A look at the Letter purporting to forbid “ad orientem” worship in the Diocese of Venice

I received a copy of the letter which Bp. Dewane sent to his priests in which he attempts to forbid ad orientem celebration of Holy Mass according to the Novus Ordo.

This is a steaming mess.  There many things wrong with this.

Let us make a start.

First, it seems to me that if you are going to try to forbid something you should at least know how to spell it correctly.  Correct is, of course, ad orientem.

Second, decrees have canonical weight.  This is not a decree.  This is an expression of the bishop’s wishes.  Note that “should”.  Note that this doesn’t say it is a decree.  It is not in the form of a decree.  It is not, for example, countersigned by anyone, such as the chancellor.  That doesn’t mean that this doesn’t have weight.  Because a bishop has the power to hurt priests in a thousand ways, this letter has the weight of an episcopal tire iron with which he can beat them.  Some would call this bullying.  Others would say that this is business as usual: bishops issue high sounding letters about liturgical preferences that really don’t have the force of law, and they get away with it because, well, they can.

Third, the decision, determination, preference, whim expressed in the letter is founded on what can only be called a lie, after all these years.   In the second paragraph, note that reference to GIRM #299.  The letter claims that 299 says that Mass (in the Novus Ordo) should be celebrated facing the people “which is desirable whenever possible”.

NO!  That is NOT what GIRM 299 says.   This is a BAD TRANSLATION of the Latin of 299 which was explained in Response to a Dubium from the Congregation for Divine Worship in 2000 (Prot. No. 2036/00/L).   The CDW responded and included also an explanation of the Latin.  

Come to think of it, since this letter demonstrates a certain lack of knowledge of basic Latin, in that misspelling, let’s review.  Here is the CDW response:

The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has been asked whether the expression in n. 299 of the Institutio Generalis Missalis Romani constitutes a norm according to which the position of the priest versus absidem [facing the apse] [i.e., ad orientem] is to be excluded. The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, after mature reflection and in light of liturgical precedents, responds:

Negatively, and in accordance with the following explanation.

The explanation includes different elements which must be taken into account. First, the word expedit does not constitute a strict obligation but a suggestion that refers to the construction of the altar a pariete sejunctum (detached from the wall). It does not require, for example, that existing altars be pulled away from the wall. The phrase ubi possibile sit (where it is possible) refers to, for example, the topography of the place, the availability of space, the artistic value of the existing altar, the sensibility of the people participating in the celebrations in a particular church, etc.

Did you get that?   The phrase ubi possible sit refers to the layout of the altar not the direction is it used.

299. Altare maius exstruatur a pariete seiunctum, ut facile circumiri et in eo celebratio versus populum peragi possit, quod expedit ubicumque possibile sit.

That quod refers back to the main clause of the sentence.   It does not refer to the ut clause.

The US Bishops conference had issued a document called Built of Living Stones, in which 299 was mistranslated.  They issued that document after the Congregation issued the clarification!  But people are still quoting that bad translation after TWENTY-TWO years of common knowledge about the correct translation.

Hence, while there is a slight possibility that the person who wrote this and/or signed it, was using only the USCCB BLS document (with its bad translation) the writer really ought to have known about the problem with the bad translation of 299.

If you go to a doctor for some malady, you expect that that doctor, out of both professionalism and care for patients, will be up-to-date on the drugs and treatments for your problem.  You expect that he will know that Method A is now no longer good because something wrong was found with it.  Instead, you expect him to know that Method B corrected the problems and it is now the best way to proceed.  If that applies to medicine, which is about the body, how much more does it apply to our spiritual lives rooted in sacred liturgical worship, the primary way by which we fulfill our duties according to the virtue of Religion.

Fourth,  for the umpteenth time, if you open the Missale Romanum in its recent editions, you will find that the priest is specifically directed in the rubrics to turn around toward the people and then turn back to the altar.  That is a rubric in the Missal.  Bishops can’t change rubrics like that.  But you have to know Latin.

Fifth, please note the jaw-dropping double-standard operative in the phrase:

“With pastoral concern, I ask priests to abide by the norms in the instruction and not create confusion about the proper celebration of the Roman Rite.”

Let’s unpack this.

“Pastoral concern”… for whom?  For the priests?  For the people who desire ad orientem (note the spelling) worship?

“I ask” priests.  Again, along with “should”, above, this communicates a preference.

“abide by the norms”…. Amazing.   This is about 50 years too late, isn’t it.  Has the bishop taken steps to make sure that all the priests of the diocese are abiding by the norms?   Would a review of Masses in the diocese find that norms are habitually being violated to one degree or another?

“not create confusion about the proper celebration”   What creates confusion is issuing a letter than misspells the point being addressed, is founded on a falsehood about GIRM 299, and which doesn’t have the force of a decree but is written in such a way that it seems to have the force of a decree.

