QUAERITUR: Where did Mass “facing the people” come from?

We should network our brain power for this.  Father’s tired.

From a reader:

I once wrote (by invitation) an article for a diocesan newspaper in which I mentioned, inter alia, that Vatican II never called for the priest to face the people, even though we have subsequently witnessed the virtual abolition of ad orientem worship.  The local bishop pulled the article before the paper went to press and wrote me a private letter of explanation in which he said:
"I am going to put this on hold because there seems to be some great lacunae with regard to ‘Mass facing the people’ as it was sometimes called, that is, the Novus Ordo.  [NB: This bishop simply assumes NO = facing the people.] I don’t understand how all of a sudden with regard to the Mass, the priests in the entire world could turn and face the people if there had not been some sort of Vatican legislation or permission granted to episcopal conferences for something which led the entire world to turn and face the people during Holy Mass.  There seems to be a lacuna in this column.  I think that without explanation this can cause grand confusion."  [On the other hand, this bishop then based his own assumptions on another assumption he never really verified.  That, in turn, became his law.]
This is indeed something I have always wondered about: how DID it happen that, almost overnight, ad orientem was thrown out and versus populum embraced?  Can educated readers out there tell me the [1] basic history, [2] the key documents, [3] the permissions, etc.?  In my opinion, versus populum is the single worst mistake that has ever been made in liturgical history, [Klaus Gamber would agree.] and so it seems very important that Catholics who are trying to "restore the sacred" should understand how this mistake could have happened in the first place.  Otherwise I think we will have nothing intelligent to say when we are given the sort of response quoted above.


There was no document that required the destruction of existing altars.  Vatican II did not required it.  There was experimentation with it during the Liturgical Movement, often by those with protestantizing tendencies.  The scholarship in those years which was advanced in support of Mass "facing the people" as an "ancient" practice, was later repudiated by the authors (e.g., Bouyer, Jungmann).  The fact that they changed their minds was never given as much press as the errors they had committed earlier.  This was a desideratum of liberals from long before the Council.

The great liturgical scholar Klaus Gamber said that of all the harmful things that came from the post-Conciliar reform, turning altars around was the most damaging.

There was a document which stated that for new construction, it should be possible for one to walk around the altar.   The new GIRM in 299, widely and infamously mistranslated, states that if it is possible altars should be constructed in such a way that Mass can be said from either side.

The rubrics of the post-Conciliar Missale Romanum clearly assume that Mass is not "facing the people", that it is actually ad orientem.

Let’s get other readers involved.

PLEASE…. don’t … I repeat … don’t post comments such as "I like/don’t like Mass facing the people", or "Mass ad orientem is better" or "We need to return to Mass facing God!".   UNHELPFUL!  IRRELEVANT!

We want documents, articles, books, etc.  We want some analysis.

How was this assumption of "facing the people" imposed?

Let’s see if we can build up sources.

Another directive:  Don’t just dump links.  Say why the links are important, what is said, what is useful from each.  Quote or give a precis.

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  1. Mark R says:

    I know some churches in Rome were constructed (I suppose due to circumstances civil engineering circumstances centuries ago)so that ad orientem, literally, was “facing the people”.
    The Pope in St. Peters said Mass this way.
    Some liturgists after WWI wrote books recommending this as suitable (i.e. the incidental facing the people part, not building the church so the sun would rise trought the church front doors).

  2. mndad says:

    I read that the first mass with the celebrant facing the congregation was celebrated in the Krypta of the Maria Laach Abbey.
    It is my understanding that this was inspired by the liturgical movement.

  3. Andrew says:

    What I am about to say is a fact. It has nothing to do with how I might feel about it personally.

    I say that there is no official document anywhere to support the worldwide introduction of the Mass celebrated by priests facing the congregation – a novelty started in the sixties, for which no one ever wanted to take official responsibility. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong. I know that we have a Magisterium that supports this, I understand that we have a custom by now, but we do not have an originating, authoritative ecclesiastical document.

  4. Mike says:

    “Meanwhile the problem has been aggravated by the fact that the most recent movement of the “enlightened” thought goes much further than Luther; where Luther still took literally the accounts of the institution and made them, as the “norma normans”, the basis of his efforts at reform, the hypotheses of historical criticism have, for a long time, been causing a bad erosion of the texts. The accounts of the Last Supper appear as the product of the litugical construction of the community; a historical Jesus is sought behind the texts who could not have been thinking of the gift of his body and blood, nor understood his cross as a sacrifice of expiation; we should, rather, imagine a farewell meal that included an eschatological perspective. The authority not only of the ecclesiastical magisterium, but scripture, too, is downgraded in the eyes of many; in its place are put changing pseudohistorical hypotheses, which are immediately replaced by an arbitrary idea, thus placing the liturgy at the mercy of fashion. Where, on the basis of such ideas, the liturgy is manipulated ever more freely, the faithful feel that, in reality, nothing is celebrated, and it is understandable that they desert the liturgy and with it the church. –Joseph Ratzinger, “Lecture Delivered During Journees Liturgiques de Fontgombault”, 2001.

    A few comments:

    1. The Pope gets it. He really does.
    2. Ad Orientem needs to come back, for however the heck it happened, it is based on lousy, non-Catholic theology.
    3. I read the Catechism of the Council of Trent last summer. Excellent. Every layman and priest should have it down. The new CCC is good, for it adds important developments, but Trent is the real deal.

  5. mpalardy says:

    My ability to research this is limited right now, but I do have a strong suspicion that the Mass said ad populum would initially have been the work of Jansenists, as were many of the post-V2 liturgical changes. Fr. Van Hove sheds some light on this here: http://frvanhove.wordpress.com/2008/11/19/jansenism-and-liturgical-reform-abr-1993/.

  6. Henry Edwards says:

    I doubt that a definitive document will be found that originally authorized the move from ad orientem to versus populum. The following article details how it happened in a single parish – mine in the 1960s – where the turn around was made without any documentary authorization whatsoever.

    St. Joseph’s Athens — A Parish Of Liturgical Progress
    The Georgia Bulletin, October 24, 1963

    “The next step began at a farmhouse six miles outside of Between, Georgia. You may have difficulty finding it on a map. After dinner the wife of the house mentioned that the dialogue Mass was going so well at St. Anna’s Chapel, she though it would be wonderful if Mass could be said facing the people. To be truthful, I was shocked. How could a good Catholic have such a radical thought? As I drove home to Athens those twenty-nine miles I kept thinking of reasons for saying no. I was a bit tired, but I could not think of any. Then I thought of the answer. Father Harrison comes to say Mass at St. Anna’s every Sunday. He is much more sensible than I. I was sure he would know the reasons for saying no. To my surprised he was delighted with the idea. He had said Mass that way in the Catacombs. All my defenses were gone. When that happens to a pastor the only solution is to present the problem to the chief shepherd, the archbishop. How clearly I could see the wisdom of Christ in appointing bishops.”

    “The archbishop sat back in his chair. He held his pipe in his hand and his office was filled with a few seconds of what is labeled silent meditation. Finally he smiled and said; I don’t see why not, if it helps to bring the people closer to God. In those few words he seemed to summarized all liturgical change.”

    Now it happens that this was Archbishop Paul Hallinan (Atlanta) who, as it happens, turned out shortly thereafter to be (as I understood it) the sole U.S. episcopal member of A. Bugnini’s famous consilium. Apparently ours was Ab. Hallinan’s “experimental parish”, and it seemed to us that we were way ahead of the liturgical curve.

  7. Haec Dies says:

    Perhaps some recolections from one who was an Altar Boy before, during and after the Council will help to paint an image of what happened at least in one church in Ashtabula, Ohio. When we were about the age of 9 Sister gathered about 20 of us for a year long server training program that coincided with the school year. We used Fr. Carmody’s “Learning to Serve”. Just before the end of the school year each perspective altar boy went before the priest for the practical exam where he said the prayers and we were required to respond correctly. If we passed the test we were put in rotation during the summer and usually at the 6:00am Mass. For two and a half glorious years we served the Tridentine Mass. In about 1964-65 the Priest gatherd all of us and explained that the form of the Mass was essentially staying the same but that it would be said in english but the Altar turned around to face the people. As I recall nothing to much changed at first accept that psalm 42 was dropped. About 18 months later the same priest gathered us again to explain that there would be additional changes in the Mass and that the time would come when the Altar Missal would be placed in the center of the Altar and the chalice would be arranged on the credence table. By this time many of the prayers had been replaced with varying versions and of course the sanctuary so arranged that Priset and servers sat behind the Altar and slightly elevated. I stopped serving Mass in 1971 and thus avoided much of what ultimatly became the pseudo norm. There appeared to be a structured sequence of changes that every church in the city and accross the nation embraced.

  8. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    As useful resources to understand the mess, may I recommend Eamon Duffy’s Stripping the Altars; Michael Rose’s Renovation Manipulation; an NOR article from several years ago (while John Paul was still alive) called Brevatio manus Domini; also important is Michael Davies’ Liturgical Time Bombs in Vatican II. As to the charge that the idea was in the air long before Sacrosanctum Concilium received official sanction, perhaps we should all read the Syllabus?

  9. Fr. Basil says:

    \\a novelty started in the sixties, for which no one ever wanted to take official responsibility. I challenge anyone to prove me wrong.\\

    As a matter of fact, I have seen pictures on the web dating from the 1940’s or so, showing the Latin Mass being celebrated in the basilican posture (i.e., versus populum).

    I have also seen pictures in Latin altar missals of the Roman Rite showing how to cense altars, with diagrams both for those altars in the uttermost east of the sanctuary and those that were free-standing.

    Finally, a priest whose rubrical Latin is better than mine said that there were rubrics in the pre-Pauline Missale Romanum giving rubrics for the basilican orientation.

    So, it’s not just something from the ’60’s.

  10. Jack Hughes says:

    As far as I know the 1970 General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 299, requird the OPTION of versus poplum, without requiring it, also add orientem was not possible in some churches in Rome because of the confessio that allowed people to come close to the body of the Saint burried beneath the altar.

    My guess is that Versus populum as standard was the result of misguided attempts on the part of certan prelates to return to the practises of the Early Church (along with Communion in the hand).

    I say this because Ad orientam as standard did not feature until the 8th Centuary and I Imagine that until the rebuilding of western civ allowed the Pope to centrally standardize the parts of the Liturgy that CAN be changed local dioceses and Parishes pretty much did their own thing. I MAY HOWEVER BE WRONG

  11. kallman says:

    Some useful books on this include “Spirit of the Liturgy” by B16 and Michael Davies “The Mass of Paul VI” and his pamphlet “The Catholic Sanctuary and Vatican II). The Davies books contain references to other useful sources also.

  12. HighMass says:

    All points excellent! What our understanding in this part of the world was that the Altar’s were to be moved out so the entire Alter could be incensed, as the Altar represents Christ. I have had the fortuate to attend a N.O. Mass (said or Low Mass) ad orientem…makes all the difference in the world….

    No there are not mandates in the Documents of Vatican II that says to turn the altars around but sure did happen. :(

  13. Peter from Jersey says:

    Father, This may help to narrow down your research, it does not give the answer.
    I have a 1964 Catholic Truth Society booklet: The Mass is Yours (DO 347) by D.R. Ward SJ.
    This outlines the changes envisaged in the Mass and the gradual introduction of English. It goes through the structure of the Mass and says what the bits are and which are to be in English. Here are a few extracts:
    Page 10: after the Collects “The people then sit down and listen while the priest, or a reader, facing them, reads aloud in English a passage from some book of Scripture…” …. After the Gradual “the priest … moves to the Gospel side …. to read … the ‘Gospel’. The priest reads it in English, facing the people.”
    Page 13: The Offertory
    “The priest begins by greeting the people: ‘The Lord be with you’, and after their response he turns to the altar and reads … the Offertory…..”
    After the collection, ” The priest now turns to the people …. In a loud voice says to them (in English) ‘Brethren, pray that my sacrifice and yours….'”
    Page 17: after the consecration and the priest’s communion, “The priest faces the people, holding in his left had a ciborium containing sacred Hosts. Raising one of these for all to see he says: ‘Behold the Lamb of God….'”
    So most of the time the priest faces away from the people. But it seems that the process of turning to face the people, like the gradual use of English was later expanded.

    I hope that this helps.

  14. jmvbxx says:

    ‘The Spirit of the Liturgy’ by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger provides a great account of where this change originates from as well as his personal views on the matter.

    In addition to which direction the priest faces the book covers, in great detail, various aspects of worship and how they’ve evolved (for better or for worse) over the years.

