Some years ago the theologian Fr. Jonathan Robinson wrote a commentary on the modern experience of the Sacred liturgy and entitled it, The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backward. It is a compelling image of so much of what is wrong with the celebration of the Liturgy in many parishes today.

While Fr. Robinson certainly had the celebration of Mass “facing the people” in mind, his concerns are broader than that.

Indeed, we have the strange modern concept of the “closed circle” in so many modern conceptions of the Mass. Too often we are tediously self-referential and anthropocentric. So much of modern liturgy includes long lists of congratulatory references, both done by, but also expected of the celebrant.

Instead of the Liturgy being upwardly focused to God and outwardly toward the mission of the Church (to make disciples of all the nations), we tend today to “gather” and hunker down in rather closed circles looking at each other, and speaking at great length about ourselves.

We have even enshrined this architecturally in our modern circular and fan shaped churches that facilitate us looking at each other, and focusing inwardly, not up or put. The author Thomas Day once described Modern Catholic Liturgy as, “the aware, gathered community celebrating itself.” [1]

In the ancient orientation or “stance” of the Mass that was ubiquitous until 1965, the focus was outward and upward. Though disparaged by many in recent decades as the priest “having his back to the people” even this description shows the self obsession of the modern age. And to those speak this way about the liturgical orientation of almost 2,000 years, the answer must come, “The priest does not have his back to you. Actually it is not about you at all. The liturgy is about God. And the priest, and all the faithful are turned outward and upward to God.”

The liturgical questions of the history of the eastward orientation and its recent loss, of how and why we got into the modern closed circle mentality, and the erroneous understandings of the liturgists of the 1950s about the practice of the early Church,  are all discussed more aptly by others more liturgically versed than I.

Please consider dear reader that my proposal is not for a sudden and swift change in our liturgical stance. Rather, that we begin to ponder if, by our inwardly focused stance in circular and fan shaped churches, facing each other, we are communicating what we really intend. Does our stance project that our real focus here is God? Does it communicate the goal of the liturgy to lead us to God? Does it inculcate a spirit of leadership in our clergy who are called to lead us to God? Does a largely closed circle manifest an outward trajectory to evangelize outward and unto the ends of the earth?

Whatever pastoral blessings come with “facing the people” (and there are some blessings) there may be value in continuing to reassess whether our modern pastoral stance of an inwardly focused liturgy serves us well and communicates what we are really doing and experiencing.

I would like to link the current “closed circle” liturgical experience to another struggle of Church life today: the crisis of leadership. Many of the lay faithful have come to decry the crisis of leadership among the clergy. And while there are excesses in way these concerns are expressed (according to me), there is surely a grave hesitancy on the part of too many clergy to lead. Too rare are clergy today who point to God and the will of God in clear and unambiguous terms. Too many of us prefer to speak in abstractions and generalities. I do concur that we have experienced so degree of a crisis in leadership. There are notable exceptions to this problem, but it remains a widespread issue. And of course the primary place that the faithful ought to experience leadership is in the sacred Liturgy, where the clergy unambiguously point to God and lead others to Him.

But the stance of the Liturgy as a kind of closed circle does not easily support this sort of thinking.

To be sure, there are many reasons for the current crisis of leadership in the Church. Surely the overall crisis of manhood in our culture, along with passive or missing fathers is a central cause. Also related is the rise of feminism and the designation of normal male tendencies to competition and leadership as “pathological” and misogynist. Many normal school boys, full of spit and vinegar, and a tendency to rough-house are “diagnosed” and medicated, and told explicitly to behave more like girls.

There are also modern tendencies that are unreasonably hateful or suspicious about power and the use of authority, along with a kind of hyper-vigilance not to offend, and to be obsessed with how others “feel” about things. And while “getting along” with people and being respectful of their feelings are good dispositions in themselves, they are not absolute virtues and must sometimes be set aside for the higher good of pointing to the truth of God and insisting on it.

Hence, there are many factors that have fed the crisis of the leadership among the clergy. But I propose that liturgical orientation is both emblematic of the crisis of leadership and also fuels it.

While a priest is called to love his people, speak to their hearts and even to learn form them, he is most especially tasked to lead them to God. And while, in the Liturgy of the Word, it makes sense that he turns to them to instruct and engage them, there ought to be a moment when he turns to God and leads his people toward God.

The Eucharistic Prayer is surely this time. As priest, he leads. Acting in persona Christi, he leads the people, (for Christ said, “follow me”) out to Calvary, to the death and resurrection, to new Life. In this Jesus, acting through the priest, also leads back to the Father. He is leading us somewhere.

But leaders do not walk backward facing their followers. They are out front, at the head of the procession. One of the Collects of the Breviary asks that the humble flock may reach where the brave Shepherd has gone before.

But there is usually very little sense of leadership in the current liturgical environment. There seems the unspoken demand that the leader, our celebrant, focus on us, rather than God. His job is to please and enrich us, rather than point to God and insist that we follow. Leadership suffers under this kind of expectation of “enriching” and affirming, rather than summoning to discipleship and pointing unambiguously to God.

The direction of the Liturgy should be an “onward and upward” trajectory. But too often today it is inward, and it is difficult to perceive a motion upward to God or outward to evangelization.

I realize that a post like this will generate considerable controversy. But remember that this is only a discussion. I do not argue for sudden or radical shifts in our liturgical stance, only that we should continue to discuss it and explore various options. I am only a priest, not a bishop and I do not argue that priests act independent of their bishop in significant matters such as this. Further, some settings are better for a change of stance than others. Great pastoral discretion is required in matters like these.

