Fr. Longenecker on ad orientem worship

Fr. Dwight Longenecker posted an entry about celebrating Holy Mass ad orientem.

It is longish, so you can read the whole thing there.  Here is some of it with my emphases and comments:

Friday, October 29, 2010
Turning to the Lord

“Do you think that Jesus turned His back to His apostles when at the Last Supper, He gave thanks to His Father and broke the Bread??” asks a reader in the combox.

This is a very good question, because it raises several important issues about the celebration of the liturgy. First, let me answer the question in its most basic form. “Did Jesus turn his back to his apostles when at the Last Supper, He gave thanks to His Father and broke the Bread?” To answer this question we must try to visualize the seating arrangement for a ceremonial Jewish meal in the first century. Sometimes we think of the Last Supper taking place around a table rather like our idea of a family dinner with everyone facing inward and with one person at the head of the table.

Ceremonial meals in the first century were not like this. First of all they reclined at the table, they didn’t sit. Secondly, they all sat on the same side of the table. This was so the servants could access the table from the other side. Consequently, the participants in the meal would all be facing the same way. We see echoes of this in portrayals of the Last Supper like the one above. Many think the artists put them all on the same side of the table in order to show their faces better. It certainly is easier to see their faces that way, but the iconographer is also showing the manner in which the Last Supper was most likely celebrated.

The question therefore does not arise, “Did Jesus turn his back to the Apostles?” No he did not, but then, neither did he sit opposite them as Father would at family dinner, or as the priest does when he celebrates the Mass facing the people. [I can’t resist: “What Would Jesus Do?”  We don’t know for sure, but this argument drives at the point that He wouldn’t say Mass “facing the people”, and neither should we.]

[…]However, the question of the position of the Lord at the Last Supper reveals other, more fundamental questions about the liturgy. Is every Mass a re-enactment of the Last Supper? No. The re-enactment of the Last Supper is the Maundy Thursday liturgy during Holy Week. The church teaches that every other celebration of Mass is not primarily a re-enactment of the Last Supper, but a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.  [I think the words of consecration suggest that Mass is also memorial of the Last Supper.  Father’s “not primarily” get at that.  It is both Sacrifice and Supper.  It doesn’t have to be one or the other.  Liberals, however, downplay the sacrificial aspect and speak of the Supper aspect to the point that Sacrifice hardly every enters into their minds… or that of the congregation.]

This shift in emphasis away from viewing Mass as a sacrifice and instead viewing it as a re-enactment of the Last Supper, and therefore as a kind of ceremonial, family meal is the heart of our liturgical wars. […]

The Holy Mass is a sacrifice–an unbloody re-presentation of the one, full, final sacrifice of Christ on the cross. At the consecration the priest does more than stand as a symbol of Jesus giving thanks to the Father and breaking bread. This fourfold action of ‘taking the bread, blessing it, giving thanks and giving it to the people’ is the act of consecration through which the bread is bread no more, but is now the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ–Son of God and Son of Mary. The priest is not simply standing in as an icon of Jesus at the Last Supper, [Here is the point:] but he is a sacrificing priest, offering the sacrifice of Christ to the Father with us and for us. [There is no priesthood without sacrifice.  They are inseparable.  Why do liberals and protestants stress the “presider” and the “meal”?  They don’t believe that what Christ commanded us to do should have a sacrificial character.  This changes entirely the relationship of “minister” and “people”.  “Ministry” can mean anything.  This has consequences for worship, of course. It also has consequences for doctrine, since there can be no authority without a clear line that goes back to something Christ established at the Last Supper: priesthood connected to Sacrifice, His saving act for our redemption.]


Furthermore, as the Jews away from Jerusalem would always worship towards the  Holy City, so the documents show that when the Christians met for their celebration of Eucharist they faced the East–facing the rising sun as a symbol of the risen Lord and facing the direction from which he would come again. The priest faced the same way as the people – offering the sacrifice with them and for them as together they faced the Lord. This is the way the Church worshiped for two thousand years. Now we change it and we think we’re so smart? [Do I hear an “Amen!”?]

Allow me to make a few other observations which are personal, and not historical or scholarly at all. I can only say as a priest that when I celebrate facing the people I cannot get away from the fact that I am standing opposite them, that they are looking at me and I am looking at them. The focus of our worship therefore must be what stands between us. Christ is in our midst in the middle of our circle. While this is true, and reveals certain truths to us, I find it ultimately unsatisfactory. I want to look beyond myself and beyond the people opposite me.