  15. I have done research on this question for the Dominican Rite in the 1960s. There was no piece of legislation requiring the move to ad populum for us either. For those who want to read my study, go to http://dominican-liturgy.blogspot.com/2008/04/history-of-dominican-liturgy-1945-1969.html and skim down to the section on the mid-1960s.

    The change seems to have happened on the local level because “everyone” was saying it was what you were supposed to do. As I describe, at our house of studies, St. Albert the Great Priory in Oakland, some of the graver fathers read about the change as being instituted in the San Francisco archdiocese in the diocese paper (Oakland is in the Oakland diocese by the way). So they went after dinner, took one of the side altars to the center of the choir and Mass was celebrated on it from then on. There was no real discussion. It was “what you were supposed to do.” I have this from one of the priests who helped move the altar.

  16. Ulrich says:

    I am not sure if the following passage will really help you, it shows at least that in 1952 at least in Germany the number of masses celebrated ‘versus populum’ was already increasing.

    (It’s about things who “couldn’t be found in the catechism, 50 christian doctrines about the liturgy of the Church”.)

    Was nicht im Katechismus stand, Fünzig Christenlehren über die Liturgie der Kirche, by Balthasar Fischer, imprimatur Treveris, die 30. VIII. 1952, Paulinus-Verlag (editor) Trier, 5th edition 1955, p. 20
    [it’s a chapter about the altar: why it is white, that it is at the same time sacrificial altar (rock of Calvaria) and Communion table, that in old times the altar was laid before every mass in front of the people (‘today’ this is still visible on Good Friday), the people were allowed to recieve holy meal and holy potion , later communion rails develloped as distant part of the altar, that the mensa of the altar is much more importan than the back]

    ”Vielleicht ist es zur Belehrung der Gläubigen über das Wesen des Altares ganz gut, daß heute wieder häufiger von den Bischöfen die alte Weise der Meßfeier gestattet wird, wie sie der Heilige Vater noch regelmäßig übt, wenn er am Hochaltar von St. Peter zelebriert: die Weise, nach der der Priester nicht mit dem Rücken zum Volk vor, sondern mit dem Gesicht zum Volk hinter dem Altar steht. Ich halte es zwar nicht mit denen, die sagen, diese alte Weise sei die einzig richtige, es passe sich doch nicht, daß der Priester dem mitfeiernden Volk den Rücken drehe. Ich meine, wer an der Spitze einer Gesandtschaft vor einen König tritt, dreht auch denen, die mit ihm gekommen sind, den Rücken, und jedermann findet das ganz in Ordnung. Aber ich gebe zu, die andere Weise sollte gelegentlich auch geübt werden; denn sie hat den Vorteil, daß sie uns stärker zum Bewußtsein bringt: der himmlische Hausherr (den der Priester vertritt) kommt, um “Abendmahl mit uns zu halten”, er tritt an den weißgedeckten Tisch in unserer Mitte und lädt uns zum heiligen Mahl.”

    In English (I hope, it is understandable …):

    “Perhaps it is – for the instruction of the faithful about the nature of the altar – quite well that today more frequently the bishops allow the celebration in the old way, as the Holy Father exercises it regularly, when he celebrates on the high altar of St. Peter: the way, according to which the priest does not stand in front of the altar, with his back to the people, but is facing the people standing behind the altar. I don’t agree with those who say that old way is the only right one, it was not good that the priest turns his back to the people participating in the celebration. I mean, he who appears before a king at the head of an embassy, turns also to those who have come with him, his back, and everyone says it’s alright. But I admit that the other way should be practiced occasionally, because it has the advantage to generate awareness more intensively: the heavenly host [meaning: man of the house] (represented by the priest) is to “Supper to keep up with us,” he steps the white-covered table in our midst and invites us to the sacred meal.”

    [after that the author expresses his wish that the people communicate more often]

    I hope it helps.

  17. Mike says:

    GIRM 299 cites back to, “Sacred Congregation of Rites, Instruction Inter Oecumenici, on the orderly carrying out of the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, 26 September 1964, no. 91” which reads:

    “91. The main altar should preferably be freestanding, to permit walking around it and celebration facing the people. Its location in the place of worship should be truly central so that the attention of the whole congregation naturally focuses there. […]”

    Later in the same document,

    “95. […] It is lawful to celebrate Mass facing the people even on an altar where there is a small but becoming tabernacle.”

    I used this translation: http://www.catholicliturgy.com/index.cfm/FuseAction/documentText/Index/2/SubIndex/16/ContentIndex/384/Start/378

    [We need the Latin. I am suspicious of that “preferably”.]

  18. P.S. In am inclined to think that lots of documents will be found even from before the Council saying “it can be done” etc., but I seriously doubt any “order to change” will be found. This is one of those cases where the control of the discussion (since the 1930s when it was already being done in the Portland archdiocese) was in the hands of the liturgists and experts who for one reason or another favored it. They controlled the discussion in the academic and popular Catholic press, so it came to be assumed that it had to be done.

    We can see the same phenomenon today: I doubt there is any document that requires the huge wading pool baptismal fonts just inside the door of the church blocking the aisle. But many people in charge of renovations think it is required. Another example would the big fancy “sacrament houses” in the nave to hold the holy oils–often more impressive and visible than the tabernacle. Nothing requires this, but those “in the know” say it must be done. I am sure examples could be multiplied.

  19. Henry Edwards says:


    Ab. Hallinan wasn’t just “associated” with Bernardine. He was Bernardine’s mentor, and Bernardine was his protege, shaped by his mentor and model. Halllinan brought Bernardine with him from Charleston — where they were closely associated, and made Bernardine his auxiliary bishop in Atlanta.

    Though not now a household name, Ab. Hallinan was perhaps the country’s liturgical powerhouse in the mid 1960s — both the U.S. bishop on the original version of ICEL and the U.S. bishop on the famous Consilium — and he was as “progressive” as it gets, what today we’d call CTA progressive.

    I believe it’s not an exaggeration to call him Bernardine’s creator. Although Bernardine is a household name, he might not be if Ab. Hallinan had not gotten him placed as the USCCB’s precursor’s first general secretary. Bernardine was responsible for shaping the conference so the majority of bishops have little influence, and his position there, and his influence in Washington on the nuncio there, shaped the generation of bishops that plagues us still.

    As for Atlanta being an orthodox diocese, I doubt anyone would have thought of applying that term to it before Ab. Donoghue, who was brought in from Charlotte in 1993 to clean up the mess remaining after a predecessor had gotten a “Go straight to monastery card” after an unfortunate relationship was exposed. I wonder if any bishop anywhere has done such a job as Ab. Donoghue in transforming the climate in a diocese, producing the atmosphere you now enjoy.

  20. Sliwka says:

    I found this on Wikipedia, just reading briefly on Versus Populum. The newer Missal from 1970 mandate that he face the people a total of six times (the Eucharistic Prayers not included) while the 1962 Missal requires the turning to the people 8 times. Maybe someone with these texts can double check this, but I thought it was interesting to say the least. Those who argue that the newer Missal is more “people friendly” may need to rethink their argument (doubtful).

    The six times are:
    When giving the opening greeting (GIRM 124);
    When giving the invitation to pray, “Orate, fratres” (GIRM 146);
    When giving the greeting of peace, “Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum” (GIRM 154);
    When displaying the consecrated Host (or Host and Chalice) before Communion and saying: “Ecce Agnus Dei” (GIRM 157);
    When inviting to pray (“Oremus”) before the postcommunion prayer (GIRM 165);
    When giving the final blessing (Ordo Missae 141).

    The eight times are:
    When greeting the people (“Dominus vobiscum”) before the collect (Ritus servandus in celebratione Missae, V, 1);
    When greeting the people (“Dominus vobiscum”) before the offertory rite (Ritus servandus, VII, 1);
    When giving the invitation to pray, “Orate, fratres” (Ritus servandus, VII, 7);
    Twice before giving Communion to others, first when saying the two prayers after the Confiteor, and again while displaying a consecrated Host and saying “Ecce Agnus Dei” (Ritus servandus, X, 6);
    When greeting the people (“Dominus vobiscum”) before the postcommunion prayer (Ritus servandus, XI, 1);
    When saying “Ite, missa est” (Ritus servandus, XI, 1);
    When giving the last part of the final blessing (Ritus servandus, XII, 1).
    Though the priest was required to face the people and spoke words addressed to them, he was forbidden to look at them, and was instructed to turn to them “dimissis ad terram oculis” (with eyes turned down to the ground) – Ritus servandus, V, 1; VII, 7; XII, 1.

  21. My father’s pastor told him that the altar would be freestanding so that the entire altar could be reverenced with incense… the priest ended up facing the people.

    Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP once said that, at one time, Rome put out a decree saying that they could not remove high altars–simply because of how people were pitching them left and right (and unnecessarily irreverently in some cases). He says this in a talk to Una Voce in Cedar Rapids, IA. The talk is called “Catholic Tradition and the Liturgy” and it is found here: http://www.uvcr.catholicam.org/fr_rmp3.html

    Also, I did watch the RealCatholicTV presentation called “CIA: Weapons of MASS Destruction.” In the first video, he shows how ad orientem was abusively taking place in the 1950’s–even before the Second Vatican Council. The link to this presentation is this: http://www.realcatholictv.com/cia/03Massdest/

    I am told that Pope Paul VI faced the people so to face the actual east (as opposed to the liturgical east). Perhaps people were told that he was facing the people and so they followed this as well?? The funny thing is that I have never seen a photo of Pope Paul VI saying the Novus Ordo.

  22. I could scour my copy of “Documents on the Liturgy” (1963-1979), if you’d like. [How about doing that?]

  23. Andy Milam says:

    My friend and mentor, Fr. Richard J. Schuler wrote on this issue in 1993. His words will be quoted, I will respond directly below.

    “One of the most evident reforms following the council is the practice of having the priest face toward the congregation. Much of the propaganda that brought about the priests’ change in position alleged that it was only a return to a custom of the early Church. History and archeology were both cited (but without true facts) as evidence in the claims. [Sounds familiar.] Without much study or questioning, priests and parishes across the country accepted the stories and tore out their altars, replacing them with tables of wood and blocks of stone that allowed the priest to face toward the congregation. The designs of the original architects, the over-all lines and focus of the church were set aside and thrown out. In most cases the artistic results were bad, and at best the new arrangement looked like a remodelled dress or suit.”

    One of the keys that Schuler hits upon is that there is a sense of archeologicalism going on in the post-Conciliar Church. When he wrote this article in 1993, he was one of the few who had the courage to challenge this. As has been proven since, archeologicalism is now a commonly held error in defense for versus populum. Ratzinger has spoken on the issue as did Gamber before he passed and several since, including HE Peter Eliot, Fr. Adian Nichols OP, and John Saward, as well as others.

    “He [Ratizinger] explained that there is no historical data, either in writing or from archeology, that establishes the position of the altar in the early centuries as having been turned toward the people. To look at the people was not the question in the early Church, but looking toward the east where Christ would appear in His second coming, the parousia, was most important. Thus church buildings and the altars were “oriented” (faced to the east) so that the priest especially would see Him on His arrival. If because of the contour of the land or some other obstacle, the church could not be so located, then the priest, always looking toward the east, would have to stand behind the altar and face toward the people. That he was looking at the congregation was only accidental to the eastward position he took. Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome is a good example of this, because the church could not have the usual west entrance because of the Vatican Hill.”

    Support of Monsignor Schuler’s position provided by Papa Ratzinger in ‘Il Sabato,’ 1993.
    “The destruction of the church and sanctuary was unfortunate and often costly. In some parts of the country, the damage done to the churches by the altar-bashing reformers was greater than what the Vandals did to Spain or North Africa. But the greater evil was the damage done to the liturgical presence and actions of the priest. He was told to make eye-contact with the people, to direct his words to them, to become the “presider” at the community assembly, the “facilitator” of the active participation of the congregation. The notion of the Mass as sacrifice was discouraged, while the idea of a common meal was promoted. The altar became the table, much like in the days of Archbishop Cranmer in England.”

    Schuler also speaks compares the liturgists to Vandals, I would tend to agree with that line of reasoning. The hi-jacking of the orientation has led to many other issues, including the changing role of the celebrant from mediator to presider. Schuler is alluding to a “Protestantizing” of the Mass through the orientation mimiking that of Archbishop Cramner.

    The following is Monsignor Schuler’s final thought, I think that it speaks for itself. “The interesting aspect of the discussion brought about by Father Gamber’s book is that little by little the propaganda and false assertions invoked to bring about the liturgical reforms following the council are now being exposed and found to be without truth or basis, historical, archeological or liturgical. The errors swallowed by the clergy and laity alike in the sixties included such lies as the elimination of Latin, the forbidding of choirs, tearing out of communion rails, statues, tabernacles, and vestments-all in the name of the council or perhaps the “spirit of the council:” Thank God the truth is beginning to re-appear.”

