Implementing ‘ad orientem’ worship with charity, prudence and courage

ad orientem direction drawingMy friend Msgr. Charles Pope has a piece at the National Catholic Register about celebrating Holy Mass ad orientem. Msgr. Pope is determined to teach his flock about ad orientem worship.  He thinks that Card. Sarah should, in his role as Prefect, issue some guidelines which will help to avoid potential conflicts between priests amenable to the Sarah Appeal™ and bishops who are not.

Let’s see his peroration, with my emphases and comments:

Why We Should All “Face East” During the Eucharistic Prayer


But let me reiterate the concerns that Cardinal Sarah needs to address to the world’s bishops on this matter. Otherwise the wishes and attempts of priests may prove dead on arrival. While it is true that a priest can use this option on his own, Bishops who are displeased with such a notion can apply a good deal of pressure on priests who seek to fulfill the request. It is not merely that some bishops might be “nasty” about it. Rather, most priests do not seek to do things (and optional things at that) that are displeasing to their bishop or might create dissentions among the faithful. Consensus among priests and bishops to respect the option of eastward orientation and the wish of Cardinal Sarah is going to be important for success in bring forth a wider use of it. Even if a particular priest or bishop does not prefer such an option, an official communiqué from the Cardinal (not just a talk at a liturgical conference) can go a long way to defuse conflicts. A letter “on Vatican stationery” can assist mutual respect in this matter.

Priest too who support the option to face east might also assist the faithful by implementing the option at certain Masses, but not all. We who support the Eastward stance of the Eucharistic prayer have insisted all along that this is an option. And thus we might demonstrate a pastoral solicitude for those who prefer the Eucharistic prayer facing the people even after our teaching. If this thing becomes a liturgy war it will be a countersign and is doomed to failure and overreaction. [It will be a war, I’m afraid, but there are things that we can do to make it short and to avoid lots of damage.  We must move carefully and prudently.  We must avoid what was inflicted on people decades ago in the name of the Council: sudden changes with little or no explanation.  Pope Benedict’s suggested arrangement of versus populum altars would be helpful as a transition.]

To reiterate, an official communiqué from Cardinal Sarah to the world’s bishops is important to preserve charity among bishops and priests. Pastoral prudence is also very important for those of us who would like to more widely use the Eastward option. This will be a hard change for some. And while I feel very strongly that the eastward orientation of the Eucharistic prayer is best, I do not seek to do to others what was done to us all in the late 1960s as changes railroaded through our churches at the hands of enthusiastic clergy but bewildered parishioners. [As I said.]

In a different post at Chant Cafe, Fr. Christopher Smith offers a few practical suggestions on how to introduce ad orientem worship in a parish.

How to Introduce Ad Orientem to Your Parish


Then, the months leading up to Advent can be a powerful time for catechesis.  Father Jay Scott Newman of St Mary’s, Greenville, has an excellent set of bulletin columns by which he introduced the idea, along with a series of sermons, to his parish.  Excerpting and integrating these into bulletin columns and pastoral letters to the faithful can introduce the idea to the faithful.  [I wrote about Fr. Newman’s initiative, for example, HERE.]

In my own parish, we put into the pews a resource, which explains to visitors and parishioners why what they may see, hear and experience at our parish may be markedly different than their experience in other American parishes.  That resource is given to all new families when they register and is excerpted in the bulletin on a regular basis.  We also invite people at Christmas and Easter to take home the booklets to learn more.

It is a great time to do a book study on Michael Lang’s seminal work  Turning Towards The Lord [UK HERE]Send a personal invitation to your highest donors, heads of ministries, school faculty and staff, parish employees and members of the finance and pastoral councils.

These months of catechesis leading up to Advent may be geared towards the implementation of ad orientem worship, but can also be used to address some of the lack of catechesis and liturgical confusion all around.  In my own parish we did a book study on Ronald Knox’s Mass in Slow Motion [UK HERE] as well as a sermonseries to which I go back from time to time.


It is clear that catechesis is the key.

It should be clear, sustained, calm and with a date in mind.