[Here is a scary thought…] Why do so many Catholic parishes now take on the personality of their priest? Maybe because the priests are too much the center of attention. Why do so many priests seem to revel in all this attention? Maybe because every time they go to the altar they are the center attraction. Maybe this has also contributed to the narcissism and showy-ness of so many of our priests.When I pray the Mass in the same direction of the people it is amazing how I don’t have to worry about myself and what I look like and whether I’m putting enough ‘feeling’ into the words. [Latin will help with that.  And a silent Canon even more.] Instead I merge into the people behind me who are praying with me. I feel caught up in a wave of their prayers as their prayers and mine are offered to the Lord who is up and beyond both of us. I feel no alienation at all in ‘turning my back to them.’ On the contrary, I feel closer to them and more one with them as we all pray in the same direction. I am no longer ‘up there’ with them all looking at me. Instead I am with them and one with them as together we turn toward the Lord.

A good explanation.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. mgmurad says:

    The article makes good points overall. However Fr. Longenecker is clearly mistaken when he says: “This fourfold action of ‘taking the bread, blessing it, giving thanks and giving it to the people’ is the act of consecration through which the bread is bread no more…”

    “Giving it to the people” forms no part of the act of consecration, is not necessary for validity, and is often absent from private Masses which still have an infinite intercessory value for the Church. An important point, I would think, within the context of educating Catholics about the true nature of the Mass.

  2. AnnaTrad51 says:

    I have always felt as the Priest goes so goes the parish or at lest the many.

  3. Elly says:

    Cool! Thanks!

  4. Childermass says:

    Father Z, there are entire archdioceses where the ad orientem posture is not found at any Novus Ordo. It’s astonishingly rare.

    My question is, how on earth did this 1960s idea become so nigh universal? Even the Popes have drunk this Kool-Aid. And what can a priest do to make a beginning at reversing this tide, which has hardened into a quasi-law (even the priests on EWTN cannot do ad orientem)?

  5. MLivingston says:

    Oh, this is SO GOOD!! There is just no rebuttal to this. Can’t wait to use it on the next one who whines about “back to the people” (shame on me)…

  6. Rich says:

    The either-or dichotomy between sacrifice and meal is unfortunate: “Are not those who eat the sacrifices partakers in the altar?” (1 Cor. 10:18)

  7. Johnsum says:

    Would it be correct to say that without sacrifice there would be no supper? I am thinking of the Jewish temple practice where the priest and the faithful offering the sacrifice would consume part of the offering together.

  8. Tina in Ashburn says:

    Do people typically turn their backs on the person they are talking to?

    If the Mass is all about the priest addressing God the Father, why is a priest expected to turn his back on God?

    As we have witnessed over the years since the 60s, the influence has worsened to make the laity think the Mass is about them, and God is just a bystander, while we indulge in making Mass an experience for ourselves. The emphasis is backwards. We are being taught by what we see.

  9. frdgss says:

    Do people typically turn their backs on the person they are talking to?
    Exactly. I ‘ve always thought it odd that if, as we believe, God is truly and perpetually present in the Tabernacle (usually situated centrally behind the altar of sarifice) then we certainly should not turn our backs on Him during Mass.
    Funny how you never hear the critics of ad orientem mention this.

  10. My question (as naive as it might be): Why is “ad orientem” even an issue?
    It’s in the current Missal of the Roman Rite…it is of ancient usage…why is this an issue?

  11. Andreas says:

    “Why do so many Catholic parishes now take on the personality of their priest? Maybe because the priests are too much the center of attention. Why do so many priests seem to revel in all this attention? Maybe because every time they go to the altar they are the center attraction. Maybe this has also contributed to the narcissism and showy-ness of so many of our priests.”

    Yes, indeed…this theme was first broached in the wonderful narrative “Why Catholics Can’t Sing” by Professor Thomas Day. If you have not as yet had the opportunity to peruse this now classic book, I believe you would find it a most enlightening and enjoyable read.

  12. Mike says:

    Having just read a speech by Martin Moseback which made some interesting pts. relevant here, I will steal a line from him: It is possible to say the NO with a “heart shaped by Tradition”. Thankfully, my daily Mass is just that. Opus Dei priests are shaped by Tradition, in my experience, though they usually offer the NO.

    That being said, my weekend parish Masses are often with the priest at the center of the show–no Benedictine Altar arrangements there!–and it contributes to the slap-happy, haven’t been to Confession in years, let’s usher up every pew to Communion, with 15 “Ministers” of the Eucharist.

    As Charlie Brown would say, good grief.