Neither do I argue for a return to Mass wholly facing the altar as was done in the past and still often is in the Extraordinary form. The Liturgy of the Word is authentically directed to the people of God for their edification, instruction and attention. It ought to be proclaimed to and toward them, as is fitting to its purpose and end. But the Eucharistic Prayer is directed to God, and not the celebrant is leading the faithful on procession to God. St. Augustine often ended the his sermon and the Liturgy of the Word by saying, “Let us turn to the Lord” and he then went up to the altar, facing it and leading the people to God.

So this is a discussion, that is all. And I pray it be conducted with mutual charity and, I might add, brevity. For while I heartily endorse the discussion of the Sacred Liturgy, it has well been observed that we Catholics run the risk of being so focused on what goes on inside Church that we lose any focus on the mission of getting outside and evangelizing! It would be ironic indeed and a countersign if, in arguing that our liturgy is too inwardly focused, that we who agreed or debated spent too long focused “inwardly” discussing the problem. Truth be told, Liturgy debates sometimes use up too much oxygen!

So have at it. And remember the focus of this post is not merely liturgical. Rather what I am pondering is how well our liturgical stance reflects and supports what should be our pastoral stance.

Just for Fun. Things Look weird backwards:

214 Responses

  1. Candida Eittreim says:

    We have lost, as another person stated so well, our sacredness. Too much feels like attending a Protestant service. No altar rail, no Communion on the tongue, no praying after Communion for most of the congregation. The priest, we all understood was interceding and praying to our God. He was facing the Lord as were we. We have lost ground here in the US. If there is no Mass available in which Communion is offered the traditional way, in a traditional mass, i will not attend. And i’m no hard core “rad trad” I love the respect your Archdiocese shows towards the African American community. The music, all of it. And can see through the pictures and videos the absolute reverence for the Mass is profound. It is just the Catholic Church has always been the repository of all things sacred and deep in matters of God and the Liturgy. Not any more and it breaks my heart.

    • Jim says:


      You may want to find a catholic church “Anglican Usage”.

      I am not familiar with all of the expressions of “Anglican Usage”, but in those that I participated in the priest faced “east”, there were railing where the congregants kneeled and received on the tongue.

      The Gospel was proclaimed by the deacon who while proclaiming, stood in the midst of the congregation.

      If you do locate a community and decide to participate in their Eucharist, don’t be shocked by the deacon.

      While facing the east and he comes upon dialogue addressed to the people, he turns toward them.

  2. Cam Ma says:

    The Johannine account of the last supper hardly suggests a congregation facing East, let alone an altar. The anamnesis, the Real Presence of Christ is found in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper which is a dialog between Jesus and his Apostles, between the priest and the congregation in the words of Jesus. Who has a conversation with his back turned?

    • Kind of a stretch trying to get your conclusion from the Johannine Last Supper account, don’t you think? Also, if you read the article, you’ll see that I don’t think the Liturgy of the word should be conducted facing the altar. Did you read that? But as for the Eucharistic prayer, it is not a “discussion” it is a prayer directed to the Father, by Christ the head and his members.

      • Warren Goddard says:

        Mass is a sacrifice of Word and Sacrament directed to the Father. Directing the sacrifice of the Word to the poeple is a serious deformation of Catholic worship.

    • Jack says:

      An alternative view: the apostles were present with Christ at the Last Supper, but not the rest of the disciples (and we know there were others). The apostles then went out after the resurrection to bring Christ to the world (including the other disciples). The successors of the apostles are the bishops, who, lacking the gift of bilocation 😉 delegated Mass in most parishes to the priests (presbyters) who at the earliest liturgies gathered with them around the table before bringing the consecrated gifts to the people. So if you really want to draw out your analogy fully, then the clergy (bishops, priests, deacons) gathered around the table during the consecration, having a dialogue with themselves, is appropriate, *followed* by drawing the people into the dialogue after the Eucharistic prayer, concluding with bringing the consecrated gifts to the people.

      I’m not saying this is the correct view; I’m just pointing out that this “dialogue” business is not as open-and-shut as its advocates have pretended for the last half-century.

      • Jim says:

        To equate “The Last Supper” with present day Eucharist misses the point don’t you think?

        Jesus had not died! What He offered was in some respects a “foretaste” of what He would do later. That is to say, His complete offering on the cross. The “Washing of the Feet” can be seen as a most humble act of putting aside self to serve others. Very “diaconal” in my own opinion. Jesus the SERVANT was to become Jesus the Sacrificial (unblemished) Lamb.

        Having said that, Jesus commanded us to do this in memory of me.

        That “memory” means “to make present”.

        Without His death and resurrection, the “Last Supper” is a “passover” meal.

  3. Mike Oliver says:

    So are we blaming the priest’s and people’s lack of appropriate prayerfulness, reverence, and reverential attitude on the fact that face each other during the Eucharistic liturgy? If that is true, the answer is quite simple and should be imposed immediately, without delay or excuse. Or is it possible that the problems described find their genesis somewhere else?
    Could it be that whether Mass conveys the necessary sense of a sacred sacrifice or of a dog and pony show is more related to the priest in charge and the catechesis of the people, and not from their orientation with and among each other? When our associate pastor consecrates the bread and wine, it is as though he was doing so for the first breathtaking time. For me and the nearly two thousand at mass, his reverence is moving and powerful, and I believe more so because I can see his eyes looking with awe as the consecration progresses and he holds aloft to God the host and the chalice. It is encompassing and overwhelming, and it draws me directly into the middle of the most sacred part of the liturgy. I can’t imagine feeling nearly as much a part of that glorious mystery looking through his back as he engages the same mystery.
    Isn’t that what the Vatican II council meant in Sacrosanctum concilium:
    “14. Mother Church earnestly desires that all the faithful should be led to that fully conscious, and active participation in liturgical celebrations which is demanded by the very nature of the liturgy. Such participation by the Christian people as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a redeemed people (1 Pet. 2:9; cf. 2:4-5), is their right and duty by reason of their baptism.
    “In the restoration and promotion of the sacred liturgy, this full and active participation by all the people is the aim to be considered before all else; for it is the primary and indispensable source from which the faithful are to derive the true Christian spirit; and therefore pastors of souls must zealously strive to achieve it, by means of the necessary instruction, in all their pastoral work.
    “Yet it would be futile to entertain any hopes of realizing this unless the pastors themselves, in the first place, become thoroughly imbued with the spirit and power of the liturgy, and undertake to give instruction about it.”

