GUEST POST: The fruits of ‘ad orientem’ worship in a parish.

My friend Fr. Richard Heilman, who seems to have mastered perpetual motion, has a great letter to a priest posted at his place.

You will recall that I posted photos of Fr. H dragging the table altar out of church and over to the rectory so that all Masses would be ad orientem.  He makes the Combat Rosaries (see the side bar of this blog).  He made the confessional/chapel in the front entrance to the rectory and created the app to tell you when he was there.  He started the Knights of Divine Mercy.  Etc. Etc.

Go visit his site, HERE, spike his stats and dig around, but here in the letter with my patented emphases and comments:

This is a letter I just sent to a priest friend. I wrote it because I don’t believe we priests should be frightened anymore. [OORAH!] I agree with a recent post that said, while we take our time, souls are being lost. We all know, in our bones, that God wants this … let’s simply obey and allow God to bless our obedience!!!

Dear Father,

I wanted to write to update you on the amazing things God is doing here …

A year is up and the results are in.

It’s been a little over one year since we removed the freestanding altar and committed to ad orientem worship for all of our Masses. Without a doubt, it was a leap of faith, as I simply trusted God would provide.

The initial response from some of the old guard was a bit nerve-racking. In fact, a handful of them decided to no longer attend here, as they dispersed to local parishes.

Beyond that, I don’t even know if I can begin to share all of the fruits of this move.

First, the spiritual benefits are palpable. Our parish has a sense that we are truly worshiping, and it simply feels so right. This is visibly seen in such things as the altar boys who are more reverent and precise. People are coming early to pray the rosary, and many are staying afterwards to offer prayers of thanksgiving. Everyone is offering the “proper” gestures (bowing, etc.) at the appropriate times. Virtually everyone began, mostly in just the past year, really dressing up for Mass. It seems every Sunday another woman has decided to veil – AT A NOVUS ORDO! And, we just had over 300 people go through the 33 Days of Preparation for Consecration to Jesus Through Mary!!!

Our choir has doubled in size over the past year, and they are chanting and singing polyphony so beautifully that I am thinking they should make a CD. Even our men’s schola went from 7 members to nearly 20 in just this past year. And, these men have become quite a “band of brothers” as they also gather once a month in my man cave for what we call, “Pipes and Pints” … Virtually all of them enjoy a nice pipe and brew as we discuss church related issues and try to solve all of the problems of the world. Virtually all of these men are young professionals. [I’ve been.  It is a great time and the men in the group are fantastic.]

I haven’t looked at any statistics, but it seems that, over just this one year, the average age of our parishioners went from 65 to 35, as so many young families are discovering us and joining the parish. It is so wonderful to hear the squeaks and squawks of little ones throughout the Mass!!! My secretary commented that it seems a new young family appears here every week.

Last year, our finance council was recommending that we begin a special giving campaign, as we were feeling the effects of the economic downturn of the past five years. I asked them to give it one more year, as we see the effects of ad orientem worship. They reluctantly agreed. A year later, we just had a finance council meeting and – get this! – Contributions are up 45% IN ONE YEAR!!! [Father likes exclamation points!!!! To my mind, the more powerful point is the “45%”.]

I can’t say this is what will happen in every parish that decides to take the risk and move in this direction, but I wanted to be, at least, one more story of a parish that put their trust in God, and witnessed how God blessed this move to offer greater reverence in the Mass, especially by celebrating ad orientem.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam!!

Father told me yesterday that they should any day be installing the new Communion rail.

Also, he is learning the TLM and wanted to be ready to say one by Ash Wednesday.

This is the new Evangelization.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. mburn16 says:

    My parish does church “in the round”, so we would be one of those capable of doing both AO and VP, at the same time – as it is, Father faces Northwest when he says mass, towards the baptismal font, entrance doors, and, perhaps less reverently, the parking lot. In the past, however, I’ve attended both “traditional” AO and VP parishes, and I agree that what I see at AO is USUALLY more respectful, prayerful, and mindful of the sacrifice of the Mass. I would only make the small point that I hope the church has a good sound system or that Fr. Heilman has a strong voice, so that the people can clearly hear what is taking place. Indeed, I suspect what we now call EF would simply have stayed “Mass” longer if so many things the Priest says were more than barely (if at all) audible to the faithful.