    [Sounds familiar. Thanks for posting this.]

  24. Anonymous Seminarian says:

    Don Carusi has written that the first instance of a mandated ‘versus populum’ orientation for prayer was in the blessing of palms in the revised Order of Holy Week (OHS) 1956: “Novelty of blessing the palms while facing the faithful, with back turned to the altar, and in certain cases, turned to the Blessed Sacrament.” He also observes the “Creation of a prayer to be recited at the conclusion of the procession [on Palm Sunday], at the center of the altar, the whole of which is recited facing the people.”


  25. Tim Ferguson says:

    The Latin of the paragraphs of Inter Oecumenici cited by Mike above are:

    91. Praestat ut altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile
    circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit; in sacra
    autem aede eum occupet locum, ut revera centrum sit quo totius congregationis
    fidelium attentio sponte convertatur.
    In eligenda materia ad ipsum altare aedificandum et ornandum,
    praescripta iuris serventur.
    Presbyterium insuper circa altare eius amplitudinis sit, ut sacri
    ritus commode peragi possint.


    95. Sanctissima Eucharistia asservetur in tabernaculo solido atque
    inviolabili in medio altaris maioris vel minoris, sed vere praecellentis,
    posito, aut, iuxta legitimas consuetudines et in casibus peculiaribus ab
    Ordinario loci probandis, etiam in alia ecclesiae parte vere pernobili
    et rite ornata.
    Licet Missam versus populum celebrare, etiam si in altari exstat
    tabernaculum, parvum quidem., sed aptum.

    (It’s great having the Acta Apostolicae Sedis online, isn’t it!)

  26. Paulo says:

    Supplementing Andy’s post:

    Some history, from the “Catholic Encyclpedia”:

    “The custom of praying with faces turned towards the East is probably as old as Christianity. The earliest allusion to it in Christian literature is in the second book of the Apostolic Constitutions (200-250, probably) which prescribes that a church should be oblong “with its head to the East.” (…)The Lateran, St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s, and San Lorenzo in Rome, as well as the Basilicas of Tyre and Antioch and the Church of the Resurrection at Jerusalem, had their apses facing the West (…) [while] [a]t Rome the second Basilica of St. Paul, erected in 389, and the Basilica of San Pietro in Vincoli, erected probably in the latter half of the fourth century reversed this order and complied with the rule [above]. Whether this form of orientation exercised any influence on the change of the celebrant from the back to the front of the altar cannot well be determined but at all events this custom gradually supplanted the older one, and it became the rule for both priest and people to look in the same direction, namely, towards the East (Mabillon, Museum Italicum, ii, 9)”
    Hassett, Maurice. “History of the Christian Altar.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 18 Aug. 2010 .
    “In the ancient basilicas the priest, as he stood at the altar, faced the people. The basilicas of the Roman Empire were, as a rule, law courts or meeting places. (…) The end opposite the entrance had a semi-circular shape, called the apse, and in this portion, which was raised above the level of the floor, sat the judge and his assessors, while right before him stood an altar upon which sacrifice was offered before beginning any important public business. When these public buildings were adapted for Christian assemblies, slight modifications were made. The apse was reserved for the bishop and his clergy; the faithful occupied the centre and side aisles, while between the clergy and people stood the altar. Later on the altar was placed, in churches, in the apse against, or at least near, the wall, so that the priest when celebrating faced the east, and behind him the people were placed.”
    Schulte, Augustin Joseph. “Altar (in Liturgy).” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 18 Aug. 2010 .
    Of course, I am no expert of the subject matter and I have absolute no idea of whether more recent scholarly work exists to support or discredit the above passages. If one can trust the source, we can put together the following story: it seems that through the first three or four centuries, priests did seem to face the people; adoption of the physical orientation of a church as prescribed by the Apostolic Constitutions (above) may have influenced the shift of the priest to the altar side (“That part of the altar which faced the congregation, in contradistinction to the side at which the priest stood when formerly the latter stood at the altar facing the people.” Schulte, Augustin Joseph. “Altar Side.” The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 18 Aug. 2010 .) That remained so for the next say 15 centuries and a bit. That the switch looks like a reversal to a more ancient, perhaps even original practice may have been supported by some other works like the ones cited (which may be, of course, very wrong)

  27. ALL: I think we know that there is a tradition of facing the East when praying.

    What we need to know about the justification for destroying that obvious tradition.

  28. Supertradmum says:

    Michael Davies claimed that those who wanted the “mass” of Thomas Cramner were bullying for the change from ad orientem before the Council of Vatican II. In both Liturgical Time Bomb and, in The Catholic Sanctuary and The Second Vatican Council, he shows that none of the Vatican II documents directed the changes. Bugnini looms large as one who was waiting for an opportunity to make the Mass more Protestant, which would be a throw-back to the mass of Thomas Cramner. I do not have my copy of The Rhine Flows into the Tiber, but I would think there would be a reference to the Bugnini changes there, and maybe some helpful references.

  29. Tim Ferguson: Thanks for the Latin. I see where the “preferable” comes from.

  30. PeterK says:

    very interesting column by Fr. Fession S.J. from 1999
    “The Council did not say that tabernacles should be moved from their central location to some other location. In fact, it specifically said we should be concerned about the worthy and dignified placing of the tabernacle. The Council did not say that Mass should be celebrated facing the people. That is not in Vatican II; it is not mentioned. It is not even raised in the documents that record the formation of the Constitution on the Liturgy; it didn’t come up. Mass facing the people is a not requirement of Vatican II; it is not in the spirit of Vatican II; it is definitely not in the letter of Vatican II. It is something introduced in 1969.

    And, by the way, never in the history of the Church, East or West, was there a tradition of celebrating Mass facing the people. Never, ever, until 1969. ”

    not a primary document but the article is focused on the Mass of Vatican II

    a link to an adoremus.org article relating what happened starting in 1964

    Development of Mass since 1960

    road to the new mass

  31. I should have given the exact quotes with those links above:

    1. Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP: “…in Rome they put out a decree that they were forbidden to remove high altars at one point.”

    2. Michael Vorris of RealCatholicTV: “These pictures were taken in the United States in various parishes in the 1950’s… This is a Mass celebrated in a parish in South Dakota–I believe it was 1954 (I might be wrong on the year but in the mid 50’s)–where the priest is actually facing the people. No ad orientem! This is 10-15 years before the new Mass comes in.”

    3.And, I think it was Pope Benedict XVI who said that Pope Paul VI faced the people only to face the actual east, but I don’t know that for sure as I have not yet found the exact statement on that.

  32. TJerome says:

    PeterK, I regret to say, you are sadly mistaken. The switch to ad orientem posture occurred in the US in 1964 and 1965 in most parishes when the EF was the normative Rite but undergoing “reform.” I was an altarboy then, and clearly remember it.

  33. jfk03 says:

    All I have to add is my personal experience.

    I was received into the Church in 1961. I was a member of the parish (Newman Hall) choir. The change came quite abruptly in 1965. The pastor informed us that the altar was to be turned around and Mass said facing the people. The choir (an excellent schola directed by a professor of music) was told it was no longer free to sing the Gregorian mass or renaissance polyphony. The choir disbanded shortly thereafter, and the rest is history.

    The pastor implied that this was the way things were to be done as a result of the Council. I have no idea where he got this, but I am sure variations of the same thing occurred all over the world. I have to assume that the U. S. bishops as a group, and other national bishops’ conferences, interpreted the Vatican II documents as requiring these changes.

  34. ALL: Is “personal experience” able to be documented? Is “personal experience” a document of the Church?

    Don’t get me wrong: It is interesting, but it is not really what we are looking for here.

    I can start a new thread about that, however. Gimme time.

  35. Homework before posting.

  36. Ceile De says:

    Father – I understand your frustration but it seems as if the posters are proving your point – perhaps there are none. My theory: People were so punch drunk with change that everyone assumed everything was up for grabs. In those pre-internet days, no one thought to call a halt. And Rome didn’t say “wait up, that’s not what we meant”. Perhaps by the time Rome woke up the coup d’etat was complete. Better to accept it than be ignored? What an utter calamity in terms of mismanagement.

  37. Ceile De says:

    Had a golden calf appeared…..

  38. William Tighe says:

    For a relatively brief archaeological and liturgical study of the issue, see “Eis anatolas blepsate: Orientation as a liturgical Principle,” by M. J. Moreton, published in *Studia Patristica: Volume XVIII in Three Parts* ed Elizabeth A. Livingstone (Pergamon Press, 1982), pp. 575-590. Moreton (b. 1918), an Anglican clergyman, prebendary of Exeter Cathedral and former Professor of New Testament at Exeter University assembles evidence (a) to demonstrate that to face Eastwards in prayer was the universal custom of the Early Church, regardless of whether this meant that the celebrant faced towards the congregation or away from it or perhaps in its midst, and (b) to raise the question of whether, when the celebrant did “face the congregation” in praying towards the East, the congregation turned their backs on him, even during the Eucharistic Prayer, so as to face Eastwards themselves as well. (Bouyer evaded the latter question by suggesting that the people stood at the sides in big basilicas rather than in the center, so that they could “look both ways,” while Moreton suggests that the focus on the site of St. Peter’s tomb in the basilica named after him led the celebrant, facing Eastwards over the altar, to face the people and the people, facing Westwards towards the “Confessio Petri” to face him.)

  39. maynardus says:

    I saw this earlier while I was on the road but couldn’t respond at that time. The first thing that came to mind was the excellent article in Adoremus Bulletin which “PeterK” referenced a few posts above. The author does an excellent job of explaining how the influential American “litniks” of the day – Fathers McManus, Ellard, Walsh, McNaspy, Reinhold, Sloyan, etc. – operating under the aegis of the “Liturgical Conference”, moved quickly to usurp the role of the bishops in shaping the implementation of the Conciliar changes.

    Their main vehicle for implementing their program was the “Parish Worship Program” which centered around three volumes – one instructing priests on celebrating the “reformed” liturgy, another addressed to church musicians, and a third containing advice on “preaching the liturgical renewal”. This material was produced without waiting for the approval of the bishops, many of whom were still attending sessions of the Council and was in the hands of priests and diocesan liturgists even before the publication of Inter Oecumenici in late 1964.

    I was able to locate these volumes via interlibrary loan a while back and the contents were breathtaking. The “Priest’s Guide” contains a dizzying mixture of mendacity and condescension which is a thorough discredit to these so-called “giants” of the liturgical movement and the music “instruction” is even worse. As I recall they were obtainable via AbeBooks.

    My further recollection is that Fr. (later Msgr.) Frederick McManus was the linchpin of the whole operation. In one of the appendices of his landmark book “Pope Paul’s New Mass”, Michael Davies wrote a memorable description of how McManus was able to manipulate the adoption of the the original ICEL translations nearly singlehandedly by dint of his simultaneous holding of posts in the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL), the NCCB, ICEL itself, and as an advisor to the Consilium. It is very likely that the leverage provided by his presence at so many of the intersections of power was a key factor in ramming this radical agenda through the ecclesiastical bureacracy and into effect before the bishops realized what happened.

    The Adoremus article remains the single best synopsis I’ve encountered.

  40. Animadversor says:

    Certainly, praestat can very reasonably be translated as “is preferable” or even as “is best,” but that preference clearly applies only to the placement of the altar. Nothing is said about whether walking around the altar or celebrating while facing the people is preferable. It is wrong to infer that those two practices themselves are preferable; it is their possibility that one may infer is preferable.

  41. iudicame says:

    Documents would be interesting but there is also tradition. The weight of tradition in one manner for at least 1500 yr certainly and in another manner for a considerably lesser time. And there is also the coupling of authority and theology with the practices. And I wonder wonder wonder wonder who – WHO – who wrote the book of….

    Such wandering in wonderment – Would Pius X have left us so dumbfounded?


  42. mndad says:

    This is unfortunatelly in german but it is a very good summary of the path towards ‘facing the people’.
    Indeed it seems that the liturgical movement in the early 1920’s was important to push this- but interestingly the fact that the altar at St. Peter in Rome was very much in the center of the church did figure as well.
    The pictures show examples of Altars in historical churches where mass was said towards ‘the people’ – only thing was the people were a selected few nobles and clergy.

  43. Andy Milam says:

    First, Fr. Z, you’re welcome. Schuler’s words ring so true and a lot of it was written 30 years ago. Granted, what I posted was written in 1993, but that was 17 years ago. He was prophetic…we must keep his thought patterns alive. [It’s almost as if I knew what he thought about these issues!]