    • no blaming, just discussing some factors among others worth considering. Why be so extreme in your repsonse? “Blame” is not a necessary component to the discussion

      • mike oliver says:

        Blame seems the right word choice when referring to replies listing all the failures of modern mass, including EmCee priests, lack of reverence for the Eucharist, and even the music style.

        My point simply was to illustrate that the beauty and fullness of the Eucharist flows from the attitude of the celebrant and his approach to the celebration and from my preparation and participation, and not on whether we face the same direction, east or otherwise.

        I suspect that those who grew from child to adult in the arms of the EF and an ad orientem posture find great comfort and even peace in that familiar format, as much for their personal experience as for the ecclesial history behind it. But I am frustrated with a debate that seems intent on judging one way right and the other wrong or misguided.

        • mike oliver says:

          I mean too include this statement from the Sacrosanctum Concillium:

          “11. But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain (28) . Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.”

          My personal experience is that when these steps are taken, the true power of the Eucharist prevails, ad orientem or not.

          • marcellus says:

            Amen Mike Oliver…you made the only sensible and intelligent response and reflection on the subject…THANK YOU! This topic makes as much sense as saying only boys should serve on the altar because we need more priests!

  4. Mark says:

    Great post Msgr. Pope! I am a fan of all your posts. I’d like to add something that came to my mind. I must confess there have been times during mass when I have thought, “Why does Fr. (insert name) look so unhappy or unengaged? It sure would be nice if he looked as though he were sincere.” Then I realized, maybe that IS his sincere/engaged look. I also realized I was being needlessly distracted. After reading your post, it seems to me that both the priest and the congregation could benefit by all facing God so the looks on our faces don’t distract each other. I can only imagine how many distractions priests have during mass. Maybe facing God would help reduce them all. Keep up the good work!

    P.S. I am for the heavy handed approach to change. I’d like the bishops to impose this on everyone. It would be perfectly fair since so many liturgical abuses are imposed on us all the time at the micro level.

  5. pete salveinini says:

    Very True, a MUST RESTORATION WHICH EVERY ORDINARY HAS THE AUTHORITY TO CHANGE BACK TO. But it is the rendition of Paul VI as the only option to the Traditional rite that’s the problem. The Paul VI Mass of today is defective in several ways, some small, some major. Even when reverently celebrated the N.O.Mass does not adequately manifest the Heavenly Liturgy simultaneous going on while the earthly rite takes place. I don’t think many people get the notion at all of being in sync with Heavenly Liturgy when they go to Mass. The medieval mystic St. Gertrude had a vision during the Canon: “….then the hosts and saints of heaven began to sing in harmony, while the Virgin Mary, giving thanks to God chanted the Holy, Holy, Holy,” all praise to the powerful Father, and to His Wisdom, the Son, and to their Spirit of Love!” Now Gertrude saw Our Lord get up from His throne and with His hands lift up His Heart to His Father as an offering for the whole Church. At this moment the Host was elevated in the chapel, and so what Our Lord was doing in Heaven the priest was doing on earth”. A NEW APPLICATION OF THE DECREES OF VAT II, RETAINING MUCH MORE OF THE ANCIENT RITE IN SEQUENCE AND CEREMONIAL, THOUGH NOT ALL, VERNACULAR FOR ALL THE PROPER TEXTS WITH THE ADDITIONS OF THE LITANY OF PETITION AND LECTIONARY, SOME MODIFICATION OF THE CALENDAR, BUT MUCH LESS DRASTIC ELIMINATIONS (like restoring the octave of Pentecost, e.g.) is what was and is needed.

    • Jim says:


      If you want to discuss defective, then there must be a model from which we locate a focal point.

      That said, Eucharist was certainly done long before “Trent”!

      Early examples of Eucharistic celebrations cab be traced to Alexandria, Jerusalem, areas of present day France, Germany, and other places.

      Present day scholars having tools unavailable to those in former days: transportation; the ability to read; consult with others; study unearthed documents and so forth have developed a wealth of information concerning the past.

      Bishops of a particular area would construct a liturgy. Some of these constructs were reduced to writing (manuscripts). In some cases other uncovered artifacts made reference to celebrations. When all of this is considered, it is clear there was a variety of expressions of Eucharistic celebrations.

      From time to time, bishops of one area would travel to other areas where of course Eucharist was celebrated. This led to a borrowing from each other and further development of a more uniform liturgy. But, we must keep in mind, liturgy always reflected a local culture……. “A LIVING FAITH”

      As time went on, some presiders began to “add on” prayers to God to make “them” more faithful, more worthy, for the celebrations to be accepted, and what have you. In some places, and some would suggest in Rome, this inward directed prayer would lead to a “clerical” thinking which in turn led to a distinct separation of clergy and lay.

      In any event, the common language for the most part was Greek, along with some Hebrew variations. Although variations in the liturgy continued, we could say they all contained similar essential elements: a welcoming; a gathering prayer; lessons from scripture; an offering; prayers over the offering; anamnesis & epiclesis; profession of faith; distribution, and dismissal.

      Well soon the “Dark Ages” was to come upon Rome. In preparation, a “New Rome” was developed. This newer church, in a twist of fate, retained the more ancient forms…..

