Fishwrap attacks “ad orientem” worship and the strong trends they fear

Each day I get up, and after prayers, say within myself, “What fresh and stupid hell awaits me today?”

The Fishwrap often answers that question, as it did this morning.

Fishwrap (aka National Schismatic Reporter) has targeted Bp. James Wall of Gallup, who has determined it opportune to celebrate Mass oriented, toward the liturgical East. Ad orientem.

This is one of those liturgical practices – as sound and confirmed and deeply resonant in the Catholic faith and worship as the best of beautiful bells – which makes lib heads go click and straight into silly.

The writer here is one Don Clemmer. He is a former USCCB staffer. His contributions to Fishwrap include a fulsome piece about a “queer” show on Netflix.  He brings this depth of perspective to a look at ad orientem worship.

‘Ad orientem’ tussles turn on matters of community, liturgical diversity

As the church has been tussling over liturgical practices since the Second Vatican Council, it’s easy to anticipate criticism. So when Bishop James Wall of Gallup, New Mexico, announced in a July 22 letter that he would begin celebrating Mass in his cathedral ad orientem, that is, “toward the east,” with his back to the people, his words leaned into the punch.

First, the canard of celebrating with “back to the people” has been debunked for a long time. At the best, the image is shallow. At the worst, it’s malicious.

The photo at the top of the Fishwrap offering is from an ordination to the priesthood two years ago in Madison, which the late Bp. Robert Morlino celebrated ad orientem.  Most of the vestments – with an obvious exception – were lent by the TMSMFishwrap doesn’t have Morlino to kick around anymore – though they do try – so they are now picking on Bp. Wall.

You can read the piece for yourself. You’ll find it slithers on to your screen from Fishwrap, just as you might expect.

While the writer and those who were interviewed toss out the occasional irenic word or two, their intention is clear, even if their line of reasoning isn’t.   For example, at one point it is acknowledged that liturgy is a “battleground” and the liturgy is “enshrined” in a central place in Vatican II documents.  However, we are also told that fights over liturgy are “silly”.  I don’t know how they can be silly if liturgy is that important.

BTW… let’s talk about what Sacrosanctum Concilium said about liturgy, shall we?  What did the Council really say?   Bring these things up, and the Left thinks you are attacking instead of stating facts, which are stubborn things.  Shall we talk about Redemptionis Sacramentum? Sacramentum caritatis?  Summorum Pontificum?

Are fights about liturgy silly?

Clearly some are, for example, when people fret because a chair was moved.

But, if liturgy is so very important for the life of the Church and for the identity of Catholics, then aren’t the fights about substantive issues rather important?

There are times when we have to have the fight.

Invariably, however, this is what happens.  When the debate is engaged, and the Left starts to lose, they plaintively demands that “we all have to get along” and that we have to “tone down the rhetoric”.  “Oh no! We mustn’t ever fight!”  Then they hit you again even as they plead for you to lower your guard.  That’s how they roll.

In any event, you read it and decide for yourselves.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Liberals, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Our Catholic Identity, Si vis pacem para bellum!, The Coming Storm, The future and our choices, Turn Towards The Lord and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Lurker 59 says:

    This needs to be connected to Fr. Reese’s sj, article, also in the Fishwrap.

    The liturgical theology, AS EXPERIENCED, during a great many OF versus populum, is definitely that of Fr. Reese’s sj, position that “ultimately the Mass is more about us becoming the body of Christ than it is about the bread becoming the body of Christ.”

    To twist WDTPRS a bit, What is the Mass actually saying? Not “what should it be say” but “what is the particular liturgical action in front of us actually conveying”?

    It is absolutely true that ad orientem worship helps to shift the liturgy back to Christ and away from “us becoming the body of Christ “. Everyone on all sides knows this. It is why it is such a contentious issue.

  2. mepoindexter says:

    It’s my understanding that the Diocese of Gallup is a mission diocese.

    I thought we were supposed to extend a certain “solidarity” to those on the peripheries. Isn’t that what Fishwrap likes to do?

