Are We Walking to Heaven Backward? A Pastoral Consideration of Liturgical "orientation."

081113Some 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 Replies to “Are We Walking to Heaven Backward? A Pastoral Consideration of Liturgical "orientation."”

  1. Great topic, Monsignor.

    As I say in the sidebar of my blog, “Seek not the face of the priest in the Mass, but the Face of Almighty God.”

    I struggled with the ad orientem posture when I first began going to Mass at Assumption Grotto in Detroit (in 2005) where all Masses are celebrated this way, new and old form. The first day I recall moving about from side to side and I was irritated. I thought to myself, “I can’t believe the priest has his back to us.” After Mass, on my way home I began to ponder that shifting from side to side. I realized I was trying to see the face of the priest. Then, the question came to mind: Just whose face ought I seek in the Mass? That’s when I understood in my heart that I don’t need to see the face of the priest. He is there in persona Christi.

    All these years later, I find it distracting when the priest is facing me, especially if he is overly dynamic. It is more difficult for me to predispose myself to the contemplative dimension of the Mass – one that understand this great mystery transcends space and time. I’ve noticed many younger priests (and some older priests) being more reserved during the Consecration (as opposed to looking around at all the faces).

  2. By the way, the picture above at the upper right is Bishop Slattery saying the Ordinary Form ad orientem. Funny though the deacon on the left has an alb that is too short. So you see, even Ad orientem can fix all flaws ! 🙂

  3. I’m young enough that I can just barely remember when the position of the altar was changed at our parish, and have no memory of a Latin Mass; the closest experience I have is of a Mass at a local Cistercian monastery a couple of years ago where the monks chanted certain portions in Latin but the rest was in English. I believe you’re right, though; if the Mass as written and translated isn’t necessarily self-referential, some parishes insist on throwing things in that divert attention from worship of God and into celebration of us. E.g., hand-holding during the Lord’s Prayer — unnecessary, not called for in the rubrics, and culturally inappropriate. Performing the Liturgy of the Eucharist ad orientem, I believe, would be a step in the right direction.

  4. Thank you again for another thoughtful blog post. It really is all about God, not how we “feel.” We do live in self-centered times. 🙂

    1. Yes, we must face toward the Tree of Life. Soon you will understand……..

  5. I think you have mixed several topics here. Leaving aside the leadership style issue, just what is the priest supposed to be Leading the people toward? Jesus. When the priest is facing the people, elevates the host and says, “this is my body…”, the people can and should look squarely at it, should reverence it (the priest by genuflecting, the people by bowing).

    If the priest is facing the altar, the people can’t see this, nor can they see the priest elevate the host and chalice when he says,”Through Him, with Him…”

    So, I think it would be a mistake to return to ad orietum.

    I do agree with you on the circularor fan-shaped church style.

    My own view of the picture,by the way, is that it is all about the priest, not about Jesus. What I see is five clergy and an marble altar with several statues of saints. What I don’t see is a crucifix or a depiction of Jesus. Jesus did not turn his back on his Disciples at the Last Supper, nor did he turn his back on the people when he fed the 5,000. Altars should be ad orientum, so the people are facing both Jerusalem and Jesus (in the form of the priest), and above them should be a very large crucifix, so the people can focus on Jesus, not burgundy colored robes or grey heads.

    1. In the orientem posture the priest does lift the host and chalice for the people to see.

      Also, you point is technically flawed in that the priest isn’t so much leading the People to Jesus as Jesus, in the priest is leading the people to the Father. The Eucharistic prayer is directed to the Father.

      Further, your description of the Mass as a recreation of the Last Supper is flawed. The Mass is surely a meal, but it points to Calvary which Jesus references in the words of institution. It would also seem that you notion of Christ facing them at the last supper is also in need of work. First they did not sit at a table like modern westerners. They reclined on the floor at a U shaped table with Christ at the head of the corner. In this sense he did not “face” them in any sense you likely have in mind.

      Anyway, much to be discussed here but the point is that things are a bit more nuanced than you present and the objections you raise have been considered at length and well addressed in the tradition and in other more modern sources such as Gamber, Elliot, Ratzinger, Robinson, Reid et al.

    2. Joel, have you considered that even to use the phrase “with his back to the people” presupposes that “the people” are the liturgical point of reference? With that unexamined assumption in place, liturgy is — literally — disoriented, from the get go.

    3. Joel,

      Msgr. Pope is correct. In ad orientem, the host and chalice are clearly able to be seen after consecration. I think the confusion is that a lot of the modern priests don’t bother with the elevation any more. I know the priest at my parish doesn’t. He only goes chest-high. Historically (and by that I mean even in the ’70’s and 80’s when I was growing up with the priest facing the people), he would raise them above his head. Everybody could see everything regardless of the direction he happens to be facing. (By the way, I’m talking about “the elevation”, which occurs after the words of the consecration).

    4. Jesus actually did celebrate the Last Supper “ad orientem”. In the Greek style of dining, all reclined facing the same direction. Da Vinci’s The Last Supper depicts this well. Thus, Our Lord led the other disciples in the right direction, if you get my meaning.

