taking them as a whole, thus…

    To Larry: the bread & wine become the Body of Lord Jesus exactly so that we may take & eat, take & drink, not primarily to be put in a monstrance or locked away in the tabernacle. It is by eating & drinking the Body and Blood of the Lord that we become more the Body of Christ. Certainly, Adoration is a glorious thing & doesn’t happen nearly enough, but the primary vehicle of Eucharistic grace comes by way of eating & drinking. This is how the Kingdom truly comes.

    To Raphael: the Eucharist is not only a sacrifice or only a communal meal – it is a sacrificial meal. It encompasses the entire Pascal Mystery from the Last Supper to the Ascension, with the Cross standing at the center. As stated before, the primary grace of the Sacrament – St. Thomas’ Res – is the unity of the Body of Christ. Me with you. You with me. Both of us first & only in God. The sacrament is inherently communal as Jesus instituted it. St. John’s Gospel doesn’t record the Institution narrative on the night before Jesus’ arrest, but instead recalls Jesus’ massive prayer for unity, from chapters 13 through 18. You are correct that the sacrificial aspect of the Eucharist is often downplayed, and that can’t be healthy for people’s faith. You are also correct that the communal aspect is often overplayed. That said, it is an error to deny either the sacrificial or communal aspect.

  17. Larry says:

    Fr. Z,
    On the contrary Father while it is quite true that our disposition and preparation are essential for us to receive all the graces we are capable of receiving and it is essential that we also bring for the sacrifice valid matter i.e. bread and wine it is only after the valid consecration by an ordained priest that our “matter” becomes the “acceptable sacrifice” namely the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Only then may we be said to be offering the Perfect Sacrifice. How God receives that Sacrifice we know for He is the Son. How God receives our part in the Sacrifice, “our active participation” if you will, is known to God and sometimes to our soul. It is the heart and intellect that we give to the worship of Almighty God.
    We also can and indeed should make every effort to make clear by our outward actions that we are committed to this act of worship. Those actions are our words and gestures and postures. If our hear and will are in conformity our worship will be more perfect. This is the essential for our recetion of the graces offered. Of course we can also offer incense, the burning candles and beautiful music and chant; but, the accidents or incidentals can be offered even without proper dispostion. Say the Black and do the Red; but, from the heart. Beyond this is His presence in His wrod proclaimed at Mass and here we get to the question fo Latin vs. the vernacular if the people are to benefit from this aspect of His presence. But His presence here is also demonstrated by the reverence with which we treat the Book containing His printeed word.

    St. Rafael,
    I believe that the term “facing the people” is perhaps the most unfortuneate expression in the Roman Missal. Because it gives the notion that that is what the priest is doing. I prefer to consider the notion of “facing the Lord” Who is present on the Altar after the Consecration. I know that Cardinal now Pope Ratzinger has spoken of this as being “closed in on itself” and that is valid; but, it can also be considered as the “huddle” before we go out to show the world who we are. The concept of vertical and horizontal it seems to me is not completely valid here. This is so because in both forms the Sacrifice is presented to God in heaven and it is Christ who “comes down” on the altar to be adored and offered and eaten.

    Mark G.

    It is of course true that the Eucharistic Lord is to be eaten and that the reserved Presence is for the sick and that we can worship Him in the Monstrnace or Tabernacle only as a side benefit to His remaining present among us. But, the idea that eating Him is the Kingdom is it seems to me invalid. The Kingdom of God is His Presence among us and that is not even reserved to the Church building proper. Of course there are different modes of Presence; but, the Church has never defined to my knowledge that the Eating of the Body and Blood of the Lord is the perfection of the Kingdom. In heaven I believe it will be precisely His Presence that perfects the Kingdom for us. Here on earth we can get no closer to this than in consuming our God as Food. In that sense yes here it is as close as we can get because His presence is in us for a time.

    Pax et Bonum

  18. St. Rafael says:


    “Facing the people” is not an unfortunate term, it is the reality. The priest is literally facing the people. He can look out and see the whole congregation.