    Next, Monsignor Schuler also wrote about another aspect that applies to this conversation. I will quote the relevant parts of this information that I have. It was written in 1990.

    “For twenty-five years, we have had a pattern, a set of directions for reforming the liturgy and its music. The Second Vatican Council, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and with the full authority of the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, has clearly indicated its will, and the Holy See has given the world the authentic manner in which these decrees are to be implemented. The pattern is certain and clear.”

    Monsignor is absolutely right, the patter is certain and clear, IF the documents are properly interpreted. The real issue is that the documents have not been. He was acutely aware of this, because from 1969-2006, he was the antithesis of unauthentic Conciliar reform AND at the very same time, the first de facto champion of pure Conciliar orthodoxy in the USA.

    “Evidence continually is making it clear that the decrees of the Vatican Council have not been successfully implemented in the United States, and this failure has, in fact, led to many unfortunate results harmful to religion and Catholic life. Studies of Mass attendance reveal a drastic drop in attendance at Sunday worship; decrease in vocations to the priesthood and religious life continues; school children know less about their faith than ever before; knowledge of right and wrong, no longer learned through sermons at Sunday Mass, has become confused; the artistic quality of liturgy and music has fallen to an incredible level in the majority of churches, even those which before the council had fitting worship; ignorance of liturgy in its history or in the demands of the present reform, even in so-called professional liturgists, musicians and composers, exceeds all bounds.”

    I believe that this is most perfectly manifest in the horrible Liturgical Action. And it is the horrible Liturgical Action which has caused the aforementioned drops and ignorance of the laity.

    “The regulation of the liturgy on the local level is the immediate task of the bishop. Especially in the seminary and the cathedral, but also in his parishes he must see to it that the requirements of the council and the documents following the council be put into careful observance. He may be assisted by properly trained musicians and liturgists. But therein lies the cause of the present debacle. Too many occupying posts in diocesan and seminary musical and liturgical establishments are poorly trained, victims of propaganda peddled by centers of liturgical studies and some periodicals, ignorant of the regulations called for by the Church for its liturgy. Until that situation is rectified, our liturgy will continue to disintegrate and with the liturgy, the practice of the faith.”

    And folks there you have it. The priest who first acted on the proper implementation of Vatican Council II, has sounded the warning shot. Like I said, he did this in 1990. It behooves EVERY CATHOLIC to understand the liturgy, because as Mons. Schuler used to say, “98% of Catholics only relate to the Mass.” For those of us who are active in our parishes, here is OUR Call To Action!!!! Follow in the steps of Fr. Z. (Monsignor Schuler was his mentor as well.) [REALLY?]
    Follow in the steps of Mons. Schuler. Follow in the steps of Papa Ratzinger. We have to be leaders.

    Where do we start. With Sacrosanctum Concilium, approach your pastors and start the conversation. Get the Red right. Get the Black right. It is time to take back the Sanctuary. It is our WORSHIP (not Liturgy!!!). [That is a good distinction.]
    We have a right to worship at a properly celebrated Mass and the more documentation we have the better we are going to be.

  44. mndad says:

    Sorry forgot to include the link mea culpa
    this link also shows some examples of altars forcing the priest to face the people. As you can see this goes way back to 1700.

  45. Andy Milam says:

    Here are the links, plus a couple more:


    These are where I was getting my quotes of Monsignor Schuler. There are many more, but I thought it was germaine to our conversation.

  46. Geoffrey says:

    This probably won’t be helpful, but it seems to me that it was almost like that game where someone whispers something to one person, who then whispers it to another, and then the further you go the more the original statement has been altered beyond all recognition!

    It also seems to fall into the category of women no longer wearing a veil. No Vatican II or post-Vatican II document even mentioned it, and yet… poof! It’s gone!

  47. Sixupman says:


    It developed like, and was, a virus, from who knows where! People put their own interpretations on deliberately ambiguous elements of Vatican II documents and the position developed just like Communion in the hand and girl altar servers, et al. It comes from the same source as the clergy’s demotion and denigration of Confession. False ecumenism also played its part, as also the strain of Protestantism evident with The Church in the Low Countries. The “American Catholic Church” also contained a strain of the virus from earlier days.

    Summing up: both clergy and people just went mad!

  48. chironomo says:

    I think it has been well established (above and elsewhere) that there was no “document” that mandated this, or really even strongly suggested it!

    My thoughts are that although there are examples of the practice earlier in history, it really “took off” as a result of greater use of the vernacular. If the point of using the vernacular was to make the Mass more “intelligible”(?) to the faithful, it simply makes more sense to face the people while speaking to them. In other words, the dramaturgy changed such that rather than two groups (Priest/ Faithful) praying together in one direction, there were now two groups (Priest/ Faithful) engaged in a dialogue. This physically requires line of sight and a “dialogue” posture. This would explain the timing (concurrent with adoption of the vernacular) and the very sudden ocurrence and near universality of the act.

    I think this is also one of the greater impediments to the re-introduction of ad orientem in the NO: It just doesn’t SEEM natural to speak to each other without facing each other, and although it is clear that the liturgy is not a conversation as such, the combination of vernacular and alternating “dialogue” texts strongly gives that impression.

  49. Gail F says:

    So… it sounds as though in early Roman churches “repurposed” from secular use, priests faced the people because that arrangement worked best with the existing altars. But as they started building new churches, they oriented (“to orient” means to point toward the east) the altars for theological reasons. Just as, even earlier, Christians met in private homes because they had to and, as soon as they were no longer in danger, they quit meeting in private homes. Therefore, attempts to recapture “what the early Christians did” are often ill-advised recreations of what early Christians had to do, not what they wanted to do.

    This is a very interesting thread but we are missing one important point. This is a worldwide thing, not an American thing. What made the entire world abandon the former way of saying mass? It’s no good blaming Cardinal Berandine for that. I think Sixupman might have the right idea — everyone just went crazy at once!

  50. robtbrown says:

    P.S. In am inclined to think that lots of documents will be found even from before the Council saying “it can be done” etc., but I seriously doubt any “order to change” will be found. This is one of those cases where the control of the discussion (since the 1930s when it was already being done in the Portland archdiocese) was in the hands of the liturgists and experts who for one reason or another favored it. They controlled the discussion in the academic and popular Catholic press, so it came to be assumed that it had to be done.

    The chapel at the Convitto was built before the Council, and it has a picnic table rather than altar.

    We can see the same phenomenon today: I doubt there is any document that requires the huge wading pool baptismal fonts just inside the door of the church blocking the aisle.
    Comment by Fr. Augustine Thompson O.P.

    It’s hard to see those type of fonts without wondering what happened to the water slide.

  51. Andy Milam says:

    Fr. Z,

    Perhaps we could have a conversation on the importance regarding the distinctions between worship and liturgy.

    Mons. Schuler makes that distinction in one of my above quotes, but I would rather hear it from someone who has proper knowledge in the celebration of the Mass. I am opening this up to all priests. I will give a layman’s view, but hearing from a priestly POV can really shed light on how we are to approach worshipping at Mass.

    “…Studies of Mass attendance reveal a drastic drop in attendance at Sunday worship; decrease in vocations to the priesthood and religious life continues; school children know less about their faith than ever before; knowledge of right and wrong, no longer learned through sermons at Sunday Mass, has become confused; the artistic quality of liturgy and music has fallen to an incredible level in the majority of churches, even those which before the council had fitting worship; ignorance of liturgy in its history or in the demands of the present reform, even in so-called professional liturgists, musicians and composers, exceeds all bounds.”

    Schuler says that the reforms have left us with a less than fitting form of worship. From the layman’s point of view, using what I have posted as a basis, I can deduce the following: The Mass facing the people lacks a sense of worship. What it does is simply reduce the Mass to a closed circle and the role of the priest to a presidential role, rather than a mediator. With the Mass facing the people, the mystery has left, because everything can be seen. As Catholics, we are to engage all of our senses, however, sight doesn’t include relegating the mystery of the Sacramental action to the annals of history.

    As laymen sitting in the pew, we don’t face each other as we worship. We all face the same direction. We all worship to a central point. We should expect that the priest will lead us in that worship by acting as a mediator in an action that is not proper to us, outside our worship of the action, which the re-presentation of the sacrifice of Calvary. We participate by our worship, we don’t participate by engaging in a closed circle. This can and should be eliminated by the priest taking is proper place and facing (properly) liturgical (if not actual) East. From an analogous POV, we are not only facing the rising sun, but also the rising Son. For Christ will return and we are in the eschatologial times of anticipation of this momentus action.

  52. mndad says:

    This is a text by than Cardinal Ratzinger briefly explaining the issue and pointing to
    #262 of the „Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani“ as the first official recommendation.
    For those of you who can read german the link regarding “Volksaltar” gives a pretty nice summary of
    the history that eventually lead to this change.
    Experimentation and early celebrations versus populus were done at Maria Laach. Johannes Pinsk perhaps influenced by this celebrated towards the congregation in the 1930 at St.-Benedikt-Kapelle in Berlin-Charlottenburg. According to this source
    “Romano Guardini: Berichte über mein Leben – Autobiographische Aufzeichnungen. Aus dem Nachlass herausgegeben von Franz Henrich, Düsseldorf, 1985, Seite 107” another leading personality in the liturgical movement, Romano Guardini was more hesistant in the beginning to ‘let the people see his face’ but seem to have been convinced later by Pinsk.
    Regardless how one feels about this – like most everything in this world it did not happen over night –
    and in this case is indeed expression of a certain appetite for change that seem to have been in the air around Vatican II.
    Part of that change back than related to the emerging desire articulated by the liturgical movement:
    to move away from the Priest offering to God and the congregation witnessing this act towards the “Participatio actuosa”.
    Interestingly the main altar for example in the Cologne cathedral after reconstruction 1956 to 1960 was a freestanding altar. Since a number of leading Cardinals at Vatican II out of germany- Cardinal Frings of Cologne with Josef Ratzinger as his young theological consultant for example a primary example obviously had exposure to the liturgical movement and the early experiments with facing the congregation.
    In short blame it on the germans.
    Another rationale given in the link was that during Vatican II the mass at St. Peter was celebrated ‘versus participatores’ – in essence the participants got used to this way to celebrate and liked it.
    reason being for the celebration this way was simply that the main Altar at St. Peter happens to be freestanding in the centre of the church.

  53. maynardus says:

    Didn’t have time to do this last night but I thought a brief summary of what we (seem to) know thus far might be useful:

    1.) Unquestionably certain churches (e.g. Roman Basilicas) were oriented with the altar at the West end, at which the celebrant technically faced in the direction of the people in order to face East. However the intention was not specifically to have “Mass Facing the People” (hereafter abbreviated “M.F.P.”). Msgr. Klaus Gamber has expounded upon this.

    2.) Some of the protestant “reformers” favored liturgical ministers facing the people while others didn’t. The notion of a free-standing “Table of the Lord’s Supper” with a minister performing the ritual behind it, facing the people, became familiar as a protestant concept.

    3.) In Catholic circles the move toward M.F.P. really began in the early Twentieth Century, in Germany and Belgium, amongst leaders and proponents of the “Liturgical Movement”.

    4.) Throughout the first half of the century these progressive liturgists shared their ideas through writings and conferences. Occasionally new churches were intentionally built with free-standing altars, although it can be seen in most photos of such arrangements that Mass ad orientem was still possible and most likely the norm. Often the “justification” for the free-standing altar seems to have been a seating arrangement, e.g. “church-in-the-round” which would place at least some of the congregation on the opposite side of the altar as the celebrant.

    5.) Some of these liturgists were involved in the reform of Holy Week carried out under Pope Pius XII, and the theory has been bruited that they used this reform as a “testbed” and the opportunity to lay some initial groundwork for a future reform. The innovation of the Blessing of Palms occurring at a free-standing table with the celebrant facing the people is cited as a potential precursor to M.F.P.

    6.) Many of the leaders of the M.F.P. movement were periti at the Council. While they did not succeed in getting any explicit mention of M.F.P. into Sacrosanctum Concilium they were able to lay the groundwork for itts implementation by gaining the trust and respect of many influential bishops and also by ensuring their presence on the post-Conciliar “Consilium” which would be “implementing” Sacrosanctum Concilium.

    7.) In the U.S. at least, the liturgical avant garde used their advisory positions with the NCCB, the BCL, and ICEL; as well as connections to the Consilium, to seize the moment and present the Church with a fait accompli by means of workshops and documentation which purported to present M.F.P. (and other innovations) as the expressed will of the Council. The materials used in the U.S. are copyrighted in mid-1964.