  6. Yes, that is my most excellent Bishop Slattery at Holy Family Cathedral. A great leader as is my Parish priest. A problem, though, and nothing new is our willingness to be led. We are too often easily distracted when we ought not be. Many a time I have wanted to discuss what we experience with those whom I’ve attended Mass. Too often have I heard “I don’t remember the readings” or “I missed the Homily” as the discussion shifts to some rowdy child or another’s dress or some other complaint. I don’t know. I guess I just pray and keep working in myself.
    All things in Christ

  7. Great topic, Monsignor! I have been talking about the ad orientem posture with more and more people. In his book, Evangelical Catholicism, George Weigel makes the argument for this posture. I was at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in June. We attended Mass in the crypt for daily mass and the priest said mass ad orientem. It was fantastic and I loved it!

    If you really listen to the words (as you already know), the priest is not talking to the people, he is praying those words to God. He should be offering the sacrifice to the Crucifix. Just as the High Priest did in the Old Testament in the Temple. Quite a few of the parishes here in Phoenix now have Altar Crosses. Hoping to see it more, but I will be patient on our Bishops to make the additions to the Mass.

  8. This was wonderful to read Msgr. Pope! I have been on a few retreats that included Mass with with an ad orientum posture. I liked it a lot. It reminds me we are all supposed to face God. The soaring architecture of traditional church structures, stained glass, artwork, and pipe organ music with chant are all designed to help us lift our minds to God. I often think the new “fan shaped” churches are an attempt to be more modern or protestant. They leave me wanting more. I just came back from Chartre Cathedral in France and now I am back in the north Chicago suburb with the fan-shaped church. What a disappointment.

  9. As a novus ordo priest (born in ’72, ordained in 2000) i see merit in a possible hybrid. With the advent of wonderful acoustic technology, the Eucharistic Prayer proclaimed clearly doesn’t really need the sight of the congregation. But – and this is where I struggle – how do we model both sacrifice and meal? Like the Greek Liturgies- moving around? Surely we need to develop the Spirituality of leadership in our priests that sees our whole life as sacrifice and meal?

    1. Fr. Townsend – here’s a problem with your idea – “Like the Greek Liturgies” – we, meaning me, Monsignor, Pope Francis, are not Greek Catholics or even Byzantine Catholics. We are Roman Catholics, and our worship looks a certain way. The idea that we should be more like some other group is what causes confusion to begin with. That’s like telling an italian restaurant their spaghetti should look and be more like hagis. Well, the more spaghetti looks like hagis, the less like spaghetti it will be.

    2. The Eucaristic Prayer/Canon doesn’t need to be heard in the first place as it never was for hundreds upon hundreds of years. Regardless, at the local Ordinariate parish they say Mass ad orientem and do read the Canon aloud and once can hear it fine.

      Secondly, that is one way we got into the mess we are in now-the architects of the NO tried to use (or at least said they were using) the Eastern Liturgies as models, yet we have gotten nothing near the gloriousness of Eastern Divine Liturgy w/ the NO. I went to a Byzantine Catholic cathedral a few years ago and remember reading a pamphlet basically saying, “Don’t flip out if you visit your Latin friends at Mass sometimes. Sure, it looks all sorts of hokey and not near as beautiful as our Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, but its still valid!” I totally agreed and knew exactly what they meant.

      Lastly, as to the meal part, that is the least significant part though it is important. The altar rail is an extention of the Holy Board (altar) and a foundling cloth on the altar rail makes the connection even clearer. We needn’t have done anything drastic to our traditional liturgy-all the proper emphases were already there! The litniks who made up the NO were off in bookish la-la land with all their interesting little theories about how Mass would have been in the Early Church and how it “should” be know and 40 years later we are still suffering from their egg-headed hubris.

    3. A certain Cardinal Ratzinger answers your question completely in his book “Feast of Faith.” It’s well worth reading! A general summary of his book is this: The Mass is primarily a sacrifice. Also, meal and sacrifice are not in opposition of each other.

  10. Though quite often the focus in the Novus Ordo seems more about us, it seems to me even more about the personality (likes and dislikes) of the priest. There are so many options available to the priest that he can construct the Mass to be his own: and no 2 Masses are the same. To me all the changes took the “ritual” out of ritual and thus the idea that all Masses are the same Mass of the Church.

    1. You have touched upon a serious flaw with the structure of the Novus Ordo mass: the vast number of options included in the rite. This was made strikingly clear to me after I recently obtained a Novus Ordo daily missal: the priest can choose from four different Eucharistic Prayers, with eight different prefaces for Sundays in Ordinary Time alone, different penitential rites, the Nicene Creed or the Apostles Creed, the three year cycle of readings, short or long forms of readings, as well as various other prayers that have different options (not to mention the phrase “or similar words”. Is it any wonder that priests feel at liberty to ad-lib and personalize the mass? Contrast this with the Tridentine mass, where there are no options: the structure of the mass is set, and there is a one year cycle of readings. Following the mass with a hand missal is a pretty straightforward affair at a Tridentine mass- it’s extremely difficult at a Novus Ordo mass, even in English!