    I sometimes wonder if, in the eventual “reform of the reform”, it would not be possible to have the best of both worlds – perhaps an ornate tabernacle at which certain prayers are offered, followed by consecration on a “low” (i.e. VP-enabled) altar. But I suspect the point of consecration is a central one to the idea of AO.

  2. Ben Yanke says:


    The church has a great sound system, but Fr. Heilman also has a strong voice. He often doesn’t even use a microphone anyways.

    Not to mention the acoustics: his church is actually built like a church, so if you know how to speak or sing, you don’t need a mic anyways.

  3. Mike Morrow says:

    This great news. But many churches built since the disaster of the mid-1960s have no altar once the pic-nic table is removed.

    My old parish replaced their traditional Catholic church 22 years ago with one that bears absolutely no signs of Catholic architecture. Sadly, my former-Methodist-new-convert-at-age-70 father was one who helped select the new and very alien design. There is absolutely nothing at which ad orientem worship may take place after the card table is removed.

    I thought it all very typically stupid at the time. But now I realize my father’s wisdom. All the aging newchurchers (the only congregation now) will inevitably soon go to whatever reward there is in store. Afterwards, the bizarre abomination at which they pretend worship will be a natural for snake-handling pentecostals to buy. It will be an improvement!

  4. Wiktor says:

    Last Sunday I discovered that my old hometown parish have switched to kneeling-on-tongue communion!
    No ad orientem as of yet, but I think that would be entirely possible without any rebuilding. The church was built in early 80’s, but someone wisely decided then to build proper altar steps, perhaps “just in case”.

  5. incredulous says:

    Wonderful! Praise ye the Lord.

  6. jaykay says:

    “Even our men’s schola went from 7 members to nearly 20 in just this past year.”

    Ay yi yi!! 20 men! Undreamt of riches. Our choir is going in the opposite direction and yours truly has to stand in as tenor in some parts… and he ain’t no tenor. HOWEVER, we have recently reintroduced chant to some extent, and the Missa Orbis Factor is on the menu for Easter. When we last used it, some years ago, the response was fantastic, so why we dropped it and went back to the mush I just don’t know but the penny seems to have dropped now. With a bit of luck we’ll attract some male voices as well. Unfortunately, ad orientem is a long way off as yet.

  7. Vincent says:

    @mburn16, I’m not disagreeing – but recently I’ve begun serving at a beautiful ‘proper’ church and it’s noticeable just how good the acoustics are on the Altar. Funny how that traditional design of a curved apse works wonders for the ability to hear the priest and servers. Personally, I like the low voices and murmuring which forces you to concentrate on watching for all the signs and genuflections. (and somewhat dislike the idea of using a microphone and speakers; those microphones seem to remove the ‘flavour’ from a voice, making it feel very sterile, almost robotic)

    How we would have struggled in the middle ages, with only that murmuring, in a language you couldn’t understand, the signs and genuflections hidden behind the rood screen except for the elevation at the Consecration…

    Deo Gratias, if only a few more Churches discover the changes (there are good remuneration prospects, Fathers ;) )

  8. RJHighland says:

    All great stories. 20 member schola in less than a year, with pipes and pints most excellent. In two weeks we are taking the St. Stephen’s Society and schola members on a camp and hike at a Benedictine monastery to more incorporate the two groups and do, what I like to call, “Dude” stuff. Camp, hike, build fires, explore, sing songs of lore and tradition, tell stories around a camp fire. Our goal is to get the youth to understand if you are not serving at the altar your serving in the schola and we have have over 40 men and youth in this program. Pope Benedict XVI started something that the progressives in Rome are not going to be able to stop no matter how many times they try to whackamo the traditionalists. The TLM crowd are the grass roots of the faith and where most of the energy is at. Once you go traditional you can’t go back you want more and more and only the TLM offers more. The next natural step for this parish would be the TLM they are already naturally doing the rosary before mass and reintroducing the prayers after mass. Throw in the prayers before the altar they are already recognizing the return of form. I think the modern English Confiteor needs to be throw out and a return to saying the traditional Confiteor after the priest takes communion along with three Domine non sum dignus rather than one prior to recieving our Lord brings it all around.