      As we know, Rome was sacked, and untold damage occurred. In the absence of intellectual material, schools and so forth, the Greek language all but disappeared. A type of “street” language developed and it would become the language of the people, and the language of the church in the west.

      Well as it would turn out, a pope called a gathering of what we call TRENT. One of the reasons, if not the main reason for this calling was to reform and standardize liturgical practices.

      For this process, a manuscript that was saved from the destruction of the “Dark Ages” was produced as a model. Scholars have since determined that manuscript to be different from the manuscript developed via the earlier gatherings and discussions that occurred before the dark ages.

      As scholars have determined, the more original manuscript continued the log standing practice of a total participation by the congregational gathers.

      In any event, that council gave us the “Mass of Trent” celebrated by (most of) the west. The Ambrosian and a few other liturgies were retained. I think the rule was a liturgy had to be practiced in substantially the same manner for two (could be more) hundred years.

      Another gift of Trent is what is called “rubric”. Essentially that means it MUST be followed exactly. So for a millennia or so there could be NO CHANGE….. NO ALTERATIONS.

      This continued until Vatican II where the mass of Trent was NOT changed, but provisions were given so that the RIGHTFUL place of the lat was restored, and the ancient Order of Deacon was again instituted as a permanent ministry.

      In terms of the “PROPER TEXTS”; well there is some disagreement on that. A cursory review of an early edition (any prior to our newest) will inform the reader of the need for a “dynamic” translation is necessary in order that the true meaning which is impossible via a “word for word” can be rendered.

      In terms of “error”;

      we do not speak of that. Rather we use terms such as: a fuller understanding of; a more complete expression of; and so forth.

      In any event, it is a bit ironic that the fathers of Trent intended to make uniform, the synthesis of more ancient forms of liturgy, but ended up excluding the ancient practice of the communal participation at their gatherings.

      • Stephen Matthew says:

        Your history is frankly a mess, viewed either from the ecclesiastical or secular point of view.

        Just as one example, your understanding of the development of the Latin language is almost completely wrong. Latin was an established language, both of the people and for literary purpose, before the time of Christ. Greek was certainly known, almost universally, among the well educated, government officials, merchants trading across regions, and the like, but Latin was also both spoken and written. To suggest that Latin was adopted only after the sack of Rome is false. It may be true that Rome’s earliest liturgies were Greek, but the Greek influence on Rome waxed and waned more than once over time in the secular forum, and certainly in also in the ecclesiastical. However, you will continue to find some instances of Greek liturgy in Italy proper at least until the twilight of the Byzantine Empire, which was a roughly a thousand years behind the decline of its western Roman counterpart.

        I think careful investigation will show that at the least the picture you are painting is so radically simplified as to not be a true likeness of history, and quite likely contains a number of false ideas and incorrect facts. It is a distillation consonant with much of popular conception in the present moment, but the popular view of history is deeply impoverished.

  6. Brian Ingram says:

    Christ when he instituted the Eucharist faced His disciples. When the Priest faces us he faces as 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 tells us ‘temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in us’.

    • Charlie says:


      That’s utter nonsense. Utter nonsense. Christ did not ‘face His disciples’ when instituting the Eucharist – please supply your references for this. Where do people get this stuff from?!

  7. […] A Consideration of Liturgical Orientation Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington […]

  8. Jack says:

    I read a history of liturgy that claimed one appeal of the old orientation was the image of Moses leading the Israelites through the desert. We could stand to restore that image, at least on occasion.

  9. […] A Consideration of Liturgical Orientation Msgr. Charles Pope, Archdiocese of Washington […]

  10. John Carlson says:

    I was an alter boy before and after the first change in the late 60s. I have always thought the posture of facing the people, less reverent. I think that the prrof is in the puding.

    The priest is at a disadvantage to realy concentrate and human nature being what it is, this posture tend to make him a showman. I see that all the time. This takes away from the sacredness of the sacrifice taking place, and the priest affected degree of reverence affects the people, to be less reverent.

  11. Kurt says:

    Prior to the Council’s reform, there was nothing prohibiting the celebrant from facing the altar and people as opposed to facing the aspe. Obviously, many churches did not have free standing altars making it possible, but witht he rebuilding of churches in France and Belgium after the destruction of World War One, many were built with free standing altars and the priest began facing altar and people in these churches.

    I would note even in the photo on this post, two of the concelebrants (concelebration was prohibited prior to the Council) are facing either north or south, not east.

    I think the virtues of the priest facing the aspe are over rated. I did have a priest friend once tell me that on a trip to Liverpool he had the great joy of saying Mass “facing God.” I inquired if it was his view that God was not present in Ireland.

    • Jim says:


      Prior to Vatican II “RUBRIC” was the game! There is an old joke about the 100 ways a priest could commit mortal sin while “saying” mass

      The mass of Trent was filled with external signs and symbolic gestures. Imagine trying to keep track so that the priest made the sign of the cross exactly thirty three times…. no more and no less!

      In terms of the symbolism referenced in other posts:

      Mosses crossing: the Heavenly Banquet and what have you

      What happened during the Transfiguration!

      Mass IS HEAVEN ON EARTH…… the Heavenly Banquet!

      During the consecration prayers, over and over we speak of and to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit!

      I really am at a loss why some need external symbolism as a reference!

  12. Carl Hotz says:

    Monsignor Pope, As a priest I want to thank you for raising this topic ofr discussion. Personally, I would prefer to celebrate Mass as you describe: Liturgy of the Word as it is now done; turning to the Lord for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It is very brave of you to make this suggestion. As liturgical studies show today this would be a true return to the ancient practice of the church. I pray that this post helps to bring light, and not just heat, to this idea. You are a courageous man!