Fathers, bene ambula et redambula.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    In the Cathedral where I am Rector, there are two naves — either side of the main altar — seating 500 people each.

    So, every Sunday for forty years, the Catholic people here have chosen for themselves to be “in front of” or “behind” the priest at the altar.

    It is an unusual liturgical design, but it has kept ad orientum worship alive here during the post-conciliar confusion.

  2. Tamara T. says:

    Our parish just received a new pastor and a new associate. Can you offer any suggestions on how to approach our pastor with this? I think the above suggestions, especially the catechesis along with implementing it at one mass is a great idea. I wonder if I will get shut down before I even finish asking and thought you might have suggestions on a good approach.


  3. iPadre says:

    I began celebrating ad orientem at weekday Mass several years ago. My catechesis for that move was very simple, with a few homilies, but quite successful. It started out on the First Friday of the month and from there to all weekday Masses. Before making the change on Sundays, I gave four weeks of teaching in the weekly bulletin, a homily or two, and experimented occasionally on Holy Days. When we finally made the move, it went quite well. Although, there will always be a few people who are not happy with any change.

  4. Kathleen10 says:

    Thanks to Msgr. Pope for his good work here. We certainly hope it takes, and we are grateful for the men who will step up and defend our faith.
    One slight disagreement I have though, would be with this mindset:

    “If this thing becomes a liturgy war it will be a countersign and is doomed to failure and overreaction.”

    This is a bit like a nation in a conflict signaling to the other side that at a certain date we will give up, if things don’t go as we’d like. It is a gift to the opponents. It is something they can use, and we know they will. Strategy and wisdom.
    We must all gird our loins and have chests, and not fear conflict so much. There are times appropriate for conflict. We are witnessing a decimation. The sheep are being scattered, and many are beginning to doubt the faith. Souls are being lost. One of the most diabolical aspects of our time is the insidious belief that pacifism and politeness are the highest virtues, or that God will not bless a tumult over matters of faith and practice. How this belies history! And what a wimpified Church we have become in some ways! This has allowed the innovators to have free rein and is at least partly responsible for their progress. We need to overcome this unhealthy mindset and keep in mind Our Lord in the temple with a cord of whips, and resist the fear and inertia that is being used to steal our Catholic heritage while we back down from any conflict, however slight, lest we offend.

  5. TNCath says:

    I am quite impressed with Msgr. Pope’s bravery in addressing many issues over the years with which he has been “at odds” at times with the zeitgeist of the “establishment,” managing to avoid any “slap downs” from his own archbishop.

  6. TimG says:


    I agree 100%. Returning to ad orientem to me is paramount and while certainly it should be done with catechesis, it must be done and don’t ever show any “cracks” in the plan. The enemy will exploit those at every opportunity.

  7. Lepidus says:

    I wonder what Msgr. Pope had in mind when he said “implementing the option at certain Masses, but not all.” Fr. Z. bolded the last few words, but didn’t comment on what “certain” means. This could be interpreted two different ways: 1) They could be every week at 7:30, so the old fuddy-duddies can have their Mass, but never at the “family” Mass, or 2) Every Mass on specific days such as once a month or major feasts. Of course, my vote would be for #2, but then again, that’s what I thought they should do with the Extraordinary Form in general – random days and times….

  8. Hoover says:

    St. Thomas stated in Summa Theologica that the essence of original sin was “aversio a Deo” – turning away from God.

    So often poorly catechized liberals (both ordained and layperson alike) cry about Mass being read by priests “with their backs to the people”, why is it that we cant reply that versus populum is in essence aversio a Deo?

    Physical posture is often an insight to a mental or spiritual state. One crosses ones arms when one closes ones mind, and perhaps one vehemently objects to the idea of facing God, and would rather turn away from God when one is not in a state of grace…

  9. Royse87 says:

    I wonder if the push-back against Crd. Sarah would be as patronizing and insidious if he were a white westerner? The hypocrisy and doublespeak from those who hate the Church is nauseating. Minorities are only valuable to them if they uphold their disgusting narrative.

  10. tskrobola says:

    I agree with Kathleen 10… orientem is worth the displeasure it may cause….it should be implemented. Sensitivity and education are fine, but it needs to happen. Politeness is not the highest virtue, it’s not even in the top 10.

