ASK FATHER: At Mass ‘ad orientem’ why doesn’t the priest turn around for the Preface dialogue?

From a reader…


I recently attended my first ad orientem mass. It was an English Novus Ordo mass. One of the reasons given for the ad orientem orientation is that it better draws the distinction between the dialogues where the\ priest addresses the people and the prayers directed by the priest on behalf of all to God. Yet, during the preface dialogue, the priest was ad orientem. From the internet research I was able to do, this seems to the correct orientation for the priest at that moment. Is there some reason why the orientation during this part of the mass is ad orientem rather than versus populum?

Firstly, I glad to hear of an ad orientem Novus Ordo Mass.  That’s a step in the right direction.  An important step.

I think the answer lies in the fact that the whole of the Preface, including the dialogue is considered an integral part of the Roman Canon (read: anaphora, actio, Eucharistic Prayer).  Once that mighty prayer begins, the priest remains properly oriented at the altar.   In ancient manuscripts for saying Mass, there was a notation just before the beginning of the short “dialogue” “Incipit canon actionis… the Canon of the sacrificial action begins”.  So the Preface that followed was perceived as part of the anaphora.

Let me put this in terms that libs will get in a possible new English translation that will be imposed once that last remnants of the JP2/B16 crew are finally extirpated.

The priest summons the community with a strong imperative statement: HEARTS UPWARD!  Sursum corda!  The people respond: OKAY, WE DID THAT (“We have them now presented to God… habemus ad Dominum.”  The priest commands: “LET US GIVE THANKS TO… YOU KNOW… THE THING!” and the people reply, “GREAT IDEA, WE’LL DO THAT TOO! (“It is right and just… dignum et iustum est.)”   And the priest picks up that phrase and runs with it into the Preface: “YEAH, IT’S A GREAT IDEA… vere dignum et iustum est“.  At the end of the Preface comes, seamlessly, the Sanctus… sorry…  🎶 santo 🎷 santo 🥁 santo 🎶.  When the maracas and tambourines die down, in the Roman Canon the priest continues with “THEREFORE… igitur…”.  The Canon is a seamless continuation of what has preceded.

It is “right and just”, therefore, for the priest to maintain his sacerdotal position at the altar for the entirety, not turning about this time to say, “Dominus vobiscum” at the introduction to the Canon.

Just a thought.

Let’s get our Masses turned toward the Lord again!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Father, you crack me up. That was the best summary of the Preface I have ever seen! Thank you for the laugh.

  2. Zavodny Margarett RBC says:

    The Preface is, after all, addressed to God….

  3. NB says:

    This is a great post.

  4. APX says:

    Weirdly enough, in Mass offered ad orientem according to the Order of Divine Worship (Anglican Use), the priest does turn around at the preface (at least some do). I find it weird, as I always had a sense much like you explained.

  5. Ron Van Wegen says:

    While we’re at it!

    When the priest says, “Dominus Vobiscum” etc. for a coming prayer, we usually stand EXCEPT at the Offertory, where we sit. Never understood why though, as I have bad knees, it’s very welcome!

  6. monstrance says:

    Our NO priest switched to ad orientem a few years ago. Last Fall,
    He was falsely accused of abuse from an anonymous phone call to the archdiocese. This supposed abuse happened 26 years ago.
    Of course, he was ‘guilty’ of distributing communion on the tongue during the COVID outbreak. The Archbishop is not a fan of ad orientem or communion on the tongue. Even though there is zero evidence of abuse, his case was sent to Rome.

  7. JakeMC says:

    From everything I’ve read, in Novus Ordo parishes where Mass is said ad orientem, the effect on the congregation is much the same as at TLM parishes. I think my own parish priest is slowly moving in that direction. When he first became our pastor, the very first thing he did was place a small crucifix on the altar, so even though he’s still saying the Mass versus populum, his eyes are on the crucifix when they’re not on the Missal…and so are ours. Early last year, he installed a pair of large kneelers in front of the sanctuary. Each one is wide enough for two or three people.
    Now in the interest of full disclosure, I have to admit that I have not set foot in the church for years now, except for confession, due to health problems, so I don’t know what exactly has been going on. But the presence of those kneelers says a lot. Since the construction of the church building itself does not permit the installation of an altar rail, they’re a clear compromise. Father is encouraging the people to receive Communion kneeling. I suspect that, in the next few years, he may well start saying Mass ad orientem; things certainly seem to be moving in that direction. It will be interesting to see what happens next. ;D

  8. NOCatholic says:

    One parish near me, where I attend a weekday Mass regularly, all of their Masses (which are NO Masses) are ad orientem. That church has a traditional high alter with a reredo, and no freestanding versus populum altar. It also has and uses altar rails.

    Reverently celebrated NO Masses are out there.

  9. Fr. Kelly says:

    Thank you Fr. Z
    I would add another point to underscore yours.

    Immediately before the preface dialogue is the offertory in which the gifts of bread and wine which have been presented to the priest to be used in the offering of Christ’s Sacrifice are prepared and offered to God. (I admit that this is more offering is more apparent in the TLM where there is an explicit prayer of offering, rather than the gesture and declaration that they have been offered that we find in the NO)
    In any case, from this point, they are no longer merely bread and wine, they are now _oblata_ offerings that have been explicitly given over to God and upon which His Presence has been called down. (That is why, if the priest were to die at this point and the Mass could not be continued, the gifts would have to be disposed of by dissolving them in water and pouring the results in the sacrarium.)

    At the end of the offertory, the priest turns around to face the people and says “Orate Fratres…” as if to say, I’m about to do something that I, myself am not adequate to do. I am about to offer the Living Sacrifice of the Divine Son to His Eternal Father and to do it for the Glory of His Holy Name, and for the good of all of you present and of all of God’s Holy Church. This is a lot for one poor sinner to do, even though he is a priest of God.
    Therefore, as the last thing before I devote myself to this task with my whole heart, mind and attention, I am turning to you His people, to pray for me to the Lord our God that He might accept the Sacrifice I am about to offer Him along with the sacrifices that you are uniting to it. And, by the way, I am turning all the way around to you because I want and need your prayers as I do this thing, and because I will be so engaged from here forwards that I will not be able to turn back around until just before Holy Communion.

    A little long-winded perhaps, but all of that and more is contained in the meaning of :

    Orate fratres ut meum ac vestrum sacrificium acceptabile fiat apud Deum patrem omnipotentem.
    Suscipiat Dominum sacrificium de manibus tuis ad laudem et gloriam nomine sui ad utilitatem quoque nostram totiusque ecclesiae sui sanctae

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  11. Fr-William says:

    I was an Anglican priest for 20 years and now an Orthodox Priest (Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia – Western rite) since 2016. My parish is in Nevada. I read a LOT of ancient info on the Mass. the concept of turning toward the “audience” for the Preface is something not mentioned over the last couple of thousand years. The Preface is the beginning of the best part of the liturgy, and I hesitate to think that ALL theologians over the last millennia got it wrong.

  12. Matt R says:

    Unfortunately, some Ordinariate priests have conserved a rather odd Anglican practice of turning for this dialogue.

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