ASK FATHER: Where is Father supposed to be during the Novus Ordo?

From a reader…


When ‘presiding’ at the NO ‘facing the people’, is there anything that mandates that during things like the Collect, or the Kyrie, or the Gloria, or the Communion prayer, that the priest has to face the people? I help at parishes so I can’t change the general way things are done ….

The rubrics of the Ordinary Form are – as in many other matters – silent on the direction the priest is facing during those prayers you mentioned. In fact, the rubrics fail to mention the orientation of the priest everywhere except for the few times he is enjoined to “turn to the people and say…”.  That presupposes, of course, that he is celebrating ad orientem.  In other words, ad orientem is the default way to celebrate Mass in the Roman Rite.

Feasibly, as far as rubrics are concerned, for some parts of the Mass Father could be at the side of the altar, in front of the altar, behind the altar, suspended above the altar, or even hiding behind a pillar somewhere in the church.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ACTION ITEM!, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. TheDude05 says:

    If Father is hiding behind a pillar and one finds him is there an indulgence attached to that in the NO?

  2. FL_Catholic says:

    We really shouldn’t let the NO liturgists know that Father could say Mass suspended in the air above the altar, it might give them the wonderful idea of an “Acrobat Mass” to show how modern, inclusive, and sensitive they are to the Catholic Circus Member community.

  3. HyacinthClare says:


    Oh, I am SO GRATEFUL for the FSSP parish I attend!

  4. Geoffrey says:

    It would seem that the celebrant would be at the chair, facing the people:

    “Cum ad altare pervenerit, facta cum ministris profunda inclinatione, osculo altare veneratur et, pro opportunitate, crucem et altare incensat. Postea cum ministris sedem petit. Cantu ad introitum absoluto, sacerdos et fideles, stantes, signant se signo crucis, dum sacerdos, ad populum conversus, dicit: In nómine Patris…

    [When he has arrived at the altar, after making a profound bow with the ministers, the Priest venerates the altar with a kiss and, if appropriate, incenses the cross and the altar. Then, with the ministers, he goes to the chair. When the Entrance Chant is concluded, the Priest and the faithful, standing, sign themselves with the Sign of the Cross, while the Priest, facing the people, says: In the name of the Father…]” (The Roman Missal, Third Edition, Order of Mass, n. 1).

  5. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Surely the use of “petit” here implies that they must go search for the chair. Is this a procession, or a random scattering of people in all directions. Furthermore, if they must search for it, isn’t it proper to commission a ministry of chair hiders?

  6. Paul M. says:

    The prayer after communion may be said either at the altar or at the chair. (GIRM #165.) Further, the same rubric instructs the priest to say “Let us pray” while “facing the people with hands joined” before beginning the prayer after communion.

  7. Geoffrey:

    My approach — based on my own reading of the rubrics — is that the “facing the people” doesn’t apply to everything the priest does at the beginning of Mass, but precisely to the sign of the cross and the “Dominus vobiscum,” and then, to the “Oremus.”

    I arrive at this from two inputs. First, the rubrics are silent, as our genial host says, on the priest’s spatial orientation at most times. I think it would be stretching the texts to say that one or two “facing the people” here or there are meant to apply to the entire Mass; it makes more sense, I think, to read them exactly as Fr. Z does — as notable exceptions to the default postures that otherwise apply.

    And that is based on my second input — the postures and liturgical orientation of the priest in the Extraordinary Form, out of which the new Mass sprung.* For reasons I won’t go into here, I find persuasive — indeed, conclusive — I think the new Mass’s rubrics really must be applied according to a hermeneutic of continuity. And that’s what I do.

    Result? The priest goes to the chair — which is positioned exactly as it was in the old Mass — at a 90-degree angle. He turns slightly toward the people exactly when he does so in the E.F.; otherwise, his prayers are toward the Lord. In my case, when I offer the collects at the chair, I turn slightly toward the Lord. That is consistent with the old Mass, and it communicates the truth about those prayers.

    I make no judgment about priests who face the people while doing the orations, but I’ve come to believe that that makes no sense. And the rubrics do not call for it.

    *Oh yes, I am well aware of the case to be made that the new Mass was a violent rupture from the old Mass. I am not contesting that, here. Even if that is factually true, the credibility of the new Mass absolutely requires that it be viewed as an organic development of the old Mass — because that’s what the Council authorized, and that’s how the Church works. Thus Pope Benedict’s hermeneutic of continuity isn’t just a preference; it is essential to maintaining the legitimacy of the new Mass, apart from positivistic liceity.)

  8. Charles E Flynn says:

    The use of even the most formal hammocks is frowned upon.

  9. Daniel W says:

    Fr Z has pointed out that if rubrics require the priest to TURN and face the people, it is clear that the priest be oriented in another way before this moment.

    However, this is not in keeping with the spirit of the rubric. If the previous rubric required versus populum, then what is required is at least a 360 degrees pirouette en pointe (several twirls would be preferable for the more agile).

    One could argue in fact that the NO rubrics REQUIRE liturgical dance and these moments, just ask Fr. Bob VereEcke, SJ of Boston College: “Fr. Bob and a host of Jesuit ballet dancers and dance enthusiasts believe that to really praise God one must use one’s entire body for the greater glory of His name. And dancing ballet is one great and graceful way to do it!”

  10. Joe in Canada says:

    The reason I asked this – I am the one who sent this question to Fr Z – was because I get increasingly uncomfortable as I get older facing the people say during the Gloria. I am relieved that there is nothing that stops me from turning and facing the altar. Thank you, Fr Martin Fox, you seem already to have thought through my question.

  11. One of those TNCs says:

    We have an infrequently-visiting priest who begins daily Mass in the aisle and does not move to the chair until the person comes forward to read the first reading. This is probably the least of the blatant abuses we suffer from him. I have nicknamed him “Fr. Ad-lib.”

  12. Geoffrey says:

    I know of one priest who for the creed faces the center of the altar, and then after rising from the bow, walks to the chair. I think he does this to encourage everyone to bow (or genuflect, depending on the day of the calendar).

  13. Kerry says:

    Sometimes the itch to be creative or experimental or spontaneous or informal with the liturgy comes from a mistaken view that this is somehow more humble, more “authentic,” more in keeping with people’s needs on the ground. But I think C. S. Lewis put his finger on what’s really happening here:
    The modern habit of doing ceremonial things unceremoniously is no proof of humility; rather it proves the offender’s inability to forget himself in the rite, and his readiness to spoil for every one else the proper pleasure of ritual. (from A Preface to Paradise Lost, ch. 3)
    (From an 11-17-2014 article at New Liturgical Movement, by Peter Kwasniewski, ‘How Sinful is it to Disregard the Rubrics?’ Included also are quotes from Aquinas. In one of Michael Davies writings he mentions the great Sen No Rikyu, and the influence of the precise movements in the Mass on the tea ceremony. “The movements have meaning!” were, if memory serves, Rikyu’s words.)

  14. bsjy says:

    It depends on the parish. Some have, as one pastor put it, 10,000 experts on the priesthood. You face the “wrong” way or move the chair, and you could be bounced right out of there. If you “helped” the music leader or flower guild as much as they “help” you, it might remind them of where appropriate boundaries should be drawn.

  15. Charles E Flynn says:

    For those unfamiliar with Sen no Rikyu:

    Tea and Christianity, by Karen Anderson.

Comments are closed.