  9. Liz says:

    I love this. I’m not a priest, but a mother. Still, I need boosts like this and reminders to fight on. Thanks for this post rallying the troops. God bless these fine priests (Fr. Z, Fr. H. and this priest and his parish.)

  10. Netmilsmom says:

    Fr Z and Fr Rick in one place.
    How much Heaven is this?!?

  11. jacobi says:


    So many priests, and more seriously, bishops have been, and still are, frightened to teach the Catholic Faith.
    A few are liberal/Relativists, true, but the vast majority are simply frightened, that they will upset someone, the local press, or their liberal bishop or fellow priests, or that some of the congregation will up and leave.

    Well let them. That is their choice which they will be answerable for, as indeed will those priests who refuse to go and teach all nations, fearlessly.

    There is a debate at present on the Reform of the Reform. Personally, I think the answer lies with both the traditional orders, holding to the Mass of Ages, as well as with that increasing number of priests who re-sanctify the Novus Ordo Mass, and when the time is right, re-introduce the Vetus Ordo.

    The obvious way is for the 9.00 Mass on Sunday to be re-sanctified Novus Ordo, with a later sung Vetus Ordo at 11.00, or whatever.

    The present mess will then sort itself out, in a decade or two!

  12. mamajen says:

    I arrived after our parish switched. I’m not sure what difference it made, if any, but I like ad orientem. The main draw for me, though, is the reverence, the quiet, and hearing good, insightful, orthodox preaching every week.

    Also, our rather plain little church will be getting a sanctuary makeover soon. The plans are gorgeous. I can’t wait! Considering the parish was nearly closed at one point, I think the fact that our bishop has approved the expenditures (we recently received new pews as well) is a positive sign.

  13. Gail F says:

    Mike Morrow: How about they just push the altar table against the wall and start with that?

  14. cdet1997 says:

    Contributions are up 45% IN ONE YEAR!!

    Think of all the felt banners and liturgical dance lessons that’ll pay for!

  15. Theodore says:

    I’ve recommended this thread to a friend of mine whose priest has liturgical dancers etc and is haranguing his flock weekly about cash flow in his homilies.

  16. Del says:

    Some of the credit for all of this good fruit belongs to the leadership of Bishop Robert Morlino, who has supported and encouraged Fr. Rick in all of his endeavors toward worship that is authentic, reverent, and beautiful.

    An important thing to know about Fr. Rick Heilman is that he is as humble as he is courageous. He admits that he used to be a goofy priest who once allowed the major media networks to film him from a choir loft as he prayed at Mass for the Packers to win. He no longer seeks to impose his own person on the Liturgy….. He only wants to bring what is beautiful and authentic for us.

    We love Fr. Rick, but this is not a cult of personality. It is the beauty that draws.

    But knowing Fr. Rick, I will dare to say that ad orientem worship greatly helps Father to be mindful that worship is not about the celebrant, but Him Whom we celebrate.

  17. Reminds of the quip that, that if ad orientem celebration were introduced in the typical parish with a Sunday Mass attendance of 1100, then

    — 100o people wouldn’t even notice any difference,
    — 100 people would like it, but say nothing,
    — 10 people would write letters of complaint to the bishop, who would take these ten complaints as representative of the whole parish’s reaction, and therefore order the pastor to cease and desist before collections tanked.

    Hmm . . . I wonder how the typical parish might actually react, if the turn toward the Lord were preceded by positive pastoral catechesis, along the lines of that at St. Mary’s Church in Greenville (SC) on the first five Sundays of Lent, preceding the start of ad orientem celebration after Easter that year:

    Would this work in a typical parish?