  3. Gaetano says:

    After attending the Divine Liturgy in several Eastern Catholic Churches, ad orientam clearly makes sense. Sometimes one must step outside their liturgical tradition to understand as orientam.
    Indeed, i attended a heavily Latinized Eastern Liturgy was was versus populum, and it just didn’t feel right.

  4. Chaswjd says:

    I have always found it fascinating that some priests of a certain age will leave the sanctuary, turn around, join hands with congregants, face the altar and pray the Our Father yet will faint dead away (or at least hyperventilate) at the least whiff of ad orientem worship.

  5. Markus says:

    According to the Catholic Extension website, the majority of the diocese in the US are classified as “mission diocese.” 87 of them.

  6. jaykay says:

    Gaetano: indeed! I wonder what they’d make of an Iconostasis, and the gorgeous, reverent, ceremony of Orthodox Liturgy? Not only does the Priest “have his back” to the people – he can’t really be seen! But, in their condescending way they probably regard them as “backward” – much as Cdl. Marx did the African Bishops at a certain trainwreck…ooops, Synod.

  7. hilltop says:

    Good Father
    I predict that in decades to come the great cartoon that you occasionally bring out (as you do here) will require fewer and fewer congregants in the lower picture…

  8. Gaetano says:

    People don’t understand how radically ad orientam Eastern Catholics are. Portions of the Armenian Divine Liturgy are celebrated behind a closed curtain!

  9. iamlucky13 says:

    “For while the rubrics of Mass do allow for options — for legitimate diversity — this doesn’t mean that the celebration of Mass from one parish to another … should be radically different.””

    It appears what he is trying to say is the rubrics allow ad orientem liturgy, but it’s actually on double secret probation.

  10. monstrance says:

    My parish priest switched back to ad orientem a few years ago and never looked back – no pun intended.
    I noticed some parishes are doing both orientations – even with the same priest. Not sure what the logic is behind that.
    It’s almost like discovering that reception of the Blessed Sacrament is more reverent on the tongue, but next week receiving in the hand.

    Also, great to see more use of the prayer to St Michael after Mass in many locations.

  11. MargoRose says:

    Well you know you’re doing something right when the Fishwrap attacks you. I’m beyond blessed to have a FSSP parish near me and for the two FSSP priests come say the Extraordinary Form at my parish on Sunday evenings. I don’t want the priest to face me, I want him to be facing Christ in the tabernacle. I pray more bishops will have the moral courage to revert to Ad orientem and for an overall increase in the Extraordinary Form.

  12. rbbadger says:

    I am a priest of the Diocese of Gallup. We are one of the poorest dioceses in the country, given that we have one of the largest populations of Native Americans of any diocese. To see a short video of some of the challenges we confront, please visit (Ignore the pottery chalices. The Franciscans have encouraged this and the Mass depicted is happening in one of their parishes.)

    One of my mentors is a priest of this diocese who has long been engaged in apologetics work. For a time, his work attracted a great deal of opposition from those who were formerly in power in our diocese (most of whom were faithful NCR readers, I might add). Despite the opposition, he would refer to the attacks on him, some of which took place in our diocesan paper, as “love taps from Satan”.

    I tend to see the article by the National Congregationalist Reporter in the same light. I am glad NCR has found something to complain about in my diocese. It’s far better being criticized by them than being praised by them.

    Please pray for our bishop and our priests.

    [Thanks for that.]

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  13. Charivari Rob says:

    …First, the canard of celebrating with “back to the people” has been debunked for a long time. At the best, the image is shallow. ..
    This topic seems to recur and recur in many places online.
    It’s not one I’m a big advocate for, but I’d be willing to be convinced. More than many skirmish grounds in the liturgical landscapes, there is actually a THERE somewhere in there.

