Mass ‘Ad orientem’. It just makes sense.

I saw something good at St. Peter’s List which in turn offered something from Fr. Kirby at Vultus Christi.  Read the whole thing over there but… and this is from a priest’s perspective:

10 Advantages of [having Mass] Ad Orientem

1. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is experienced as having a theocentric direction and focus.

2. The faithful are spared the tiresome clerocentrism that has so overtaken the celebration of Holy Mass in the past forty years.

3. It has once again become evident that the Canon of the Mass (Prex Eucharistica) is addressed to the Father, by the priest, in the name of all.

4. The sacrificial character of the Mass is wonderfully expressed and affirmed.

5. Almost imperceptibly one discovers the rightness of praying silently at certain moments, of reciting certain parts of the Mass softly, and of cantillating others.

6. It affords the priest celebrant the boon of a holy modesty.

7. I find myself more and more identified with Christ, Eternal High Priest and Hostia perpetua, in the liturgy of the heavenly sanctuary, beyond the veil, before the Face of the Father.

8. During the Canon of the Mass I am graced with a profound recollection.

9. The people have become more reverent in their demeanour.

10. The entire celebration of Holy Mass has gained in reverence, attention, and devotion.

This isn’t hard.

That was from a priest’s perspective.  The advantages for the priest will surely have a knock-on effect for the congregation.

That said, what are the advantages for the congregation?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Mail from priests, Our Catholic Identity and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. wmeyer says:

    I would say that 1 through 5, plus 9 & 10 are as important to this layman. In addition, my experience of the Mass is a more intimate one, as I have at a TLM. There is one less… I don’t want to say barrier… perhaps impediment… to my own inner participatio actuosa. I may hope, and I pray, that in the transition to ad orientem our priests would provide clear and extensive catechesis, so that my brothers’ and sisters’ appreciation of the Mass may also increase.

  2. jacobi says:

    Once again at Mass this morning, at the Consecration, the priest seemed to be trying to catch my eye, and the other nine too I suppose, when he should have been addressing some one else! Normally I close my eyes to avoid this, but that’s another story.

    I’m getting a bit fed up with this. I mean yes, I made to to Mass and it was raining, and chilly in this part of the world, but that’s no reason to co-equate me with the Good Lord.

    Roll on “Ad Orientem”.

  3. tcreek says:

    Could advocates of versus populum list any advantages for their view?

  4. Advantage for the laity: the priest isn’t imposing his own idiosyncrasies on us, and behaving as though he is doing a fourth-rate night club act.

  5. nykash says:

    Could advocates of versus populum list any advantages for their view?

    “The Priest’s back isn’t to me…”

    Personally, I cringe when I hear this response.

    On a positive note, ad orientem also affords the priest the ability to not see the laity concelebrate with the various gestures… or handholding.

  6. ASPM Sem says:

    I’m all for ad orientem, but someone needs to make a better graphic, that one looks like it was made with MS paint in 1992.

    [Get back to us when you have made one! o{]:¬) ]

  7. Flavius Hesychius says:

    The Latin parish I attend has both a versus populum and an ad orientem Mass. Having gone to both, I can certainly say AO is far less distracting; I’m less tempted to watch the action at the altar and tune out the prayers.

  8. JDBenedictH says:

    Versus populum allows the congregation to see and understand the Eucharistic prayer, especially the motions that the priest makes. [Huh? See the Eucharistic Prayer? Understand it better?] The untrained congregant could possibly miss things such as the epiclesis, striking the breast, and the one sign of the cross in the RC. [Where is an “untrained” congregation. No… wait… just about everywhere, after the last few decades.] Also, I personally don’t think Jesus would be opposed to versus populum. [Jesus would be opposed?] The Last Supper was versus populum, [Um… no. Remember that they were the newly ordained Apostles with the Lord. Furthermore, the usual formation of tables and reclining would not have been the Lord one side and all the Apostles on the other. Nope.] and when Jesus prayed to the Father before miracles such as the feeding of the five thousand, he probably didn’t turn around and face the hills. [?!?] No one would be able to hear. [Because everyone present heard what the Lord prayed?] The visible focal point of the Mass is the altar, not the tabernacle. [Wow.] Even in versus populum, everyone is still facing the focal point. What’s necessary is a priest who is a really good alter Christus so that personality doesn’t show up. [We agree that a good ars celebrandi is necessary, but every validly ordained priest who is saying Mass is alter Christus.]

