QUAERITUR: how to celebrate Novus Ordo Masses “ad orientem”

From a priest reader:

I am a priest in my 60’s I remember serving the Tridentine mass. I am interested in celebrating mass ad orientem but I was wondering how. I have some questions.

1.    At the beginning of the mass do you face the people with the dialogue, “The Lord be with you.” And the penitential rite.  What about “The Lord be with you.” at the other times do you face the people then?
2.    What about the readings, are they done in the usual way.
3.    Again what about the dialogue prior to the Preface. Do you turn towards the people?
4.     Do you celebrate mass in a low or loud tone of voice so that everyone can hear you.

Each Memorial day we have a beautiful altar at our cemetery, and we set up this rickety old card table. I would prefer to say mass at the altar but I would have to do so ad orientem.

Thanks for the questions.

I recommend that, if you begin at the "chair" rather than directly at the altar (as of old) you might face toward the liturgical "north" for the open dialogue, perhaps with a slight turn to the congregation for the "Dominus vobiscum" and turn to the altar for the Collect.

If another person is doing the first reading, etc. sit.  Do the Gospel from the ambo.  In other words, they are done in the usual way.

At the altar do everything ad orientem turning to the congregation for the "Orate fratres" and the "Ecce Agnus Dei" and the final blessing, etc.  Don’t turn to the people for the Preface dialogue.  Don’t turn around with the host or chalice at the consecration.  Just elevate them still facing ad orientem.

In the Novus Ordo the Canon or Eucharistic Prayer is to be said aloud.  Simply use the level of voice indicated in the rubrics.

I applaud your desire to celebrate Mass ad orientem!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    The penitential rite only existed since Vat 2’s novus ordo, I believe. It was always the mass of the catechumens. This dreaful mistake has lead so many to believe their sins are forgiven and they can proceed to receive The Divine Sacrifice of the Mass. I shudder each time I hear the I confess is an act of contrition we have foirgotten and are taught rather deliberately that confession is now contrition and all contains a firm purpose of amendment. I do not think so and neither should any catholic umless he or she has descended down from tepidness to minimalism

  2. fr.franklyn mcafee says:

    Just follow the rubrics which presume a celebration ad orientem.Besides what Fr.Z states one should also turn to the congrgation for the Pax Domini and the invitation the exchange the kiss of peace (if you so opt for the sign of peace).Dont be swayed by the people who complain.If there is sufficient catechesis beforehand most will accept it and prefer it.At one parish I announced I would be celebrating mass ad orientem and one person,a convert,vigorously objected.Later that week he attended a businessman’s prayer gathering where the prayer leader invited all to faCE the crucifix and pray.Then it dawned on the man why I wanted the assembly at Mass to face the same direction together.

  3. TJM says:

    Funny, Father McAfee, how it took an essentially secular setting for your parishioner to get it. Tom

  4. Thomas says:

    Good luck to this priest. I can already hear the historically uninformed, half-baked theological complaints from the “Church as social service” crowd that he will be inundated with.

  5. Alex says:

    Lets us pray for Fr as he prepares for this transition and let us pray for priests who want to do the same and are afraid.

  6. Good for you, Father. Turning toward the east will be an enormous help to your congregation to orient themselves in prayer and the adoration of God.

    A good pastor I know said this to me the other day: “If we could do just three things in the Reform of the Reform, we’d have a different Church in a year. 1) Mass facing East; 2) put the tabernacle in the middle of the altar; and 3) kneeling for Communion.”

    Perhaps, Father, even if you can’t put #3 in place, you might be able to give it to the people as an option.

    If you don’t know about them already, adoremus.org is an excellent resource for articles, documents, etc., on the “Reform of the Reform.” There are a few articles on the practice of saying the Ordinary Form facing east on this page: http://adoremus.org/Posturelinks.html

  7. EJ says:

    Our former pastor now in his late 50’s always wished he could celebrate ad orientem in our parish which had an old high altar. At the time it was the mid 1990’s and he would very candidly tell me that he hoped that within ten years the liturgical climate in the Church would have advanced to the point to make that a possibility. His words were very prophetic and I’m sure if he were still our pastor, that he would be bold enough to do so now that rediscovering ad orientem is beginning to catch on more and more. We would often attend private masses in his house’s chapel, where he had an old altar where he would face ad orientem… I remember that he would relish celebrating Mass there. He would face the altar for the beginning sign of the cross, turn around versus populum for the first greeting, and face the altar once more for the Confiteor, the Kyrie and the Collect. At the intercessions he would again face the altar. Now the new pastor, a priest of the Neocathechumenal Way, no friends of liturgical tradition, has set up a ridiculous looking, nighttable sized altar in front of the older altar against the wall. Sad.

