A CALL TO PRIESTS who implemented ad orientem worship

Here is a call to priests who have implemented ad orientem worship in their parishes.

The renowned liturgical scholar Fr. Klaus Gamber – who influenced also the liturgical theology of Joseph Ratzinger – thought that perhaps more than any other change after the Council, the turned around versus populum Mass did the greatest damage.

His Holiness Pope Benedict has for years developed a liturgical theological view of Holy Mass ad orientem versus, turned to the liturgical (not necessarily geographical) East.  WDTPRS has presented his thought many times in entries and PODCAzTs (for example here and here and here).

I found this interesting "pastor’s page" on the site Printed As Preached, by a Fr. Cávana Wallace in San Diego.  Also, I was recently at a parish where ad orientem worship has been gently implemented on occasion in what was a real "AmChurch" style parish.  It seems to be working well!

Brick by brick.

This got me thinking.

From time to time I have reported on WDTPRS about priests who have implemented ad orientem worship in their parishes.  They have generally started some catechesis beforehand.  They have had successes.  They have had problems. 

There are always bound to be people who don’t like something, no matter what it is that is done in a parish.  They complain to the bishop or try to rouse people up against the priest (perhaps forgetting to be grateful that their parish has a priest).

I suggest that ONLY PRIESTS who have implemented ad orientem worship in their parishes, occasional or frequent or exclusive, share here their experiences… the obstacles and positives, the complaints and the kudos, together with the practical details of what they have done and what happened afterward.

I hesitate to leave the combox open on this. No matter how many times I say that I want to hear from priests, the whole world will start posting.  Thus, I ask the Reverend Fathers to e-mail me with their comments, which I was post for them.  You can request anonymity, of course. 

I would like to get some meaty, focused information here, including practical tips and strategies for implementing ad orientem worship.

Once I get some offerings from priests, then I can open the combox for priests to discuss what the priests posted… if you get my drift.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. From a priest reader (edited):

    In my last parish […] I implemented ad orientem worship during my last Advent and Lent (I did not know that it would be my last nor was it the reason). I did this only on weekdays and any holy days that happened to fall during the week as well. I was emboldened to do it after the election of Benedict XVI. I had read Guardini, Gamber and Ratzinger on the subject so was intellectually convinced that they were correct. In addition to my first four years as pastor and the liturgical beauty that I offered to the community (do the red and read say the black) as well as the Benedictine influence on all things I gave a few weeks of catechesis at the homily for what I would begin the first Monday of Advent. It was very well received and is now certainly my preference. In the new parish I have implemented the Benedictine altar arrangement from the start but have not yet offered the ad orientem. However I have offered the EF (over 100 people!) on one occasion and my excellent associate offered ad orientem at the conclusion of a Chant Seminar in […] at the regular Saturday anticipated Mass. We intend to begin at daily masses this Advent with a catechetical preparation during the preceding homilies.

  2. From a priest reader (reposted with permission):

    I wondered if I should even write in response to your invitation since I suspect that you will probably not share its content with your readers but in the end I decided to proceed in the hope that you will give it a fair reception and publish it. I am a priest in canonically good standing in the in the faith community that I was ordained to serve and I am also a chaplain to our local chapter of Dignity USA-a national Catholic LGBT group. As you can imagine, Dignity tends to be at the margins of the Church and, as often happens with such groups, is constantly at risk of being pulled out of the gravitational pull of Rome and sucked into the orbit of other ecclesiastic bodies. I’m sure it would not surprise you to know that some chapters have women presiders and others have Protestant or independent Orthodox or Catholic ones. Our chapter, however, made the decision several years ago to only invite Roman priests to celebrate the Holy Mass. More recently, I have spear headed an attempt to not only have Roman priests as celebrants but also to only have the Roman Rite, i.e., to not deviate from the Church’s approved liturgical worship. This decision has resulted in a rebirth of licit and traditional celebrations. Six moths ago we moved to implement the Benedictine altar arrangement, to start using Latin Mass parts more frequently, to encourage kneeling at the customary Mass moments, and this past Lent, two Holy Masses were celebrated Ad Orientem, including the liturgy of Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. Most of the members of Dignity tend to be on the very liberal side but to my surprise (and relief) criticism has been very minor and some have positively welcomed the more solemn and spiritual celebration. Of course, we are using the OF of the Rite and there has been catechesis (I’m in indebted in large measure in this to some of the columns written by your “nemesis” Fr. D. L. on the subject) as to why the Ad Orientem posture is just as legitimate (and possibly preferable) to the Ad Populum one but again I have been happily surprised by the response. I think the primary motive in my writing is just to let other priests know that if ad Orientem worship can be implemented in what is a very otherwise progressive environment that they should not hesitate to at least make the attempt if at all possible. Of course, I’m not suggesting that success will be guaranteed in every forum but for the sake of renewing the traditional spirituality and liturgical life of the Church and contributing a possible brick to build up the reform of the reform, I would definite ly encourage the attempt.