      1. Well put, David, except for the cycle of readings: they are set. Rituals are important not only because we use them for the most important moments in our lives but because they miss nothing of what is intended and present the same experience time and time again if one allows themselves to be caught up in the ritual. In the Novus Ordo, I cannot guess what I am going to get from it, from Church to Church or pastor to pastor. From happy clappy Masses to solemnly said Masses there is a huge spectrum that varies wherever you might go. Ritual, rightly put into practice, does not allow such changes in tone, attitude, solemnity etc. It is set by Tradition and we all seem to be of One Church. Without a proper ritual, we may as well be different denominations of Catholics as do Protestants. There can be that big a change from parish to parish as we all know and this was not the case in the TLM.

        1. I was 25 when the NO came into use and have always been worried by some of the things in it which contradict everything I was taught at my convent school in Ireland; communion in the hand being one of them. My mother was horified by the changes, and effectively lost her faith as a result of them. She described them as “another reformation” and wanted to know why we catholics had suddenly become protestants.

          1. My in-laws stopped going to Mass after the priest had a rock and roll band playing a song that shouted the words, “Eat my Body, Eat my Blood” during Holy Communion. They finally had enough and quit going. This was the parish they were married in, raised their kids in and they had no inclination to look for a new parish in their old age.

  11. I was moved by a post a year or two ago by a priest who tried celebrating ad orientem as an experiment and was amazed at how rewarding it was for him. He said that whenever he said “we” and “us” it rang true as never before, since he and the congregation were physically united in the same orientation. I think the versus populum posture backfires in its attempt to “downplay” the importance of the priest. I think it elevates him and separates him in an uncomfortable way, putting pressure on him to perform at the congregation rather than praying with them.

    I often worship at a beautiful church where, instead of constructing a low altar, they were able (at staggering expense) to detach the massive high altar from the wall, and move the gorgeous tabernacle to the side of the church. The end result is that there are three priests’ chairs sitting up where the altar and tabernacle used to be. It is hard to see how this closed circle is an improvement upon the original and how it could draw us closer to God.

    I would be so happy if the ad orientem stance–as you say, not suddenly but organically–came back into favor. I think I could cheerfully endure the sappiest guitar music if the Mass were just realigned towards the Sacrifice in that way. Thanks so much for this.

  12. Dear Mnsgr.
    I could not agree more with your insights regarding the need for clerical leadership and the orientation that most priests choose to celebrate the liturgy. How do you suggest that laity encourage their pastors to be better leaders? to use the traditional orientation? to withhold the litany of applause until AFTER the liturgy?
    Thank you.

  13. The characterization in this essay of worshipping surrounding the Real Action upon the altar is selective (cherry-picked, as it were), and fails to engage the reasons why it was attractive in Christian liturgical worship in prior ages.

  14. Hello Father.

    You state that you ‘do not argue for sudden or radical shifts in our liturgical stance’, and I must admit to wondering ‘why not?’

    The Liturgical changes post-Vatican II were not introduced slowly but were sudden, very, very radical and dramatic – so we do have a precedent. The main reason for ad orientem at every Mass without exception is blindingly obvious: Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. We cannot insist on a hermeneutic of continuity as an intellectual exercise indefinitely – as the fathers would say ‘show me how you pray, and I’ll tell you what you believe’.

    Until 12 months ago I had never known a Catholic convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, but now I would estimate 60% of my Catholic friends have ‘gone over’, as it were, and this question of overall orientation (‘easting’, literally) summed up in this inexplicable change in posture is precisely why. The fathers do speak of Liturgical variation in certain matters, but facing the East was absolutely non-negotiable. You say that there are some blessings in facing the people, Fr – it would be interesting if you could enumerate them.

    I know an Easter Rite Catholic Priest who also has faculties to celebrate Western Rite Liturgies. He always celebrates Mass ad orientem because ad orientem is precisely what the rubrics suggest – is this not right, Fr? Isn’t celebrating versus populum just another instance of something which crept into the Mass without being mandated?

    I understand your point about focus, Fr, but I really have to disagree when the above is considered. How can we evangelize efficiently if we don’t have our bearings right? Is there not a danger of heading down a pelagian road there? Again, there is precedence in the Holy Scriptures – the Liturgy has to be right, or everything is wrong.

    1. Well you raise a question in paragraph one but answer it in paragraph two.Radical shifts don’t usually get good results and your own stats show that. We agree on the point but implementation is where we seem to differ. I would rather allow the discussion to continue, options to increase, etc like Bishop Slattery has done, setting an example, but not requiring all priests and parishes to follow. A radical implementation will only cause venom that may ultimately backfire. In matters like this, staying in a respectful conversation is better.