  13. The Cobbler says:

    You know what I find funny? People worry about the priest “turning his back to them” like it’s a cosmic insult, and people (not all the same people, but some of them the same people) also think we should let anyone who professes to be Christian receive Communion because, they say, Christ would be above being insulted or something (“human pettiness” is the phrase used, if I’m not mistaken) by our sin or lack of right belief. Don’t worry, Christ can’t be insulted (as if that was the issue), but I can!! That is hilarious.

    Sorry, I know it’s kinda off-topic; it’s just the in-perspective way I look at the “priest turns back to people zomg!” sort of nonsense.

  14. Ioannes Andreades says:

    When one reads the accounts of the Last Supper, the overriding theme is the event that will take place the next day. Holy Thursday is about Good Friday. To focus exclusively on the supper aspect is to misunderstand Holy Thursday completely. It was clearly not an enjoyable event, but was filled with bickering and talk about betrayal. Unlike the traditional Passover meal, the event was not focused on the past but on the future, primarily the immediate one.

  15. I’d love to see more ad orientem, and this is just the kind of argument we need to get more of it in our churches.

    Another thing occured to me while I was reading. Some will complain that when the priest is ad orientem, no one can hear what he’s saying. Nowadays many churches have sound systems installed. In that light, no matter what direction Father faces, we’ll be able to hear him :)
    Of course, you could always pick up a missal and follow along….. but perhaps that’s asking a little too much in the way of active participation (sarcasm)

  16. roamincatholic says:

    Re: Sacrifice vs. Meal.

    Ratzinger addresses this PHENOMENALLY in his epic tome, The Spirit of the Liturgy.

    He says that this has been a major point of debate in the Late 19th/ Early 20th century Liturgical Movement. Being that he is “The Pope of Christian Unity,” he proposes (as Fr. Z. alluded to) that the essence of the Mass is not principally Meal or Sacrifice, but rather, “Eucharistia”– which brings the two together in a perfect balance. To juxtapose the two is to lose the essence of what Christ did (and does, at the Mass).

  17. merrydelval says:

    What is interesting is that this is Greenville, SC. Not a really Catholic area. Seven parishes in the county. That makes three with ad orientem worship: St Mary’s and Our Lady of the Rosary, all the time, Prince of Peace at EF Mass and some OF Masses. One wonders what will happen, as the Bishop has ordered the chaplain of the Catholic high school in Charleston, where there is also a parish that does ad orientem for EF and OF masses, whence come many of the students, to cease to celebrate the Mass ad orientem. The amusing thing is, only three years ago when I was assigned to Greenville, this was all unthinkable. I am wondering what other cities in the US have three parishes in a 20 mile radius all doing ad orientem for OF Masses? As much as people like to down the South, maybe we are just ahead of the curve?

  18. merrydelval says:

    spoke too soon. Looks as if Fr Dwight just did this once at a daily Mass. But who knows if it could be a trend?

  19. Mike says:

    We were in Charleston, SC this summer for a wedding. We went to, I believe, St. Mary’s for Sunday Mass. Wow. NO, but the minute I heard the male schola, saw the pastor’s vestments, I knew this was a parish that loved Tradition and reform of the reform.

    As well, the pastor’s homily was one of the best I have ever heard, rock solid, eloquent in a humble way, memorable in its earnest charity.

  20. PaterAugustinus says:

    “Is every Mass a re-enactment of the Last Supper? No. The re-enactment of the Last Supper is the Maundy Thursday liturgy during Holy Week. The church teaches that every other celebration of Mass is not primarily a re-enactment of the Last Supper, but a re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.”

    It seems to me, that the Apostolic Tradition regards the Mass/Liturgy as the re-presentation of the entire economy of salvation… i.e., the re-presentation/recapitulation of ALL that Christ did for our salvation. Because the Sacrifice on the Cross is central to the Economy of Salvation, it is natural to think of the Mass primarily in terms of the Sacrifice of Calvary. But, the Mass is actually the re-presentation of everything our Lord did for our salvation.