THAT‘s confusion.

Sixth, the letter says that priests have to have “written permission” to say Mass “ad orientum”.  I guess a priest could say, “Hmmm, since I don’t do that, since I say Mass ad orientem“, this doesn’t apply to what we do here at St. Swithen’s.”   Seriously, the idea that “written permission” could be given means that ad orientem worship is not in fact forbidden.

But… and this is a big deal for morale and for the relationships of priests with bishops… should priests really have to crawl timidly forward into the episcopal shadow to beg to do something a) that our forebears have been doing for centuries and b) is actually the correct way of celebrating Mass according to the (still official) Latin rubrics?

These bishops!   With phrases like “pastoral concern”, they reduce priests to Mudfog workhouse oakum-weaving parish boys in a Dickens novel.  Talk about “clericalism”.

Lastly, I can’t help but wonder about coordination between bishops and the the dates of these moves against traditionally-minded Catholics.

It’s curious that this was issued after Cupich in Chicago pulled the same stunt about ad orientem worship.   Well… maybe there’s no connection.  In Chicago they spelled it correctly.

Then there is the date: the Conversion or Turning Around of St. Paul.  Really?


Here’s a Mass in Diocese of Venice. Two days before the letter, above.

This is really groovy.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Pingback: A look at the Letter purporting to forbid “ad orientem” worship in the Diocese of Venice – Via Nova Media

  2. Fr. Reader says:

    3:37 The very definition of penance in the penitencial act.
    34:32-35:00 ay…
    41:25-42:05 more ay…
    43:23 subscribe and click the button.
    44:00 Final blessing.
    I did not watch the entire thing.

    I feel sad for the “celebrant/pastor”, most probably he has been told by someone to do all these things, all these smiles and gestures and comments.
    In the places in which I have lived, I have never seen anything like this.

    Actually I like the piano. Not for the Holy Mass of course, but I like it.

  3. Fr. Reader says:

    “Seriously, the idea that “written permission” could be given means that ad orientem worship is not in fact forbidden.”

    This one phrase is a good synthesis of the whole post.

  4. ArthurH says:

    The word sacrilegious comes easily to mind.

    What do they/he think this caricature of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass inspires among any serious Catholic?

    We have met the enemy and he is us. (Pogo)

  5. monstrance says:

    That music sounds like it belongs in the intro of a television sit com.

  6. Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    Dear Bishop,

    I promise to never, ever, ever, ever, as long as I live, offer the Holy Mass ad orientum. I think offering Mass ad orientum to be completely absurd, and would never consider offering Mass ad orientum. I don’t care if the orientus was right there, smacking me in the face demanding that I offer Mass toward him, I would never commit the absurd and nasty thing of offering Mass ad orientum.


    a faithful priest who knows Latin.

  7. donato2 says:

    Thanks be to God that the Punta Gorda Mass in the video was not said ad orientem. There is reason to fear that it would have offended God were the noise and the kitsch directed toward Him.

  8. sjoseph371 says:

    “First, it seems to me that if you are going to try to forbid something you should at least know how to spell it correctly. Correct is, of course, ad orientem.”

    Well since ad orientem hasn’t been outlawed, it is still permissible, right?

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  10. cstei says:

    The Church in Punta Gorda is right near where I work. A few times I have thought about going to the noon Mass there. On my lunch break on a Holy Day. Thank God I didn’t.

  11. Gaetano says:

    There is a piercing irony when viewing that YouTube Mass after reading the Diocese’s own words:

    “With pastoral concern, I ask priests to abide by the norms in the instruction and not create confusion about the proper celebration of the Roman Rite.”

  12. bobk says:

    Is there a rubric reminding a celebrant to KEEP HIS ELBOWS OFF THE ALTAR???
    I guess there ought to be.

  13. Jim Dorchak says:

    One would wonder……….. will these same bishops forbid ALL MASSES one day?
    It is not too far out of possibilities. That begs the question “Would the Priests comply with banning all Masses?”
    We already know the answer.
    Yes they would. We saw it during the past 2 plus years.
    We see it here in Chile still today.

    I remember hearing that faithful Catholics have in the ancient Church risen up against their bishops before. Is this true Fr. Z ?


  14. Joe says:

    I cannot, I must not, I will not. – St. Gaspar.

  15. Simon_GNR says:

    That YouTube Mass in Florida could have been worse! Not nearly as cringeworthy as the one in Chicago recently linked on this blog. I didn’t see anything that the celebrant in Florida did that was actually, definitely wrong. For my tastes, it was still pretty gruesome, but not sacrilegious like the fiasco in Chicago.

  16. Mike says:

    You know, those songs are kind of touching, really. OUTSIDE of Mass.

    Please pardon the pun.