    • Joe LaCour says:

      Fr. Hotz.

      I think you can celebrate Ad Orientem any time. There is nothing in the rubrics that forbid it. However, I would not do it overnight. Other parishes in other dioceses have taken a period of time to go over the reasons for the “reversal” and why — and it seems to work.

    • Charlie says:

      Fr: Can you please explain why this suggestion is so ‘courageous?’ Don’t get me wrong, I think Monsignor Pope is 100% right, and I wish every Priest was like him, but could you tell us why it takes courage to follow the practices of Christendom since time immemorial?


  13. ThomasD says:

    Do you have time to reply to my suggestion Msgr. Pope?

  14. […] blogging on hot button topics. Having recently posted on the Liturgy considering Ad Orientum with Are We Walking to Heaven Backward? A Pastoral Consideration of Liturgical “orientation.” he now posts this. Going from liturgical orientation to another type of “orientation” with […]

  15. TeaPot562 says:

    When Jesus installed the Mass at the Last Supper, was He facing away from the Apostles?
    St John’s Gospel has Him eating from dishes.
    The institution narrative has Him saying, “Do this in Remembrance of Me.”

  16. Fr. Richard Heilman says:

    We are coming up on a year celebrating the Novus Ordo ad orientem.T he Mass celebrated this way is so powerful. It has become my primary way of evangelizing. We also offer only sacred music – chant, polyphony – and our church is classically beautiful. Lately, I just say to someone who has moved or is moving away from their faith: “Come to this Mass.” They come, and they are changed.

    • alaskamom says:

      Thank you for your courage. My family and I attended a parish in Missouri for years that had this style of celebrating the Mass. People came from 60 miles away on Sundays just to be able to participate in this sacred environment. Thank you for all of us who do not have that in our lives and beg God to make up for this lake of the sacred.

    • Jim says:

      Fathers Richard and Carl

      I am interested in your positions. Obviously there is something spiritually going on.

      Fr. Richard, your celebratory expression fills a need for many. I’m not sure that it will appropriate (lack of a better word to express myself) for all.

      The late Cardinal Bernardin, in one of his manuscripts, identified a number of distinct spiritualities present in church. He informs us our challenge as clergy is to not get to focused on any one, but to be present to all. Now surely a Franciscan is a Franciscan, a Jesuit a Jesuit, and a Benedictine a Benedictine.

      That said, we are ordained to serve…… as “servant leaders” we are o meet people where they are at.

      You know you congregation! But the challenge remains; being a welcoming church to all? Not an easy task at all.

      Fr. Carl

      I “think” I have a feel for your desire to face “east” so to speak. But I am not comfortable with blocking the altar either so there is a tension that needs to be resolved.

      I am a deacon and I have served many presiders. Lately, I have served with newly ordained priests. I am concerned, very concerned with what I am seeing.

      They exhibit a wonderful sense of priesthood, but at the same time it seems to be very self-centered and somewhat disconnected from the assembly.

      I have difficulty expressing what it is I feel.

      As the deacon, I follow the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. They do not.

      My understanding is the deacon is “servant” and brings to the altar his service and that of the people. The presider is the minister of “sacrifice’. The deacon serves he priest at liturgy. Together, the symbol of the complete Christ, that is Christ Who came to serve and Christ Who offered Himself is imaged not as two ministers, but rather “two as one image” each minister performing/being that which he id ordained to.

      The new priests do not seem to understand this. Maybe I’m wrong in my understanding.

      In any event, in my humble opinion the GIRM offers directions that reflect the priest/servant model.

      Unless carrying the Book of Gospels, they walk side by side.the new priests think that upset the hierarchal model of a by-gone era when every thing culminated in the priesthood and the bishop was just a priest with additional duties (more or less the model)

      These priests insist on setting the altar, purifying vessels and so forth. So the servant watches as the presider works?

      These priests refer to “my” host…… “my” chalice and they present an aura distinctively “priestly”. That sets a very clear line of demarkation between them and the congregation……. between them and the deacon.

      That is distinctly clerical and places themselves on a higher than thou kind of level.

      They preach down and at the people with very instructional attempts at the homily. I’m afraid they’ll chase more and more people away.

      Well enough of my soapbox sharing.

  17. […] blogging on hot button topics. Having recently posted on the Liturgy considering Ad Orientum with Are We Walking to Heaven Backward? A Pastoral Consideration of Liturgical “orientation.” he now posts this. Going from liturgical orientation to …read […]

  18. agustinus says:

    My meager understandings are :
    1.Like any other sacraments,, Jesus is the prime mover in the Eucharist. We believe the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. The priest in the Eucharist represent the visible actor. People are celebrating their gratitude as response.
    2.Last Supper contextualize the Eucharist as the meal around the table/altar. The Eucharist is not an Adoration.
    3.Priest facing the people means that he is with the people,with Jesus in the middle of us all.
    4. There is a Javanese saying : the leader in the front must be exemplary, and in the middle of the people he must be cretive in plan and its actions, while in the rear he is shepherding (with the deakons as the shepherd-dog on the sides) the flock to lead to the green fields, (altough we rarely find of this kind).
    usually i like a lot of your writings,but not this time. I find you as a rarety, and I am thankful for this.

  19. Michael says:

    As an adult convert – I continually find myself surprised by how many parishes have been “protestantized” in their architecture, their music, their homilies. In their urge to be “relevant” they abandon so much of the patrimony that is ours as Catholics and look foolish in the end. It is like an mature man or woman trying to dress “hip” and look “young” only to look like an idiot.

    Msgr, I find myself in full agreement with you. And I would go a bit further. Ad orientum for the Collect. And the Prayers of the Faithful. Put the altar rails back. Please put the “presider” chair off to the side and put the Tabernacle back square in the middle. Rebuild the high altars. And for God’s sake, stop with the contemporary music and revive chant.