      Also I would add, regarding the 60% of your friends etc. that Roman Catholics going to Orthodoxy is negligible in terms of broad statistics affect the Church. Perhaps your friends are a select group. Further, for a Roman Catholic to go to Orthodoxy when both the TLM and any number of Catholic Eastern Rites are available bespeaks other problems on their account.

      1. This assumes that TLM and Eastern Rites ARE available. This is not always the case.

      2. Thanks for your reply, Fr.

        Yes, Fr, I don’t disagree about the wisdom of caution, and I do sympathise with your position. As you say, the suddenness of the last Liturgical upheaval has been catastrophic in many ways, and has led to over half a century of confusion. The danger, though, is that time is the greatest ally of estrangement. The very fact that returning to what was handed on by the Apostles and the fathers and that we practiced for nearly two thousand years has become so strange to us that it could cause any upheaval at all illustrates the point entirely (I’m talking here of prayer toward the East). I’m reminded here of something Chesterton once said: ‘Man has always lost his way, but modern man has lost his address’. We have become strangers to ourselves.

        My group of friends are only really ‘select’ in the sense that they are all very well informed and very serious about their faith. You are absolutely right – or should be – about the TLM and Eastern Rites, but, actually, I believe that the liberalisation of the TLM has been the catalyst in this defection. You see, here in the UK (I’m not sure about the U.S.), the majority of Bishops have been quite obstructive when it comes to the TLM and many Parish Priests have an ‘over my dead body’ attitude toward any Latin in the Liturgy at all, never mind the actual celebration of the TLM. I live in South Wales, and If I want to attend a Sunday TLM I have to travel to England – provision is quite shocking. My own Parish Priest announced when he arrived here that he would not countenance Latin in the Liturgy and has forbidden anyone to approach him on the matter or raise the subject. As for Eastern Rite Parishes, there are barely any at all in the UK outside of London.

        If you think about my point in the first paragraph, Fr, there are also major implications inherent in positing the provision of the TLM and Eastern Rite Liturgies as an answer. Namely, that it really highlights and amplifies a lack of ‘catholicity’. This is probably the only point upon which I agree with liberal Catholics – the theological disparity between the practice of Traditional Catholicism and ‘Novus Ordo’ Catholicism (for want of a better term) leads to a gulf which ends in two different ‘faiths’. The lived experience of the Church is not harmonious, symphonic or uniform in any way when there is such an abyss that the two are, literally, facing opposite directions. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.

        I had great sympathy with our beloved Pope Emeritus’ intention of liberalising the TLM in the hope of cross-pollination, but ‘the missing link’ is never found in a gap where a bridge between two distantly related entities is required for a connection. If a link is missing it is always at the base, never half-way along: we are ‘founded’, not ‘mended’.

        And so, you are right about ‘other problems’ but they can all be encapsulated in this fragmentation of the collective vision which orientation, literally, embodies. To move so far from what has been passed on – which is actually illustrated by some of the responses you have received – requires urgent correction.

        I totally and enthusiastically agree with practically everything you have to say, Fr, but, I must re-state: if the Liturgy is wrong, then everything will be wrong. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.

        1. I enjoyed this blog very much, also if we were truly focusing on God we would hear The Holy Spirit and understand why we all, Priest included, face the East, our Churches would be full, no one leaving because Jesus Christ has the Words of everlasting life. Amen

  15. There is a saying among Protestant/Evangelical worship leaders (musicians) that goes, “Worship leaders must be lead worshipers.” In other words, you will lead others into worship more effectively by going there yourself and giving others an example to follow. I think that the ad orientem stance could be very helpful in fostering this same dynamic for our priests. It could help reinforce an awareness that the words of the Eucharistic Prayer are addressed to the Father, not the congregation, and so allow the priest himself to enter more consciously into the act of worship. In my own experience in the pews, it is precisely when a priest is celebrating Mass, not just reverently, but worshipfully, that I find it easiest to enter into that Mass myself.

  16. “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.”

    I thought the whole Mass is worship to God. And it is in the homily that the priest breaks open the Word for the congregation.

    Thank you for explaining the orientation and leadership so well. Yes, in a TLM it feels as though we’re all being led to Calvary.

  17. Thank you for this post, Monsignor. You made be ponder on the sacredness of the Holy Mass. I am old enough to remember the ad orientem Mass. It was grand as though I was in heaven already but not yet. It was as though the whole altar was so bright, so mysterious over a cloud and so out of this world. Yet, I also appreciate the current Mass, it is as though JESUS is calling us to gather around the Sacrifice as in ‘How I long to gather you all as a mother hen gather her chicks under her wings.’ There was a time the eyes of my heart saw JESUS superimposed with the priest celebrating the Mass. My only problem is when the priest tries very hard to let the congregation focus on him through jokes during homily which is not bad sometimes, his actions of acting out parts of the Mass, like elevating the Host with one hand, without regards to the prayer saying them as fast as he can. As I understand it, The Holy Mass is all about JESUS offering it to the FATHER, for the LITURGY of The WORD is JESUS, The Table of sacrifice is JESUS, the sacrifice HIMSELF is JESUS, we are the body of CHRIST and we together with JESUS and The HOLY SPIRIT moving among those present in the Mass thanking the FATHER for this heaven-on-earth and once-for-all grandest of celebration. I believe it is the attitude of the heart that matters, for either way The Holy Mass is celebrated, we are engaged in the profundisimus, bellesimus and santisimus of anything we can find on earth. GOD Bless.

