An “ad orientem” learning experience

From a reader:

My grandmother lives in a small town here in NJ that still has a Memorial Day ceremony and parade every year.  Yesterday, I noticed that when the young woman came up to sing the National Anthem, she turned the microphone around and sang it facing the veterans and the flag, both which were behind the podium that had been set up.  This happened twice, once at the Veterans Memorial and once at the local town cemetery.  I figured that the reason she did this was to show that it was not a performance of the National Anthem, but rather sung in remembrance and honor of our country and our fallen veterans.
This raised a thought — if the flag and veterans merit so much respect that this young woman did not perform the National Anthem to us, but rather sang it facing them, why is it so difficult for a priest to celebrate Mass ad orientem?  Obviously, Mass is not a performance, but is said in remembrance and honor of Jesus Christ, why not say it facing Him?

Good questions.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. AlexE says:

    The answer to your question is that those who protest “ad orientem” many times think it is about “us” and there are many people who are afraid or think it can’t happen.

  2. The Cobbler says:

    Made perfect sense to me the first time I heard it. Of course, that comes of not thinking that God said to do unto these little ones and tend His sheep because He somehow exists perfectly only in other people or some such shoddy theology.

  3. Childermass says:


    How long is it going to take before we see more than a small trickle of priests turn around to face the Lord?

    There must be priests out there who wish to do this—but it seems that nobody wants to ruffle any feathers.

    Father, when you visit a parish, do you usually celebrate versus populum? If so, how long do you think it will be before you can begin to turn to the Lord at these churches without much trouble?

    I confess to be disheartened by the glacial movement on this. There isn’t a single Ordinary Form Mass celebrated in my very large archdiocese (that I know of) that is celebrated toward the Lord.

    It seems like inertia has made versus populum here to stay. Churches continue to be built and renovated to encourage this orientation.

  4. FrCharles says:

    Beautiful story. Thank you, fellow reader.

    What’s odd to me is that certain options within the OF, e.g. versus populum, replacing the texts of the Mass with songs and hymns, etc., seem to have hardened into unassailable norms, to the point that–at least where I live and work–one can offer illicit matter with no trouble, but to question these things makes you some kind of lunatic or “heretic.” It’s sad, because one doesn’t want to earn these labels just from a desire to explore or experiment with the tradition.

  5. revs96 says:

    If a simple young woman (she’s probably a kid from the description) can figure it out, then why can’t a priest who is ordained by God and anointed with the Holy Spirit at his ordination? She clearly is patriotic enough to sing the anthem in a more dignified manner. Why don’t we have a greater number of reverent priests?

  6. JonM says:

    Could it be that the introduction of facing the people is a tacit de-emphasis of God, His infiniteness generally and presence in the Eucharist particularly? Perhaps, just perhaps, the Novus Ordo reforms were more about ‘us’ than ‘us worshiping God.’

  7. Fr. Thomas LaHood says:

    Whenever something needs to be performed to be present, the performers can make either the thing itself more present or themselves more present. An actor who makes himself more present than the character would be accused of being a “ham”. I’ve noticed that in the presentation of the National Anthem, it has become fashionable for the performer to make himself/herself more present than the anthem. This is done by spontaneous embellishments in the music. The raucous applause that follows indicates that the performer has successfully made himself/herself more present than the anthem. At Mass, we experience this, for example, with musicians who seek to make themselves more present than the music, either by their visual presence (next to, or in, the sanctuary facing the congregation) or by their performance (loud, microphoned voices and instruments). The problem with all of this is that performances that are meant to indicate something bigger than the people there at that time, fail to do so. Rather than being transcendent, they become all about the “here and now”, about “us.” The anthem, which is meant to make present the nation, its people, history, priciples, hopes, etc. (things that are much bigger than the here and now), can fail to do this if it primary makes present the performer and the immediate audience. “Save the Liturgy, Save the World” means that we need to be able to make present the transcendence of our lives. If we lose the transcendent we lose our ability to worship God, but we also lose our ability to understand ourselves. So, strangely enough, the more we make “us” present the more we lose ourselves in the here and now.

  8. New Sister says:

    The Holy Father tells us we must have missionary zeal. I think this applies as much within the Church as without. I know it’s hard, but we have to go into the pancake breakfasts and BBQs at our parishes and *explain* to those who are misinformed. We have to be volunteering to teach CCD, RCIA, etc.. I hear it all the time – even from Traditional people – “…Mass where the priest’s back is turned toward us”, and immediately correct,– “No, the priest is facing *with the people* toward Christ” Now I can use this wonderful little story as an example – thank you, fellow reader!

  9. Could it be that the introduction of facing the people is a tacit de-emphasis of God, His infiniteness generally and presence in the Eucharist particularly? Perhaps, just perhaps, the Novus Ordo reforms were more about ‘us’ than ‘us worshiping God.’

    I think so. I think the damage done by abandoning ad orientem has been incalculable. I’ve heard people say they actually feel insulted to have the priest “turn his back” on them at Mass. The lessons of versus populum has been that Mass is all about us, and that there’s nothing particularly special about priests. On the other hand, having the priest in the sanctuary, facing God, powerfully demonstrates his role as intercessor and his special character as one particularly chosen, ordained and fitted out for offering the Holy Sacrifice.

  10. TMA says:

    With the Novus Ordo, many high altars were replaced with movable tables. Church music reflected this in songs like “Table of Plenty.” Much emphasis in our diocesan liturgical workshops was placed on gathering around the table. In time, I started to hear whispers of a return to ad orientem. Then the language in these workshops changed to promote the return of the altar, the permanent altar. I started to see more and more churches putting in permanent altars, but they were installed so close to the top step that ad orientem worship would be very problematic. I just wonder if there is a connection. Perhaps we have priests who are interested in ad orientem, but are discouraged by the challenge of the altar placement.

  11. catholicmidwest says:

    How entirely thoughtful of that young woman to invite the crowd to join her in honoring the veterans for what they had done. I love it.

  12. Geremia says:

    In the Phoenix diocese there is one diocesan priest who moved his altar and now says both Extraordinary Form and Novus Ordo masses in Latin, ad orientem. Many parishioners protested and left, but others also came, too. It can be done.

Comments are closed.