    If I might offer some constructive criticism, though – many online presences who advocate ad orientem (and especially decry the “back to the people” canard) would do better to celebrate it. To promote the beauty of it (beauty that – in theory – would testify to the truth of it).
    Ultimately, they don’t do much beyond the talking & writing to indicate they believe it, value it, or are aware of it. They fail to present convincingly.
    Outrageous of me to say?
    Take a look around online the blogs and news sites that talk about this. Look in the places where people advocate “better” vestments, ad orientem, and “vertical worship” as opposed to “lesser” vestments, versus populum, and “horizontal worship”. Then look at what those same people share – the images from collections of art and the photographic evidence of current events. You’ll see a preponderance of
    (a) horizontal images of the backs of clergy, and
    (b) vertical images – looking down at the backs of clergy from the choir loft.
    What you won’t see a lot of are images that convey any belief that the priest is leading in any vertical orientation. If you don’t convey that the priest is actually facing something, then, YES – people will quite reasonably characterize it that he is facing away from them.
    I’m not saying that to impugn anyone’s sincerity.
    I’m saying there’s a gap between professed view and portrayal.
    It may be as simple as (lack of) awareness of composition. People can have a wide field of vision, and be aware of & awestruck by a beautiful image – then raise a camera that snaps a very limited frame out of the middle of it.

    I remember a couple of years ago, Father Z posted an article and some photos of a Mass somewhere. I don’t remember where it was (somewhere near him, I think), or if he had been involved, or was just sharing news somebody had sent him. The memorable thing was that someone took beautiful photos that actually conveyed a sense that ad orientem clergy were actually facing something, was aware of the vertical. I don’t know if the person had to crawl in along the floor to shoot up from in front of the front pew – but they clearly they had the eye for it. I commented a the time, urging the organizers to engage that same photographer again whenever they could.
    That’s still needed. If you believe it – show it, or get someone who can show it.

  14. Fr_Sotelo says:

    While visiting a priest friend in Phoenix some years ago, I was introduced to the pastor of the parish, who happened to be “Fr. James Wall” at the time.

    It was a large parish and Fr. Wall was quite busy. Still, he took the time to welcome me to Phoenix, to chat with me about my parish work in California, and to make sure I was making myself at home in his rectory. He impressed me with his love of the priestly ministry and his pastoral zeal for the people he served.

    That attempt by the Reporter to paint Bishop Wall as aloof or distant or “turning his back to the people” is the furthest thing from the truth, if anyone has the privilege to meet him in person. Whatever he does in the sacred ministry, or at the altar, is done to nourish the liturgical piety of the people, so that the Blessed Sacrament is the summit of their Christian life.

  15. pjsandstrom says:

    Considering the question of which way to face during the Eucharistic Prayer, it is necessary to remember the dialogue at the beginning of the Prayer. “Sursum Corda” and the response “Habemus ad Dominum” which is to be found in all the approved Eucharistic Prayers in both the Western and the Eastern ‘lungs of the Church’ — points to the Coming Presence of the Lord at the Eucharist being celebrated not that in the tabernacle or the Cross, but the gifts on the altar. [Ummmm….] In fact the practice of having the tabernacle connected to the altar dates only from the time of the Council of Trent and St. Charles Barromeo. [So what?] So there is not a ‘direction’ other than the altar itself involved. [There most certainly is! And always has been!] This is the understanding expressed in the Rite for the Consecration of Altars also. Where one stands (or kneels) before the altar is indifferent — as long as it is ‘around the altar itself”. [From ancient times the Sursum corda implied that the congregation faced EAST, whence they believed, Christ would return. This was clearly the implication of admonitions such as Sursum corda and Conversi ad Dominum.]

  16. byzantinesteve says:

    I’m confused. I thought the whole m.o. of progressivism was that with regard to liturgy, anything goes. What should it matter if father decides to change things up a bit? Isn’t bending the liturgy to your whims a progressive ideal?

  17. Les Buissonets says:

    Ah, byzantinesteve, you’re forgetting that ‘progress’, etymologically, means ‘moving forward’; hence, the only things Father is allowed to introduce are those that wouldn’t have been dreamt of before the 1960s: felt banners, clown puppets, priests dancing the light not-very-fantastic in front of the altar, purple dinosaurs giving homilies, and so on. Sing a new church into being, and all that. Those of us who would prefer to sing the old Church back again aren’t welcome among progressivists.