    Start to look and act Catholic again from head to toe.

    • Jim says:


      It might help if you look at the development, the history of the “tabernacle”.

      Initially there were none. Deacons would take communion to the home of those who could not be present with the assembly.

      Later, Jesus was reserved in a container that was lifted up high in the church building and secured so no one could bring harm.

      In time, tabernacles came into being, as a repository for Jesus reserved for the sick. Later a development came about whereby people stayed away from receiving. They “attended” mass where of course the priest consumed.

      Actually, one of our popes reduced the age for receiving with the idea that if they start early enough, they’ll continue. Contrary to what was intended, that development reduced the age for receiving communion, but the ordering of the sacraments of initiation got mixed up……. Baptism, confirmation, then communion as our eastern brothers and sisters continue to this day.

      There is of course much more that can be discussed.

      Vatican II examined the notion of placement of the tabernacle. the fathers envisioned an on-going tension regarding the focus of attention during mass.

      Do the faithful focus on Jesus “in the tabernacle”; do they focus on Jesus “the living sacrifice” on the altar.

      Thus it was suggested the tabernacle be moved to a place of “prominence” where the faithful could go to pray and or contemplate before Jesus.

      That suggestion solved the problem associated with focusing on two places at the same time.

      Just for the heck of it, someday watch and see how many people bow and or genuflict to the tabernacle when it is empty!

      Communion is being distributed, the tabernacle is empty…… but habitually some folks will reverence the tabernacle, even while holding Jesus in their hand just before consuming Him!

      I see it all the time(:>(

      • Fabio says:

        Jim and all,

        I’m by no means a church scholar but I wanted to add my thoughts.

        Quick note the tabernacle is not empty as there is the host used in benedictions remember just because the door is open doesn’t mean there is no one at home. I truly believe signs and symbols of expressing reverence are important and I look around and I see very few genuflect anymore including priests, before during or after mass.
        So I’m very happy that some still respect the presence of Jesus as confusing as it is to find him in modern churches.

        I think you miss the point, how many places can Jesus be in the church, the tabernacle is tucked off in a corner or another room connected to the church, walking around in people’s hands at communion, on the altar, with the Eucharistic minister in the middle or back of the church…….it’s confusing. Having the tabernacle behind the priest in the center of the church, the most appropriate area to place Jesus( don’t you sit at the head of the table at dinner in your home?) the priest obscures the tabernacle during the celebration of the Mass but he should be facing it as that is where Jesus is, thus both are at the same point of reference from the pew and easily understandable.

        In general my issue is that the priest at mass in the current posture looks at us as he is praying to God which is confusing are we god? the Eucharistic prayers are structured to petition and pray to God then why don’t you look at him. Remember all the apostles at the last supper looked at Jesus so should all their successors.


  20. Richard says:

    This entire essays fails from the beginning. I worship in a Catholic Church that is U shaped with the altar in the middle and a nice ambulatory on the periphery. People comment that our church looks and feels very traditional. What distracts me, to my shame, is not the person across the way, but the person in the pew right in front of me or right next to me … Or the person with the screaming kid anywhere in the church. In other words, the distractions are the same regardless of the architecture of worship space. This sort of baseless carping about architecture isn’t worthy of anyone, let alone the clergy. Some of the most prayerful churches I’ve been in are churches in th round. I think the discussion of what makes a church prayerful needs to focus on parish culture, music, attitudes toward the liturgy. These things are what matter. Church architecture — round vs linear — is really a red herring. I often think the worst problem has to do with pastors who don’t provide leadership to their musicians and liturgists and who don’t bother to think about how best to use the physical space they have been given. As my old band teacher used to say, the problem is not with the instrument but the musician.

    • Avoid words like “fail” and “entire” they are not necessary. I suffices to say that you disagree. It does not follow that the entire essays fails from the beginning. You are not the decider of that. As such you are emblematic of the self-referential quality of the modern age of which the liturgical posture is also a problematic feature.

      • Fabio says:


        The direction of the Liturgy is toward God and architecture personifies that in the direction we face and the height to church ceiling, etc. The architecture will dictate reverence, a screaming child is a screaming child anywhere you go and no architecture will not change that remember that child’s presence is our churches future. Current modern churches with stadium like seating give way to stadium like behavior. I want to parallel your thoughts to restaurants people’s behavior is much different in a high end restaurants as opposed to a McDonald’s or Olive Garden. Why do they dress and act differently in high end restaurants? why is everyone dressed down and screaming in the latter?are they all not restaurants? The architecture and the feel of the building, artwork lighting all give way to what are actions should be.
        Your comment about how best to use the space given tells the whole story, you want a show or a performance but the liturgy is much more than that and unfortunately it is being celebrated in sub par buildings that don’t reflect how the liturgy should be celebrated. We don’t reach for God anymore we look down at him or we are at his level.
        I would suggest you go to mass in a linear church that is well appointed with Gregorian chant, novus ordo or traditional rite and I am sure you will feel the difference for people will act differently.

  21. Maria M. says:

    Our pastor turns around to face east – in our church the tabernacle and crucifix as well – after the homily, and one of our visiting priests celebrates Mass ad orientem all the time. It is wonderful, even in our ‘fan’ church!
    To my mind, there are two things favoring this position:
    1. Facing the people, it feels like we have that closed circle leaving our Lord on the outside. I know the priest is there in persona Christi, but Jesus is really there himself in the tabernacle, too, and facing toward him leads us there too.
    2. With all the movement going on all the time (people going to the restroom, coming in late, kids getting restless, etc) , I see the other priests (facing us) getting distracted far too often. It is not the same reverence.
    I really hope more priests will adopt this approach. It did not even cause a stir in our parish for more than the first time or two after Father changed position.
    Msgr Pope, please advocate whenever you can – maybe it will become the norm sooner than years and years…
    thank you, and all the priests who already have started doing this!

