QUAERITUR: when to turn to the people when saying Mass “ad orientem”

From a priest reader:

I have been working towards implementing some liturgical changes here, to include ad orientem since my sanctuary allows for adjusting the altar’s location to accommodate it.  What I am looking for is some rubrical aidAt what points does the priest turn towards the congregation?  I have tried googling for that but have not found anything useful. 

Also, I would like to do some sound catechesis with the parish prior to starting and wonder if you have any suggestions for good resources for that. 

As a bit of background – I went through seminary at ____ and was ordained in ’89.  As you can probably imagine, ad orientem and Extraordinary Form were never brought into the training program.

Yes, I can imagine that.

First, you can check the rubrics in the 2002 Missale Romanum. Also, compare them with TLM.

That said, at the altar the priest would turn as indicated when he addresses the congregation.  For example, he would turn to receive the gifts brought to the altar.  He would turn to say the Orate Fratres.  He would turn for the Ecce Agnus Dei and for the final blessing and dismissal.  You don’t kiss the altar when turning, as you would in the TLM.

To get up to speed on catechesis you might start by listening to some PODCAzTs (esp. #37, #43, #48, I made about the altar and ad orientem worship. 

Every priest needs to have these three resources.  If you don’t have these books, buy them now with these links:

Klaus Gamber’s The Reform of the Roman Liturgy.

Michael Lang’s Turning Towards the Lord.

Joseph Ratzinger The Spirit of the Liturgy. 

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Also, don’t forget for the OF of Holy Mass, there is The Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite by
    (Bishop, I believe) Peter Elliot. This is a pretty good (and practical, I’ve been told) guide for all
    MCs, priests and deacons to read.


  2. Jim says:

    Another great (and cheap) resource is Fr. Steadman’s “My Sunday Missal.” This simple missal has drawings showing exactly what the priest does throughout the Mass. I still have my copy; I got it when I was converted in 1961. I am sure you can find old copies on e-bay or some similar resource.

  3. Jeff Pinyan says:

    I second Bishop Elliott’s “The Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite”. He mentions, for instance, that the priest does NOT turn around during the Eucharistic Preface dialogue (just like in the E.F.).

  4. Franzjosf says:

    Would it be rubrically incorrect to start Mass, as I’ve seen in several places, at the Altar, going to the Chair after the Collect? (In the Novus Ordo, of course)

    In which case, the priest turns toward the people for the call to confession, depending upon the option,and “The Lord be with you.”

    It seems that to start at the Altar brings the proper focus to the start of Mass, in a way that starting at the Chair does not.

  5. Wm. Christopher Hoag says:

    Could the priest celebrating ad orientem osculate the altar in the OF before turning towards the west? [I don’t think so.]

    This seems to be one of those areas of ars celebrandi where the OF could be enriched by the practice of the EF. [I agree.]

  6. The GIRM instructs the priest when to turn towards the congregation. Off the top of my head I can think of a few instances and there may be others:

    …Then, facing the people and extending his hands, the priest greets the people, using one of the formulas indicated. The priest himself or some other minister may also very briefly introduce the faithful to the Mass of the day. (124)

    Upon returning to the middle of the altar, the priest, facing the people and extending and then joining his hands, invites the people to pray, saying, Orate, fraters (Pray, brethren). The people rise and make their response: Suscipiat Dominus (May the Lord accept). Then the priest, with hands extended, says the prayer over the offerings. At the end the people make the acclamation, Amen. (146)

    When the prayer is concluded, the priest genuflects, takes the host consecrated in the same Mass, and, holding it slightly raised above the paten or above the chalice, while facing the people, says, Ecce Agnus Dei (This is the Lamb of God). With the people he adds, Domine, non sum dignus (Lord, I am not worthy. (157)


  7. I have celebrated Mass in the ordinary form, ad orientem, “in private”: meaning, with seminarians, or friends, or with the Lord only.

    The ordinary Missal (aka “Sacramentary” provides an answer, you just have to look for it and realize what it’s saying.

    Take a look at the Order of Mass, “Introductory Rites” (most priests know this by heart, so I think few refer to these pages during Mass): it says, in red, the following…

    (red) Greeting
    After the entrance song, the priest and the faithful remain standing and make the sign of the cross, as the priest says:

    (black) In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

    (red) The people answer: (black) Amen.

    (red) Then the priest, facing the people, extends his hands and greats all present with one of the following…

    Next comes a “very brief” introduction of the Mass, if desired–and it seems obvious that would be “facing the people” as well.

    My point is, insofar as the rubrics specify, “face the people,” this means that if the priest is not otherwise facing the people, he is to do so at that point.

    Therefore, all one has to do is look for that simple phrase throughout the current Missal. It shows up four or five times. In my personal Missal, I have it highlighted in yellow.

    As far as the priest beginning the Mass at the altar, vs. the chair:

    The rubrics in the Missal seem clear: after reverencing the altar, “then, with the ministers, he goes to the chair.”