    Ad Orientem certainly has much merit and is probably the better of the two ways, given our fallen nature, but versus populum is not inherently wrong (and neither is the ordinary form. Many commenters on here are excessively harsh to both.

  9. Uxixu says:

    Similiarly, I noticed with versus populum the congregation usually misses seeing the washing of the fingers blocked by either the altar itself, or the candles or the floral decorations depending on the season and angle from where Father is meeting the altar servers.

    I’ve also noticed with ad orientem Mass, the elevations tend to be higher. Versus populum, they tend towards eye level of the celebrant while ad orientem they’re usually at close to max extension.

  10. Per Signum Crucis says:

    “No one would be able to hear.”

    I certainly appreciate the greater reverence of Ad Orientem worship but practically, as a hard of hearing person, this is one big advantage for me of Versum Populum: I feel less excluded from Holy Mass. As JDBenedictH says, both are valid and greater emphasis in seminaries would be an effective antidote to excessive personalisation.

    [People seem to think that they have to hear and see everything.]

  11. Athelstan says:

    Hello JDBenedict,

    The Last Supper was versus populum

    Actually, the great preponderance of evidence is that it was not.

    As Louis Bouyer observed, in a quote cited in full by Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Ratzinger) in his Spirit of the Liturgy:

    “The idea that celebration versus populum was the original form, indeed the way the Last Supper itself was celebrated, rests purely and simply on a mistaken idea of what a banquet, Christian or even non-Christian, was like in antiquity. In the earliest days of Christianity the head of table never took his place facing the other participants. Everyone sat or lay on the convex side of an S-shaped or horseshoe-shaped table. Nowhere in Christian antiquity could anyone have come up with the idea that the man presiding at the meal had to take his place versus populum. The communal character of a meal was emphasized by precisely the opposite arrangement, namely, by the fact that everyone at the meal found himself on the same side of the table.”

    In any event, as Ratzinger adds, the Last Supper cannot be taken as the prime model and exemplar for the Mass:

    In any case, there is a further point that we must add to this discussion of the ‘shape’ of meals: the Eucharist that Christians celebrate really cannot adequately be described by the term ‘meal’. True, Our Lord established the new reality of Christian worship within the framework of a Jewish (Passover) meal, but it was precisely this new reality, not the meal as such, which He commanded us to repeat. Very soon the new reality was separated from its ancient context and found its proper and suitable form, a form already predetermined by the fact that the Eucharist refers back to the Cross and thus to the transformation of Temple sacrifice into the reasonable worship of God.

    – Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, The Spirit of the Liturgy, Ch. 3 (Ignatius Press: 2000)

  12. Traductora says:

    Even the Novus Ordo is rendered less sterile and irritating by the simple fact of having the priest face the liturgical East.

  13. Legisperitus says:

    “The Priest’s back isn’t to me…”

    It’s hard to know where to begin with remarks of that kind. I always want to address them in multiple-response format, similar to Al Jaffee’s “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions.”

  14. Priam1184 says:

    What Anita Moore OPL said.

  15. Mike says:

    Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says somewhere that, you know, the priest needs to face the Lord as as well as the people.
    The AO both underscores the unique, qualitatively different ministerial priesthood from the laity while at the same time preserving the commonalities (baptized creature made child of God by adoption of Grace) of both cleric and laity….not bad!

  16. Lin says:

    Anita Moore OPL nailed it!

