It’s ‘ad orientEm’ not ‘ad orientUm’ and it’s what we need right now.

The great liturgical scholar Klaus Gamber said that the de-orientation of the altar was the more destructive change after the Council.

To make that clear: The priest celebrating Mass facing the people did more damage to the Faith than anything else, even changing the Rite.

I will add to that, right up there is Communion on the hand.    For background on the permission for Communion on the hand, go HERE.

Fr. Raymond de Souza brings up ad orientem worship as a remedy for much that is going one.  I have bashed away at this for decades but, oddly, not recently.  It is good to see Father tackle it.

Celebration of Holy Mass ad orientem.

It’s ad orientem not ad orientum.

CLICK for “AD ORIENTEM” stuff!

The first part of Father’s piece recounts the massive growth of liturgical abuses after the Council and the vain attempts of Popes to get things under control (even though, I add, it was their permissiveness and obtuse view of the Novus Ordo that contributed to the problem).

Here’s the last part of the article.


After the turbulence in some parts of the Church arising from Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis issued a letter on the liturgy this past June 29, Desiderio Desideravi, which is in rather remarkable continuity with John Paul’s final encyclical on the Eucharist. [Some of it, perhaps.]

“There is no aspect of ecclesial life that does not find its summit and its source in the Liturgy,” writes Pope Francis (37). He speaks about the need to recapture an experience of “amazement,” “astonishment” and “wonder.” And he reiterates, like his predecessors:

Let us be clear here: every aspect of the celebration must be carefully tended to (space, time, gestures, words, objects, vestments, song, music …) and every rubric must be observed. Such attention would be enough to prevent robbing from the assembly what is owed to it; namely, the paschal mystery celebrated according to the ritual that the Church sets down” (23)”

Back to the Back

[QUAERUNTUR:] How then is the desire of Pope Francis in Desiderio to be achieved? Can an authentic “liturgical formation” be achieved? After all these efforts over these many years, can abuses be curbed and lead anew to wonder and amazement? The nearly 50-year complaint about arbitrary license being taken with the liturgy has not, evidently, been corrected entirely, even if the scale of the problem has diminished.  [It is possible, but the RX is going to be hard.]

There is one step, a powerful short-cut, to the liturgical discipline that Pope Francis is demanding: ad orientem.

Sometimes derided as the priest “with his back to the people” — as if a drum major has his back to the marching band which he leads — it is surely true that nearly all liturgical abuses cease when the priest is not facing the people. It always remains possible to celebrate Holy Mass in a slipshod or sloppy manner, hurriedly or distractedly, but ad orientem removes most of the opportunity for taking liberties with the liturgy.

The abrogation of Summorum Pontificum means that Benedict’s strategy for “mutually enriching” forms of celebration is no longer an easily available option for liturgical reform. It also means that, practically, much of the energy that was absorbed in developing the extraordinary form will need another outlet. Ad orientem will absorb some of those energies.  [Do NOT discount the spread of the TLM.  It will keep spreading.  It cannot be stopped.]

And after three popes over 40 years have attempted to correct abuses in the liturgy and restore a sense of wonder and awe, it is evident that another papal document or congregational instruction will do little good[Repeated legislation shows that the law is ineffective.]

It’s time try something different, to go back to the liturgical future.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Last year, I recalled the “Canticle of the Turning,” a curious blend of Magnificat/social justice/”Star of the County Down” which I encountered exactly once at a NO Mass, but it clearly left an impression. I reworked it into the “Canticle of the Turning Ad Orientem.”

  2. surritter says:

    That’s all nice and true, but some bishops have gone so far as to prohibit their priests from using the ad orientem posture even with the Ordinary Form. A bishop really can’t do that, of course, but that gets into the priest’s willingness to flaunt his bishop and perhaps be sidelined.
    So while I agree with the solution, its implementation is not as easy as Fr. de Souza makes it seem.

  3. jason in kc says:

    “There is one step, a powerful short-cut, to the liturgical discipline that Pope Francis is demanding: ad orientem.”

    de Souza’s suggestion is of course excellent and needed, but I fear that it’s simply not a possibility on a wide scale within the NO, given that versus populum has in all practicality been canonized as a non-negotiable part of the NO. After all, when ad orientem was merely suggested by Cardinal Sarah as something to try for Advent several years ago, he was slapped down faster then our current scientific instruments are capable of detecting.

  4. Notsoserious09 says:

    Canon law and even divine law are meaningless to the lawless. The 1983 code eliminated the geographical interdict but yet it happened. Globally I might add. If the demonic forces cannot use the law to beat the faithful over thread, it is ignored entirely. So the answer is obvious that the intention of reform that some Bishops want will only come from within. If only that renewal wasn’t being mercilessly stamped out by the remainder.