    The flow of the Mass goes through the whole life of Christ, and the whole of salvation history. All the old commentaries on the Mass (and the Divine Liturgy) liken the progression of the Eucharistic Liturgy to the progression of our Lord’s Dispensation for mankind. It begins with the recollection of the prophetic preaching in the Kyrie of the Latin Rite (recalling the invocation to repentance, culimating in John the Baptist) or the Psalmody and penitential antiphons of the Eastern Rite. Then, the Gloria recalls the Angelic annunciation of the Lord’s Birth. Each “Dominus Vobiscum” represents a different manifestation of Christ. The first, done here, recalls His being found in the temple teaching the Elders… and so, the Collect and the Lesson, together with the Gradual/Tract represent the general teaching of the way of righteousness. The Jubilus of the Alleluya (and the Sequence, when sung), leading into the Gospel, recall the mingling of Heaven and Earth as the Lord Himself preaches the fulfillment of the Law to us, Incarnate, from the Gospels. In the Creed we, like the Apostles, declare our Faith in Him. We then follow Him to the triumphal entry at Jerusalem (the Preface and Sanctus), but just as all the citizens of Jerusalem, we who sang at His triumphal entry forsake Him alone as He prays the High Priestly Prayer in Gethsemane and suffers His trial and Passion (the rubrics used to call for all the ministers to leave the Altar during the Canon, leaving the priest alone up until the Supplices Te Rogamus). The whole Canon represents the Lord’s Maundy, the High Priestly Prayer and intercessions in Gethsemane, and the Lord’s Passion. The Elevation at the “Per Ipsum et Cum Ipso et in Ipso” (formerly the only elevation in the Canon) especially points to the Crucifixion as the culmination of the Canon; the subsequent veiling (just before the “Praeceptis salutaribus”) signifies the Burial; the breaking of the host into three parts, one larger and two smaller, indicates the Lord being present spiritually in the Heavens, bodily on Earth, and in soul in Hades; the mingling of the Body and Blood during the Agnus Dei signifies the Resurrection of the Lord. The fact that the priest changes his greeting from “Dominus Vobiscum” to “Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum” just before the Agnus Dei, and the fact that he does NOT turn around while saying it, signifies the special and singular manifestation of the Risen Lord to His disciples (when He appeared secretly in their midst, and said these very words). The Communio represents the time the Lord spent with His disciples after the Resurrection (within the sequence of the Mass; obviously Communion has an infinite and ineffable significance in and of Itself). Just before the Super Populum prayer (which I do not think is still done with regularity in the Tridentine Rite), the veils are put away and the taper-bearers light their tapers and flank the priest, who gives a final blessing in this prayer before returning to the Altar to say the “Placeat.” This represents the Lord’s final blessing of His followers before His Ascension. The Deacon then dismisses us with the Ite, Missa est or the Benedicamus Domino. This recalls the Angelic dismissal of the throng on the Mount of Olives, awaiting the Lord’s return with good hope.

    So, I would say that the Mass is always a re-enactment of the Lord’s Maundy, just as it is always a re-enactment of the Sacrifice of Calvary. It’s just that the Sacrifice of the Cross understandably takes center-stage. But, that shouldn’t discourage us from continuing in the Tradition and acknowledging the whole Mass as a recapitulation of Christ’s entire dispensation.

  21. benedictgal says:

    I feel weird as I blogged about this a couple of days ago:

    A priest friend of mine sometimes celebrates Mass ad orientem. Sadly, there are some folks, including our chancelloress, who think that he is turning his back on the people.

  22. mndad says:

    “Why do so many Catholic parishes now take on the personality of their priest? Maybe because the priests are too much the center of attention. Why do so many priests seem to revel in all this attention?”
    LOL Well this kind if sentiment certainly could be applied to a blog that shows Fathers picture about twice the size on the left side of the header compared to the Popes.

  23. benedictgal says:

    “Why do so many Catholic parishes now take on the personality of their priest? Maybe because the priests are too much the center of attention.”

    Archbshiop Malcolm Ranjinth aptly called this “ego pampering” on the part of the celebrant. I was blessed to have been able to attend the second day of the 2008 Gateway Liturgical Conference in St. Louis, MO, where the Cardinal-designate spoke on Ars Celebrandi. He made a very strong case for ad orientem. Anyone wanting to learn more about this posture should read the book “Turning Towards the Lord” by Fr. Uwe Michael Lang.

  24. Jerry says:

    @merrydelval: Has the bishop provided a reason for prohibiting the school chaplain from celebrating Mass ad orientem?

  25. jflare says:

    I’m rather perplexed by your comment with regard to whole archdioceses having not even one NO practiced ad orientem. Doing so IS, indeed, quite rare. So much so, that in spite of having attended Mass in 4 separate countries on 3 different continents–and in 6 languages, to boot–I’ve seen an NO done ad orientem.. ..once(?). For Christmas.

    If you’ve found someplace that does it ad orientem more often, I’d say you’ve made a remarkable find indeed!