  11. glovehead says:

    St John the Beloved, located in McLean VA, started on Corpus Christi for all Masses. Many thanks to Father Christopher Pollard.

  12. cathgrl says:

    Royse87, Oh, I think so. Imagine Cdl. Burke as the head of CDW. Then imagine Burke making the same talk at a conference.

  13. Traductora says:

    Royse87, the European or European descent bishops and cardinals are so terrified that they don’t dare say anything. And Francis has s lot of SJW fans in Africa as well. Francis has contempt for non-Europeans. His parents were middle-class Italian immigrants to Argentina, and his mother, I believe, was if German descent. As many Argentinians boast (because they despise Spain) he has “no Spanish blood” – and, btw, he condescends to and despises the Spanish and Indian descended Latin Americans.

    As for Africa and Africans – he thought they were intimidated. But the older ones are much better educated and certainly, in the case of Cdl Sarah, much more devout and pastoral than is Francis. The German bishops hate Sarah for orthodox … But also for African.

  14. wolfeken says:

    Forgive me as one who does not attend the novus ordo, but haven’t Reform of the Reform folks been talking (and talking, and talking, and talking) about this for about three decades, including during the entire papacy of Benedict XVI, with nothing to show except an annual ad orientem liturgy at best?

    C’mon, Fathers, let’s please move from words to action while we’re still alive. This Sunday morning. All of your liturgies. Ad orientem. No excuses. A solid sermon to support it. Just do it.

  15. St. Rafael says:

    All this raises more questions about the state of the liturgy in the Church, and what went wrong in Benedict’s pontificate. Where was this movement 6-7 years ago? Why wasn’t Cardinal Sarah head of the CDW under Benedict? Imagine what could have been accomplished. Instead there was the wasted years of Cardinal Llovera. Pope Benedict focused on the Benedictine arrangement that went absolutely nowhere. That is because the Benedictine arrangement was still versus populum. Facing the people is still facing the people no matter how many candles you put on the altar. You can make a wall with candles and a crucifix, but you are still facing the wrong way. The only way to transition to ad orientem is to start celebrating ad orientem. Little by little such as weekday Masses and a first Saturday Mass until we get to the Sunday Masses.

  16. Charles E Flynn says:

    From GIRM warfare: Experts criticize Vatican’s quick dismissal of Cardinal Sarah’s call for Mass facing East, by by Claire Chretien, for Life Site News:

    Liturgist and blogger Father John Zuhlsdorf wrote on his popular website that Father Thomas Rosica, another Vatican spokesman, further misconstrued reality by doubling down on Lombardi’s statements and implying irrelevantly and incorrectly that the Traditional Latin Mass may only be offered in “certain specific cases.” The Church’s law allows “pretty much whenever and wherever any priest whosoever wants to say the older form of Mass” to do so, Zuhlsdorf wrote.

  17. RichR says:

    With all the moral, political, and military upheaval, you’d think the Catholic Church, the longest-surviving institution still around, would be raising its traditional banners and resurrecting millennia-old customs as beacons to those seeking a bedrock of sanity and stability.

    Ad orientem is old, just like common sense. Neither are popular these days. So what? Don’t abandon either.

  18. Absit invidia says:

    Ad orientem is never going to catch on until the statement reads:

    “BISHOPS and priests SHALL face as orientem . . . ”

    Until then it is, and will remain, a fleeting wish. These guys in the Curia need to get some spine if they want to see it happen.

  19. frjim4321 says:

    I predicted nine years ago that SP would be the cause, mainly, of greater division in the church. The current “altar wars” are simply a manifestation of that division and in a sense validate my prediction.

    [In that case you are merely self-referential.]

  20. Mike says:

    I predicted nine years ago that SP would be the cause, mainly, of greater division in the church.

    One suspects that “shooting the messenger” might have been omitted from the Calumny portion of your moral theology class in seminary.

  21. jaykay says:

    “I predicted nine years ago that SP would be the cause, mainly, of greater division in the church.”

