A writer’s first experience of Mass “ad orientem”

Matthew Warner has a piece in which he descibes participating at Mass ad orientem for the first time.

My emphases and comments.


Not too long ago, however, I attended an Ordinary Form of the Mass where the priest was facing away from the congregation during the consecration. Of course, that was the normal practice prior to Vatican II. [And after, too, according to the rubrics which have been ignored.] But I had never experienced it. In the Ordinary Form of the Mass today, the priest faces the congregation the whole time.

I know there are theological reasons to support both practices. [Iuxta modum.] And my point here is not to argue them or to say that either is objectively “better.” [We know the answer already.] All I want to say is that when the priest held up the bread and wine and offered them up to the Father as the Body and Blood of His Son, I experienced Mass in a different way than ever before. [There it is, friends.  And this is also the experience of the priest during Mass.  And the way the priest says Mass is going to have an effect on the congregation.]


But when the priest was facing away from me this time, I got a very different impression. It really hit home to me more than ever that in that moment I was participating in something, not just observing. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] That I wasn’t just being shown something, but that we were the ones offering the something together — through the priest. All because the priest was facing the other way. The position of his body just seemed to resonate more with what we were doing. That’s all. [That’s enough!]


Imagine, not ever having experienced this, even though it is really the norm according to the rubrics.

This brings me back to my incessant cry that, in order to have a revitalization of our Catholic identity, we have to have a revitalization of our liturgical worship.

This is why Summorum Pontificum was so important.

Let Pope Benedict’s Marshall Plan be implemented.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Brick by Brick, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, New Evangelization, Our Catholic Identity, The future and our choices and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. acardnal says:

    lex orandi, lex credeni. Father Z, we really need those bumper stickers!

  2. acardnal says:

    typo above: credendi

  3. disco says:

    My parish has both forms of mass with the church’s altar used for the EF and a movable altar for the OF. It would be nice if father had to send the mover out for “repairs” for a few weeks just to see how people liked the ad orientem.

  4. CarismaTeaCo says:

    I started going to Weekly low Mass at the local InstitueCKSP . Their anticipation Mass Sat evening is the Novus ordo. What a pleasant surprise it was ad orientem! My new Parish:)

  5. APX says:

    I know the new GIRM in Canada specifically states that Mass should be offered facing the people whenever possible, so I have little faith of seeing the practice spread here.

    299. The altar should be built separate 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.
    Moreover, the altar should occupy a place where it is truly the centre toward which the attention of the whole congregation of the faithful naturally turns.116 The altar should usually be fixed and dedicated.

    That being said, I find it odd that it gives specific instructions for the priest to turn and face the people. Weird.

    Here’s a little food for thought. Look at all the drawings of the Last Supper. They’re all depicted ad orientem.

  6. NoTambourines says:

    I’m still plotting on my New Year’s resolution to make it to another EF Mass, but one of the things that keeps the goal in mind is the images I have seen of the celebrant elevating the host ad orientam. It is stunning and awe-inspiring; it is the priest leading us in sacrifice (not “sharing a meaaaallll” as in the hymn “We Remember”). I don’t know how that could have been seen as a bad thing or a mark of separation except that people internalized the Protestant… protestations of it (“he has his back turned!”).

    I think the restoration of the wording “my sacrifice and yours” may go a long way to reminding people why we’re at Mass. To that end, this recent post from Fr. Longenecker says it better than I ever could:


  7. The Marshall Plan is not very martial. [Then get to work, solider.]

  8. Nicole says:

    Not trying to be nit-picking, but to say that the priest “held up the bread and wine and offered them up to the Father as the Body and Blood of His Son,” is registering to me as a manifestation either of disbelief in the doctrine of Transubstantiation or a hedging of the belief as if it were merely an opinion or probability. It’s pretty much enough, as far as I can see, to say that the priest held up the Body and Blood (as well as Soul and Divinity) of His Son and offered them to the Father.

  9. Nicole says:

    I’m not trying to say that the Soul apart from the Body and Blood or the Divinity can be touched, but rather that this is all of what comprises the Holy Eucharist.

  10. Geoffrey says:

    I was fortunate to attend Mass in the Ordinary Form celebrated “ad orientem” for the first time last Lent. What a difference it made!