  5. Brian64 says:

    How can the person who wrote “every rubric must be observed. Such attention would be enough to prevent robbing from the assembly what is owed to it; namely, the paschal mystery celebrated according to the ritual that the Church sets down.” also write Traditionis custodes?
    While severe solar flares might bring total devastation to our world, knocking out electronic communication between the Vatican and the world at large might be a very good thing. It is so sad that I would think that – even in jest.

  6. DeGaulle says:

    I am offended at every Mass I attend by all those in front of me turning their backs on me…seriously though, I agree that priests should face our God like the rest of us. There seems to be an element of identifying with rock stars and other entertainers with the present arrangement. I can’t understand the resistance to the older way.

    Additionally, I think the Roman Canon should be exclusively used and, of course, let us be allowed to kneel for Communion on the tongue.

    Of course, nothing short of a miracle will change anything, I fear.

  7. Simon_GNR says:

    I regularly attend Ordinariate Masses but I’m not able to go every week. The celebration is always ad orientem. NO Mass on the Sundays I can’t get to the Ordinariate Mass is rather banal and lukewarm, versus populum and with the dreadful Eucharistic Prayer II, which contains no reference to the sacrificial nature of the Mass, being almost de rigueur. And the hierarchy wonders why Mass attendance and priestly vocations have declined in recent years.

  8. Fr. Kelly says:

    “The abrogation of Summorum Pontificum …”
    With all due respect to Fr. De Souza, Summorum Pontificum has not been abrogated. No matter how many times people repeat this, Traditionis Custodes did not abrogate Summorum Pontificum. If it had wanted to do so, it would have had to name the previous document and not leave it to the reader to supply the reference.

    TC Art. 8. “Previous norms, instructions, permissions, and customs that do not conform to the provisions of the present Motu Proprio are abrogated.”

    To say that SP does not conform to TC is a gratuitous claim that does not match the reality.
    SP addresses the rights of a Coetus fidelium solidly established in a parish to have access to the TLM in their own parishes.
    TC speaks of coetus fidelium in the way the 1984 indult did.
    Groups not associated with a parish do not have a right to the use of parish facilities. TC and SP are talking about different realities and so are rather in conformity than not.

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  10. ProfessorCover says:

    I watched the 6pm central time rerun of Monday’s EWTN Mass. Blow me down, it was ad orientem!

  11. BrettAdamsesq says:

    I think some of the benefit comes from the same reasoning that justices have given for not allowing cameras into the Supreme Court oral arguments. When people are looking at you, there is a pressure (even if subconscious) to “perform” and to “keep attention.” You also feed off of people. So if you see a group of people looking up at you bored or half asleep, you tend to try and (again) perform. I believe this can affect even the best of priests who desire nothing more than to celebrate Mass as reverently as possible.

  12. donato2 says:

    Actions speak louder then words. In regard to the liturgy, the main actions of this pontificate have been Traditionis Custodes, the appointment of Cardinal Roche and the humiliation of Cardinal Sarah when he advocated ad orientem worship.

    One thing that I agree with this pontificate about is that “reform of the reform” is dead. Some time ago I came to the conclusion that the entire pre-Vatican II 20th Century liturgical reform movement was misguided. The traditional Latin Mass is not in need of any reform. Every change that was made was, without exception, for the worse.

  13. TonyO says:

    How can the person who wrote “every rubric must be observed…” also write Traditionis custodes?

    @Brian64: I fear that the most plausible answer is that the person who wrote “every rubric must be observed” is not actually the same person who wrote TC. That is, DD was a hodge-podge written by several contributors, and someone other than Francis wrote these words. And (for some reason) Francis wasn’t bothered by them enough to strike them from the draft.

    Then, of course, the question would merely shift to “WHY would Francis be willing to leave them in?” And there, again, we can only speculate. But one possible answer (along with less mean-spirited possibilities) is that: like most true dyed-in-the-wool liberal elites, he is perfectly willing to use the tools of the marxist tool-box to change (eradicate) culture to get what he wants. And one of the most effective tools they have been using for a century (plus) is the tactic of the old two-steps forward and one step back. They move the goal posts forward over time by stretching “too far” and then when criticized, walking that back – partly, but not all the way back.

    A perfect example is the shoddy business with Francis signing that nasty document on “Fraternity” with the Islamic imam, saying that God wills a plurality of religions, then the Vatican walking that back by saying but he meant ONLY in the sense of God’s permissive will. But then Pope accepted the original document from the world interreligious congress in Kazakhstan that had the same damn problem. He moved the goal posts.