  26. southern orders says:

    It seems to me that if a parish does begin to celebrate Mass ad orientem, then there should be a sound catechesis before doing so. I believe that St. Mary in Greenville, SC certainly did this prior to going “ad orientem.” What concerns me though is where is the bishop in all of this if in fact he is the primary liturgist of the diocese. Does he give advice, support this move or look upon it as an eccentricity of the priest doing it? What about consistency? Who decides which direction the Mass is celebrated; each celebrant? I know as pastor I would go crazy if my parochial vicar or a visiting priest decided on his own authority to celebrate Mass ad orientem or to revert to facing the people if ad orientem was the tradition in the parish. In this, there seems to be little or no concern for the sensibilities of the laity who must endure this type of imposing the priest’s idiosyncrasies upon them. There has to be some pastoral sensitivity in all of this and the avoidance of congregationalism which is not of our tradition. But with that said, I would like to see the option of ad orientem encouraged by the bishops but with specific guidelines about doing it in terms of consistency, catechesis and who decides.

  27. frdgss says:

    You’d be very welcome to my UK military parish here in Germany!
    We have the Ordinary-Form in the vernacular on Sundays and the Extra-Ordinary Form on weekdays; both forms are celebrated ad orientem. On Sundays we have a Solemn Mass with the Missa de Angelis and traditional hymns. We have lots of kids at Mass and so we run a very busy children’s liturgy during the 1st part of the Mass. Most people choose to receive Holy Communion kneeling and onto the tongue.

    This morning gave a beautiful example of what can happen when people of all ages are fed with the traditionally hallowed way of celebrating Holy Mass: we have lots of kids in church and there’s always a little bit of background noise from the younger children. As I started the Canon of the Mass, the church fell completely silent – you could have heard a pin drop. As I elevated both Host and Chalice I could hear the parents whispering to their children “look, there’s Jesus”. The eastward position emphasises this sacred moment of consecration and makes it easier for people to understand what is happening during the Mass – and who it is that comes among us through the miracle of the Mass.

    This change to ad orientem was preceded by about 3 months of solid catechesis from the pulpit. I have found that once properly explained, people grow to love the ad orientem position and can see the sense in it. Bishop Slattery’s article on ad orientem worship was especially helpful and I made copies available for people to take away and read.
    The soldiers like it especially – one young squaddie noted that during Mass is the only time in his week when he is not being watched! It’s also something of a “stress-relief” for the priest not to have a churchful of people eyeballing his every move.

    All in all, to my mind ad orientem is a WIN-WIN situation and I would not like to go back to what I feel is an uncomfortably confrontational arrangement when Mass is celebrated versus populum.

  28. cheekypinkgirl says:

    Ad Orientem? Yes!
    Latin? No thanks.

  29. robtbrown says:

    Even though the words of consecration are taken from the Last Supper, I do not think that the mass is in any a memorial (or re-enactment) of it. This for various reasons:

    1. Both the Catechism and St Thomas say that the Eucharist is only a memorial of the Passion and Death. The Eucharist was instituted at the Last Supper.

    2. The Eucharist is not, as Cardinal Ratzinger noted, a Christianized version of the Passover Meal.

    3. The circumstances of the Last Supper are much different than those of mass it happened before the Passion and Death. The Passover Sacrifice occurred before the celebration, but the consummation of the Sacrifice of Christ after the Last Supper.

    4. Pater Augustinus makes a good point about the flow of the mass touching all points of Christ’s life, but I disagree with his interpretation simply because His entire life is oriented toward His priestly offering of His own Death. Thus the importance of the elevation after the consecration. He is correct in implying that this was a fairly late addition (Middle Ages), but that doesn’t disqualify its importance to the liturgy. In fact, JRatzinger noted that he favors ressourcement, but he differs from most of its advocates who want to excise Medieval influences. IMHO, this Medieval deficiency has produced theology and liturgy that is a synthesis of Existentialism and whatever Patristic sources that seem to confirm it.

    5. IMHO, it is most important to understand the relationship between the Eucharist and Christ’s Passion and Death. The Eucharist exists for the Passion and Death, not the other way around (as Scott Hahn implies). Nor is there an equality between His priestly offering on the Cross and Him offering Himself in Communion (as someone can infer from De La Taille).

  30. Childermass says:

    jflare, unfortunately I have never seen a NO does ad orientem. My archdiocese is one of those without any.

    I’m contemplating the priesthood, and I would be willing to celebrate the NO–I just hope I wouldn’t get banished into the outer darkness if I sought (after some catechetical preparation) to celebrate it ad orientem. I would also seek to actually *sing* the Mass on Sundays rather than recite it and “sandwich” it with hymns. Of course, as any reader of Thomas Day is aware, that’s been a problem since before Vatican II.