  11. APX, this persistently incorrect English translation of GIRM 299 has been discussed almost ad nauseum here at WDTPRS. In short, what the Latin says is that a free-standing altar is preferable where possible, NOT that Mass versus populum is preferable where possible.

    Fortunately the dicasterty in whose purview the interpretation lies, has answered the question. On 25 September 2000 the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments issued a clarification (Prot. No. 2036/00/L) regarding #299 in the new Latin GIRM. That clarification says:

    “The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in n. 299 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which the position of the priest versus absidem [facing the apse] is to be excluded. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:

    “Negatively, and in accordance with the following explanation.

    “The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account. First, the word expedit does not constitute a strict obligation but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum (detached from the wall). It does not require, for example, that existing altars be pulled away from the wall. The phrase ubi possibile sit (where it is possible) refers to, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc.”

  12. digdigby says:

    As a counterpoint to the above – my first experience upon attending a NO mass facing. As a convert all I’ve ever known is the EF. One time I had to fulfill my Sunday obligation at a modern sloppy, happy-clappy sing-a-long with the priest facing me and communion in the hand etc. The moment of elevation was very ‘dramatic’ and phony and the celebrant’s idea of an ‘exalted’ face was ludicrous. It was horrible – like seeing one’s mother drunk and dressed as a floozy.

  13. Maltese says:

    But when the priest was facing away from me this time, I got a very different impression. It really hit home to me more than ever that in that moment I was participating in something, not just observing. [Do I hear an “Amen!”?] That I wasn’t just being shown something, but that we were the ones offering the something together — through the priest.

    Very well said!

    Although this mass was ad orientem in the ordinary form, the same can be said in in more measures for the extraordinary.

    Pope Saint Pius X called for a greater sense of active participation of the faithful at Holy Mass. Does one “actively participate” in the sacrifice of the mass when they are fixated on the wanna-be celebrity priest trying to entertain the crowd? Or is active participation more possible when priest and parishioner together face east (whether literal or figurative) towards Christ, who makes all things new?

  14. APX says:

    Do you have something in a clear backing? I don’t put stickers on painted parts of my car, but I do put carefully selected stickers on my back window. While I’m hesitant to put religious stickers on my car, lest I scandalize someone who witnesses me drive, lex orandi, lex credendi doesn’t scream Catholic or religion to the majority of the motoring public. [I’ll double check. There are now car magnets, however.]

  15. acardnal says:

    @APX: the fact that the motorist may not understand is all the better. Gives you a chance, perhaps, to explain at the next stop light. OR the curious driver will go home and Google it and the learning begins. Perhaps the fact that one has Christian stickers on one’s auto will make one drive in a more conscientious and charitable manner. Just my random thoughts . . . .

  16. acardnal says:

    Father Z also has another excellent sticker “Save the Liturgy, Save the World”. Another opportunity to do apostolate when others don’t get it.

  17. Bender says:

    when the priest held up the bread and wine and offered them up to the Father as the Body and Blood of His Son, I experienced Mass in a different way than ever before

    A mature faith focuses on the Lord, rather than being pre-occupied with which way the celebrant is facing, regardless of whether he facing one way or the other. One with a mature faith worries more about his own orientation than that of others.

    Now, it is true that, if “the priest faces the congregation” during the consecration, then something is seriously wrong. He should be facing the altar, just as the people should be facing the altar. But that can be accomplished when each is on opposite sides of the altar, such that the altar is actually — or should rightly be — at the center of worship.

    The way to stop focusing on the priest at Mass is to stop focusing on the priest. No one forces you to focus on the priest, you make that choice yourself, regardless of how he acts. Take responsibility for your own actions. Throughout the Eucharistic Prayer, direct your eyes to the Host and Chalice, not the face of the celebrant — that is where you should orient yourself regardless of which way he is facing.

    If the Pope is fine with celebrating a public Mass with himself on one side of the altar and the people on the other side, each facing the altar — as he often does — it’s good enough for me.

  18. Captain Peabody says:

    I have to say, as a contented NO Catholic, of all the traditional practices to return to, Ad Orientem worship seems to me the biggest no-brainer. It’s what Catholics have been doing for 2000 years; it’s what Orthodox and Eastern Catholics still do. It’s what the rubrics call for. It’s what we should be doing. Period.

    Sadly, I’ve never attended a Ad Orientem NO mass…but as they used to say, “The times, they are a-changin’…”

  19. Denita says:

    Dumb question: Since the NO is about 40 years old, should we still be calling it the “NO?”