    Only on the part of those who want it to be so. And we ain’t talking “trads” here.

  22. robtbrown says:

    frjim4321 says:

    I predicted nine years ago that SP would be the cause, mainly, of greater division in the church. The current “altar wars” are simply a manifestation of that division and in a sense validate my prediction.

    Mt 10:34
    Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.

    Sorry, but I prefer Christ’s own words to the false irenism (cf Humani Generis) that has been in place the past 50 years.

  23. acardnal says:

    frjim, the “division” did NOT occur “nine years” ago with the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum. It began in 1969 with the promulgation of Pope Paul VI’s new missal and the rejection of the Latin Mass which had been celebrated for hundreds of years! Ten of thousands of clerics, religious and laity left the Church because of the Novus Ordo and the effects of Vatican 2.

  24. robtbrown says:


    It began before 1969. The promulgation of the PVI Missal was just a codification of the liturgy of the previous few years.

  25. acardnal says:

    Agree. I lived through those times. Seemed like something new was occurring at every Sunday Mass.

  26. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Fr. Christopher Smith writes, “It is a great time to do a book study on Michael Lang’s seminal work Turning Towards The Lord”.

    It might be worth mentioning that there is an online list of Dr. Lang’s publications, which at least in some cases brings you to where you can read the work in question online, too (for example, “Louis Bouyer and Church Architecture: Resourcing Benedict XVI’s The Spirit of the Liturgy”).

    Fr. Scott: “the months leading up to Advent can be a powerful time for catechesis.”

    Fr. Z: “It is clear that catechesis is the key.”

    Let us, like Chaucer’s Clerk, gladly learn and teach (each in our own station)!

  27. frjim4321 says:

    So you all think that thousands of lapsed Catholics are flocking to protestant megachurches with digital video, sound and lights because they are looking for “elevated language” and “solemnity?”

  28. Midwest St. Michael says:

    “So you all think that thousands of lapsed Catholics are flocking to protestant megachurches with digital video, sound and lights because they are looking for “elevated language” and “solemnity?””

    I’ll take a stab at it. They may doing so because…

    a). They have forgotten their patrimony (pre-V2 and just after Catholics)
    b). They have been given milquetoast and drivel since the 70s-00s (families that are generational and traditionally Catholic)
    c). They never knew what the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is all about to begin with – so they leave(Gen X and Millennial Catholics… [yet, some do come back])
    d). [Insert opinion here.]


  29. un-ionized says:

    MSM, all of the above. When Catholic parishes are turned into Protestant style entertainment centers for youth, then church becomes all about entertainment. And Protestant groups do entertainment very well. I left my former parish in large part because it underwent such a conversion. However, they still have a prettily done Mass for those who are not paying attention so young people have stayed. But the older people have all left, it’s been made clear to them that they are unwelcome now. There is no recognition that these are the very same people that built it up to begin with.

  30. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I don’t know much about any of the multifarious megachurches throughout the world, but I can imagine that some are more clearly theologically orthodox (including, in theological anthropology: I do not address ecclesiology per se) than many a parish where the clergy are in communion with the Holy Father, and that some swallow a lot of not particularly palatable “digital video, sound and lights” for the sake of that.

  31. OlderCatholic says:

    Here we go again, just as after the Council, more changes imposed on the congregation From Above, with no input from the laity. Except it’s a different faction this time.

  32. un-ionized says:

    VSL, the aesthetic of the large Protestant church is completely foreign to you. They love all of that, it’s considered a sign of vibrancy, that’s why they do it. I went to such a large church long ago and was very active in it. We were PC-USA with all the Calvinism, etc. but with what for Presbyterians at the time some nontraditional worship. There were different worship styles at the three Sunday services so everybody fit in somewhere. That’s entertainment. Some Catholic parishes are doing entertainment now, to our detriment. My former parish has rather traditional worship, kneeling at the rail, etc. but zero classes, programs, for anybody over 40. The all ages classes that they have are so elementary that they only appeal to the very young.