  17. Gregorius says:

    Wasn’t it Cardinal Ratzinger who said “the best catechesis on the Eucharist is the Eucharist itself well-celebrated”? Ad Orientem celebration makes clear the nature and purpose of the prayers. Versus Populum is at best a didactic technique, meant to let the faithful learn what was happening at the altar, but never meant to become the new norm.
    Also, celebrating ad orientem is a more faithful reading of Vatican II, and we laypeople would be dis-serviced if our clergy did not teach us what Vatican II actually said.
    Also also, at least here in the US our poor immigrant ancestors gave of their time, talent and treasure to build beautiful altars and altarpieces, and to not use them or at worst to deem them contrary to true participation in the liturgy just spits on their graves. It saddens me to walk into the main church of the Basilica of the National Shrine to see the high altar and ciborium collect dust while there’s (literally) a table set up for use near the altar rail.

    Ironically around the same time versus populum became the norm, the rubrics were changed so most of the priest’s gestures at the altar were eliminated, that is when he’s actually at the altar. So the idea that the faithful would somehow be missing out on something the priest is doing if he celebrated ad orientem just doesn’t hold.

  18. Dax says:

    11. Even when celebrated poorly, cannot be mistaken for one of those Protestant service thingys.

  19. JDBenedictH says:

    I greatly appreciate Fr. Z’s and Athelstan’s responses. It clears up some misunderstandings I had. It’s heartwarming to hear traditional Catholics evaluate perceived virtues of versus populum and be charitable about it. Too often I read comments online that amount to “Stupid Protestants turning the altar around don’t know what they’re doing.” Thank you.

  20. scholastica says:

    I converted to the Catholic faith 2o years ago and back then I knew nothing of ad orientem or versus populum, but I was/am ALWAYS disturbed by trying to pray with the priests looking out at you. If I want to gaze at the altar-he is there looking out, if I want to gaze at the Crucifix above or the tabernacle-he is there looking out. I feel like I am looking at him, not Christ (despite alter Christus).
    Now, I know a bit more and definitely prefer to look to the liturgical East with the priest, not towards him.

  21. Legisperitus says:

    What’s necessary is a priest who is a really good alter Christus so that personality doesn’t show up.

    One advantage of ad orientem worship is that even a priest with a lousy personality can be a good alter Christus, because the priest’s personality vanishes into the personality of the Church.

  22. JDBenedictH says:

    That being said, there were some parts of Fr. Z’s responses that I did not understand (namely “Wow” and “Jesus would be opposed?”). Also, Father has repeatedly emphasized that it is not necessary for people to see or hear Mass to have true active participation. This is true. It is also true that the Church has spent much effort making churches and music beautiful and accessible for people to see and hear, and if these things are so important, why is it not also important to see and hear the Mass itself, which is much more important than art (however good it may be)? The temple veil was torn when Jesus died, and I don’t think it is right to attack people’s desire to see and hear the most important prayers of the Mass just because it is analogous to the priest entering the Holy of Holies and it is not strictly necessary to see and hear what is going on.

    Forgive me if I do not explain myself well. I am young and trying to learn.

  23. scarda says:

    Having a missal permits participation with the prayers of the AO Mass without the jarring intrusion of personality so vividly expressed by the human face of the priest. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is not performance art. Praying along in the missal with the unspoken or unheard prayers which the priest AO directs to God allows me to participate in my heart as well as my intellect.

  24. ASPM Sem says:

    @JDBenedictH the focus of the Mass is the altar – but the priest faces the altar ad orientem as well.

  25. Augustine Thompson O.P. says:

    I tried to find a systematic and coherent defense of the versus populum form of worship on the web and, with one (odd) example, failed. I think that is because it is so taken for granted as the norm that no defense is needed. The odd example, “defending” the versus populum position is here, at what we at NLM, call “the other blog”:

    What is odd about it is that there is not a single “defense” of the versus populum position theologically or in any other serious way. The entire commentary is about proving that ad orientem is not favored by documents or the rubrics. A minimalist position to say the least. And the combox comments present no serious “pro” arguments. Rather they degenerate into an argument about whether Latin churches should have an iconostasis.