  8. Richard says:

    “I recommend that, if you begin at the “chair” rather than directly at the altar (as of old)…”

    You mean the priest can begin the Mass at another place other than the chair?

    GIRM par. 50 says: “When the Entrance chant is concluded, the priest stands at the chair and, together with the
    whole gathering, makes the Sign of the Cross.” [What if they don’t haul a bunch of furniture out to the cemetery?]

    I’ve always wondered whether this paragraph applies in all cases. For instance, most of the side altars of St. Peter’s Basilica don’t have space to put a celebrant’s chair off to the side of the altar. Masses there are celebrated at the altar from the beginning of the Mass. At what point does the priest face the people during the first part of the Mass (liturgy of the Word)? The GIRM does not give any indication.

  9. stigmatized says:

    early altars were all pretty small and square. people should not be criticized for preferring this style. the altar of sacrifice in the temple was of this size and the early liturgy was drawing upon the temple usage after the temple had ceased to be. when altars got bigger it was to accomodate the arrangement of seven candles which symbolized the seven lamps burning before the holy place in the temple…the lampstand was itself a symbol of the tree of life. it is unfortunate when priests or sacristans do not equally space the candles and cross on the altar, as the branches of the lampstand in the temple were evenly spaced. bunching up the candles in threes at the ends of the altar distorts the meaning of the symbol and makes the candles appear as decorations.

  10. Fr. Guy says:

    In my church the only altar in the sanctuary is the high altar so all the masses (ordinary and extraordinary form) are said facing east. In the ordinary form I turn to the people for the penitential rite, the orate fratres, the sign of peace, when saying the “Ecce Agnus Dei…” before Communion and the blessing. The readings are done in the usual manner from the ambo.

  11. Paul says:

    mike hurcum, you’re quite wrong, actually—the confiteor is found in the 1962 missal and was actually said twice in earlier editions of the Pian missal.

    Re: the question. I think there are quite detailed instructions, and perhaps video, floating around the internet of Fr. Fessio’s N.O. ad orientem.

  12. William says:

    Don’t the OF rubrics tell the priest to face the people for the Orate Fratres?

  13. Jake says:

    Can the readings be done in the OF by the priest at the altar like it is done in the EF?

  14. Jeff says:


    Not just the Confiteor, but the absolution afterward:

    \”Misereatur vestri omnipotens Deus et dimissis peccatis vestris perducat vos in vitam aeternam.\”

    And then,

    “Indulgentiam absolutionem et remissionem peccatorum nostrorum tribuat nobis omnipotens and misericors Dominus.”

    Rendered, that is

    “May almighty God have mercy on you and, having forgiven your sins, lead you to everlasting life\” and \”May the almighty and merciful Lord grant us total forgiveness and remission of our sins.”

  15. Joseph says:

    Jake, GIRM 58 says that “In a celebration of the Mass with the people, the readings are always proclaimed from the ambo”–so not at the altar.

    according to the GIRM 59, “the office of proclaiming the readings is, by tradition, not presidential but ministerial. Therefore the readings are proclaimed by the lector, while the Gospel is proclaimed by the deacon, or if no deacon is present, by a priest. But if no deacon or other priest is present, then the celebrating priest reads the Gospel, and too, if no other suitable (idoneus) lector is present, the celebrating priest also reads the other readings.” (My quick translation from the Latin.) So the priest cannot do the readings himself unless no suitable lector is present.

  16. Just use common sense. The priest turns to the people when he addresses or exhorts the people; he faces God with the people when addressing the divine majesty. The only exceptions are from the preface dialogue until the conclusion of the Pax since the addresses and exhortations (Dominus vobiscum, susrsum corda, agamus gratias; mysterium fidei; and praeceptis salutaribus moniti) at these times are meant to arouse greater focus on Christ proximately about to be and then actually present upon the altar.