  18. Wish I had better news. After 3 years of catechesis about ad orientem worship, and adding the weekly celebration of the vetus ordo to a good crowd every Saturday evening, I removed the portable altar (which was beautiful, but because it was square, made it too ungainly to celebrate the old Mass on). I’d had a beautiful altar with our tabernacle on it installed so that I could say the old Mass and the new Mass on it. I just got tired of moving the versus populum Mass altar in and out every week, so I started doing all the Masses ad orientem. (After 3 years of catechesis.) I’d already been doing them that way in the Lady Chapel for daily Mass for four years, and did it in Church for one year.
    Got a visit from my bishop who told me (because of unspecified and anonymous complaints[I suspect from priests that have supplied for me in my absence]) that it is AGAINST THE LAW to celebrate the novus ordo ad orientem! It is also against the law to celebrate the novus ordo wearing a maniple. It’s funny, the amice and cincture are optional, but the maniple is forbidden?
    Where do all these “laws” come from?
    I also found out that the “extraordinary” form was for VERY EXTRAORDINARY occasions. I can only imagine that events like the sinking of the Titanic, the Zombie Apocalypse, and the day they discover Jimmy Hoffa’s body, would be sufficiently extraordinary to allow for its celebration.
    Two different priests substituted for me, one in October and one in December. I warned the second one that we celebrate ad orientem, and that the communicants come up to the step, where the communion rail would be if we had one, and the can either kneel or stand, receive on the tongue or in the hand, and receive or not the Precious Blood offered by the deacon or acolyte.
    He understood what I said and accepted it without demur. However, when he got here he made the communicants come up in two lines and made it impossible for them to kneel. He also said Mass versus populum on an old credence table he found in the sacristy which was so small it caused no end of admiratio on the part of the people who were waiting for the sacred vessels to crash to the floor. At least they would hit the floor versus populum, laus Deo! The Carmelite who came in October used a coffee table to celebrate Mass on when he was here.
    This has been very disheartening, besides making me lose face before the people as regard to what I’ve taught them.
    I wish that Pope Benedict had never coined the designations extraordinary and ordinary for the two forms of the Roman Liturgy, because they are so difficult to define in English, and have given rise to problems such as above.
    And of course, everyone knows that when the EF liturgy begins to be offered, it creates, by its very nature, the evil of DIVISION anywhere it’s celebrated. I’m not in a good mood, and thanks for letting me vent.

  19. Palladio says:

    ” the Zombie Apocalypse” is definitely in GIRM, Father Gregory, right next to when pigs fly. As for “coffee tables,: that’s there, too, sub fondu sets (liturgical uses of) piano lounge ambience (creating an atmosphere of in Mass) and tutti fruity banners (for saint MLK, blessed Harvey Milk, venerable Gandhi, and Harvard endowed we are the world secular womyn priest chaplaincy of the Church of What’s Happening now, Oprah Winfrey).

  20. churchlady says:

    Henry Edwards and Father Gregory, you both have reminded me how important it is to speak up and write positive letters of thanksgiving when we have Masses ad orientem. I am one of those that revels in the glory of it, but says nothing to the Archbishop. The priests and pastor of my parish know that I am pleased, as many others, but it is time to write a note! Maybe that will hasten a full and complete change over as I have been praying.

  21. Arcgap says:

    @ Father Gregory keep up the good start and remember Matt 10: 34-35

  22. BLB Oregon says:

    I was talking to a friend who said that the thing she loved about the EF Mass is that everyone prayed together, facing the same direction. A friend she had taken with her complained that she did not like that the priest had his back to her. It occurred to me that it doesn’t seem to bother anyone that the ten pews of people standing in front of you also “have their backs turned” to the people behind them. We don’t need to offer Mass in one gigantic circle in order to pray together.

    It reminds me of the story they tell in Texas about the time that Bill Moyers was asked by LBJ to say grace before dinner. LBJ couldn’t hear him well enough for his liking, and said so: “Speak up, Bill! I can’t hear you.” Moyers reported replied, “I wasn’t speaking to you, sir.” One has some sympathy for LBJ, as he wouldn’t necessarily have known what HE was praying if the prayer being offered was extemporaneous and not formal, but this is somewhat less of an issue when you know the text.

  23. BLB Oregon says:

    Even if you do not think it makes any difference whether or not everyone is facing the same direction, surely it is better for the priest to face so as to focus on the prayer itself the most easily and the most deeply. For most of us, any direction would be better than in the direction of a large crowd of people. On that account, it could be argued that having the priest stand ad orientum offers an advantage even when the church pews are arranged in a semi-circle facing the altar from three sides.

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