    8.) The first “official” mention of M.F.P. apparently occurs in Inter Oecumenici (#91) which mentions it almost in passing. Inter Oecumenici was prepared by the Consilium and “approved” and “confirmed” by Pope Paul VI.

    9.) ***Warning – mild conspiracy theory*** It has been stated by many commentators (including Michael Davies) that then-Father Bugnini and the Consilium were in the habit of deceiving the Pope with regard to the contents, intention, and scope of various proposals and documents which he ultimately approved. Archbishop Bugnini’s lengthy memoir seems to give at least implicit credence to such charges. It is also known that on several occasions during the liturgical revolution Pope Paul reluctantly yielded to faits accomplis begun in disobedience and legitimized them to avoid further scandal, e.g. the use of unauthorized vernacular translations by the French bishops in 1964. Is it not possible that the Pope, perhaps still reposing full trust in Bugnini et al, approved Inter Oecumenici and gave it force of law without fully realizing its implications?

    I’d urge anyone who wants to read some of these things for themself to track down Fr. Gerald Ellard’s books “The Mass of the Future” and “The Mass in Transition”, published in 1948 and 1956 respectively, which lay out the blueprint for the liturgical revolution which led to M.F.P. and the Novus Ordo Missae. Also the three books of the “Parish Worship Program” published in the U.S. in 1964 by the Liturgical Conference; especially “Priest’s Guide to Parish Worship” and “A Manual for Church Musicians”. I was able to obtain all of these via interlibrary loan before ultimately purchasing them online. “Pope Paul’s New Mass” by Michael Davies and Bugnini’s “The Reform of the Liturgy – 1948-1975” are also quite useful.

  54. TJerome says:

    I have a thought. I am uncertain how you research the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops records but I wonder since the re-ordering of the altars occured within a fairly compressed period of time if that body didn’t take action back in 1964/65 recommending (not requiring) that the altars be turned around to permit versus populum celebration? I almost think the initiative would have come from that body rather than any legislation from Rome.

  55. andreslopez says:

    I once be told by and old priest that was in Rome when the NO missal was promulgated that in their classes they received the next explanation:

    The mass “facing people” is been established to follow the “papal mass model” because in Rome there are several “papal altars” where the pope although he is facing the cross, behind the cross people is following the Mass. So the new mass orientation (or des-orientation)should be read as an “indultum” for all the priest to say the mass like the pope. And the suggestion of the IGMR to build the altar in some way that could be allowed both form of orientations of mass, should be read as an attempt to make possible for all the priest to offer mass in the “papal way”

    I do not know if the argument indeed was truth, but at least that was what priests and seminarians in Rome where told at that moment. (or at least some of them as my old teacher told me)

  56. William Tighe says:

    Here are a couple of disjointed remarks:

    It was generally accepted a hundred years ago (see the relevant entries in the 1913 *Catholic Encyclopedia*) that the celebrant “faced the people” during the Mass, and that this was later changed. This view was challenged by Joseph Doelger in 1920 in his groundbreaking book *Sol Salutis,* which insisted that orientation was the operative criterion, not “facing the people,” but although his view came to triumph among academic (and Protestant) scholars, first of all in Germany, it was largely ignored elsewhere, and even by many Catholic “scholars” and “experts” in Germany and elsewhere, and as late as the 1960s and beyond some Catholic scholars were still fighting a rear-guard action against Doelger’s views, cf. the various books and articles of Otto Nussbaum, e.g., his *Der Standort des Liturgen am Christlichen Altar vor dem Jahre 1000* (*The Position of the Priest at the Christian Altar Before the Year 1000*) which was published in 1965. Like other such scholars, Nussbaum wished to assert that the “generally preferred practice,” at least before the Sixth Century, was to “face the people,” but as the preponderance of evidence began to tell against these views, such scholars and those who followed their views (e.g., Archbishop Weakland) were driven, first to stress the “ambiguity” of the evidence and how there was “no firm rule,” and finally to claim that since “Modern Man” no longer understood or cared for the symbolic value of orientation in prayer or the return of Christ from the East, as the dawning of the “Son/Sun of Salvation,” then it no longer had any purpose and “community building” by having the celebrant and congregation face one another should take preference to the “archaic and outmoded” practice of orientation. See this article of mine for more:


    Secondly, it should be noted that outside the North America and other Anglophonic lands, “liturgical Protestants,” especially Lutherans and to a lesser degree Anglicans, have not followed to as complete a degree the “Gadarene rush” to versus populum celebrations. This is rather ironic in the case of the Lutherans, since Martin Luther in his *The German Mass* (1526) strongly argued for the practice of “facing the people” under the assumption that that was what Christ did at the Last Supper. Only a few Lutherans followed him in this, however, partly due to indifference to such matters, partly due to a desire not to upset people by introducing unsettling and unnecessary changes, but mostly, from the 1530s onwards, as a gesture of disdain and defiance, towards the Zwinglians and Calvinists of “Reformed Protestantism” who attacked Lutherans constantly for their retention of “popish practices.” To this very day, very few Lutheran parish churches in the various Scandinavian countries have gone over to “facing the people” apart from those that stress their “contemporaneity” of nearly 50 years ago.

    Here in America, Francis Hodur, the “Prime Bishop” of the schismatic “Polish National Catholic Church,” who broke with the Catholic Church in 1898, adopted “Mass facing the people” in his cathedral in Scranton, PA in 1931, but few indeed were those even of his followers who followed him in this — until the 1960s, when it became possible for advocates of his church to argue that he had been “ahead of his time,” and that Rome had now come around to agree with him.

  57. Nathan says:

    Like so many of the liturgical changes widely instituted in the wake of Vatican II, Holy Mass versus populum appears to have been widely implemented in disobedience to liturgical directives and practices.

    Years ago, Michael Davies summed up the relationship between this practice and what both Vatican II and subsequent directives said in chapter XIX of Pope Paul’s New Mass :

    (i) Vatican II does not mention a freestanding altar or Mass facing the people.

    (ii) Article 124 of the Litugy Constitution includes the recommentation that: “When churches are to be built, let great care be taken that they be suitable for the clebration of liturgical services and for the active participation of the faithful.” There is no mention of altars.

    (iii) In 1964, the Consilium expands this sentence to include adapting old churches, brings up the subject of altars, and states that “it is better” that they should be freestanding.

    (iv) In 1969, the Consilium states in the Institutio Generalis that the main altar should be freestanding and cites its own 1964 document (Inter Oecumenici), which does not state this, as its authority.

    Romano Amerio, in Iota Unum , says:

    The introduction of altars facing the people is the most important ceremonial change to have occured since the council. Post-concilar liturgical decrees states that such an arrangement was “not essential,” and ordered that existing altars should be kept whenever historical, artistic, or religious considerations suggested it; it was also forbidden to set up two altars in the same sanctuary, with one standing in front of the other.

  58. Nathan says:

    Currently, the USCCB in its art and architecture directive “Built of Living Stones,” takes the hard line on freestanding altars:

    § 57 § The altar is the natural focal point of the sanctuary and is to be “freestanding to allow the [priest] to walk around it easily and Mass to be celebrated facing the people.”75 Ordinarily, it should be fixed (with the base affixed to the floor) and with a table or mensa made of natural stone,76 since it represents Christ Jesus, the Living Stone (1 Pt 2:4). The pedestal or support for the table may be fashioned from “any sort of material, as long as it is becoming and solid.”77 In the United States it is permissible to use materials other than natural stone for a fixed altar, provided these materials are worthy, solid, properly constructed, and subject to the further judgment of the local ordinary.78 Parishes building new churches must follow the directives of the diocesan bishop regarding the kind of altar chosen and suitable materials for new altars. (http://www.usccb.org/liturgy/livingstones.shtml#chaptertwo)

    Interestingly enough, the same document mistranslates GIRM in its citation (footnote 75) justifying the directive:

    Ibid., no. 299: “In every church there should ordinarily be a fixed, dedicated altar, which should be freestanding to allow the ministers to walk around it easily and Mass to be celebrated facing the people, which is desirable whenever possible. The altar should occupy its place so that it is truly the center on which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally focuses. As a rule, the altar is fixed and dedicated.”

    [NB: Built Of Living Stones cites a mistranslation of GIRM 299.]

    In Christ,

  59. Nathan says:

    Romano Amerio, in Iota Unum , pp. 643-647, has a well-developed history and argument about the philosophy behind freestanding altars. He says that “whenever the civil authorities have not prevented it, the altars have generally been demolished, or at least duplicated by the introduction of a free standing altar so the priest can celebrate facing the congregation.”

    He contends that, even in the Roman basilicas, the altar was an immovable, massive base, exalted, upon which to offer sacrifice. The fixed and immovable character of the altar was the first idea that was lost; the notionh of the Mass as a meal came to prevail over the understanding of it as a sacrifice, and that led to plain, light, moveable tables.

    In Christ,

  60. mibethda says:

    I believe that Fr. Thompson’s analysis of how the changes occurred is basically correct. Prior to Vatican II, several sources were proposing a number of liturgical changes, to some extent growing out of the Liturgical Movement. Where it was not prohibited by local ecclesiastical authority, experimentation in adopting these changes occurred. A major source in this country was St. John’s journal, Worship, under Fr. Diekmann. In respect to the turning of the altar to face the people, I can recall several years before the Council’s adoption of the constitution on the liturgy which many took to be an invitation to an opening of the gates to change, the abbey where I was at the time attending school – and which was a member of the same American Cassinese congregation as St. John’s – decided to experiment with placing a portable altar in front of the choir and facing the congregation. It was my recollection that the inspiration came from the aforesaid source. I suspect that if someone were to review past issues of Worship from the late 50’s and early 60’s, suggestions for this can be found ( I have no access to them at the present time, so I cannot cite specific issues). Once the Council completed its work on the liturgy, Worship and other similar publications spread the gospel for the changes – which had been quietly brewing for some time – into the open and a movement for changes which had been a trickle became a flood.

  61. g. thomas ryan says:

    1. Vatican Council II, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (1963), #128: “There is to be an early revision of the canons and ecclesiastical statutes regulating the supplying of material things involved in sacred worship. This applies in particular to the worthy and well-planned construction of places of worship, the design and construction of altars…”

    2. inter oecumenici (Sacred Congregation of Rites, 26 September 1964),
    #91. “The main altar should preferably be freestanding, to permit walking around it and celebration facing the people.”

    #99. “This instruction was prepared by the Consilium by mandate of Pope Paul VI, and presented to the Pope by Cardinal Lercaro, President of the Concilium. After having carefully considered the Instruction, in consultation with the Consilium and the Congregation of Rites, Pope Paul in an audience Cardinal Larraona, Prefect of the Congregation of Rites, gave it specific approval as a whole and in its parts, confirmed it by his authority, and ordered it to be published and faithfully observed by all concerned, beginning on the first Sunday of Lent, 7 March 1965.”

    3. “Le renouveau liturgique”, Letter of Cardinal Lercaro, president of Consilium, to presidents of the conferences of bishops, 30 June 1965 (#6): “Since 7 March (see implementation date of inter oecumenici, above) there has been a widespread movement towards celebrations facing the people; it has become clear that this practice is the most advantageous pastorally. The intention of an end that is good in itself, however, has in some cases given rise to measures that are in poor taste, illogical, and artificial. The Consilium has already in private form drawn up some norms of this subject. They will be completed as soon as possible and published officially. We wish to emphasize, however, that the celebration of the whole Mass facing the people is not absolutely indispensable for pastoral effectiveness. The entire liturgy of the Word, in which the active participation of the faithful is amply achieved through dialogue and song, already proceeds facing the people and is all the more intelligible now that it uses the people’s own language. Certainly it is right to wish that the liturgy of the Eucharist itself might also be celebrated facing the people and that the faithful be enabled to follow the whole rite directly, thereby participating with a greater awareness. But that must not lead to the rash, often mindless rearrangement of existing churches and altars at the cost of a more or less irreparable damage to other values, also calling for respect.

    The construction of altars facing the people is therefore desirable in new churches; elsewhere it will be achieved gradually through seriously studied adaptations that take all the values into account.

    In the interim it seems useful to allow erection of portable altars that make celebration facing the people possible, careful attention is to be given to the dignity and beauty suited to the altar, the table of sacrifice and of the banquet of God’s family.”

    4. Notitiae (journal of Consilium) 1 (1965), 138. “Query: Until a church is suitably remodeled, is it lawful for celebration of Mass facing the people to place a portable altar (a simple table in form) in front of the main altar that is fixed and made of precious marble?

    Reply: Yes, provided: a. there is truly an observable space between both altars; b. ideally, the portable altar is placed outside the sanctuary; in this case it must have sufficient space around it in the manner of a sanctuary and be adequately separated from the body of the church.”