  17. Mitchell NY says:

    I hope your experience with the ad orientem posture is positve Father and that perhaps you will become a model parish for others in your area….It is nice to hear that many Priests are once again going to lead us in prayer ad orientem..It was a little odd to me at first however, but after the first year I now see but no other way…It would strike me as unusual to see ad populum as the norm…I hope this becomes a topic of discussions with your fellow Priests when discussing Mass and that you will influence others…God Bless ALL our Priests, not only for this special year dedicated to them, but always.

  18. Dan says:

    I serve my priest friend’s private mass in both ordinary and extraordinary forms of Holy Mass. When he celebrates the O.F. ad orientem at the high altar:

    1. We process in, kneel and he goes up to the altar and kisses it.
    2. He comes down and from the sedilia on the side, facing the people,
    the Itroit, Penitential Rite, Gloria, and Collect are prayed.
    3. Readings are done as usually done, from the ambo.
    4. Credo is done from the sedilia.
    5. Liturgy of the Eucharist is prayed Ad Orientem. He turns to the
    congregation for the Orate Fratres, and Ecce Agnus Dei,and of
    course for the Dominus Vobiscum. He also turns to the people for
    the dismissal. I think I got that all correct and I hope that
    this helps.

  19. JBS says:

    If ad orientem must be explained to the people, then it must be implemented. If the people were so focused on God the Father’s “happy countenance” receiving the gift “born to his Altar in Heaven by his holy Angel” that they were indifferent to the position of the poor priest, then there would be no urgency in restoring this ancient practice. The pastoral necessity for the reorientation of the priest is proven, however, precisely by the confusion this would cause among the faithful were the priest to “face East” with them. The fact of the matter is the people think the priest is speaking to them during the canon, recounting for them the events surrounding the Last Supper. We priests too often think we are indeed doing just this. The “oppositional” posture has led, in effect, to the widespread heresy of the priest and people worshiping each other (I don’t know what else to call it) during the canon. Ad orientem, therefore, is a pastoral necessity. No prior catechesis is needed for the change, since ad orientem is the catechesis. It teaches the faithful what is happening during the canon.

  20. Michael says:

    In the London Oratory the Liturgy of the Word is ad populum, from the lecterns on the left (readings) or right (the rest) sides – neither with the back to the Blessed Sacrament, but the Liturgy of the Eucharist is ad “Orientem” (ad Tabernaculum, in fact, because the apse is on the north), with the exemptions for “Pray Brethren” (no “sisters”), “Here is the Lamb…” and the final blessing. No “sign of peace”, no Communion in the hand.

    This is not new: is has been so from the very beginning of the NO.

    In the Westminster Cathedral the NO architectural monster, until recently in the middle of sanctuary, has been removed, and the Mass is now celebrated on the original altar, but still versus populum. The Blessed Sacrament in a side chapel because of the flow of visitors, fortunately however: otherwise the celebrant would have his back to the Lord. However – another monstrosity – he is still with his back to the Crucifix, which can be easily made good by ad Orientem celebration. Let’s pray and hope.

  21. I say the daily Mass in the Lady Chapel ad orientem exactly this way. After catechesis I implemented it and it is well received. Regarding the placing of the tabernacle in Westminister Cathedral, the old canon law actually forbade the reservation of the Eucharist on the high altar of cathedral and collegiate churches. That usage has much to recommend it still.

  22. Bob says:

    Fr. Z says at the end of this post that the rubrics for the OF state that the priest should say the Eucharistic prayer outloud. This is very interesting. Early this week someone raised a question about the EF low mass to me. They asked why the Eucharistic prayer is not said out loud, and furthermore suggested that it should be said out loud as Jesus spoke to his disciples at the last supper. I am assuming, because of Fr. Z’s commment at the end of the article about saying the Eucharistic prayer outloud, that it is also not said outloud at EF High masses.

    Why is this? And what would the response be to the argument posed to me earlier this week? I personally am baffled as the argument seems sound logically.

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