    The war is over. There is nothing left but the shouting. The versus populum group has no serious argument other than “people like it.” It is now up to laity and priests to change what is happening on the ground.

  26. Uxixu says:

    I imagine in a religious society, everything is determined by the superiors, but how does it work for the secular clergy? Do the bishops let known what they want and/or expect or is it just inertia on what’s taught in seminary or a pastor setting the policy for his parish or is it left to each associate to do as he will?

  27. Elizabeth D says:

    I think the idea with versus populum is that the Mass is a meal and we are sitting around a dinner table together, like Thanksgiving Dinner. Either the cause or the effect is often (not always) a severe impoverishment if not rejection of the understanding of the Mass as Sacrifice. I would guess that versus populum also came to be seen as logical because of the increased amount of dialogue between priest and congregation. I do think Vatican II did well to encourage the people to be able to say or sing (in Latin, even) their parts of the Mass. But the priest turning toward the people at times for this dialogue just makes sense and even draws us toward the dialogue with God as we and the priest face God together (liturgical East), to Whom we are making our offering. With priest in persona Christi as head and people as body, all look to the Father and worship the Father, re-presenting the sacrificial self-offering of Christ. The sense of priest and people facing the Father and worshiping as one body in the Son is kind of lost with versus populum.

  28. Eric says:

    Years before I had seen my first ad orientem mass it always bothered me when the priest would ignore the tabernacle. Some priests would make all kinds of reverence toward the altar even while moving around the sanctuary during the “Liturgy of the Word” but totally ignore the presence of Christ right there, feet away, in the tabernacle.
    Shouldn’t the focus be on what is happening at/on the altar, not the altar itself?
    I don’t see how turning one’s back to the tabernacle increases the focus on what’s happening at the altar. I don’t believe they are in competition.
    Having the tabernacle in or on the altar seems most appropriate to me, not only during mass but also for the other 23 hours per day.

    As for other benefits of ad orientem, I get to see less of father’s mug.

    I’m quite sure the feeling is mutual.

  29. Polycarpio says:

    @ASPM Sem, I dislike the graphic for a different reason. It reminds me too much of the graffito blasfemo–the “Alexamenos Graffito.” It seems to deride the prevalent form of worship. It basically says the EF “makes sense” and the OF does not. That’s not very Summorum Pontificum!

  30. St. Benedict Save Us says:

    I posted this before on another thread but it was rather late in the life of that thread so I’ll have a second go.

    I believe that the vast majority of Cardinals at the 2nd Council believed that the new Novis Ordo mass would be said in the traditional manor of ‘facing east’, ad orientem, as it had been for over 1000 years. And when the first english translations came out the instructions were exactly that, I have a transitional missal from the period which shows this.

    In the newest translation of the Roman Missal, the wonderful gift from Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, the instructions indicate that the Priest should still be facing east. After the Priest has washed his hands the instructions say “Standing at the middle of the altar, facing the people, extending and then joining his hands, he says:” and during the Eucharistic Prayer at the time when saying the ‘Take this all of you…” parts he should be holding the item slightly above the altar and be slightly bowed when saying it. (This is the HOC EST part of the EF) It doesn’t say show it to the people while saying it and then elevate. The instruction at the end of the phrase is “He shows the host / chalice to the people, places it on the paten/corporal, and genuflects in adoration.” It is clear that the ‘shows to the people’ is the elevation, just as in the EF mass. During the Communion Rite the instruction says “The Priest, turned towards the people, extending and then joining his hands, adds: ‘The peace of the Lord be with you always’ ” And at the Behold the Lamb of God it says “…takes the host and, holding it slightly raised above the paten or above the chalice, while facing the people, says aloud: ‘Behold the Lamb of God…” and when concluded it says “The Priest, facing the altar, says quietly: May the Body of Christ Keep me safe for eternal life” before consuming the host. And at the dismissal it says “Then, standing at the altar or at the chair and facing the people…”

    How much money has been wasted over the decades ripping out wonderful marble altars, moving tabernacles and remodelling church interiors to have a modern look. The Council documents make no mention of any of it.