  22. alaskamom says:

    My first real exposure to the changes came when I moved to Boston back in 1977. I went to a parish run by a .well known non-diocesan religious order. The church was u shaped with the chairs being progressively stepped down sort of like the ancient coliseum. There was no altar on the platform that was , interestingly, the lowest level in the room. One had the impression this was an outdoor theatre of classic times. At the offertory the altar actually rose out of the floor (I cant describe what it made me feel like at that moment). I just started crying, not understanding at the moment why. The Mass I had grown with as a child , that had become the center of my spiritual life, that gave me the strength to go out into the world and bring Christ to whomever I met, had become a show. The priest gave a performance that his audience thought was worthy of applause at the end and everyone shook hands and chatted afterwards. There was no recognition of what we had just been part of, the reenactment of Christ’ cavalry and the covenant (sacred) that we were to participate in (Do this in Memory of me). I have seen better and worse examples of the changes that took place after Vatican II. Yet this symbolized for me what was happening in the Church. I now reside in Alaska where the community, loving itself, is the core of what we teach. We go out and love our neighbor in numerous social justice activities. Yet, the ‘renewal of the covenant’ is a display from week to week of how much we love ourselves as a community.
    My last point is to connect this lack of liturgical direction to God the Father to the theology that is taught our young people. Because we do not want to offend anyone with clear teachings, we have to remove anyone who is teaching the clear faith to our children. A wonderful set of faith formation teachers were banned from any teaching capacity in our parish because they were spending too much time teaching their students the prayers of the church. These were 4th graders who were being asked to recite the : sign of the cross ,( and to know what it meant) the Hail Mary, the Our Father. The main fault of the teachers was that they did not have enough arts and crafts and skits and fun activities. My only conclusion, just as one of the suggested problems in this article, is that we want to be entertained and made to feel good about ourselves more than learn about this gracious God who loves us enough to renew this covenant with Him daily, receive His son in communion, be transformed by that intimacy of union with Christ, this seems to be old fashioned. In fact, that is what the parish administrator and our priest consulter told these two teachers. They were too ‘old church’ Thanks for letting me be part of this discussion.

  23. Jim says:

    I am at a loss to understand so many comments that have been posted.

    Facing God; facing heaven; face Jesus in the tabernacle;

    May we get back to basics: Eucharist 101

    God calls us to worship; God is present in the people (all of us); God is present in the Word (readings and homily, God speaks through the ministers); God is present in the ordained (deacon as Christ the Servant, ordained to serve: the priest as Christ Who offered His life, ordained to sacrifice)

    after the greeting, gathering prayer and so forth we have the Word of God

    after our prayers for the needs of the community, we have an offering; the money pays the bills….. the offering of “ourselves” as wine and many pieces of bread are accepted.

    the deacon, symbolizing the “service to each other” prepares he altar, and presents the offerings of the people to the presider (president of the assembly)

    Now we might ask…… what is this which we refer to as “the altar”; just what is it that is taking place upon this “altar”

    HINT: it is NOT simply to fill the tabernacle so that we can face its contents!!!!

    This which is taking place is NOT a “reenacting”;


    I suppose we may ask: IF Jesus is on the altar now…… and since Jesus IS GOD, why in the world would one want to look anywhere else! Why would/should anyone BLOCK the view of this HOLY and LIVING Sacrifice……. the sacrifice of the presider AND the people (my sacrifice AND YOURS)

    Indeed God/Jesus IS PRESENT Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity! Is this not heaven on earth?

    In my own humble opinion I think we make entirely too much of the biblical and poetic connections, references, and symbolism of “facing east”.

    It is NOT the sun, but JESUS that dispels darkness. Jesus is the alpha and the omega; Jesus IS the “END” of end times when we hope to be reunited with Him forever

    Vatican II changed NOTHING! Vatican II intended to restore the rightful place of the people and remove the notion of the highly clerical “priest’s mass”. Vatican II took the mass of Trent and gave permission to offer THAT MASS in the vernacular so that the people could once AGAIN fully PARTICIPATE as they (I) should.

    Yes there are priests who may at times fail to celebrate as WE think they should. Perhaps the fact that priests have to celebrate multiple masses daily, some show less than a total (our perception) reverence.

    In terms of communion:

    first of all the terms references “community” and NOT individual piety!

    reception on the tongue is a relatively late development. One of our more ancient manuscripts give a direction that one should receive on the hand while supporting that hand with the other hand as though holding a crown!

    • Brian says:

      Your Eucharist 101 should more aptly be titled Eucharist lol…because the mere suggestion that people could not fully participate in the Mass of Trent is nothing if not laughable. Additionally, your assumption that returning “ancient practices” (none of which are clear cut as you present them) is automatically a good thing, shows a marked lack of respect for received Tradition.

    • Mike says:

      The “facing the altar vs facing the tabernacle” issue would not be a problem if the Tabernacle and altar were a single unit.

  24. Martin Corts says:

    All I can reply to this article & to a great many of the comments is, “Hear…Hear” and Amen! Having been born in 1960…and a belated “gift”..being the last of 7 children; although NOT remembering the Tridentine Mass or this orientation at Mass, I was raised by parents & older siblings who decried the loss of the sacred & awe that it brought ones focus to. I reference this starting point, because I have been witness throughout my life of the undeniable “dumbing down” & loss of reverence brought about by the implementation/innovations of the Novus Ordo Mass along with the accompanying embrace of the secular/mundane instead of the sacred. I thank God for the reverence & instruction I received, and continue to receive, from my parents & siblings….because, as this article argues and I attest….the symbolism & orientation ‘”CREATES” an atmosphere & attitude that resonates & draws ones focus OUT toward “Almighty God” lending itself to true worship. Would that we could hear it be reinforced from the pulpit more.