    I have yet to see the Vatican make any effective move to curtail the abuses in the NO, or even to make any moves that would seem to be in the direction of curtailing the abuses. And since the pope has the power of an absolute monarch if he chooses to exercise it, and he HAS IN FACT used his power just that way in other areas, I suggest that the pope does not actually will that the abuses cease.

  14. Geoffrey says:

    I remember the first time I ever attended Mass (OF) celebrated “ad orientem”. The difference was profound. It was indeed the worst thing to happen to the liturgy.

  15. eulogossusan says:

    Surriter- You meant “flout” the bishop. And worse than that is “flaunting” his disobedience.

    I meet so many people who are offended by the very idea of ad orientem, and some get angry if the celebrating priest does not by eye contact and gesture, address the mass to them. A few years back our parish foolishly took a survey, and this was the big complaint about a young priest: “He talks to the host, not to us.” This diocese was told for years under the previous bishop that mass should “celebrate the community”. The current bishop has done a good job of turning things around here without inciting outright rebellion in the older priests. But he picks his battles, and there is no way the older priests or the majority of older parishioners would tolerate ad orientem. ( They would flout the bishop and flaunt their disobedience!). He is already superannuated and I am very apprehensive about who the next bishop will be. I half hope Francis punishes a good bishop by demoting him to us!

  16. TonyO says:

    I wonder just how far it would be possible to go to push a diocese toward going ad orientem?

    Suppose you were a priest who wanted to try it, but were not very confident about its reception. Suppose that you think there might be several other priests (probably, among the younger crowd) that also might want to try it. Suppose you reach out to them and express your desire, and get their reactions. See if they have good (or not good) arguments as to why it should be tried, where, when, how. See if you can get a cadre (maybe 3, maybe 10) priests who are willing to make some experiments.

    Then you each start small: with individual masses to select groups: maybe a mass for the Legion of Mary group, or a mass for Boy Scouts, etc. You prep them beforehand by taking some of the more leading-edge traditional-minded parishioners, and try to educate them about it. Then at the mass itself you also educate the faithful present, THEN you say the rest of mass ad orientem. Let the idea percolate for a couple weeks. Repeat with a new small group that has a few cross-over members, maybe the Knights of Columbus crew, or whatever. Maybe the least-well attended daily mass in the week. Again, let the effects percolate for a few weeks. Talk to the people who had seen it, get their reactions and DON’T be hard-line that you must like this. Let people like or not like it, and openly accept that, so they don’t feel pressured about their likes. Ask some more reasonable people if they would mind if one of the regularly scheduled masses usually was ad orientem. It needn’t be a Sunday mass, to start.

    Sure, you are going to get some negative feedback. Be prepared for that by accepting their point of view, and asking them if they objected to the idea that OTHER masses, ones they don’t expect to attend, were ad orientem because some other people like that, and you are prepared to accommodate such preferences? Get them behind the idea that as long as THEY don’t have to be at such masses, it’s OK if other people who actually want it can do it. Live and let live. If necessary, suggest adding a mass to the schedule so that it doesn’t disturb OTHER masses that other people are used to.

    Prepare to answer questions from the bishop. If he is a reasonable guy, you can construct some plausible arguments for it. If he is an innovator and experimenter, you can say “I am experimenting”. If he is a “mass should be meaningful” sort, you can talk about how some people say that they find it meaningful.

    If he is utterly unreasonable and adamantly against it regardless of the good (or not-good) reasons you might give, prepare in other ways: subterfuge, for example. Or by saying “gee, I heard other priests were doing it, so I thought it must be OK”. And when it comes up at some group gathering of priests with a bishop, put it to a vote! (Don’t ASK for a vote, just say “we should take a vote of how many priests think it’s OK to try this”.) Sure, you are going to be in the bishop’s black book for it…but you were going to be there anyway, you might as well get there while doing some good. Then wait for the next bishop, go back to doing the modest use of it, and THEN when it comes to his attention, say “what, we used to do this before, what’s the problem?”

  17. Fr. John says:

    I think this point cannot be overstated. It changes our whole view of what worship is. Friends of mine that are Protestant clergy, who uniformly face towards the people, see worship as a kind of performance and think about what the people watching them are thinking, how engaged they are, etc.

    As an Orthodox priest, and I’m sure for Catholic priests that face Christ, my concern is that the services be done reverently and piously, and as a result, the people *are* engaged, not because of me putting on a good show, since it isn’t and never should be about me, but rather because we’re all together focused on Christ.

  18. JacobWall says:

    I believe it’s naive to think that ad orientem worship would accomplish what Pope Francis desires. It would certainly accomplish great and good things, but I’m certain that each one of those things would provoke the ire of our pope rather than bring him joy.

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