    I’m sorry, but it’s pretty clear the mass has been said incorrectly for over 40 years and it’s time to sort it out. If the NO mass was done as the Missal instructs, and as the Church Fathers had intended then we wouldn’t have had the violent break from the past that has brought us to this sad time in the life of the Church. When is someone with the authority to do something going to grow a spine!

  31. iPadre says:

    ASPM SEM: “the focus of the Mass is the altar”

    No, the focus of the Mass is Christ, who leads us to the Father.

  32. ASPM Sem says:

    @iPadre: of course – but the physical focus after Mass begins is on the altar, as we cease to genuflect to the tabernacle and bow to the altar instead, as we recognize what is about to happen on it.

  33. robtbrown says:

    Fr Augustine, OP,

    IMHO, any comprehensive defense of versus populum is grounded, at least implicitly, not only in the Mass as Meal concept (as Elizabeth noted above), using the cooking show format, but also in:

    [to JDBenedictH,]

    The weakness of the way mass was said before VatII in the public low mass. There is little doubt of the superiority of the TLM high mass, with its sights and sounds, and the TLM private low mass, with its gestures and movements.

    Unfortunately, many TLM public low masses were little else than private low masses that just happened to have people present. In the mid 80’s, wanting to hear a Latin mass, I made my way to the SSPX chapel. On that Sunday there was no choir. To this day I cannot say from experience that the mass was in Latin because except for Communion I heard no Latin. It might have been in Swahili.

    And so the Novus Ordo was cooked up to be a public low mass, which means that it is built for parochial use (which it turn means it lacks monastic influence). The Novus Ordo seems to have been created to be said in the vernacular, versus populum. That is why “Latin Mass” almost always refers to the TLM.

    Novus Ordo priests were trained to say mass with people around–and so the mistake is often made of considering the mass as a Communal Act rather than an Ecclesial one.

    During my Roman years I was surprised that there were priests who, cum populo not being applicable, would not say mass unless they could concelebrate.

    NB: The cooking show reference is used both by Gamber and by Joseph Campbell, a fallen away Catholic who became an expert in Mythology

  34. robtbrown says:


    I cannot remember ever having seen the tabernacle on an altar in a pre Vat II arrangement: The tabernacle is contiguous to the altar but not on it.

  35. Nathan says:

    There are lots of good points here. I have a practical question about the implementation of ad orientem in the context of the Novus Ordo, Ordinary Form:

    If Pope Benedict said it was laudable and practiced it himself in the Sistine Chapel regularly on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, and Saint John Paul II said the Ordinary Form ad orientem in his private chapel, and there are an increasing number of priests and laity who acknowledge the benefits of doing so, and the rubrics of the Ordinary Form presuppose Holy Mass being offered ad orientem, why does it seem that there are no more than a handful of parishes worldwide that do so?

    I think it safe to say that, in the US, there are probably fewer than a hundred places where the Ordinary Form is regularly offered ad orientem. Is it really still so taboo that working to implement it is more painful for priests than the benefits? What’s holding such an important part of the liturgical restoration back?

    In Christ,

  36. Elizabeth D says:

    “The Novus Ordo seems to have been created to be said in the vernacular, versus populum.”

    I can’t speak for the intention of those who were responsible for the reshaping of the Mass into the Novus Ordo (notice I am a hermeneutic of continuity person and I say reshaping, and not creating… and I am well aware there is some disturbing history about this process). But I like the Novus Ordo in Latin and ad orientem very well. Shouldn’t that be normative? Why it is almost never done, I do not know and I think it is sad.

    I did not realize Joseph Campbell was a fallen away Catholic, helps me situate him as part of the broader trend of Catholics of that era toward Jungian depth psychology, though he took it to an extreme including truly no longer believing in a personal God… in his PBS interviews “The Power of Myth” with Bill Moyers he describes a Catholic priest coming up to him and asking him (Campbell) if he believed in a personal God. As I recall, Campbell asked the priest how it was that he knew a personal God existed, and the priest apparently didn’t have much of an answer. Campbell reported this to Moyers with some glee, saying he felt he had done “a jiujitsu trick.” Let this be to priests and to all of us a cautionary tale.