  25. Jim says:


    Jesus IS present. Please inform me of how we lost the “sacred”.

    I will boldly suggest if anyone believes in “dumbing down”, mundane, then frankly he/she has only one to blame.

    A properly disposed person, and I am speaking of one who is prepared to participate fully in mind, spirit, and body will not be dumbed down. And shame if he/she feels they are participating in that which is mundane!

    I live through the “good old days” The “sacred” consisted of folks praying the rosary, reading prayer cards and what have you! As an altar BOY, I engage in dialogue with the priest acting on behalf of the people. I rang the bells to alert them to the elevation of the Body and the Blood of Jesus.

    Please do not refer to individual and self gratifying feelings as “sacred”, as “reverential”. People ATTENDED a priest’s mass.

    Please allow yourself to venture back beyond Trent. Back when the faithful participated fully!

    Mass IS heaven on earth! It is an occasion to be joyful…… grateful for the “redeeming action of our savior Jesus Christ!~ ~ The celebration is a “LIVING SACRIFICE” demanding authentic reverence.

    Now i you want o speak to “mystery”……. mass is mystery!

    If you want to speak to a spirituality of mystery, look to our eastern brothers and sisters who unlike westerners who love to analyze, actually live the mystery.

    If you want to focus and be drawn OUT TOWARD ALMIGHTY GOD, what god is it that would lead you away from JESUS/GOD right in front of you on the altar!!!!

  26. Charles Dussouy says:

    What are the rubrics for celebrating a mass ad orientem? For instance, when is the priest suppose to be at the altar and when is he suppose to be at the chair? Also, when he is at the chair is he suppose to be facing the tabernacle? Or do you know a good place I can go look that is easily understandable?

    God Bless

    • Jim says:


      Your question in terms of the position of the priest and the tabernacle goes to one issue the fathers of vatican II considered.

      The mass is a real, holy and “living sacrifice. Jesus is present on the altar.
      Well, as we know, Jesus is present in the tabernacle.
      One might imagine we could simply attend a service and receive from the tabernacle. But, that is totally missing the point!
      Eucharist is a “verb” in the sense that we are doing it. We led by the presider are participating in an event wherein Jesus is made present via our Holy, and Living sacrifice.

      The tabernacle is a place where Jesus is reposed. It is accessed to retrieve communion for the sick who can not participate in mass.

      Thus it was suggested it be moved from the altar and placed in a prominent location where it remains accessible for that purpose and where folks can sit before it and pray.

      In cases where the tabernacle either can not be moved, or will not be moved the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (GIRM) has this to say;

      When the tabernacle is located close to the altar, the ministers will reverence it before mass and at the conclusion of mass. At all times during mass, reverences will be made to the altar.

      So as you’ve pointed out, when the tabernacle is near the altar there is a tension: where do I focus my attention; am I okay with my back to the tabernacle; how can I address the assembly with my back turned to them

      Well we must respect the sacredness of that which we are doing. So, as the GIRM instructs us, reverence the tabernacle before and after mass. At all other times, reverence the altar and face the assembly.

  27. Marianna says:

    By the end I did understand what you were saying and why. It’s an idea. I like how you state that it is just maybe something you would prefer but may not be for everyone or doesn’t have to be. But yes I’ve never thought of something like this before but it would be nice, maybe every so often mixed in with the other way. That way I wouldn’t forget it’s meaning with repetition and just feel like a priest has his back to me. Maybe I would get distracted if I didn’t feel the priest was talking to me ya know?

  28. […] Charles Pope on Ad Orientem Aug 22 Outstanding post: Some years ago the theologian Fr. Jonathan Robinson wrote a commentary on the modern experience […]

  29. Dan says:

    We also felt the loss and feel of the “sacred”. Fortunately were able to find a Ruthenian Catholic Church. The eastern liturgy more than made up for the lack of sacred and respect we were experiencing in our old “roman” parish.

  30. Max says:

    Ironically, this article after talking about the need for leadership, doesn’t seem to really lead us– it is hesitant about a bold proposal: to fix what is broken. Why not just unambiguously say what Pope Benedict has said? Why doesn’t a priest, or you Monsignor, actually go to a parish on a Sunday and do it? Why are we having a discussion on a blog about it? I implore you– please lead us! Do it! I think the 10 AM at St Matthew’s Cathedral would be the best place to start. By all means explain, teach, but please do not apologize or water down the substance of the above. Please— lead us. Do not hesitate.

    • Mike says:

      I’m not a parishioner of Msgr. Pope, but I must agree with this: more than speaking about things like this, admirable though that is, something must be DONE. The people should experience ad orientem in the context of the Novus Ordo. I, for one, would love such a thing, but have never gotten to experience it. The only time I’ve seen Mass ad orientem for myself was in the Extraordinary Form, which isn’t at all the same, because it’s just thought of as “what they do” at that Mass.

  31. Ben Dehler says:

    A leader facing the people and talking is a common sight we see in our everyday lives. Let us make Mass be different than the world. It is the only place where we ALL (congregation and ministers) face our “leader”. Facing East is a Sacred direction because it symbolizes the direction of Heaven. It is a “set apart” direction because it is different from how the World does it. It is historical. It is liturgically correct……it is about God NOT US.

    • Max says:

      Agreed! again… Monsignor– are you out there? Are you reading this? Pls– tell us you have plans underway. Tell us when and where

  32. Thiago Santos de Moraes says:

    Great article!

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