  18. Wow, this debate will go on forever. The mass changed when I was quite young &, like Anthony Layne, I don’t remember exactly when they changed the direction of the altar/celebrant. I do remember, when attending mass on my own at around age 11, I frequently chose to sit in the transept (which most cross-shaped churches have) because I got a better view. So I think I didn’t really like having the priest’s back to me (even as a child).
    Doesn’t ad orientum mean “to the east?” (most of the parishes I have attended, even the old ones, did not necessarily face that way.)
    For me, and I can only speak for myself, I prefer the priest facing the congregation, for me I feel more like I am there at the last supper when He took the bread gave it to His disciples and said “take this, all of you and eat this is My body” It doesn’t matter if He was at a straight table or at a U shaped table (as father Pope says). A “U” shaped table still does not put Jesus with his back to his disciples (John was leaning on Jesus’s breast). Even if you equate the sacrifice of the mass as more oriented to the crucifixion than the last supper, Jesus was on the cross facing us (at least the way we traditionally depict the crucifixion)
    Perhaps ad orientum might cause the priest to have more of a leadership quality but it also sometimes leads to an almost worship of the priest,(well I remember that) and the inevitable disillusionment when the priest turns out to be all too human. While I totally appreciate the fact that we have priests and that the church ordains them to consecrate the host, hear confessions etc…and we cannot do without them! I am quite happy to remember that they are not God and they are sinners like the rest of us.
    Enough, I am not a liturgy geek ( not disparaging those who are) but I prefer Novus Ordo. If we start changing things again we will continue to have more of the trad/rad division (the recent tweaking of the English translation, still has the “rads” upset). I am about the Eucharist, don’t care about form, direction, vestments, music etc..(although I have my preferences) as long as it is dignified and the R.C. church says it is licit. I will follow Rome.

    1. “Perhaps ad orientum might cause the priest to have more of a leadership quality but it also sometimes leads to an almost worship of the priest, (well I remember that) and the inevitable disillusionment when the priest turns out to be all too human.”

      Just a note that when our parish used to meet for Mass in a gymnasium, with all of us facing the priest and he facing us, my youngest was prompted to ask “is Father John… God?”. I think it’s less about the orientation than about the child correctly apprehending the real presence.

    2. I hear many asking why many are leaving the Church??? Maybe if we were still all, Priests included, facing East, listening to the Holy Spirit we would better understand the Why’s we are evn at Mass, Whom the Priest represents, what and Whom we respond too. May God be praised in all we do. Consequences to not could be disasterous

      1. I know everyone here is very sincere in their love for the older form of the mass, I think that there are many reasons for people leaving the church. i.e. unrestrained prosperity, secular culture which denigrates the church, repeal of the blue laws (I think that was very big), etc. I personally think that the orientation of the priest at mass is pretty low on the list of reasons for the loss of the faithful (I know that we disagree on this issue, that is okay, this is a dialogue ). I speak for myself, I would not like to see things changed on the orientation of the priest. I actually like novus ordo; many Catholics seem to like it. After B16 allowed greater use of TLM, our bishop offered it in each of the “deaneries” of our diocese as far as I know it has been eliminated from at least 2 of the locations because of low attendance. It is not taking hold around here at all.

  19. So what does a parish do when they are stuck with a 40 year old modernist mistake of a building?

    Ad orientam emphasizes the sacrificial nature of the mass, mass in-the-round is more reminiscent of the Last Supper. Jesus did not have his back to the apostles during this first Eucharist. Either is correct, both are valid.

    You see a lack of leadership coming from the “new style”, but in my few experiences with ad orientam worship, it seems to come with an unhealthy clericalism.

    1. Jesus and the Apostles faced the same direction. Do you find that the priest acts in persona Christi to be clericalism?

    2. It would seem that the tradition of the church (if anyone), rather than some random guy in the 21st century, would reserve the right to claim what Jesus’ posture was at the Last Supper, since it is not explicitly given in Scripture.

  20. Wouldn’t the most reasonable solution be to face God, in the prayers addressed to Him, and face the people when the prayers are directed at us (i.e., “The Lord be with you, etc.) It seems to make the most sense and most polite.

  21. Msgr. Pope,

    Where in the rubrics for the Novus Ordo does it say that you are supposed to face the people?

    I’ve heard, but not verified for myself, that the missal assumes an ad oreintem posture of the preist. Indeed, that there are many instructions in red that refer to the priest turning to the people to speak. Why would a priest need to turn if he is already facing the people?

  22. A few years ago in a discussion with some laypeople about the liturgy I remember one woman making the remark that the most fulfilling part of mass was gazing into Father’s eyes as he was praying. the Eucharistic consecratory prayer. Such corruptions of the idea of the priest offering sacrifice would be eliminated if that prayer were prayed ad orientem.