    “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…”

  37. Lucas Whittaker says:

    For those commenters who prefer versus populum to ad orientum because they like to hear what the priest is saying I have the following to share, and from my own experience. I prefer ad orientum and actually feel like I can assist at holy Mass with a more fervent participation when I miss most of what the priest is saying. Here’s why. I use a missal to better assist by praying the Eucharistic prayers that we are called to participate with the priest in praying. If I could only hear the prayers and was not myself praying some of them by following along in my missal (certain of the prayers are for the priest alone, such as the “hanc igitur”, which the priest says when he spreads his hands over the oblation) then I would come away from the Mass feeling as if I had not participated fully enough. Coincidentally, when the priest celebrant is praying the parts of the Mass that are for him alone I take those moments to be interiorly silent in hopeful expectation of saying my “Yes” to God and receiving Jesus with an open and receptive heart. To be honest I never knew how to properly assist at holy Mass until I made an effort to understand the Extraordinary Form, which I learned with the help of Dom Prosper Gueranger in his book entitled: “The Holy Mass”. In the copy that I have there is a beautiful section at the end of the book where Gueranger walks you through the Mass with his own instruction. Even if I never attend another EF Mass I can say that this one book has taught me more about the Mass generally [including the Ordinary Form, as I say] than I have learned anywhere else. Without meaning to offend anyone here I am suggesting that you might not yet know how best to participate when you assist at Mass. This would have been difficult for me to admit before learning the EF Mass, but I know now that it was true. Also, by way of expressing my love for the Extraordinary Form, in the EF there are numerous reminders (viz. Bells ringing, words spoken quite audibly by the priest) of just where we are in the Mass in case you get lost momentarily. The Gueranger book that I have is published by Baronius Press.

  38. Eric says:


    Yes, I didn’t mean sitting on the horizontal part of the altar. I was referring to the whole structure.

    After reading your comment and going to to look up ” contiguous” I saw that “in” was a meaning but not “on.” That is the word I should have used if I had actually paid attention in school.

  39. vetusta ecclesia says:

    I attended a talk given by our diocesan Vicar General at which, iner alia, he characterised the pre-conciliar Mass as one where the priest “turned his back on the people”. I asked him if he would say the same of a platoon commander leading his troops over the top. There was no response!

  40. robtbrown says:


    I probably should have said “contiguous with”.

  41. robtbrown says:


    Mass was being said in the vernacular versus populum before the 1970 promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missal.

  42. Magash says:

    Several people have asked what is holding the switch back to ad orientem back. I would say that formation in both the seminary and parishes over the last 50 years has been so poor that the logical theologically based reasons for ad orientem worship are basically beyond the comprehension of most parish priests and laity.
    When people have no proper training or formation in concepts they tend to fall back on feelings. If we cannot come to a logical conclusion on something because we don’t have enough information we use gut feelings, basically emotion and stereotypes, to make decisions. Hence the defense of versus populum based on the “I feel bad because the priest is turning his back to me.”
    So the answer is catechisis. The problem being here that many of the priests responsible for this catechisis are themselves so poorly formed (in this particular subject) that they are incapable of catechizing the laity on this subject, and even more important uninterested in doing so, since they see nothing wrong with versus populum worship. This has gone on so long that most bishops are in the same group.
    That being the case it would take action by the Congregation for Divine Worship actually banning versus populum to change things. Now there might be a slow turn of belief among younger, better formed priests, that over the next century that could change things, but that will be a long slow shift that I won’t live to see. An alternative would be for the Pope, and other ranking members of the various congregations to go to the exclusive use of ad orientem. I don’t expect that to happen any time soon. If the Benedict, most liturgically sound pope of the last century, didn’t do that I don’t expect the present Holy Father, who has shown no overriding interest in liturgy or liturgical problems, to address this.