    If the priest was really facing the Lord, he would physically be looking at the tabernacle right in front of him. He would not see any of the faithful unless he actually physically turned around to look at them. He would have to turn his whole body around.

    Ad orientem had always been the norm and there was no debate because the priest was always facing the Lord in the tabernacle before the consecration and then the Lord himself present after the Consecration. In Vesus Populum, the priest doesn’t face the Lord until he gets to the consecration.

  19. Larry says:

    St. Rafael,

    There are several points that you have made which have validity. There are also several that are historically inaccurate or are simply not verifiable.

    First off though you are correct that the priest being turned to the people, if he looks up, sees the people. This does not though preclude him from praying for the most part with hsi eyes focused on the altar, a symbol of Christ, or as Pope Benedict has suggested a crucifix to remind him of what this Sacrifice is all about. N.B. I am not suggesting that the offering is made either to the crucifix nor even to Christ. Rather he is offering Christ to the Father. As to prayer facing the Tabernacle the same would be true except here he is facing That which he is about to Confect. Historically this has been viewed by Liturgists as a problem. Too little space to explore that here. You also make the claim that this ad orientem posture has always been the case, and you go further that the Tabernacle was always there. Actually the Tabernacle was never present on the altar in the early Church and indeed for some time the reservation of the Sacrament was not in the Sanctuary at all for safety reasons. Later various vessels were tried including a dove shaped vessel suspended above the altar. Also in most Cathedrals reservation was not on the Main Altar. As to actual orientation of the celebrant we are basing most of that on remnants of destoyed church structures which have an altar standing away from the wall. Card. Ratzinger also cites the practice of a cross etched in that wall and since it was normally the eastern wall concludes that was the direction of worship, because of actual texts in which the Deacon informs the laity to face eastward. It is a safe bet that if the laity were told to face east then the celebrating priest faced east as well. The rubrics in later missals give us a clear indication because the priest is instructed to turn to the people saying “Dominus vobiscum” at the Collect and at the “Orate frates” So it is a safe bet the ad orientem has been the norm at least from the Council of Trent and probably going back to Pope St. Gregory the Great or beyond.

    But my orignal point is that the GIRM and even the new one makes clear a desire to celebrate facing the people. Perhaps in his adjustments to the Missal Pope Benedict will simply remove that one sentence, and the option of celbrating ad orientem wll gain some traction. Until then I am encouraged that many more priests are spending less time looking at me adn more time looking at the Missal and the Blessed Sacrament after they have confected It.

    Pax et Bonum

  20. Michael says:

    “In Vesus Populum, the priest doesn’t face the Lord until he gets to the consecration”

    Not only that, but, if the tabernacle is behind him, the priest turns back to the Lord. Furthermore, the dichotomy which the present arrangement creates between the “spare” Lord and “active” Lord makes nonsense of the doctrine of the Abiding Presence, which reaches its culmination when the priest genuflects with his back to the tabernacle.

    “As to prayer facing the Tabernacle the same would be true except here he is facing That which he is about to Confect. Historically this has been viewed by Liturgists as a problem. Too little space to explore that here.”

    I don’t think so. “That which he is about to Confect” is already in the tabernacle. The newly consecrated Species are not an addition to what is in the tabernacle but are assumed to It. All the “blessed sacraments” in the world are constitutive of St. Paul’s Loaf – the Sign of Unity, Emanuel, “I am with you until the end of the world”, the Blessed Sacrament.

    That is the reason why the tabernacle should be on the altar, or at least that, if it is behind, the priest faces it all the time.

    What I have said logically follows from the fact that the Lord is fully and abidingly present in each particle of the Host, in each Host, in all Hosts in a pyx, in all pyxes, as well as in newly consecrated Hosts, and in all “blessed sacraments”, and – in each of all these. Each is the Lord, but any multiplicity of them is not the “Lords” but the one Lord.

    The OF has made a complete mess of this.

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