  23. Dear Msgr. Pope;

    I find these remarks most welcome. I would like to add an interesting note that explains why the Gospel is read as it is … it is on the Gospel side (liturgical north side of the Altar) and, according to the rubrics, the Priest tilts the Missal and reads the Gospel facing liturgical North. In the Jewish Temple, the sacrifice of the animals was performed on the north side of the altar:

    “The Jew saw in the cold dark north a figure of Lucifer, who had deceived Adam,
    and plunged the nations into unbelief and paganism.
    They sacrificed the victims towards the north as against
    the demon and sin resting on the world. At Mass, when
    the altar is in the eastern end of the church, the Gospel
    is read towards the north as against the demon of in-
    fidelity.” (How Christ Said the First Mass, by Rev. James L Meagher)

    Furthermore, in almost every public Mass I have ever attended in the traditional Rite (Extraordinary Form) the priest recited the Epistle and Gospel in English facing the people after reciting it at the altar in Latin. Thus in the Extraordinary Form, both the mystical symbolism of ancient times is preserved, reciting the Gospel as a token of fidelity to the Gospel in opposition to Lucifer, AND the additional reality that the Epistle and Gospel are meant for the religious instruction of the people.

  24. The “closed circle” argument is, I think, a red herring. First, there is no circle that is not “closed,” so the argument, from the beginning, is making an issue out of a non-issue. Circles are, by their nature, closed, but not necessarily in the sense of exclusion.

    Second, God is not “here” or “there” as if one or another direction used by the priest is more properly an orientation toward God.

    Third, if God is the center of our circle, then it cannot be said that we are excluding God from this “circular” form of worship.

    Connecting the “circular” worship with a failure of leadership seems to ignore those strong priest-leaders who, while celebrating mass versus populum, are nonetheless ardent preachers of the faith, strong advocates for the widow, the orphan, and the strangers, and examples of great virtue in parishes around the world.

    1. Ok Father, thanks for the little lecture in semantics. But the point remains that a circle is closed and that is worth discussing. If you don’t like the idea fine, but spare me the lecture. You know very well that “closed circle” is a mode of speaking that everyone understands.

      In fact every one of your remarks indicate that you use a hyper-literalistic hermeneutic regarding what I have written. Why do do you do this? It is not correct and comes across as ungracious and condescending.

      And thus as for God not being “here or there,” fine from a cosmological point of view. But again you either interpret me literally or seem to presume I am a simpleton. I am not. I remember my Baltimore catechism answer “God is everywhere.” But at the liturgical and biblical level, Jesus never got your memo. According to the Scripture he raised his eyes to heaven to pray to his Father. Was Jesus confused? No. But he appeals to the human mode of space and time, and that is all I am doing in making this point.

      Finally you also absolutize my connection between leadership and liturgical stance, wholly ignoring qualifications I make in the text wherein I am clear that there are other factors and exceptions.

      This is a discussion Father, but I hope that discussions like this can avoid mischaracterizing, such as I think you unfairly do regarding my article. My points are more nuanced than you present and hence I would contend you are arguing with a straw man. From what little I know of you you are a fine priest, and I pray I am too. Brothers can disagree, I only ask that we might disagree with a bit more presumption of good will, intellectual capacity and respect for the nunance of the points.

    2. These types of arguments are destroying souls and their understanding of God and Christ in the Eucharist. It does not matter if one is a strong advocate for widow or orphan if one is not an advocate for Christ in the Eucharist..

    3. “One of the most alarming statistics reported recently in the Catholic Press was that approximately 70 percent of Catholics do not believe or do not know that by the action of the priest during Mass Jesus Christ becomes fully present in the Holy Eucharist.” – DOMINIC AQUILA

      This is why Fr. Michael, at the moment of consecration all eyes should be focused upon the Holy Eucharist and not the faces of the priests. There should be nothing that will distract the parishioners from focusing upon the Body and Blood of Christ. Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi, Lex Vivendi. As we Worship, So we Believe, So we Live.

  25. When I lived in San Francisco I regularly attended mass at a Carmelite Monastery. It was celebrated ad orientem, and I well remember how right it felt; it was as though the celebrant had slung the congregation over his back and was pulling us heavenward.

  26. I have witnessed, as a Deacon, the strain placed on priests to make contact or connection with the congregation at Mass. This strain made some priests very uncomfortable and caused the people to wonder why father was so afflicted. Some other priests seemed to enjoy the ‘theatre’ of celebrating Mass and also the walking out to the congregation during his homily to better connect with people. It seemed to me that this changed the true meaning of the Mass in ways that these priests did not intend.

    I believe we must change the orientation to once again face God together so the theology of our orientation will match the theology of the prayers.

    Thanks Msgr Pope for bringing this topic to the fore.

  27. You nailed it, Monsignor. Group hugs are nice, but I cannot parse a group hug out of the characterization “The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.” And while I hope it is not selfish of me to say so, if I never hear applause during Holy Mass again for the rest of my life I will enjoy far more happiness than regret.