  20. heway says:

    @ Bender – Well said!

  21. mamajen says:

    The more I read here and think about what I’m reading, the more the pieces fall into place for me. The priest facing away from the congregation really does make sense. It makes him seem like one of us (only with a more special, important role), leading us as we all worship together, rather than just looking on. This more than anything done in a NO mass is REAL participation as you have been saying all along. When the priest is facing the congregation, it becomes more like a stage show. He is taking on the role of Jesus while the audience watches. I can’t help but think this goes to some priest’s heads. Some of the crazier NO masses I have been to have the congregation mimicking the priest’s actions, so they end up trying to be Jesus, too. I have been to a couple EF masses, and one thing that strikes me about that form is the priest’s humility–he is always bowing, kneeling, etc.

    I know I’m not doing a great job describing my understanding of this here, but it is really beautiful to me now that I “get” it.

  22. wmeyer says:

    Father, I noticed that the folks at cafepress.com have magnetic bumber stickers in the same size as the other sort: 10″ x 3″. I went looking because I am another who prefers not to use adhesive stickers.

  23. acardnal says:

    Just FYI, some car bumpers are not made of ferrous metal and therefore magnets will not work. Best to check yours before ordering. One can always place the sticker on the inside of the rear window without sticking it to the window. Just an idea . . . .

    Personal anecdote: I have a bumper sticker that says “Former Embryo”. I keep meaning to take the time to drive around the Univ. of Wisconsin Research Park where they conduct embryonic stem cell research.

  24. Sure, I can do car magnets, which are the same size as the stickers

    How about this version?

  25. wmeyer says:

    Yes, I like the layout better this time, but why not the triple play? Orandi, credendi, vivendi?

  26. acardnal says:

    I think it would read better as Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. But I will buy whatever you come up with Fr. Z That together with your “Save the Liturgy, Save the World” should start some conversations about the Holy Mass.

  27. Maltese says:

    I like the second version Father; people should be able to figure out the adjective applies to both nouns. Personally, I think an all black version would be cool as well.

  28. You mean (and this is the mug template, not the sticker)….

  29. Austin says:

    The Anglican churches I left celebrated beautiful and dignified ad orientem ‘masses.’ For all the blessings of the Catholic Church, the standard versus populum drive-by masses are a severe trial for the faithful. I have deep admiration that people turn out regularly for worship that has so little aesthetic or intellectual appeal — it is a testament to the invincible power of the Catholic faith. Protestant churches that did such a dreadful job would be quickly abandoned. Actually, those I used to go to did a superb job and were, even so, just about empty.

  30. acardnal says:

    Yes, I like the mug sticker design but I also prefer it as a bumper sticker, too. I think your second design above may confuse the ignorant into thinking that “orandi credendi” is the message we want to convey. Links the two words too closely. Whatever you design I will buy . . . .just giving you some feedback.

  31. oldcanon2257 says:

    @ mamajen

    I would describe it not as “the priest facing away from the congregation” but more as “the priest and the faithful both oriented in the same direction towards God”. That direction is called the liturgical east. There are many names for such posture (“ad orientem”, “versus Deum”, etc.) You are so right to think of it as the priest leading us. An analogy would be the priest and the people are on the same bus moving in the same direction, the priest celebrant being the driver, and we faithful are passengers. Even though we’re passengers, we’re still actively participating in the same action of moving forward as the priest. Imagine if you’re a passenger on a bus, would you dare to have the bus driver turn around and sit facing you while driving? :)

    Ad orientem Mass is most definitely God-centric, whereas many instances of “versus populum” Mass are more man-centric. That’s not to say “versus populum” Mass could not be celebrated reverently. I was born 5 years after the Novus Ordo Missae was promulgated, thus I grew up in Vietnam knowing only what is now called the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite. However, the priests in our parish at the time celebrated the vernacular Novus Ordo Mass with an unmatched degree of reverence and solemnity. The Church in Vietnam in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s had not YET adopted those “spirit of Vatican II” novelties from the West, probably because Vietnam was more or less isolated from the West after the war and the communists were actively oppressing/persecuting the Church. At that time the Church in Vietnam somehow managed to strike a pretty good balance between pre-Vatican II customs/pious devotions and the implementation of Novus Ordo Missae. During Mass, the faithful still bowed their heads whenever the Most Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ was mentioned. There were beautiful and dignified Gothic vestments from pre-VII days. Men and women sat separately on opposite sides in church. The priests were sprinkling holy water (the Asperges) before Sunday Mass. Our priests used incense at Sunday Mass, and I remember them genuflecting when passing the tabernacle during the process of incensing the altar. The (new) Confiteor in Vietnamese was recited at every Mass, even daily Mass, and people still struck their breast 3 times at the “mea culpa”. The priests in our parish were saying Eucharistic Prayer I most of the time (I was an altar boy then, and there were so many of us…) Talking about continuity and the OF being enriched by elements of the EF!!!