  43. tcreek says:

    Maybe if the priest stood sideways and faced versus populum at the people parts and ad orientem at the God parts. The only question then will be if the priest would choose a left or right profile. Today, I suspect most would choose left.

  44. Luvadoxi says:

    Yes, it’s still taboo.

    What’s preventing it is the bishop. That’s about all there is to it.

  45. Priam1184 says:

    One small detail on this subject: the architecture of the altar in 99% of Novus Ordo parishes that one comes across. There is usually a severe drop starting immediately at the front of the altar down to the next place where a priest celebrating ad orientem could possibly place his feet. So, if a priest wished to celebrate ad orientem in these current setups he would likely have to be over 8 feet tall. Now this almost universal design surely wasn’t an accident and I am certain that it would be an excuse thrown in the face of anyone who wished to bring up this subject with Father or Bishop whomever. But I am equally sure that this issue could be overcome with even an ad hoc adjustment of the altar space. In any case we have to be aware of these issues and ready to deal with them when our time comes.

  46. Elizabeth D says:

    robtbrown, I have preconciliar books on liturgy with photographs of how some (in this book, _The Mass in Transition_ by Fr Ellard, SJ, it is mainly Benedictines) were already experimenting with how they celebrated Mass, versus populum. It shows for instance a church “retrofitted in 1952, uses a secondary altar in mid sanctuary, behind which the priest offers Mass, facing people” to quote caption. It is obvious from looking at these books that these were the ideas that bishops and priests assumed had been ratified by the Council and that then suddenly came into widespread use. There are pictures of solemn high Mass that looks almost exactly like a Novus Ordo Mass with a permanent deacon. I strongly assume Mass in the pictures is dialogue Mass in Latin, though the book also discusses how in some places there is some degree of use of vernacular, in some instances maybe without permission. After the Council there was the vernacular transitional version that was still like the TLM but in English, I have a hand missal of this. Probably the idea was indeed to bring about a more engaged and comprehending participation of the people and to make everything “fresh and modern”; the idea of making the form more “ecumenical” is also present in this Mass in Transition book, they seem to have thought it was up to them to make the Mass better (they are an elite) and they were being very intelligent and taking everything into consideration in the best way. A whole lot of other changes that did occur are also advocated in this 1956 book.

  47. wmeyer says:

    Priam1184, generalizing is always risky. In the four parishes nearest me, there is sufficient space in front of the altar to permit ad orientem without either an uncommonly tall priest, or risk of injury. Certainly I have not visited a significant percentage of North American parishes, but the details you mention seem less than universal.

  48. Marissa says:

    I attended a talk given by our diocesan Vicar General at which, iner alia, he characterised the pre-conciliar Mass as one where the priest “turned his back on the people”. I asked him if he would say the same of a platoon commander leading his troops over the top. There was no response!

    That’s a great response – the issue seems to be with a literal symbol of hierarchy.

  49. robtbrown says:

    ASPM Sem says:

    @iPadre: of course – but the physical focus after Mass begins is on the altar, as we cease to genuflect to the tabernacle and bow to the altar instead, as we recognize what is about to happen on it.

    Of course, this is not a problem with a pre VatII altar arrangement.

  50. Uxixu says:

    This line of discussion reminds me of the those who will, after Holy Communion, stop and give a head bow… I would be curious to know if they were intending their bow to the altar or tabernacle… or even the crucifix.

  51. Cincinnati Priest says:

    Nathan: What’s holding back the reform?

    1) Inertia, from the mis-implementation of the liturgical changes in the 1970’s to the present.
    2) Catholics who don’t like “change” of any kind. They are quite used to it.
    3) Catholics “of a certain age” (older baby boomers and the generation just before them) who, in nearly Pavlovian, knee-jerk fashion, shout “we don’t want the priest to turn his back to the people” whenever anyone brings up the issue, no matter how intelligently.
    4) Bishops who don’t like controversy.

    There are other factors, but I’d say these are the big four.