  18. RLseven says:

    Les Buissonets, “Those of us who would prefer to sing the old Church back again aren’t welcome among progressivists.” But to be fair, those who would prefer versus populum aren’t welcome among traditionalists, either. The banners, puppets, etc. are not really common anymore– yes, the 60s were reactionary. Versus populum liturgies are also Christ-centered and reverent, in my experience. Both are valid options and at priest discretion, no? We shouldn’t be bashing either form.

  19. Pingback: More on liberal liturgists’ attacks on “ad orientem” worship, bishops and priests who support it | Fr. Z's Blog

  20. hwriggles4 says:

    Last month I went on a retreat at Mundelein. Our group stayed at the Conference Center on the seminary grounds. Sunday Mass, the priest (who I believe is on the seminary faculty) did the consecration Ad Orientem. First time I had remembered seeing this (with the exception of the TLM) . Facing the tabernacle – good teachable moment of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

  21. Mightnotbeachristiantou says:

    Becoming the body of Christ vs the bread of Christ is not a good argument. Christ is the head of this body so why is one person or persons turned around, should we not all pray together? This “argument” only works in a circular church with the tabernacle in the middle. A few churches do have an altar in the middle, but only this would justify such an argument.
    The vs pop is only to make the priest the center or head.

  22. Lurker 59 says:

    @Mightnotbeachristiantou Notwithstanding that a great many recently built churches are amphitheater, or in the half-round,(smaller ones in the quarter round), the issue is in how switching the direction that the priest faces switches both the visual focal point as well as the focal point of the actions being done as a physical reality not something in theory.

    Next time you are at Mass pay attention to what you are focused on. Also, pay attention to what the priest is focused on. It can largely be the congregation. I’ve personally seen priests, taking their cues from the layout, structure, hymns, and specific modular choices of the OF, do the consecration in such a way that their actions and gestures are done to indicate that it is really the people who are becoming the body and blood of Christ and that the bread and wine are but symbolic representations of the change in the people. (perhaps I can pick that up easier because being an ex Protestant THAT exists as what certain Protestants believe and do on Sunday).

    “The vs pop is only to make the priest the center or head.” — I would argue against that, but granting that position, that is part of the problem because the center in the EF is Christ and His divine action and, taking your argument, that is being transferred to a person acting as presider, celebrant, “entertainer”. You can see this in the stress in the priestly formation where they are instructed to be “personable” and “relatable” during the Mass, especially the homily, which indicates that the Liturgical Action is not about Christ but rather about the people and how they feel and what they perceive as their connectivity and includedness.

    Again, I want to stress that it is within the bounds, and that it is within the bounds is the problem, to structure a parish’s architecture and the Masses hymns, modular choices, homily, and structure of the liturgical action so that what is conveyed to anyone observing that the focus and meaning is “ultimately the Mass is more about us becoming the body of Christ than it is about the bread becoming the body of Christ.” I have personally seen this in random parishes that I have walked into throughout the United States.

    While it might not be the precipitating cause, simply changing which direction the priest faces, in experienced reality, does convey different meanings of what the Mass is.

  23. Johann says:

    I thought only aging 1960’s hippies read the Fishwrap?

  24. Pingback: “Ad orientem” worship: help against clericalism | Fr. Z's Blog

  25. Semper Gumby says:

    RLseven wrote:

    “Versus populum liturgies are also Christ-centered and reverent, in my experience.”

    Let’s expand your experience. Look at some of the videos of versus populum liturgical abuse, for example, archived on this blog.

    “Both are valid options and at priest discretion, no?”

    No. Take a look at the many posts on this blog regarding resistance, from both parishioners and certain clergy, towards a priest celebrating ad orientem.

    “We shouldn’t be bashing either form.”

    You are proving the point of Fr. Z’s post: “Invariably, however, this is what happens. When the debate is engaged, and the Left starts to lose, they plaintively demand that “we all have to get along” and that we have to “tone down the rhetoric”. “Oh no! We mustn’t ever fight!” Then they hit you again even as they plead for you to lower your guard. That’s how they roll.”

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