  28. Well thought-out message Monsignor. Though many, if not most, congregants will not fully appreciate the difference between facing the altar or the people, the altar is preferred because the focus of the mass is God. I do think that modern liturgical innovations have, unintendedly?, mislead people into thinking the mass is for the congregants’ edification. Fortunately, if you are attending mass to thank and praise our Lord, where the Priest faces is of small consequence. Though, I must admit, that the external sights, sounds, smells and so forth can, and should, benefit the internal man.

  29. So, you’ve been to our new sanctuary?

    Father Kerns squared the circle, so to speak, by putting the altar in the center of a closed circle, in which the priest “faces” the people when he “faces” east.

    I can’t imagine it ever being “undone” to where we can all face east together. I think it was designed to be impossible.

    On the other hand, I’ve been in old churches that point north, or south, or…

  30. Excellent comment Msgr. Pope. I can only pray that many in the Church take your post seriously. Cardinal Ratzinger also had something positive to say about the priest facing East during the liturgy.

  31. are there no poor? have the sick been healed? have the innocent ceased suffering and dying from the warlike ambitions of others? Is Christ’s church made up of a building, and the worship that goes on within the walls, fan-shaped or circular? … oh well, maybe i’m just having a rough day …..

  32. I do not recall the old Latin Mass and I have attended the EF but found it very much lacking in inspiring worship and prayer within me. I especially could not figure out why in the world the scriputres were read in Latin. BUT I have long thought that it makes total sense to have the celebrant “ad orientum” for the Eucharistic Prayer and agree with you 100% about not doing so for Introductory Rites and Liturgy of the Word. Though I do not agree that this position is intimately tied with the priests’ mission and success (or lack) of leadership.

  33. This has been a frequent topic between my spouse and friends (young adults living in the District).

    My husband and I attended an Anglican Use Mass about 5-6 weeks back at St. Luke’s in Bladensburg, MD, it was wonderful.

    My husband has been telling everyone, “So you’d like to attend Latin Mass but don’t understand Latin, can’t hear or understand what is going on?”
    Response, “YES!”
    Husband, “Then imagine Latin Mass in Elizabethan English”
    Response, “Really?!”

    Every time -seriously every time- he talks about our experience at St. Luke’s that person asks for more information and states that they want to check it out. Just last night I told him that we should offer a ‘field trip’ of sorts and get our friends together to attend Mass there some weekend.

  34. I used to be very uninvolved in the Mass when the priest had his back to the congregation. I couldn’t see what was going on at the altar so I figured it wasn’t relevant to me. Now that I can see the host as it is being consecrated I am much more involved in what is going on there. And by the may, the orientation of my parish church, built in the 19th century, is north south, not east west, so we could still see what he is doing well enough from the side if he faced east. Like many other Catholics, I need to see and hear what is going on at the altar in order to be more deeply connected with the sacrifice taking place there. My focus is still on Jesus even if I can see the priest’s face; what matters is being a deep part of that sacrifice. The priest is only important there because he is acting in persona Christi, not because he’s this particular priest versus some other priest. (Except, of course, during the homily; some are inspired and some aren’t in this area, but it doesn’t matter during the sacrifice of the Mass because talking and sacrificing are two different things.)

  35. Having returned to the Church in 2008, I still have not adjusted to the Novus Ordo Mass. I have found one pastor who says it well and his Mass still lacks the degree of reverence that I remember from the Latin Mass.

    Watching concelebrated Masses on EWTN is another rattling experience for me. Even when there is a sole celebrant–the cardinal invariably–having to watch row upon row of priests, fully vested and ensconced behind the celebrant, makes no sense to me. And their endless procession in and out adds nothing, especially when the smiling ones choose to wave to friends in the pews. One priest saying the Mass well is all that I think is needed.

    I agree the Novus Ordo Mass may in time attract more converts once SNAP runs out of cud to ruminate. But the Novus Ordo is not the environment in which I would expect to find Jesus Christ coming down upon the altar. With a miracle like that happening I expect solemnity and I personally don’t find it.

    My Baptist barber might feel at home at the Novus Ordo Mass but he can’t understand all the kneeling down, standing up and sitting down. I keep telling him Christ is present in the Eucharist after the Consecration and he smiles–sometimes. The gap is still immense between many Protestants and Catholics and almost as immense, catechetically speaking, between many young Catholics and their pre-Vatican II grandparents.

    If I did not believe, thanks to the gift of faith and 19 consecutive years in pre-conciliar Vatican II RC schools, that Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist, I doubt that I would have ever come back to the Church. I was never tempted to be a priest and never tempted to try any other religion during my hiatus from worship. But the Novus Ordo Mass, said by the three well-intentioned priests at the three churches I frequent, lacks the ambience I think is required when the Miracle of the Eucharist takes place. Nothing like a little guitar music while making one’s thanksgiving after Communion.