    Sadly since the 1990’s the OF Mass in VN has also been full of novelties and liturgical abuses as those in the West. The 1971 Vietnamese translation of the new (NO) Missale Romanum was near perfect – closest to the official Latin text as possible. We’ve always had in that 1971 Vietnamese the correct translation: “for many”, “my sacrifice and yours”, “through Him, and with Him and in Him”, etc. Then in 1993 they decided to mess with it and butchered the translation of both the Ordinary and the Propers of the Mass (for example, the consecration formula was changed to “for all” like the bad ICEL translation in English).

  32. pm125 says:

    @4:42 design with the ‘=’ that was in the orig. on the top line? or a double arrow ? small case letters after the O and the C ?

    @ 5:17 “the correct translation: “for many”, “my sacrifice and yours”, “through Him, and with Him and in Him”, etc” Are the translations be scheduled to come back?

  33. mamajen says:

    @oldcanon2257 That’s an excellent analogy! I was fortunate to grow up in a very reverent NO parish. It was a small church and we sat right at the front, so I was able to intently watch all of the priest’s actions and the mass fascinated me…so much that I used to wish I was a boy so I could grow up and become a priest! Our priest did everything “just so”, and it seemed like there was an important reason behind his every action, even the way he tilted the chalice to drink. As an adult I believe ad orientem would help me focus more, but I’m still grateful for my experience with NO as a child.

  34. oldcanon2257 says:

    @pm125 6:28

    I apologize to Father Z for being off-topic, but to answer your question, long story. Some did make a comeback in 2005. After the Third Typical Edition of the Missale Romanum (Latin text) came out in 2002, the Church in Vietnam started yet another “new” translation, combining some elements of the old and new to create a hybridized version which fortunately brought back some of the correctly translated words/phrases.

    From what I heard, what brought about the 2005 change/reverse was that some considered the 1993 translation of the Sign of the Cross formula (“In nomine Patris…”) so badly botched that it became theologically problematic because when people first read it, the new language could have caused confusion about the Trinity to the extent that new catechumens would have inferred there were 3 separate gods, instead of One God in Three Persons. Priests and catechists started complaining. The subject was hotly debated for a long while.

    I wish all Latin Rite priests everywhere simply would use liturgical Latin for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass (at least when saying the Roman Canon) and all sacraments. That would eliminate all these problems of cross-cultural translation and adaptation once and for all. Liturgical Latin (say the black) = no ambiguity, no doubt about validity of the Mass and sacraments, and the bonus is a strengthened sense of Catholic unity and Catholic identity worldwide.

  35. ghp95134 says:

    Fr. Z,

    What about:



  36. ghp95134 says:

    …… But….. that might sound like a political endorsement for:

  37. Tradster says:

    Personally, I think the bumper sticker message would be more effective with the Latin text and their English equivalents below them. No one is going to do a search on the Latin while driving (we hope!) nor remember the Latin words when they are back at home.

  38. benedictgal says:

    A year and a month ago (January 29, 2011), I had the unique privilege of having assisted at a Mass celebrated by a young priest who is perhaps the most knowledgeable person about Ad Orientem, having literally written the book on the subject. While the Mass was in the EF, there is a lot to be said about why AO should be employed for the OF. My friend’s small book made an impact on my parochial vicar that he’s used the posture whenever he can. In fact, I wrote something about this last year:


    And the year prior:


    This year, I also tackled the subject, based, in part, over a post that I found in a Catholic website which left me, frankly, rather perplexed:


  39. benedictgal says:

    “Turning Towards the Lord” should be required reading for every seminarian and transitional deacon!!!!

Comments are closed.