  3. From a priest reader:

    In response to your desire for us who have implemented ad orientem worship in our parishes, I will share my experience with you. I began ad orientem worship in the Lady Chapel of our church for weekday Masses about a year ago. I have retained it there since then, and I have found it to be a great improvement. I have not implemented it in the church, however, although I have started the “Benedictine” arrangement there with the Easter Vigil. BTW, as a Benedictine myself, I have no idea where said arrangement came from, unless Benedictine refers to the Pope, rather than our order.

    Indeed, “Benedictine” arrangement refers to Pope Benedict.

  4. From a priest friend:

    Dear Fr. Z.,
    As you may remember, I had the altar moved from the impossible front edge of the sanctuary back just enough so there is room to maneuver on both sides.
    Since then we have been doing Benediction ad orientem, which makes much more sense. 
    This year we tried the Good Friday liturgy intercessions and communion rite ad orientem, and it seemed to go well.  I have not heard any negative repercussions, but then I’m always the last to know.
    We sure get scrupulous about “facing the people.”  EVERYTHING has to be FACING THE PEOPLE, even if it looks silly blessing people from behind what has come to resemble a desk (kneehole or solid) or table (exactly the opposite of what experts say you should do when people come to visit your office).  When the priest kneels for adoration, all the people can see is somebody’s head floating above the altar (of course in the Spirit of Vatican II, we don’t do Benediction anymore because it’s like something out of the French court of the sun-king, right?).  Or if standing, all they see is half a man.  Or sitting in a chair FACING THE PEOPLE, the priest looks (and grins?) at the people while they’re supposed to look at the lector.  Shouldn’t the priest face the reading of the Word of God too?  I’m surprised we don’t walk in backwards down the aisle or sideways from the sacristy, bend over backwards and whatever else to maintain FACING THE PEOPLE at all costs. 
    Altars are moved forward so the priest can be “closer to the people,”  but when the altar comes between priest and people, I think there is a tremendously greater distance that can’t be made up for. 
    Maybe the real problem is that we don’t trust the people.  Is it that we feel too vulnerable with our backs to them?  Aren’t we supposed to be vulnerable men?  If Alan Alda were a priest, which way would he face?  Or did all that go out with the 70’s?
    I was in grade school during the fifties.  When Sister led us in prayer in class, we all faced the crucifix or Mary’s statue, including Sister.


  5. DavidAH says:

    This past Holy Week I celebrated the entire Triduum ad Orientem – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Vigil, and two Masses on Easter. Previous to this I had celebrated ad Orientem just a couple of times. I debated about explaining this repositioning, and then opted to simply do it. I received no adverse comments, but rather received encouragement from a few, including a couple of high school students. I wonder though if the congregation really noticed the difference. Celebrating the Liturgy ad Orientem was irenic. I had this feeling of relief. I found myself undistracted and better focused, and felt intense liturgicalness (if liturgicalness can be a sensation). I had the sense that this was the proper stance. Reflecting later and in conversation with someone it came to me that because it was the right thing to do, it, in and of itself, was the best explanation that I could have made. It was experienced and the moment became the instrument of grace. The congregation I believe, if I would have asked them to express verbally the rightness or logic of what I had done would probably have been at a loss of words and perhaps even logic. They got it. They understood, with no word necessary or capable. One previous time I had celebrated ad Orientem, was last summer for my 25th Ordination anniversary. After Mass my Godfather told me that this was the first time in so many years that he had felt that he had been at Mass, and that Mass did not leave him disappointed or angry.