  31. benedictgal says:

    @southnern orders:

    A priest does not need the bishop’s permission to celebrate Mass ad orientem. In fact, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments hash consistently defended this posture. Please read this citations (courtesy of the Adoremus Bulletin):

    The CDWDS specifically stated that:

    “The physical position, especially with respect to the communication among the various members of the assembly, must be distinguished from the interior spiritual orientation of all. It would be a grave error to imagine that the principal orientation of the sacrificial action is [toward] the community. If the priest celebrates versus populum, which is a legitimate and often advisable, his spiritual attitude ought always to be versus Deum per Jesus Christum [toward God through Jesus Christ], as representative of the entire Church. The Church as well, which takes concrete form in the assembly which participates, is entirely turned versus Deum [towards God] as its first spiritual movement.

    It appears that the ancient tradition, though not without exception, was that the celebrant and the praying community were turned versus orientem [toward the East], the direction from which the Light which is Christ comes. It is not unusual for ancient churches to be “oriented” so that the priest and the people were turned versus orientem during public prayer.”

    Now, some will raise the case of what happened at EWTN. There was a loophole in that situation: the one concerning the bishop’s authority to regulate televised Masses in his diocese. However, for all practical purposes, if a priest wants to celebrate ad orientem in his regular parish Mass or at a chapel, no such permission is needed.

  32. TJerome says:

    cheekypinkgirl, I assume you have read Sacrosanctum Concilium which requires the laity to learn to sing, in LATIN, the parts of the Mass proper to them. Are you then, rejecting, as a Catholic, the direct mandate of this Conciliar document from Vatican II? Perhaps you would like to rethink your cavalier comment?

  33. yatzer says:

    Our parish has both the EF and OF on a regular basis. Usually the OF is celebrated in the Benedictine fashion with the priest facing the people, but with cucufix and candles. I was somewhat bemused one day when I did not notice until the end of Mass in the OF that the priest had celebrated ad orientem. It just didn’t make that much difference. That said, I do prefer ad orientem if only because I either tend to feel supervised or like the priest is celebrating to the congregation instead of to God.

  34. southern orders says:

    benedictgal, my concern is not so much with what is allowed by liturgical law as I acknowledge what you write about it, but what is pastoral and leads to unity and peace in a congregation. I suspect any priest could offer the Mass in any language that he knows and has the liturgical books for such, but that might be imposing on the congregation something they are not prepared to experience on any given Sunday. My concern is who decides on the parish level which way Mass will be celebrated. It might be within my parochial vicar’s right to celebrate ad orientem while I celebrate toward the people. So the Sunday he has the Mass, its his way and my Sunday my way. I don’t think that’s beneficial in a parish. In other words, I think the clergy should show pastoral sensitivity to their congregation through consistency. That might mean one or two Masses are ad orientem and the others toward the people. My question remains, who decides. Seems to me it should be the pastor and he should consult with his pastoral council and his bishop before making these major decisions. Then whichever way Mass is celebrated it should be that way no matter the celebrant.

  35. Desertfalcon says:

    I think ‘Childermass’ hit on the essential problem in his first comment. Can it be expected that individual dioceses will take up the return to the ad orientem when it is so infrequently seen to be used by the chief Bishop of the Church? Other than private masses, has HH Benedict ever offered Mass publicly other than versus populum? I don’t mean to unload specifically on His Holiness, but I wouldn’t expect officers in the field to enthusiastically initiate such change without leadership by example from HQ.

  36. benedictgal says:

    Southern Cross:

    With all due respect, you are making more out of this than there needs to be. It is not up to the pastor to decide how his parochial vicar is to celebrate Mass (unless, of course, there is some serious liturgical abuse going on with the PV). The Church makes it perfectly clear that the celebrant has the right to celebrate ad orientem. In fact, the rubrics make reference to it. If he is praying the Eucharistic Prayer versus populum, why does the rubric in the Roman Missal specifically state that he “show the people” the Sacred Host and the chalice? There would not necessarily be a need to point out to the obvious if he is facing the people. Now, if he is taking on the ad orientem posture, then, that is where the directive makes more sense.

    With all due respect, it seems to me that you are wanting to place an undue burden of proof on the celebrant who wants to use a valid posture. If the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments does not place that burden, if the Holy Father, himself, who also uses this posture when he celebrates Mass in his private chapel, does not place this burden, why, then, should we? Perhaps you might want to read Fr. Lang’s excellent book on ad orientem, a book whose foreword is written by no less than the former Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, himself.

  37. thereseb says:

    Desert Falcon

    I agree with the principle of what you are saying – but I can just see the newspaper headlines now “Pope turns his back on the people…..” If enough diocesan bishops introduced it first as part of an ongoing catechesis, then he would be able to say “I am responding to a demand…”

  38. robtbrown says:

    Southern orders,

    Aren’t such problems inevitable with the vernacular? Then, as you say, it becomes who decides? The bishop? The pastor? The Peoples’ Committee on Liturgy? All of them can–and have–made the decision without regard to the hermeneutic of continuity.