  33. Absit invidia says:

    Fr Jim, I beg to differ. The cause of division in the church has been the overly permissive over tolerance to grave scandal. Prominent Catholics have been railing against church teachings for decades with absolutely no repercussions. The silence has been interpreted as condonement. This sin of omission has poorly catechized Catholics confused and often taking the wrong side and going so far as to protest the church on things like contraception, abortion, gay marriage, etc. there’s your division: poorly carechized catholics with opinions vs the catechism of the Catholic Church.

  34. Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    No, Fr. Jim, they’re flocking to the mega-churches with sound and light shows because they’ve been so poorly catechized by the post conciliar liturgy that they expect to be entertained, amused, excited, and invited into constant activity, instead of being led deeper into prayer and engagement in a personal relationship with the Lord who speaks with the still, small, whisper.

    Led to expect constant stimulation in the liturgy by the guitar and tambourine crowd in the 70’s, they began drifting to the mega churches in the 80’s when they realized that the folksters on the Catholic left were stuck in Peter, Paul, and Mary mode while their sensibilities were becoming more U2.

    Truly, they don’t stay long in the mega-churches. A pastor I know once said that he expects an 70% turnover of his congregation every three years as people leave.

    Because entertainment doesn’t save your soul. And the secular world is always ALWAYS going to do it better than the Church.

    How do we get them back? Not by mirroring the mega-churches that can’t even hold their attention for long. But by rooting ourselves solidly in our tradition, proclaiming the Gospel in season and out of season, and being that solid, steady rock that, in our swiftly changing world, symbolizes the eternal fidelity of the Son of God who came to save the world.

  35. robtbrown says:

    frjim4321 says:

    So you all think that thousands of lapsed Catholics are flocking to protestant megachurches with digital video, sound and lights because they are looking for “elevated language” and “solemnity?”

    I am reminded of what a character said in (I think) one of Anthony Trollope’s works. I think it applies here:

    My church is the best church because it doesn’t interfere in matters of business and sex.

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  37. Sal says:

    With all due respect, there is a simple reason why this will not happen. After Vatican II, existing churches were re-designed and new churches were built with altars facing the congregation. Do you seriously think that all those churches are going to collectively spend millions of dollars to re-design? It ain’t going to happen. The average parish in this country barely keeps its head afloat financially. So we are going to spend all that money on church re-design instead of our parochial schools, feeding the poor, educating our seminarians and helping persecuted Catholics around the world?

    Let us get real here. I would venture that 95% of Catholics in the US who attend mass faithfully do so in a parish where the priest faces the congregation. Unless you were born before about 1959 or 1960 you probably have never even seen a mass ad orientem. This would be a foreign concept.

    Maybe you could do it in some old churches in Europe or Latin America, but it is such a remote concept that it is not even on the radar if you were to speak to the average parishioner or priest in North America. You would get a strange look as if you were an alien who just stepped off a UFO.

  38. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Sal notes, ” After Vatican II, existing churches were re-designed and new churches were built with altars facing the congregation.”

    All these Churches either have the apse in the east or the west, or are built on another axis. (1) If the apse is in the west, then versus populum is ad orientem (as in many famous old Churches in Rome and elsewhere) – which probably needs to be made clear to all concerned: a delight opportunity for enrichment in the fields of art/architectural, liturgical, theological Church history! (2) If the axis is anything but east-west, then it is a matter of ‘liturgical east’ – which could presumably mean either treating the apse as east, or treating the apse as west – in which case, see (1). (3) If the apse is in the east, and the Church has been so clumsily (or even perversely?) re-designed as to make it physically impossible to celebrate ad orientem, I would be surprised if there is not an affordable ‘fix’, whether with something commercially available (like some sturdy adjustable ‘risers’ or platforms I’ve seen), or some good carpentry. Meanwhile, there is an educational opportunity along the lines of (1), along the lines of ‘oddly, this Church was redesigned as if the apse were in the west, though in fact it is in the east…’.

  39. Filipino Catholic says:

    The jury’s out on whether this will happen in the Philippines or not, but one of the things going for us is that we have several dozen surviving Spanish-era churches (that number may exceed a hundred, two hundred, I am not sure), and their high altars and associated retablos still mostly intact — though in every single case, a post-VII freestanding altar now stands in the way.

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