    I wonder if that priest as a kid ever threw a rock at a friend, or lit off a firecracker, or fired a gun, or built a fort, or caught a trout, or shot a deer.


  17. restoration says:

    As the father of five boys, I cannot imagine ANY of my lads being inspired to explore a vocation from this priest’s outrageous demeanor. Any redblooded MAN can clearly see what he is telegraphing with creepy delight. What Catholic father would turn over his son over to a diocesean seminary that allows this unmanly bearing in the liturgy? Where there is smoke there is fire, so I doubt that this cavalier approach is limited to liturgy. This is a gravely serious matter with bitter implications for vocations.

    To be frank, a priest who inspires no heterosexual vocations is spiritually impotent and should be removed from parish ministry. This priest should be, at best, sent to nursing home ministry where he can do less damage until his early retirement.

    I wrote the diocesean worship office and complained, but
    no one should be tithing to this diocese until this nonsense is stopped. You cannot feed the beast. I’m sad to say that money is all they understand. The Boomers keep giving but the next generation is far less willing to play the envelope game.

  18. bwfackler says:

    “Orientus is a genus of leafhoppers belonging to the family Cicadellidae subfamily Deltocephalinae.”
    “Orientus ishidae, common name Japanese leafhopper or Mosaic leafhopper, is a species of leafhoppers belonging to the family Cicadellidae subfamily Deltocephalinae.
    Distribution Edit
    This species is endemic to the East Palearctic realm and it is present in the Nearctic realm and the Oriental realm. It has been introduced in United Kingdom (first reported in Peckham, 2011[4]), Germany, Italy, Switzerland and in several other European countries.”

    Should be fairly easy to avoid saying mass facing one of these guys inside a diocese in Florida

  19. Mojoron says:

    What if? A diocese commits a Mutiny? Stop giving ANYTHING to the plate. Defund the Bishop’s Appeal next year (or this year.) Drive to a close diocese and attend services there. Or have services on the hood of a Jeep like they did in WWII and Korea. If I were in that diocese, I would drive 100 miles for services in another diocese, I mean it’s only once a week….

  20. Susan C says:

    Anyone else like how they sing that they are “standing face to face”, while clearly the viewers are at home and not face to face with the singers?

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  22. moon1234 says:

    This will only get worse. It has become so disheartening. It is why they fear the TLM. The YOUNG are attracted to truth and a connection with our ancestors (ones who were not born in the last 100 years).

    Go to almost any TLM parish and you will find 4-12 servers every Sunday. Altar boys jockey for the “prestige” of who gets a specific position. MC, Acolyte 1 or 2, Crucifer, Thurifer, Boat Bearer, Candle Bearer, etc. As you get older you move up in position and get to teach and watch over the younger. It is very easy to see the logical progression for a young man. Where does he go once he has been MC?

    Traditionally he would enter the minor orders and if Lord is willing the major orders. ALL of that symbolism was chucked in the new Mass. It is why it does not attract masculine boys and men. It is devoid of the symbolism, pomp and truth that moves a young man’s emotions and his will.

    Pray for your family and the Church. Ask the Lord to send shepherds who will serve Him and not themselves. We reap what we sow. Be careful what you plant and what you ask for. You might get it.

  23. JoHNewman says:

    My heart breaks for folk subject to bishops of such dying-sees. Thanks be to God, there’s an only-ever, as in always, ad orientem Ordinariate (Divine Worship, organ, English and Latin chant and polyphony) parish (heaven on earth!) in our neck of the woods.

  24. Lurker 59 says:

    I wonder what is to be thought of the Benedictine Altar Arrangement in this diocese (and Chicago)?

    The BAA isn’t versus populum, it just sometimes happens directionally that way in the same way ad orientem is a liturgical direction that may or may not coincide with the actual compasses direction that the priest is facing. It is closer liturgically and theologically to ad orientem than versus populum.

    Hmm. I wonder what is thought of this and whether or not it is permissible still in these diocese?

  25. fbcallicoat says:

    Wow. There I was getting ready for some awesome Jimmy Buffett tunes, and a crappy Novus Ordo Mass broke out instead.


  26. mama26 says:

    Thank the good Lord, we have the Fraternity in the diocese of Venice. I can truthfully say after hopping around N.O. parishes for years, I was losing my faith. Year after year of love and mercy homilies did a number on me. One has a very hard time spiritually growing in that atmosphere, sad to say.

    Our FSSP parish continues to grow every week. It’s such a beautiful sight to see all the families. The sign of a healthy parish is Adoration, good priests, lots of babies and long Confession lines!

  27. Pingback: États-Unis: quand un évêque interdit l’usage “ad orientem” tout en écrivant “ad orientum”…Article censuré en accord entre GAFAM et Fançois – Titre du site

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