  52. jbas says:

    Are there any known cases of a priest censured by his bishop for orienting Mass celebrations, but then preserved in the traditional practice by a specific, personal judgement of the Vatican?

  53. Per Signum Crucis says:

    Fr.Z said: “People seem to think that they have to hear and see everything”.

    As a Novus Ordo / Versum Populum raised Catholic, that is perhaps not too surprising – as Magash intuits – irrespective of the fact that my condition inclines me more towards forms of communication that do both so I accept and thank those who have suggested the aid of a Missal and other resources in order to properly assist at Holy Mass in the Extraordinary Form.

    However, Magash’s post also neatly summarises both the conditions that have led to this impasse over the ‘correct’ way to offer the Holy Sacrifice and the limited options for resolving it. Indeed short of Vatican or papal mandate, there seems no other viable solution – that is, if it is accepted by the hierarchy that this particular liturgical problem is one that needs solving and I’m also not convinced that the hierarchy do accept or think that.

    Even under Summorum Pontificum (if my understanding of it is correct), is not the wider practice of the Extraordinary Form intended to be laity-led? If so, the biological solution is only a partial solution; just because a priest may have been properly trained in and prefers the Extraordinary Form does not permit him to impose it on a parish unless there is the demand for it, at which point the purpose of catechesis – to instruct or eventually to convert the whole parish? – becomes relevant.

    In short, theological arguments alone for Ad Orientem over Versum Populum are probably, in the wider scheme of things, not enough.

  54. Vox Laudis says:

    Priam1184–the resourceful priest of our TLM community solved this problem for a monthly TLM in a place not totally conducive to the TLM–he had a set of boxes built that extend the altar space to the needed height and depth. They are brought in (as are the two long prie-dieu altar rail substitutes) and covered with very nice old ‘Oriental’ carpets. There is also a gradine which sits to the rear of the altar and which has been faux-finished to match the marble of the altar; we all know it’s not part of the altar, but during the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass it doesn’t matter in the least. The gentlemen who do the arranging and disarranging would tell you that the hardest part is negotiating the rails, the boxes, and the carpets up and down the stairs in the building next door where they are hidden away, er, stored until the next month.

    My late mum used to say, Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

  55. robtbrown says:

    Elizabeth D says:
    robtbrown, I have preconciliar books on liturgy with photographs of how some (in this book, _The Mass in Transition_ by Fr Ellard, SJ, it is mainly Benedictines) were already experimenting with how they celebrated Mass, versus populum.

    I wasn’t talking about pre Vat II experimentation. The chapel of the Convitto San Tommaso, where I lived in Rome for 8 years, looks to have been built in 1975, but in fact, it was built before the Council. It has a free standing “altar”, and the tabernacle is off to the side on the wall, as if it’s a picture on the wall.

    I was referring to the way mass was said after VatII but before Paul VI promulgated the new missal in 1970. Because the Latin missal came after the mass was already vernacular versus populum, IMHO, it’s easy to say it was intended to be said that way.

  56. jflare says:

    “There is usually a severe drop starting immediately at the front of the altar down to the next place where a priest celebrating ad orientem could possibly place his feet.”

    I recall this sort of idea being my objection to the idea of ad orientem worship at first. …Until I reviewed the typical arrangement of the altar for both forms of the Mass.
    I can’t recall any church I’ve ever visited in which the top of the altar stood more than about 4 feet or so above the highest step.
    I also notice that whenever a traditional altar has been set at the top of steps, the top step almost never appears to be much more than 6 to 8 inches deep. Almost certainly not more than 12. Adequate, but not overly so. Then again, we’re talking about a place where Mass is offered, not a stage for a theatrical performance.
    If the priests of yesteryear could figure out how to offer Mass from a short-ish top of the steps, I suspect a modern day priest can manage.

  57. Siculum says:

    Spreading Fr. Rick Heilman’s story from Pine Bluff, WI, and the fruits of ad orientem in his parish to other priests for some time now.

  58. Siculum says:

    Overall, the Ordinary Form could really use a turnaround.

Comments are closed.