    5. “L’heureux developpement”, Letter of Cardinal Lercaro, president of Consilium, to presidents of the conferences of bishops, 25 January 1966 (#6): “I have already spoken about this in my letter of 30 June 1965, but by your leave I intend to return briefly to the same subject.

    The altar versus populum certainly makes for a celebration of the Eucharist which is truer and more communal; it also makes participation easier. Here, too, however, prudence should be our guide. Above all because for a living and participated liturgy, it is not indispensable that the altar should be versus populum: in the Mass, the entire liturgy of the Word is celebrated at the chair, ambo or lectern, and, therefore, facing the assembly; as to the Eucharistic liturgy, loudspeaker systems make participation feasible enough. Secondly, hard thought should be given to the artistic and architectural question, this element in many places being protected by rigorous civil laws. …

    Provisional altars, constructed in front of the main altars for celebration versus populum, should gradually disappear, giving way to a more permanent arrangement of the place of sacrifice.

    6. The Roman Missal: General Instruction of the Roman Missal (1975 ed.), #262: “The Altar should be freestanding to allow the ministers to walk around it easily and Mass to be celebrated facing the people.”

    7. Ceremonial of Bishops (1984 / 1989), #48: “The altar of the cathedral church should be freestanding to allow the misters to walk around it easily and to permit celebration facing the people. But when the cathedral has an old altar so constructed that it makes participation of the people difficult and that cannot be moved without damage to its artistic value, another fixed altar, of artistic merit and duly dedicated, should be erected. Only at this altar are liturgical celebrations to be carried out.”

    8. The Roman Pontifical: Dedication of a Church and an Altar (1989), chapter 4, “Rite of Dedication of an Altar”. #8: “The altar should be freestanding so that the priest can easily walk around it and celebrate Mass facing the people.”

    9. The Roman Missal: General Instruction of the Roman Missal (2003 ed.), 299: “The altar should be built apart from the wall, in such a way that it is possible to walk around it easily and that Mass can be celebrated at it facing the people, which is desirable wherever possible.”
    NOTE: This official English translation was confirmed & approved in 2002 by Cardinal Arinze of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Disciple of the Sacraments.

    Mass versus populum was (and is) not required by the documents of Vatican II or by conciliar implementation. Yet it was promoted at high levels. There was the specific date of March 7, 1965, when most understood they were being asked to set up freestanding altars (for celebrations facing the people). Any of us who were active in churches at that moment can recall the turmoil. But the pastors were reading “inter oecumenici”, with paragraph #99 giving it force. Pastors were not making up the idea of “facing the congregation.”

  62. Giulio says:

    CEI (Italian Episcopal Conference) was explicit in some way: they emitted a clarification on GIRM (Principi e norme per l’uso del Messale Romano – Precisazioni della Conferenza Episcopale Italiana)that says at §14 “L’altare fisso della celebrazione sia unico e rivolto al popolo.” [Tr. The fixed altar of celebration should be unique and facing the people]
    In “L’ADEGUAMENTO DELLE CHIESE SECONDO LA RIFORMA LITURGICA” you read at §17 “La conformazione e la collocazione dell’altare devono rendere possibile la celebrazione rivolti al popolo e devono consentire di girarvi intorno e di compiere agevolmente tutti i gesti liturgici ad esso inerenti.” [Tr. The shape and placement of the altar should make possible the celebration facing the people and should allow to go around it and make easy all liturgical actions related to it]
    So at least for Italy this change comes from National Bishop’s Conference.
    For people who can read italian here you have a couple of links of liturgist discussions on the topic: L’altare verso il popolo è scelta conciliare and L’altare verso il popolo. Dibattito.

  63. Nathan says:

    Thanks, mibethda! I took a stab at a random edition of Worship , 33:2, January 1959, and found an article by Fr. John H. Miller, CSC, titled “Altar Facing the People: Fact or Fable?” The idea was popular in some academic circles well before Vatican II. Some interesting quotes:

    “Although there is no explicit evidence to support this—at least as far as I know—it seems much more reasonable to place the practice of celebrating towards the people in its proper context of patristic mentality: the extraordinary awareness of the entirely divine agency of the priestly power, its apostolic quality as being a mission from God to man (not from man to God), its vicarious paternal character: the bishop or priest takes the place of God who breaks the elixir of immortality with the children of His household (fractio panis was the earliest name for the Mass).
    This was deeply and thoroughly Catholic in its theology. The priest at the altar is not, in the very exercise of his priestly power, a mere man among men, a sinner like others pleading his own cause before the Deity, a sheep, if you will, seeking to be fed.”

    “Certainly, the primary reality of the Mass is its sacrificial element. But the primary format, or shape, if you will, of the Mass of the faithful is its meal character. And this format was willed by Christ: He chose food for symbols and directly related His institution to the Passover meal.
    Lastly, whether the ancients seriously thought of this or not, the visibility of the priest’s actions at Mass is of great importance to us today. We want to bring to the Mass all the best psychological and catechetical aids that will help the faithful feel themselves more intimately bound up with what goes on. The Mass versus populum9 where devoutly tried with episcopal sanction, has certainly helped the laity to achieve a greater oneness with the sacred action.24 They are able to follow the Mass with greater concentration, feel themselves the obvious beneficiary of this re-enactment of the work of redemption, and are thus prompted more naturally to take an active part in the primary source of the Christian spirit.”

    No less an authority than Fr. A. Bugnini, consultor of the Congregation of Rites and editor-in-chief of Ephemerides Liturgicae, upholds this view in his commentary on this decree.27 In fact, he says that the practice of celebrating Mass in this way is an example, provided for in canon 1268, nn. 2, 3, which justifies the transfer of the tabernacle to another altar, the instances cited in part 3 of the above-mentioned canon not being exclusive cases.”

    In Christ,

  64. Giulio says:

    The CEI — Italian Bishop’s Conference — was almost explicit: they emitted a note regarding the GIRM (http://www.celebrare.it/documenti/pnmr/11-pnmr-cei.htm) that say at §14 “L’altare fisso della celebrazione sia unico e rivolto al popolo.” [Tr. “The fixed altar of celebration ought to be unique and facing the people”]
    In another pastoral note “l’adeguamento delle chiese secondo la riforma liturgica” (http://www.celebrare.it/documenti/adeguam_chiese/m257-ind.htm) we find at §17 “La conformazione e la collocazione dell’altare devono rendere possibile la celebrazione rivolti al popolo e devono consentire di girarvi intorno e di compiere agevolmente tutti i gesti liturgici ad esso inerenti.” [Tr. “The shape and placement of the altar should make possible the celebration facing the people and should allow going around it and make easy all liturgical actions related to it”]
    I have found some liturgist’s articles discussing this topic, they are in Italian “L’altare verso il popolo è scelta conciliare” (http://www.stpauls.it/vita06/0610vp/0610vp54.htm) e “L’altare verso il popolo. Dibattito” (http://dimensionesperanza.it/aree/formazione-religiosa/liturgia/item/3669-laltare-verso-il-popolo-dibattito-uwe-michael-lang-rinaldo-falsini-stefano-parenti-riccardo-barile-.html).

  65. robtbrown says:


    Thanks for the text from the article.

    “Certainly, the primary reality of the Mass is its sacrificial element. But the primary format, or shape, if you will, of the Mass of the faithful is its meal character. And this format was willed by Christ: He chose food for symbols and directly related His institution to the Passover meal.
    Comment by Nathan

    The above summarizes the aporia: When the priest celebrates mass, is he reenacting (or re-presenting)the Last Supper or the Crucifixion? The symbolism of the historical Roman Rite indicates the latter–the elevation of the host after the consecration symbolizes Christ being lifted up on the Cross.

    IMHO, the thesis of Fr Miller would be true if the Last Supper had been celebrated after the Resurrection. In its concrete historical setting, however, the Last Supper looks to the future, anticipating the Crucifixion. And so the celebration of mass is a memorial of Christ’s Suffering and Death, not of the Last Supper.

    The theological foundation of Fr Miller’s opinion is likely the thought of Fr Maurice de la Taille, a 19th cent Jesuit.

  66. Lurker 59 says:

    This is taken from INTRODUCTION TO CHRISTIAN WORSHIP Revised Edition 1990 by the Methodist James F. White page 251

    “Pastoral practice should reflect how the church has grown in understanding in recent years so that one can exercise the fullest ministry in this area. There is a close relationship between theory and practice for those responsible for planning, preparing for , and preceding at the eucharist.

    In the First place, the architectural setting will dictate many if not all, of the possibilities open to us. All traditions have moved in recent years to demanding a free-standing altar-table so that the priest or minister can face the people across it. This became mandatory in new Roman Catholic churches in 1964 and most Protestant churches have followed suit. Once one has celebrated facing the people across the Lord’s Table it is hard ever again to turn one’s back on them.

    Not only must one be able to face the people, but also it must be easy for them to come to the altar-table if this is the practice of one’s tradition. Some traditions are recovering the action of gathering around the Lord’s Table, whether to stand, to kneel, or to sit around extensions of it. The very act of coming forward in the company of one’s neighbor is a powerful nonverbal sign of fellowship and offering of the self. The altar-table must be not only visible but also accessible….”

    It is important to know that during the last several decades, some Protestants too did turn around their altars and those who began to restore their altars did so a free standing altar-tables.

    There is in White’s book as well as the closing appendices to DOES GOD NEED THE CHURCH by Fr. Gehard Lohfink, a great sense of a lacking of fellowship and communion – of real interaction, within the Church and the Protestant ecclesial communities. As Fr. Lohfink put it p 316 “We wanted an end to ecclesiastical pomp, to unintelligible rites, to worn-out hymns, to curial bureaucracy, to clerical dress. We wanted human language in worship, new songs, prayers about our real lives, priests who talked like normal people and fostered communication. We longed for bishops who no longer lived in places, but in rented quarters somewhere, and for Christians who lived in a way that was believable for everyone in society.” As of note Fr. Lohfink writes later that he was swept along looking for “hope and change” (to use today’s equivalent) attaching the traditionalists and only too late did he become aware of the follies of the proposed changes that the progressives were making.

    The whole turning around the altars needs to be viewed within the larger scope of the various movements (Catholic and non-Catholic alike) that were happening during the 40’s through the late 70’s. All of them are predicated upon a strong sense of institutional distrust and a need for community. The turned around altar-table is as White writes a focal point in which a new community can gather around, find fellowship, and express their mutual humanity.

  67. quovadis7 says:


    What post-conciliar liturgical decree(s) can substantiate that “it was also forbidden to set up two altars in the same sanctuary, with one standing in front of the other.”?

    I’m asking since the parish of my childhood (I was born in 1962), which is in a fairly conservative and orthodox diocese, has had that very kind of two altar arrangement as long as I can remember.

    Thanks in advance for any further details you can provide….

    Pax et benedictiones tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum,

    Steve B
    Plano, TX

  68. Andy Milam says:

    Here is an interesting analysis of Vatican Council II from one of it’s periti. This was printed in the parish bulletin in reaction to the resignation of Bishop James Shannon.

    “The parish bulletin for June 30, 1968, has Monsignor Bandas’ {Pastor of St. Agnes, St. Paul, MN 1957-1969} analysis of the controversy:

    A “spirit of the council” is genuine when it flows organically from, or is intrinsically connected with, a council decree or an official interpretation of the decree by the Holy See. A “spirit of the council” is spurious when it is opposed to a council decree or in no wise derives from it or is based upon it.

    Here are a few practices now being introduced into parishes which have no basis in the council decrees and in some instances are in opposition to them. The council nowhere says:


    5) That main altars are to be dismantled or removed; the pastor is only the administrator, not the owner, of parish property;

    6) That the altar railing and pulpit are to be removed from churches;


    9) That a plain table is to replace the main altar;


    With a clear understanding of the conciliar reforms, Monsignor Bandas implemented them at Saint Agnes, always careful to observe the directives as they were given by the Holy See in the gradual work of fulfilling the wishes of the council. As a result, the difficulties encountered in many parishes with an erroneous concept of the conciliar changes were avoided at Saint Agnes. Under the direction of their pastor, the people gladly accepted the decrees of the council, the post-conciliar commissions and the Holy Father. All the conciliar decrees were implemented, but none of the changes introduced so widely as a part of the “spirit of the council” found their way into the liturgical life of Saint Agnes. Credit for this must be given to Monsignor Bandas, his clear knowledge of the council and his foresight which was far beyond that of many other pastors.”