  39. benedictgal says:

    Desert Falcon:

    Pope Benedict has celebrated Mass ad orientem in public. This is the posture that he uses whenever he celebrates Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica (since that is the basilica’s orientation) and at the Sistene Chapel.

  40. cheekypinkgirl says:

    I’m a cavalier kind of girl, yes.

    Sing and/or respond a few times at mass in Latin? Fine.
    Mass entirely in Latin? Again, no thanks. Don’t need to read high brow church documents, I’m quite aware of what that doument says, thank you very much Father Z and other traditional Catholic bloggers.

    Remember that stating a preference is not disobedience. Only disobedience is disobedience, and in this case, until the Pope stands up and says everyone WILL do mass in Latin, I’m free to state a preference.

    Some of the more traddy types need to recognize that there is a certain contingent of conservative Catholics who support *some* but not all aspects of Traditonal Catholicism. The fact that we don’t want to order everything on the menu doesn’t make us “less-than” Catholics. For example, there’s lots of us out here who want communion back at an altar rail, on the tongue – and mass celebrated ad orientem – but who do not want mass celebrated in Latin. In fact, I’ll bet there’s more of us than will publically admit.

  41. Sam Schmitt says:

    “Some of the more traddy types need to recognize that there is a certain contingent of conservative Catholics who support *some* but not all aspects of Traditonal Catholicism. ”

    Interesting. On what basis do you support some but not others? It seems it has more to do with personal preference than what is “traditional.”

    Which is fine. I don’t support everything that passes for “traditional Catholicism” these days either. But why support communion at the altar rail but not Latin? Ad orientem (for example), but not Gregorian chant? I guess I wonder – why prefer one but not the other? They seem to be all of a piece.

  42. Desertfalcon says:

    @ benedictgal

    While you are technically correct, I think the conversation here has to do with the popular use of ‘ad orientum’ meaning facing the altar rather than facing the people. In St. Peter’s, true enough, the altar is at the crossing of the transept and Mass is celebrated facing east, but also facing the nave as well. In Masses in which I have seen His Holiness celebrate anywhere in the world, he is always behind the altar and facing the people. One poster here suggested that the wider use of the ad orientum should ‘filter up’ from the parish and diocesan level, but that does not seem very “Catholic” in it’s approach to me.

  43. benedictgal says:

    Desert Falcon:

    With all due respect, if you look at the configuration of the Papal Masses celebrated outside of St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistene Chapel, the Holy Father’s orientation is not necessarily versus populum; rather, he has the crucifix set up on such a manner that the focus is on Christ and not on his Vicar.

    Quoting St. John the Baptist, Cardinal-designate Malcolm Ranjinth stated that “He must increase; I must decrease.” The posture of ad orientem is ancient and very Catholic.

  44. Desertfalcon says:

    @ benedictgal

    I’m starting to think that I am misunderstanding your terms. After doing a few Google searches, I can’t find anywhere, in pictures or in print, where the Pope has celebrated Mass other than versus populum with the exceptions of those privately celebrated in the Pauline Chapel and Sistine Chapel of the Apostolic Palace. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for the revival of the ad orientem posture, but I think I must be missing what you are saying because in public masses I think His Holiness has only celebrated Mass facing the people. That is the issue at hand.

  45. benedictgal says:

    He has celebrated Mass publicly using the ad orientem posture whenever he is at the Sistene Chapel. If you look at any broadcasts for the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord, you will find him doing just that. In fact, the issue was brought up on an interview that Sandro Magister reprinted in his online publication Chiesa. Msgr. Guideo Marini notes in part that:

    “On the celebration at the ancient altar facing the scene of the Last Judgment, in the Sistine Chapel, Marini explains:

    «In the circumstances in which the celebration is conducted in this way, it is not a matter of turning one’s back to the faithful, but rather of orienting oneself together with the faithful toward the Lord. From this point of view, “the door is not closed on the assembly,” but “the door is opened to the assembly,” and it is led to the Lord. Particular circumstances can arise in which, because of the artistic conditions of the sacred place and its singular beauty and harmony, it is preferable to celebrate at the ancient altar, where among other things the exact orientation of the liturgical celebration is preserved. This should not surprise us: it is sufficient to go to the basilica of Saint Peter in the morning, and see how many priests celebrate according to the rite produced by the liturgical reform, but on the traditional altars, and therefore oriented like that of the Sistine Chapel.»

    You can actually see a picture of this by following this link:

    There is a picture of the Holy Father celebrating Mass ad orientem. It’s not an urban legend.