  6. mpm says:

    I would just like to encourage the priest-chaplain of that Dignity chapter. I get
    a bit of an impression that he thinks we who frequent this blog wouldn’t approve of what
    he is doing, but I for one, will be keeping him in my prayers.

  7. JBS says:

    To offer the perspective of a parochial vicar (seven years ordained), I am adopting the common orientation for the canon once each week, and always on a weekday. Frankly, this change has been suprisingly uneventful. I provided only one ferial homily addressing the matter. This is not a traditional parish, although there are several sympathetic and liturgically well-educated faithful here. The previous Parish Priest had a hard time here when he introduced the Latin Sanctus and Agnus Dei for all Masses, if that gives you an idea of the parish culture. I do hope other assistants will fill free to adopt this ancient practice, while finding a respectful balance between their desire to do so and a resistant Parish Priest’s authority. Oh, I should mention the minor matter of having to move the potted plants from in front of the altar each week. During Lent, it was a mound of canned goods for the poor.

  8. From a priest reader (edited):

    I was ordained for the diocese of ___ in ___. In my previous parish I started celebrating Mass ad orientem, then later on, I became the pastor of ___ that only offers the Traditional Latin Mass. It took a couple of years for people to get used to the idea of not seeing my face during the liturgy of the Eucharist. Then, I took a sabbatical year. I came back to another parish as an associate pastor. It has been two years since I came to this parish. My bishop knew of my personal preferences with regards to the Mass. So, when I came back from my sabbatical, he told me that he wanted me to say the Novus ordo Mass in Latin and ad orientem, plus the extraordinary form of the Mass. So, I started say the New Mass ad orientem, I got rid of all the Eucharistic Ministers, trained a few altar servers, explained to the people a few times the reasons for me to say Mass ad orientem, and why it was important for only me to distribute holy communion by myself. They understood. But the thing is that it was so difficult for me to see Sunday after Sunday EM’s (Eucharistic Ministers) dropping the Most precious Blood of our Lord to the floor. So, I stopped distributing Communion under both species. Later on, I decided to only distribute holy communion on the tongue. This was so because every Monday morning, when the janitor comes to clean the church, he would always find hosts in between the pews, or outside in front of the church. For now I know that it has become so difficult for me to say Mass facing the people. I simply can’t. It does not make any sense. And I really hope and pray that the Holy Father would some day simply say that Mass should be said that way everywhere. So, I have not had any major complaints. It all depends on good preaching and a good holy life on our part as priests.

  9. From a priest reader:

    CañizaresI have celebrated ad orientem in our Daily Mass Chapel for 2 years and in the Church at Christmas and Holy Week/Easter for the past 2 years. The first reaction from people was one of an overwhelming emotional connection with the action of the Mass. For senior citizens, it was a somewhat initial nostalgic return to the faith of their childhood, which was understandable as an initial response. The only questioning concern I ever received was from one person who said “I can’t see what you are doing.” My response was why do you have to see what I do? Isn’t it about what the Lord is doing in our midst?

    I gave an initial catechesis and explanation and now the people appear comfortable in celebrating the Novus Ordo either ad orientem or facing the people. For myself, celebrating ad orientem allows me to be more prayerful without seeing what exit sign bulbs need replacing or how many children are lining up at the washroom door. Ad orientem allows ME to pray more intensely and thus to lead the people in our prayer with more depth.

    I encourage every priest to try it. It’s very easy. Just follow the rubrics in the Sacramentary and turn toward the people (Pray Brethren…This is the Lamb of God…) as the original instructions issued after Vatican II indicate right in the Sacramentary text. The rubrics are printed in RED. When you then are not turned toward the people, you turn back toward the altar. The path was always there right before your eyes from the very beginning the Mass went vernacular.


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