A priest’s thought after going ‘ad orientem’

From an old friend of mine in my native place, Fr Tom Dufner, a great priest.


We’ve been doing ad orientem at daily Mass on and off for a few months. We’ve put several articles in the bulletin to prepare the way. This Sunday we preached on ad orientem at all the Masses and celebrated facing the liturgical east at all Masses! It was well received.

I was so moved during the evening mass I almost wept bowing low for the priest’s Communion prayers. I found myself using a different voice. At the gospel I use a proclamation voice, and when facing the people I use something similar during the Eucharistic Prayer, though directed to the Father. But now I found myself using a quieter voice, almost intimate, though overheard by everyone because of the microphone. It became more personal. I could feel the gaze of the congregation upon me, but they were with me in a new way. They weren’t just watching. They were praying.

The ad orientem direction tends to move the Mass from an informal communal meal, (worse still, a celebration of ourselves), to the realm of a sacrificial banquet.  The sacrificial aspect is definitely more pronounced. The prayers are directed to God the Father of all and the Real Presence of Christ seems to emerge. We are drawn into an “I-Thou” relationship.

It seems to require a wider and more beautiful altar than our postage stamp, but that is for another day.

That’s terrific news. I am so pleased.

Fathers, take note!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Once you have moved the altar back rasteards to its correct place, there is space for a bigger altar…..

  2. Ms. M-S says:

    Some years ago, when a very few of us were trying to get other members of our Richmond Diocese parish behind an effort to have the TLM even occasionally, an apparently shocked parishioner said to me, “Isn’t that where the priest turns his back on the congregation?” to which I answered, “No, it’s where the priest and the rest of us turn to God.” No dice. The parish council was unanimously against it, and that’s why we drive one to four hours for Sunday Mass. Worth every mile.

  3. HighMass says:

    This strikes a sad note. I have never cared for the facing of the faithful. Where does it say the Priest cannot say Mass facing the East. A lot of the libs say VII well we all know that is bologna!

    Seems these days we have to justify why we do what is suppose to be done. Until the Church returns to the Latin, all this bad stuff is going to continue. Remember the devil HATES Latin. Pope Benedicts reform of the Liturgy needs to keep moving forward.

    The good news is many Priests continue to say Holy Masses. Yes the TLM is prefered but when the Mass is celebrated with the sacred, it is beautiful

  4. monstrance says:

    My travels take me often to Alexandria VA to St Mary’s – now a minor Basillica.
    They recently added a beautiful marble communion rail.
    Went to daily Mass last week and Father was facing East – brick by brick.

  5. William Tighe says:

    Anyone interested in informing himself on this subject should read, first of all, Turning Towards the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer by (Fr.) Uwe Michael Lang (San Francisco, 2004, 2009: Ignatius Press; ISBN: 978-1-58617-341-8). The book has a laudatory forward by the then Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger; the 2009 reprint adds to this Pope Benedict XVI’s commendation of the book in his Theology of the Liturgy, the first published volume of his Opera Omnia, June 2008. Fr. Lang is a priest of the London Oratory of St. Philip Neri.

  6. veritas vincit says:

    I’m not a traditionalist. But of all the arguments traditionalists make, ad orientem is among the strongest. As a new convert, it seemed a bit odd for the priest to say the Eucharistic prayers facing the people, with his gaze fixed at a point over the congregation.

    One of the parishes I go to sometimes for daily Mass, has a reverent Norvus Ordo Mass, with a communion rail — and ad orientem. I admit, the first couple of times, it seemed like the priest was talking to the high alter on the back wall. Now, it seems completely natural. No staring over the heads of the congregation.

  7. HvonBlumenthal says:

    At stake is the ancient battle between objectivism and subjectivism, absolutism and relativism, orthodoxy and modernism.

    Said ad orientem, the Mass shakes free of the gross error that it is an entertainment whose balue depends on the appreciation of the people.

  8. JonPatrick says:

    One of the things I like about the Byzantine Rite is the use of Ad Orientem, the priest behind the iconostasis facing the altar, making it a holy of holies. Our Byzantine Rite liturgy is in a Latin Church so we set up portable icons of Christ and the Theotokos on the altar steps which act as the iconostasis. Even with this arrangement you still get the sense that something special is happening there, a Mystery which is somewhat hidden from view.

  9. APX says:

    We are drawn into an “I-Thou” relationship

    Just as an FYI, “Thee, Thou, and Thy” are not a more formal way of speaking to God. It’s a common misconception. They’re actually the more informal and personal form of the pronoun “you”.

  10. Red A Surcami says:

    I don’t understand why you make the disclaimer “I’m not a traditionalist,” as if that somehow increases your credibility. If you have a good point to make, should it not stand on its own?
    And since we Catholics place sacred tradition on a level nearly as high or as high as scripture, isn’t every Catholic, a traditionalist by default?

  11. Semper Gumby says:

    Thank you Fr. Dufner and Fr. Z.

    I second William Tighe’s recommendation of Fr. Lang’s “Turning Towards the Lord.” For other reading see Fr. Lang’s “Signs of the Holy One: Liturgy, Ritual, and Expression of the Sacred.” This book has chapters on Sacred Music, Art, and Architecture, and the Sacred in Contemporary Catholic Theology.

  12. Legisperitus says:

    APX: More specifically, “thou/thee/thy” is the familiar _singular_ pronoun in the second person, replaced in modern usage by the plural “you” which does double duty as the formal singular. :)

  13. Imrahil says:

    There also is a beautiful, and rather meaningful and unexpected, line from a German song where a man sings to his love about the time his duty (of being a wandering journeyman) will be over:

    “A year hence, my time is duly past
    and then I’ll be mine a-and thine.”

    Is it just my unhelpable German self that thinks this becomes rather unpoetical when replacing “thine” by “yours”, even setting aside rhyming issues?

    (The song is, of course, “Must I, then, must I, then, from the city must I then?”)

  14. APX says:

    Is it just my unhelpable German self that thinks this becomes rather unpoetical when replacing “thine” by “yours”, even setting aside rhyming issues?

    No. It’s a pet-peeve of mine when it gets changed in prayers and hymns. The change in For All the Saints is a particularly annoying change IMHO. They replaced “Thee” with “You”, but it’s a held “you” so it comes out sounding like “yooooou” *shudder*

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