ASK FATHER: Why are “ad orientem” and Communion on the tongue preferable?

leafhopperFrom a reader…


I am a convert to the faith 27 years ago and was just recently ordained a permanent Deacon. I am curios as to why celebrating the mass ad orientum and reception on the tongue exclusively are preferable. I often find myself near tears when receiving the Eucharist and was just wondering why receiving in the hand should not be allowed.

There are some common misspellings that crop up frequently in this line of work. Occasionally, one sees reference to alter boys, which is alarming (at least to non-Jesuits). One hears stories of lectors proclaiming that a reading is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Filipinos. And frequently the liturgical phrase “ad orientem” is butchered.

BTW… the orientus (which in Latin would give us the accusative form orientum) is a genus of critter in the leafhopper family. Hence, offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass “ad orientum” would be offering it toward or in the presence of this irritating little bug. Something we might end up doing incidentally, if the church has not been thoroughly cleaned by the aspirants of the Blessed Imelda Lambertini Society alter… no… altar guild section. But that’s something we should not intend to do.

Instead, we should offer the Holy Sacrifice facing – at least symbolically – the direction of the rising sun, the orient, or, in Latin, oriens (in the accusative form orientem).

As to the specifics of why worship ad orientem is preferable and why reception of Holy Communion on the tongue is preferable, there have already been many electrons spilled on this blog to cover the topic. You might do a little searching around in these webby pages.

Also, try reading Dominus Est, a wonderful little book on the Eucharist by Bp. Athanasius Schneider, and The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Pope Benedict XVI, aka Joseph Ratzinger.

Those highly useful and readable books will not fulfill your self-identification as “curios”, however.



About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Look toward the east, O Jerusalem, and see the joy that is coming to you from God! (Bar. 4:36)

  2. cwillia1 says:

    Praying to the east is an apostolic tradition. We don’t need to explain or understand unless we are constantly reinventing the wheel. It is not necessary (or even possible) to wrap our minds around everything we do.

  3. benedetta says:

    Would this be a good time for me to question the whole Dramatic Interpretive style of reading of epistle And The Psalm by the Hannibelle Lecters of the world? No?

  4. Charles E Flynn says:

    Suggested search terms:

    Kwasniewski “ad orientum” [Are you kidding?!?]

  5. Charles E Flynn says:

    Suggested search terms:

    Kwasniewski “communion in the hand”

  6. beelady says:

    I’d like to thank the reader who asked the question. I too am a convert (20 yrs) and have wondered about the same things.
    I’d also like to thank Fr. Z for first introducing me to both ad orientem worship and Communion on the tongue. I will certainly buy the suggested books and learn more.

  7. majuscule says:

    An archbishop whose name would be immediately recognizable to most Catholics in the US recently came to my little church (in that parish way out at the periphery of the archdiocese) and offered our Sunday Mass ad orientem.

    I did not hear any complaints.

    It was beautiful.

  8. Imrahil says:

    Because if you speak to someone, you look at him.

    Hence, if you speak to Someone together with, representative of, and interceding for a congregation, then you look at Him. By corollary, you look into the same direction with said congregation, which means that even though the He we are talking of be omnipresent, you do not look at the congregation.

    By positive side-effect, you teach by example that there is a difference between prayer and soliloquy, and also between prayer and sermon, thus counteracting the well-known tendency to put a sermonizing tone into your prayers. There is a time and place for the Sermon all right, and for that you face the congregation.

    By another positive side-effect, though liturgical modernizers have complained that turning the back to the People would be clerical haughtiness towards the laity, it is clear that if there is anything that is clerical haughtiness towards the laity, it is setting oneself up as the presider of their meeting and managing all that is going on. That too is avoided here.

    Frankly, all this is as manifest that I wonder why the opposite ever could come up.

    (It is not as trivial to see why the readings and Gospel, in the traditional Roman rite, are said facing East – it would not be wrong to say that they, at least, are “told to” the congregation. It takes an additional step, as it were, to see that even more than being told to the congregation they too are chiefly intended as prayer.)

    – That, if the architect who builds a Church has free choice how to do it, the preferred direction for this “front of the Church” which people turn to will be east, not north by northwest or any such thing, is almost self-explanatory, at least for us Westerners for whom sunrise, the City of Jerusalem and (not for me, but for Americans) even the City of Rome all lie in the same direction. This is not the main Point, though, and if the architect did not have a free choice, we have in all times had Churches facing west, south or what not.

  9. Charles E Flynn says:


    Suggested search terms:

    Kwasniewski “ad orientem”

  10. guans says:

    Thanks for the spelling lesson Fr Z. I always thought it was spelt with a “u” as it sounded more
    Latin. I was taught phonetics- spelling out a word according to how it sounds, and we had tons of spelling bees in grade school, also tons of diagramming.
    My husband apparently wasn’t taught phonetics. You should hear him trying to pronounce the
    names on prescription bottles, much less spell them. Good thing God gives us a sense of humor.

  11. Gerhard says:

    Care needs to be taken about small things (especially particles of the Sacred Host).

  12. The Masked Chicken says:

    [As Hercule Poirot]

    I see the little grey cells are turning…the Mass is a sacrifice, non? Multiple people wanted Jesus dead, non? Jesus was, “railroaded,” by false witnesses, non? He was pierced through the heart, non? The Jewish Temple was built facing east, but it was thought that God faced the people in the Temple (so, looking at them to the west). Could it be that Christ was crucified facing west, facing the people, because He is God and the people looked on Him facing east? The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on the site of the crucifixion, is built facing east in the direction of the Second Temple. It is so, n’est pas? The people sacrificed the Passover lamb facing east and they sacrificed Christ facing east, non? Jesus was killed by us, all, non? This is an interesting train of thought, non? Eh, bien, the solution, she is perfectly clear…it was murder on the Ad Orientem Express, non?

    The Chicken

    P. S. OrientEm Express – same letter.

  13. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Chicken, that is both beautiful and painful.

    Re: the readings, this seems to be part of the military/governmental influence. The king (or the magistrate in a Roman government basilica) sat on his throne against the wall. Anybody making announcements (reading proclamations from the king or requests from petitioners to the king) would stand somewhere close enough to the king to be heard, but would face the people so that they could also hear.

  14. Charles E Flynn says:

    The release date is now November. That should give the industry time to come up with Chicken-friendly tickets.


  16. Gerhard says:

    And it should be remembered (by the Priest) Who (or who) his is addressing at different parts of the Mass: “proffering” the Host and the Chalice to the congregation during the Eucharistic Prayer suggests the Priest is telling a story to the people, illustrating it with such gestures. Instead, this is a prayer directed to the Father, invoking and calling to mind the actions of His Son at the Last Supper. Such confusion, and loss of understanding of the true significance, is impossible when the Mass is celebrated ad orientem – because the Priest faces God at that point. It is not for nothing that “proffering” is not in the rubric. Priests should (please Fathers!!!) do the red and say the black – und damit basta.

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