  46. Jerry says:

    @robtbrown – “All of them can–and have–made the decision without regard to the hermeneutic of continuity.”

    If this discussion were taking place 40-45 years ago, I’d agree with you without reservation. The problem now, in 2010, as Southern Orders has explained, is that we have to consider continuity with both present and historical practices. Many Catholics today have never experienced the Mass celebrated ad orietem. Introducing this change without adequate preparation will be as disruptive to them as the post-Vatican II changes were to many of us. Yes, we need to get to the right place — but we must be careful not to cause more damage getting there.

  47. jflare says:

    So, why use a communion rail for Mass, but not Latin exclusively?
    Why not have the priest celebrate ad orientem, regardless of what people typically have seen?

    Or, in other words, why are we celebrating the Mass the way we are? Or not?

    All of these questions, for my purposes anyway, amount to this: Have the faithful been catechized to celebrate the faith “correctly” and how much pain will we put people through by changing things?
    Don’t forget, for all that I’ve heard the howls for traditions these last many years, I’ve ALSO heard many howls about changing back to those traditions. Often, from the people who grew up before things began changing.

    Using altar rails doesn’t always require a lot of work. A parish might find some simple ones in storage or purchase them fairly cheaply. A simple explanation of the reasoning, say during a homily or announcements, might solve the shock factor problem.
    Using Latin exclusively, on the other hand, could raise some real problems. I don’t speak Latin; I didn’t take it in high school (more’s the pity). If a priest offered a Latin Mass, I would not understand readings, homily, or anything else. Even having a missal only helps so far. If you wish to stay with the priest, it’s difficult to follow what’s going on while reading the missal.
    I think that’s why Vatican II declared we COULD use the vernacular for some portions; the laity need to understand what the readings said and comprehend the homily. Until the Church takes the time to help us all learn Latin, I don’t think abandoning the vernacular makes sense.
    Interestingly, when I attended a few CMRI Masses some years ago, the priest read some of the text of the readings during his homilies. Everything else was in Latin, but I understood his comments quite well.

    Having said that, I can honestly say I prefer Chant and polyphony to much of the music I learned as a kid. I understand the general point of the text and the music tends to be rather more beautiful and worthwhile than much of the vernacular music. ..And, sad to say, I’m not very impressed with most music that’s been composed since about 1990. One Bread, One Body and several others made sense to me; much of the latter..doesn’t. Or not enough anyway.

    I’m afraid I tend to side with the preference for versus populum over ad orientem. I suspect I could adapt if needed, but I still think it’s good to be able to hear AND see what the priest does. Granted, using a mic reduces some of the problem of hearing, but I can still follow what’s going on when I can SEE what he’s doing as well. I think that’s the primary reason someone decided versus populum would be good.
    Could I adapt to having the priest doing it ad orientem? Probably. The traditional Mass has some pretty strict rubrics about what the priest does when, so it’s plausible that I could learn to look for this or that. Problem is, I WOULD need to LEARN what to look for. I have yet to see anyone propose better enabling the faithful, the laity in particular, in that regard.

    All in all, I’d actually prefer that the Holy Father would do like the traditional Mass: Declare that we’ll be doing it THIS way as of THIS date, period. That way, we could all get our changing pains out of the way within a few years and quit having these squabbles. That, itself, would be a great blessing!

  48. under the veil>>>Another thing occured to me while I was reading. Some will complain that when the priest is ad orientem, no one can hear what he’s saying.<<<<

    A deploying soldier buddy related to me recently how a first sergeant addressing his company couldn't be heard. He then about-faced and faced the brick wall which had been behind him. Bouncing his voice against the wall, suddenly everone could hear just fine! This buddy, then speculated to me that this natural acoustical amplification had probably been built into medieval churches.

  49. Desertfalcon says:

    @ benedictgal

    Ya, we are obviously having a ‘lost in translation’ problem. I assume from what you posted that you missed what I wrote in my comment just above yours that states, “the Pope has celebrated Mass other than versus populum with the exceptions of those privately celebrated in the Pauline Chapel and Sistine Chapel of the Apostolic Palace.” Those are not “public” Masses as such. The one celebrated in the Sistine Chapel was for the families of Vatican employees who’s children had been baptised that day by His Holiness and the only other Mass that he has celebrated ad orientem that I am aware of was a private Mass for the International Theological Commission in the Pauline Chapel. If I am missing something I am more than happy to be enlightened but I think my information is accurate.

  50. benedictgal says:


    The Mass for the Solemnity of the Baptism of the Lord was televised on EWTN and carried live on Vatican Radio. Thus, it was not a private Mass. In fact EWTN replayed the broadcast a few times that day.

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