    That said, there are times when a priest has no one to serve Mass, and thus to hold the book for him. It seems to me a suitable solution is to have the sacramentary on the altar, and the celebrant offers the prayers from there, leaving the sacramentary in place, for use the next time.

    I’m not addressing the question of what might be a better way to do it; only what I believe is currently envisioned.

  8. Amy says:

    Thank you, FRZ, for the book recommendations. I am going to ask my pastor if he has them, and if not, but them for him.

  9. Fr. Paul says:

    Fr. Z, Thanks for this post and your comments. These points which you currently are discussing interests me greatly. Something as basic as these points should be cleared up. The point about beginning Mass at the Altar rather than the chair in the absence of Altar boys seems to originate in common sense. Fr. Paul

  10. sacerdosinaeternum says:

    The rubics of Mass in the Ordinary Form are very easy to understand. If the Institutio Generalis- the General Instruction of the Roman Missal- is read by the priest or seminarian well, he will know when he is to turn towards the people. Here’s what the Institutio Generalis says:

    First of all, it presumes that for the first part of Mass, the Liturgy of the Word (from the Entrance to the Offertory), the priest is standing at the chair (IG, 124)
    After the Prayer of the Faithful when the Offertory begins (Liturgy of the Eucharist), he goes to the altar (IG, 141)
    The first time that he turns from the altar to face the people is for the Orate Fratres (IG, 146)
    The second time that he turns from the altar to face the people is for the Pax Domini (IG, 154)
    The Third time he faces the people is for the Ecce Agnus Dei (IG, 157)
    Finally, the prayer after Holy Communion, blessing and dismissal may take place either at the chair or the altar, but from either one, the priest turns to face the people for the Oremus and again for the blessing and dismissal, (IG, 165)

  11. Garrett says:

    Why no kissing of the altar? These kind of ostensibly pointless reforms (although the cynic in me suspects they were done purposely to diminish the sense of mystery in the Mass) are what bother me most about the Novus Ordo.

    What possible legitimate reason could there be for doing away with kissing the altar, which represents Christ and is the center of the Eucharistic Sacrifice?

  12. Fr A says:

    In the forma ordinaria, the celebrant also turns to the people for the greeting, “Pax Domini…” (“The peace of the Lord…”), whether or not the Faithful are subsequently invited to exchange a sign of peace.

    To be noted also is that the celebrant does not turn to the people during the Lord’s Prayer or its opening invitation (“Let us pray to the Father…Our Father…”).

    In the case of “III. Mass at Which Only One Minister Participates” (i.e., Mass ‘without the people’, a.k.a., ‘private’ Mass), the rubrics are slightly different. Article 256 of the current General Instruction to the Roman Missal permits the celebrant to remain at the altar for the opening rites instead of going to the chair.

    256. The priest approaches the altar and, after making a profound bow along with the minister,venerates the altar with a kiss and goes to the chair. If he wishes, the priest may remain at the altar; in this case, the Missal is likewise prepared there.

    The subsequent articles make no mention of the celebrant then going to the chair for the readings, although the default of following the rubrics of Mass celebrated with the people would seem to apply (i.e., rather than him remaining at the altar during the readings)(Cf. n. 252). Going to the chair for the readings would seem to make more sense in the light of n. 260, “The readings should whenever possible be proclaimed from the ambo or a lectern.” Since most ambones or lecterns are situated facing the nave, it wouldn’t make much sense for the reader to face one direction and the celebrant to face the other, with their backs to one another. On the other hand, if this is a Mass celebrated “without the people”, n. 260 doesn’t seem to make much sense either: why proclaim the readings in the direction of an empty church/chapel?

  13. Joan Ellen says:

    Fr. Z thanks, and to your priest reader also for his intention and interest in ad orientem, and the catechesis he wishes to do beforehand. And thanks to all for the comments on this topic…which were somehow reassuring…and for which I have much gratitude.

    Some times I question some of the things I observe at a NO Mass, and the comments have clarified much.

    But, then that is what this blog seems to be good at…educating us…in and for the faith…and the clear thinking just seems to flow out…eventually!
    And thanks be to God.

  14. Fr. Z,

    You need to write a book that synthesizes your liturgical catecheses. [I need to do a lot of things!]

  15. Paul Madrid says:

    Garrett, what are you talking about? The celebrant kisses the altar at the beginning and end of Mass in the OF. Is there some other time in the EF when there are altar kisses? [Generally when the priest turns away from the altar.]

  16. Josephus muris saliensis says:

    Worth pointing out that one does NOT turn to the people for the Preface dialogue, an error I have seen among the inexperienced.

    If you need the word, initially, if you are just beginning also to celebrate in Latin, when turning for say, the pax, or the orate fratres, or the dismissal and blessing, then there is no shame in getting the deacon or a server to hold the book for you.