    With the passing of Monsignor Bandas in 1969 due to complications from a short bout of cancer, Monsignor Richard J. Schuler, who was weekend assistant during the Council and implemented the changes the pastor requested as they happened, became pastor of St. Agnes. This post he would remain in until 2006 (as pastor and pastor emeritus), when he finally retired. A year later he died. His life was given in promotion of the Sacred Liturgy and implementation of proper WORSHIP of the faithful as a musician and a mediator (when at the altar).

    The langugage of the post conciliar documents is muddy at best, as we have seen with the quotes from Inter Oecmunici and Consilium.

  69. Nathan says:

    Steve B: That quote was from Romano Amerio’s Iota Unum (English translation by Fr. John P. Parsons, Kansas City, MO: Sarto House, 1996), p. 645. The statement is footnoted as follows:

    “For the ban on having two altars in one sanctuary, see the reply of 19 February 1972 by the Congregation for Divine Worship, published in the Rivista of the Archdiocese of Genoa, and by me [Amerio] in Colloqui di S. Silvestro , Lugano 1974, p. 258. It is there laid down that the added altars should be removed. But in fact new altars go on being put in everywhere.”

    Hope it helps. In Christ,

  70. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    What do we know about the history of the free-standing altar? The ‘East’ (so to put it) has ‘immemorially’ used one. Does it – or has it ever – certainly also followed actual ‘orientation’, which can result in the Celebrant (Bishop or Priest) facing the people over it?

    And how ambiguous is the early written evidence?

    If actual ‘orientation’ can be regularly (e.g., betimes at St. Peter’s) so important, as to allow facing the people, facing the people (even if incidentally) has never been impossible.

    But if facing the people has never been (or may never have been: is there any explicit early textual evidence?) decisive, how decisive has ‘orientation'(actual or otherwise) been?

    I suppose, among other things, I am wondering if there ever need have been an explicit direction, or even permission, to Celebrate from ‘behind’ a free-standing even when one was not doing so in keeping with actual ‘orientation’.

  71. Henry Edwards says:

    Several times here at WDTPRS, Father Z has discussed the May 1993 editorial in the official publication of the Congregation for Divine Worship, enunciating the principle of the unicity of the altar, which it says is theologically more important than celebration facing the people, and indicating that table altars set up in front of historic high altars should be removed. Of course, this principle is observed more in the breach than in the observance.

    Vatican moves to save high altars: a bit late in the day
    Simon Matthews


    Recently, the Congregation for Divine Worship has “clarified” these issues.

    In an unsigned Italian editorial in the Congregation’s journal Notitiae (May 1993), published no doubt in response to the recent widespread publicity given to the works of Msgr Gamber, a number of “guiding points” are given. The third of these is a significant clarification (if one was needed), that calls for an end to the reign of iconoclasm in our churches:

    “The placing of the altar facing the people is certainly something in the present liturgical legislation that is desirable. It is not, nevertheless, an absolute value over and beyond all others. It is necessary to take into account cases in which the sanctuary does not admit of an altar facing the people, or it is not possible to preserve the preceding altar with its ornamentation in such a way that another altar facing the people can be understood to be the principal altar. In these cases, it is more faithful to liturgical sense to celebrate at the existing altar with the back turned to the people rather than maintain two altars in the same sanctuary. The principle of the unicity of the altar is theologically more important than the practice of celebrating facing the people.”

    The fifth “guiding point” of the same editorial points out that “Provisional arrangements cannot be justified any longer.” This is only common sense, if we take the liturgy seriously.

    In the light of this clarification. if one altar in the main sanctuary of a church has to go – and it appears that one must – it is clearly not the fixed, consecrated altar (the high altar). It is the table that has so often been set up in front of them.

    The full text of the Congregation’s editorial was translated by Fr John T. Zuhlsdorf and published in ‘Sacred Music’ (Church of Saint Agnes, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 55103, U.S.A: Vol 120, No. 4: Winter 1994). The Spring 1994 issue of the same journal contains Fr Zuhlsdorf’s extensive comment on the editorial.

  72. Nathan says:

    Steve B and Henry: I’ll try to track down the text of the 19 February 1972 CDW letter. It’s probably in Italian, but if I find it I’ll post its contents. It will likely be Friday morning when I can get it.

    In Christ,

  73. robtbrown says:

    The symbolism of the historical Roman Rite indicates the latter—the elevation of the host after the consecration symbolizes Christ being lifted up on the Cross. (ADD) On the other hand, in the NO the elevation is simply to show the host to the people.

  74. robtbrown says:

    NB: The free standing altar used in Eastern Rites is irrelevant to the question of versus populum because the mysteries are celibrated behind the iconostasis.

  75. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Dear robtbrown,

    You may be right: but the matter might be affected (1) by who knows which direction the Celebrant is facing whether he can be seen or not, (2) by who knows which direction East really is (if relevant: if the Celebrant is ever actually ‘oriented’), (3) the history of the ikonostasis (e.g., was there a time when the people could still see the Celebrant at the altar, and what of more recently built (or modified) Churches where they can see him?).

    I suppose (older) (Western) Churches where there is a fixed Throne in the center of the ‘nave’ apse have always had a free-standing altar, whether their ‘orientation’ is actual or not.

  76. Where might one find a decree which once stood to stop people from removing high altars? <–perhaps this decree would give more info on what was going on (I’m betting it does… wherever it is)

    Where might one find Pope Benedict XVI’s statement saying that Pope Paul VI faced the literal east over the liturgical east? I want to know because… if this is true, then perhaps Pope Paul VI decreed that the priest could face the actual east even if it meant facing the people??? <–and that was perhaps mistranslated???

    Should we look for indults which would grant versus populum? (I am told that indults were granted to accept wide spread liturgical abuse)

    My point in citing what I have cited… and saying what I have said is that perhaps, if people can find those decrees and such (through the little info I have given)… the answer will be contained within them. (I’ve been searching for these documents to answer this very question)

  77. Supertradmum says:

    For those who have not read Fr Maurice de la Taille, he is worth considering.


    One of your notes refers to Bugnini, who I mentioned way above as noted by Michael Davies as one of the “protestantizers” of the Liturgy. The de-emphasis on the Mass as Sacrifice greatly pushed by Cramner, was a favorite idea of Bugnini.

    from Michael Davies:
    “We must strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren that is for the Protestants.” —Archbishop Annibale Bugnini, L’Osservatore Romano, March 19, 1965

    As to an exact document or time, I would side with those who see the great experimental Mass at Easter in 1955 in Rome as the turning point of disastrous reforms. Maxima Redemptionis does not mention a free-standing altar, but the emphasis on participation and the turning of the priest towards the people indicates a new mind-set.

  78. Supertradmum says:

    I should have written, 1951, for the Vigil and the rest of Holy Week, 1955. These changes were made almost immediately in our diocese, as I still have the books which were passed out to the choir and congregation. At least by 1963, in the United States, the changes were made in the Midwest.

  79. gjp says:

    I have spent 5 years on a training staff for a Boy Scout leadership camp. This week long camp trains youth leaders aged 14 to 18 and teaches them eleven leadership skills.

    One of these skills is called Representing the Group. One of the important lessons of this skill is that in Boy Scouts a troop leader wears more than one hat. In other words, this troop leader represents different groups at different times. While amongst his patrol (a small group of 4-8 boys), a patrol leader represents the troop leadership to his patrol. Amongst the troop leadership (other patrol leaders, the senior patrol leader, and the adult Scoutmasters), the patrol leader represents his patrol. The patrol leader is called upon to be a communicator on behalf of and addressing both groups at different times.

    This is applicable to the priesthood. At times, the priest represents God and faces the parishioners when speaking. These parts of the Mass are specifically mentioned in the Missal, and the priest is specifically told to turn and face the people (if not doing so already) when speaking them. This is for a specific and important purpose.

    There are parts of the Mass where the priest represents the parishioners when praying parts of the Mass which are addressed to God. These parts, in theory, would be better visualized if the priest was facing the same direction as the parishioners, facing God, which has traditionally been East, or “liturgical East” depending on whether or not the Church structure itself faces that direction.

    When the priest spends the entire Mass facing the parishioners, the symbolism is lost, in both directions. We lose the image of the priest representing the parishioners when praying to God on behalf of them, and we also lose the powerful visual of the priest turning to face the people to speak to them on behalf of God. The loss of the symbolism has changed the way people experience the Mass. The average Catholic probably has no idea which prayers are addressed to God, and which parts are God speaking to the people…without thinking about it for a few minutes. If ad orientem was put back into the liturgy, even the Mass of Paul VI (ordinary form), a huge amount of meaning would be restored, and it would add something which was lost for all the people who see it.

    There is probably a better way to explain this, but this is the best way for me to understand it.

  80. robtbrown says:

    You may be right: but the matter might be affected (1) by who knows which direction the Celebrant is facing whether he can be seen or not, (2) by who knows which direction East really is (if relevant: if the Celebrant is ever actually ‘oriented’), (3) the history of the ikonostasis (e.g., was there a time when the people could still see the Celebrant at the altar, and what of more recently built (or modified) Churches where they can see him?).
    Comment by Venerator Sti Lot

    If there is an iconostasis, then it cannot be said the celebrant is facing the people. How can he be said to be facing the people when they can’t see each other?

    The concept of iconostasis goes back about 1500 years.

  81. Jordanes says:

    Just a reminder about the bogus Bugnini quote that is found in one of Supertradmum’s comments above. Bugnini never said, “We must strip from our Catholic prayers and from the Catholic liturgy everything which can be the shadow of a stumbling block for our separated brethren that is for the Protestants.” That is a very garbled version of what he really wrote (Archbishop Lefebvre, from whom Michael Davies got the fictitious quote, was apparently paraphrasing, not quoting verbatim).


    “What Father Bugnini actually wrote (L’Osservatore Romano, 19 March 1965, page 6, column 4) is (in exact translation): ‘Love of souls and the desire to facilitate in every way, by removing anything that could even remotely be an impediment or make them feel ill at ease, the road to union on the part of separated brethren, has induced the Church to make even these painful sacrifices.’

    “The sacrifices that Father Bugnini felt were painful to make concerned some familiar words omitted from one particular prayer in the Good Friday liturgy. This prayer, previously titled ‘For the unity of the Church’, is now headed ‘For the unity of Christians’ (the Church is always one). Instead of ‘heretics’ and ‘schismatics’, it now speaks of ‘all our brethren who believe in Jesus Christ’ and asks ‘that God may gather and keep together in his one Church all those who seek the truth in sincerity.’

    “Pope Paul VI’s change in this prayer followed and was in line with Pope John XXIII’s dropping of the adjective ‘perfidi’ (too often mistranslated as ‘perfidious’) from the Good Friday prayer for the Jews.

    “Only bad faith can explain the original distortion of Father Bugnini’s words, their placing in a false context, and the consequent attribution to him of an intention to Protestantize the Catholic liturgy. Of course, those who still repeat the forgery may do so in perfectly good faith.”

  82. Gulielmus says:

    Thank you Jordanes, you beat me to it. There is plenty to criticize Bugnini about without having fabricated such a statement, and whoever did so did a severe disservice to the argument for Tradition by introducing falsehood as a justification for the position. Michael Davies, if not the originator of the mistranslation (and he may have been), must at least bear some blame for bad scholarship in having enshrined it as fact.

  83. Andy Milam says:

    @ Venerator Sti Lot and robtbrown,

    I spoke with an Eastern Catholic priest this morning. His answer to orientation in the East is this. The priest will always face East. That is the orientation. The vast majority of Oriental churches are constructed with the apse facing eastward so the priest and the people face the same direction.

    The Iconostasis is irrelevant to the conversation, because it separates the people from the Sacred Mystery has no bearing on the priest’s orientation.

  84. Supertradmum says:

    Jordanes et al,

    Sorry I trusted Michael Davies. Others have misquoted Bugnini, apparently because it sounds like something he would have said.

  85. Nathan says:

    Steve B and Henry: Here is the text of the CDW letter from 19 February 1972 by the Congregation for Divine Worship, published by Amerio in Colloqui di S. Silvestro , p. 257:

    Haud perpaucis in ecclesiis, cum sacrorum rituum reformatio ad effectum duceretur, ante altare vetus novum altare extructum est, unde sacrum ad populum versus celebraretur. Quod adhuc a quibusdam fieri pergit, qui altaria geminant, quamvis Instructio tertia , n. 11 ( Acta Apost. Sedis, 1970, p. 692 seqq.) expresse statuerit id agendum, “ut in omnibus ecclesiis stabilis dispositio obtineatur”.

    Quaeritur ergo:

    Primum. Utrum geminatum altare in uno eodemque presbyterio, quorum alterum, quod antiquum est, terga, alterum, quod novum, faciem celebrantis populo exibeat, in dispositionionem stabilem transire queat.