    Paul Madrid: there are kisses of the altar at the turn to face the people at every Dominus vobiscum, except at requiems and other masses where kisses are omitted. Please be courteous to Garrett, whose comments were perfectly accurate.

  17. TJ says:


    yes, in the E.F. the celebrant kisses the altar at several points: including as soon as he approaches it in the prayers at the foot of the altar, before the collect, before the ‘orate fratres’, before the post-communion.

    The removal of these was part of the general simplification of ritual actions which happened as part of the reform of the Missal.

  18. Wm. Christopher Hoag says:

    Everyone needs to keep in mind the Enlightenment mentality that was behind the push for ritual simplification by the Consilium which includes the suppression of the osculations. The work of the Consilium was a triumph of Rationalism.

    The Council Fathers had called for a simplification of the rituals and prayers in order to make the liturgy more accessible to the faithful. They also said that no change should be made unless the general good of the Church requires it.

    The Consilium, truly an heir to the Jansenist school in liturgy, warmly embraced the former principle of the Council while wholly ignoring the latter.

    Ignoring the ritual significance of the osculations, the Consilium erased them the Roman liturgy as they formulated their new order of Mass. Ocsulations are neither “functional” nor “readily intelligible” nor “participatory for the assembly”. They had to go!

    Here is a case where the Roman liturgy can be restored “Kiss by Kiss”.

  19. Ricky Vines says:

    Isn’t it rude for a celebrant to turn his back on his people
    to begin with? The Lord is right there in the congregation –
    the Church which is His Mystical Body? ;)

  20. quiet beginning says:

    The priest facing the altar with “his back on his people” is not (or should not be) the issue. In most of the history of the Church the unbloody Sacrifice of the Mass has been conducted with everyone, the priest included, facing eastward in prayerful expectancy towards the rising sun—i.e., away from the sin and wretchedness of this world and towards the ultimate healing of humanity that will happen at our Lord’s return. The eastward orientation is not so important as is the prayerful expectancy symbolized by the priest leading the flock away from evil and towards Christ and salvation. The essence of the matter is valid no matter in which direction—north, south, east or west—the priest faces.

  21. Ricky Vines says:

    quiet beginning: That\’s beautiful. I never thought of it that way. But wouldn\’t that be more
    appropriate for an adoration of the Blessed Sacrament where we all worship the Lord as led
    by His priest?

    Now the Mass, the Eucharistic Meal is a memorial of that Last Supper where we\’re
    all gathered together as God\’s family partaking of that Paschal Meal. But it looks like the priest
    brought his packed lunch and is eating by himself if he does not face the congregation.

  22. MAJ Tony says:

    Ricky Vines, the Mass is not merely the memorial of the Last Supper, but the unbloody re-presentation of the sacrifice at Calvary that the Last Supper prefigures. I don’t understand why it is important to you and others that the priest face the congregation. It’s no mere meal. I really don’t need to watch the priest partake like it was some luncheon.

  23. Banjo Pickin' Girl says:

    I think this last exchange shows how it might have been a bad idea to emphasize the “memorial meal” aspect of the Mass and de-emphasize the sacrifice. In some quarters the sacrificial nature has been lost completely and the emphasis is entirely in the Protestant communal meal style, resulting in the loss of belief in the Real Presence.

    Even my good faithful priest refers to “Holy Mass” rather than the “Holy Sacrifice of the Mass” as in former times.

  24. Ricky Vines says:

    Hey Benjo Pickin Girl, I think you hit the problem right there. Kudos!

    There’s a couple of images – Paschal Meal vs. Sacrifice at Calvary
    and appropriate forms for each.

    I personally prefer the latter as I unite myself in that Holy Sacrifice
    of the Lamb of God.

  25. MAJ Tony says:

    Quote:I personally prefer the latter as I unite myself in that Holy Sacrifice
    of the Lamb of God.
    Comment by Ricky Vines

    You have an unusual way of showing it. Quote:Now the Mass, the Eucharistic Meal is a memorial of that Last Supper where we’re all gathered together as God’s family partaking of that Paschal Meal.

  26. Ricky Vines says:

    MAJ. It is my personal preference because I am a private person. I like the Benedictions and Adorations. And during Mass, it is the perfect sacrifice that I can give the heavenly Father and offer myself with it as symbolized by the drop of water in the wine.

    But it does not blind me from the other realities of what the Eucharist is. Given that it is the last supper being done in the Lord’s memory, I am open to what paradigm is most appropriate – the one that is most faithful to the original paschal meal which was elevated to a new paschal meal where the Lord is the lamb.

    You may say, I am conflicted about it.

  27. Paul Madrid says:

    Thanks to all regarding the altar kissing question.

  28. Paul Madrid says:

    I am now seeing why my initial question post came off sarcastic. I was trying to express my own surprise that there were more changes between the forms than I remembered, having only attended the EF a handful of times (and unfortunately not recently). I was in no way trying to be sarcastic towards Garrett, and I apologize for the confusion this caused.

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