    Secundum. Utrum in unoquoque presbyterio unum tantum altare, sive faciale sive tergale, ad litandum praesto esse debeat.

    Tertium. Utrum post prolatam Instructionem tertiam altaria temporaria prorsus tollenda sint.

    Quartum. Ultrum tolerari possit, ut post prolatam Instructionem tertiam nova temporaria alaria ante vetera altaria exstruantur.

    In Christ,

  86. I am pleased that so many have chimed in with references and quotations. This is very useful.

    Thank you!

  87. Nathan says:

    Just a bit of context regarding Michael Davies. I think he would admit that he was a Welsh schoolteacher who got into researching the liturgical changes beause, when he published Pope Paul’s New Mass in 1980, there was almost no work at all in the English language that didn’t have the agenda of cheerleading the changes.

    Over time, before he died, Mr. Davies went back and corrected many of the contexual and subtle errors and made a good faith effort to agument his work with what he had learned over 20 or so years of studying liturgical and ecclasistical history.

    I’d just not like what appears to be an honest mistake sully the critically important work Mr. Davies accomplished. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat eis.

    In Christ,

  88. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Dear Andy Milam,

    Thank you! My understanding was that Celebrant and people both faced East: it is good to hear it from someone who knows!

    A finely-tuned question: in a case where the apse for some reason did not align/face East, would the Celebrant always choose apsidal direction, or would he ever face East, even if that put him (invisibly behind the ikonostasis) on a different side of the altar?

    If (as in St. Peter’s betimes), whether in the East or the West, it is possible for the Celebrant to face East, even if that also results in ‘versus populum’, is it also possible to face ‘versus populum’ even when one is not facing East?

    Is there a literature discussing this, given the ‘weight’ of facing East?

    If this is too bizarre or idly curious a question, please excuse me. Reading of the ‘Notitiae’ (May 1993)editorial, and vaguely recalling reconsecration in ‘Brideshead Revisited’, I found myself asking it. Would it be licit, and has anyone ever attempted, so to ‘deconsecrate’ a high altar that it would support a portable altar, making it possible to alternate radically between high and free-standing altar? I do not suggest this would be a good idea! And the appearance still might be confusing, whenever the free-standing altar was used. But if I can think of it, the spirit of liturgical experimentation may long since have done it!

  89. JamesDunne says:

    Seeking the answer to this same question, I spent a day in the archives of an English diocese a couple of years ago. There were no references in the various Ad Clerum letters to requirements to celebrate facing the people. Various issue of ‘Priests and People’, throughout the ’50s and ’60s refer to churches being built in Britain that have free-standing altars. Having failed to find a real answer I speculate that the sheer number of the world’s bishops seeing the Holy Father celebrating versus populum, combined with the news footage of the same, may have given the impression that versus populum celebration was a feature of Vatican II and may have given impetus to that which the Liturgical Movement had already started…bearing in mind that said bishops will have known that Mass thus oriented was/is licit in what we now call the Extraordinary Form.

    As interesting (but not relevant to the current topic) were the various attempts by this particular bishop to restrain the ‘enthusiasm’ of his clergy. Reminder after reminder about the need for one of the parishes Sunday Masses to be in Latin right through into the mid ’70s, attempts to mandate the use of the Roman Canon and limit the use of EPs 2,3 and 4…

  90. Andy Milam says:

    Venerator Sti Lot,

    “A finely-tuned question: in a case where the apse for some reason did not align/face East, would the Celebrant always choose apsidal direction, or would he ever face East, even if that put him (invisibly behind the ikonostasis) on a different side of the altar?”

    Father answered the question thusly, the priest would face directional East orignially, however, in the middle ages and with the removal of the curtains/iconostasis in the West, many priests took to the habit of facing apsidal East. It was avant garde and over time it became the normative action, to this day. However, the rules for architecture are much more strict than in the West. The vast, vast majority of churches face directional East.

    To answer the second part of your question, I believe that in Chariton, Iowa, the mensa is original to the rerdos, but at some point, it was separated. The current pastor had it put on wheels and it is, from time to time pushed back into place and used ad orientem. I don’t know if that is what you were asking, but I believe that is what happens there. I could be mistaken about the location, but I do know there is one rural parish in the diocese of Des Moines where this happens.

  91. Sorry for being so late to the game. Sorry if I’m duplicating what’s above.


    1964-09-26 DOL 23.383 (Inter Oecumenici 91): “The main altar should preferably be freestanding, to permit walking around it and celebration facing the people.”

    1964-09-26 DOL 23.387 (Inter Oecumenici 95): “It is lawful to celebrate Mass facing the people even on an altar where there is a small but becoming tabernacle.”

    1965-06-30 DOL 31.415 (Letter of Card. Lercaro to presidents of bishops’ conferences, Le renouveau liturgique 6): (Quoted above by g. thomas ryan — 19 August 2010 @ 1:53 pm)

    1966-01-25 DOL 32.428 (Letter of Card. Lercaro to presidents of bishops’ conferences, L’heureux developpement 6): (Quoted above by g. thomas ryan — 19 August 2010 @ 1:53 pm)

    1965-07-16 DOL 543.4336 (Reply from Sac. Cong. of Rites to a query from Washington): “1. Is permission of the local Ordinary needed to erect an altar facing the people? 2. May all priests celebrate Mass facing the people without permission of the Ordinary or the pastor?” Responses: “To 1. Yes. To 2. Yes.”

  92. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Dear Andy Milam,

    Thanks for the latest illuminating answers!

  93. William Tighe says:

    In regard to orientation in the various “Eastern Rite” ecclesiae sui juris: (1) there was until recent centuries a much more scrupulous retention of the practice of orienting the church building itself such that the celebrant in facing East, faced away fro the congregation; but nevertheless, when the church building could not be orientated, the priest nevertheless faced “absidal East,” away from the congregation — and in the Byzantine Rite at least it was and is unheard-of and unthinkable that that the celebrant should position himself on any other side of the altar than in the front of it (concelebrants may stand to the side, but none may stand behind it); & (2) certain Eastern Catholic Church, the Maronites, the Chaldeans, the Malabar Catholics. and the Ethiopians adopted, or at least allowed, “celebration facing the people” in the 1970s; among the Maronites it has become nearly universal (except, as one Maronite priest, now a bishop, wrote to me nearly 20 years ago “in some country churches in rural Lebanon”) and is mandated for Maronite churches in America — by contrast, the Chaldean Church bishops, at their synod in Rome in November 2005, resolved to end the practice of “celebration facing the people” as being contrary to their liturgical custom throughout their entire history. Among the Malabar Catholics arguments over orientation have become part of the “liturgical civil wars” that have convulsed that church since the late 1960s, and of which a full and detailed, although now outdated, account can be found in the *Social Justice Review* in one of its 1986 issues.

    I am not au courant with the practice in this regard of Armenian Catholics, Coptic Catholics and Syriac Catholics.

  94. gjp says:

    I apologize for what I wrote before, I know it wasn’t what Father Z was looking for, but it was something I just felt like writing. There are clear as day ways to explain why ad orientem should be done, which will be easily clear to the average faithful.

    I do have something relevant to add. I found a book called “My Catholic Faith” at a library used book sale recently (a wonderful way to find old Catholic resources). The book is written by +Louis Morrow, who was, at the time, Bishop of Krishnagar in India. He was an American who was born in Texas, became a Salesian, and then a bishop in India. He participated in the Second Vatican Council.

    The version of the book I have is from 1966. However, it appears to have been originally printed in 1949, and revised over the years. Much of the book appears to be quite traditional looking, and it is supposed to be a type of Catholic encyclopedia/catechism.

    I will focus on the parts pertaining to the orientation at Mass. Some of the images show an altar where only ad orientem is possible, these are obviously older images dating back to the earlier printings of the book. However, on the page (292) which specifically refers to the altar, there is an image which shows a more modern late 1960s image of a sanctuary, where even the tabernacle is placed off to the side! The description refers to the table which Christ instituted the Mass on Holy Thursday, then goes on to refer to Mass being celebrated on the tombs of martyrs, etc.

    There is also a photo from the Second Vatican council showing the celebrant facing the people, of course, the people happened to be other bishops. The caption does explain that “Our Lord offered the first Mass of the Last Supper facing his Apostles. St. Peter and the Apostles offered Mass in this same position. It is easier for the faithful to be united with the celebrant.”

    I of course disagree that it is easier for the faithful to be united with the celebrant, but this is more or less the sort of explanation being offered in the mid 1960s for this type of thing.

  95. Prof. Basto says:


    It seems that the first document authorizing Mass facing the people was the 1964 Instruction Inter Oecumenici, that came into force in 1965.

    It was prepared by the Consilium, and submitted to the Pope by its President (Card. Lercaro). Pope Paul VI, after an additional round of consultations with the Consilium and the Sacred Congregation for Rites, approved the document. Papal approval was given in an Audience granted to the Prefect of the Congregation for Rites (Card Larraona), who then issued it.

    It is perhaps relevant to note that Inter Oecumenici, one of the five instructions issued by the Holy See with the status of instructions for the implementation of the Conciliar Constitution on Sacred Liturgy, was reppealed expressly when Liturgiam Authenticam was issued.

    In its English translation, Inter Oecumenici mentions “facing the people” three times (in paragraphs 49, 91 and 95):

    49. In Masses celebrated with a congregation, the lessons, epistle, and gospel are to be read or sung facing the people:

    91. The main altar should preferably be freestanding, to permit walking around it and celebration facing the people. Its location in the place of worship should be truly central so that the attention of the whole congregation naturally focuses there.

    95. (…)
    It is lawful to celebrate Mass facing the people even on an altar where there is a small but becoming tabernacle.

  96. Supertradmum says:

    Prof. Basto,

    Were there not experimental Masses in Rome before this? Mike above refers to your documentation, which is compelling.

  97. Prof. Basto says:


    Perhaps there were. But I cannot find legislation that would support celebration versus populum before the entry into force of Inter Oecumenici.

    In any event, the now reppealed Inter Oecumenici was the first document formally granting papal permission for celebrations versus populum arround the world.

    So, you see, the regrettable legitimation of Mass versus populum was formalized even before the composition and promulgation of the Novus Ordo. It was not decided by the Council, but was decided by the Holy See when the Council was still in session (September, 1964, taking effect in 1965).

    So you see that the authorization for Mass versus populum takes effect arround the time of the publication of the Ordo Missae 1965, and in fact predates that Ordo.

    Inter Oecumenici is the document that gave rise to the “transitional Mass” that existed in 1965-1970 (between the time when the TLM, celebrated according to the latest Missal, of 1962, was the only Mass of the Roman Rite and the time when the Novus Ordo liturgy was promulgated and entred into force in 1969-1970.

    It was a period of great changes, caothically introduced, not at the same time but by means of several documents.

  98. Supertradmum says:

    Prof Basto,

    I belonged to one of twelve “experimental” dioceses in the United States where all the changes were implemented as early as possible and the temperature of the people taken as to the “popularity” of the changes. Adult education classes were held at people’s homes, including my parents’ house, where liturgical documents in loose-leaf binders were passed out and discussed. These groups educated the parishioners who took part in the meaning of the Liturgy, the transitional Mass, etc.

    I do not know all the eleven other dioceses, but the adults were told they were part of the “vanguard” of the “New Mass”. Our pastor at that time was Msgr. J. D. Conway, who was an odd mixture of orthodoxy and social adaptation. He was a personal friend of my parents, and there were many discussions about the Councils, as he had written a book on such.

    The changes in the Liturgy always accompanied teaching in the diocese, as the powers that were wanted a highly successful transition to the NO. All the stages you mention, including earlier ones involving the 1955 Easter changes and the 1958 dialogue Mass and other changes, happened first in our area. Because of the way this was handled, these changes seemed to the people more “organic” and natural. No one in our diocese experienced the EF one day and the NO the next. James Hitchcock called the “desacralization” of the Liturgy a lead into puritanical, iconoclasm and Catholic “fundamentalism” which was minimalist. This is what was happening over a period of time.

    If anyone knows of the other “experimental dioceses”, I would be very interested to know, as this would be worth an article or two.

    It wasn’t until I moved out of state, that I realized how different my experience had been growing up in that diocese.

  99. JonathanZ says:

    I can understand how the more progressive leaders of the church were swept away by “The Changes”, and were inclined to make mass facing the people more widespread, but where were the protests from the more traditional wing of the hierarchy (i.e. then-Father Ratzginer)? How did they come to celebrate facing the people without any commotion?

  100. misterbee says:

    I’m a little late getting to the party, but this article sums it all up very nicely:


    I really, really, really, really recommend reading it.

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