    I thank God I am a Catholic given the grace to return to the Sacraments. But I retain the right to kvetch. And I’d put up with the Novus Ordo Mass quietly if the National Catholic Reporter shuttered. The former is simply a problem of form and the latter a calamity of substance.

  36. I think the priest turning his back on the congregation is also a sign of trust. He trusts that the congregation knows and is doing what it is supposed to know and be doing.

    I think that there is another imagery contained in the Mass prayed ad orientem. Moses only saw the “back parts” of God: Exodus 20: 20-23: “You can not see my face: for there shall no man see my face, and live. And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me, and you shall stand upon a rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passes by, that I will put you into a watchtower of the rock, and will cover you with my hand while I pass by: and I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back parts; but my face shall not be seen.”

    In On the Trinity, St. Augustine says:

    “Not unfitly is it commonly understood to be prefigured from the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, that His “back parts” are to be taken to be His flesh, in which He was born of the Virgin, and died, and rose again. . . ”

    He goes on to say:

    “But while we are absent from the Lord, and walk by faith, not by sight, we ought to see the “back parts” of Christ, that is His flesh, by that very faith, that is, standing on the solid foundation of faith, which the rock signifies, and beholding it from such a safe watchtower, namely in the Catholic Church, of which it is said, “And upon this rock I will build my Church.” For so much the more certainly we love that face of Christ, which we earnestly desire to see, as we recognize in His back parts how much first Christ loved us.”

    So, the Mass prayed ad orientem is reminding us that we still walk by faith, and not by sight, and that we have yet to see Christ face to face, which is our most ardent desire.

    Those are my thought on it and I apologize for such a lengthy comment.

    1. I would like to add a little to my comments:

      Excellent video, greatly enjoyed both the video and the songs.

      I tried to read all of the comments. I read more than half of them at the time of this comment. Wow. A lot of comments. I thought most were thoughtful and excellent.

      When I first read this post, I thought that I supported all of the prayers being prayed ad orientem. Then I realized that my second point only supported the time when the priest is in persona Christi, which is, as you point out, Monsignor, is during the Eucharistic Prayer, or most especially during Eucharistic Prayer.

      1. I apologize for this, but my comment is important to me.

        The second to last sentence in my first comment should read:

        So, the Mass prayed ad orientem is reminding us that we still walk by faith, and not by sight, and that we have yet to see Christ face to face, which is our most earnest desire.

  37. My priest has NO EYE CONTACT with the congregation with the exception of the homily and receiving the offertory gifts. It’s “say the black, do the red” and Mass is most reverential and beautiful. 4 or 5 miles away (another parish, in the next city) there is an older priest who replies “thank you” whenever the congregation replies “and with your spirit.” It’s just ridiculous! This same parish has the priest’s chair situated behind the altar facing the congregration, and the priest constantly looks out into the faces in the pews. It’s “all about him” and quite irritating. The altar is elevated by several steps, and so the chair DOES look like a throne, which is supposed to be avoided.

    Seems to me that it would be an “easy fix” if bishops enforced NO EYE CONTACT by the priest during Mass, as well as locating the priest’s chair ON THE SIDE across from the ambo (when possible), mostly eliminating eye contact. Simple.

  38. Msgr Pope. Can you contrast your observations with the Eastern Catholic celebration?. The priest goes behind the iconostasis alter doors to the alter to speak the words and institution and epiclesis.

  39. I am reading Cardinal Ratzinger’s book, “The Spirit of the Liturgy” right now and he does indeed address the orientation. He explains, however, that it isn’t something recently lost, it arises from a misunderstanding of St. Peter’s basilica. The altar was positioned to be over the tomb of St. Peter, which meant the priest had to face the people in order to face east. Other churches copied this priest-to-people orientation, but it wasn’t about facing the people. It was about facing east. He urged us to return to this ancient practice of facing east. Why? Because it had an incarnational and cosmic meaning.

    Praying toward the east is a tradition from the beginning of Christianity, a turning to the Lord who is to come again, the incarnational tribute to the cosmic symbol the rising sun expresses. The actual ancient practice was to face the east, to open up and out to what lies ahead and above for a “pilgrim People of God set off for the Oriens, for the Christ who comes to meet us.”

    He also points out that in churches where it may not be possible to actually face east, one solution is to face a “liturgical east” in which the priest and the congregation face the crucifix.

    He deals with this question in Chapter 3 or Part II in the book.

  40. Dear Msgr Pope:
    This seems like a really intriguing idea. I suspect many people are like me, in that we need physical helps, that is signs that help us to imagine that Christ is truly present in the Eucharist. It appears that the traditional Latin mass had some of these signs, ( incense, the formality of the rite, even the unfamiliar ancient language called to mind that something mystical was happening, and thus made making the leap of faith that Christ was substantially present probably easier ) In our time there is less of this, in fact arguably almost none. Although not proof, I can not but help note the association with lack of belief in the real presence with the move to make the liturgy and the Church more Protestant like. A move to say the Eucharistic prayer facing the altar might be a great deal easier to implement than a whole sale resurrection of the Tridentine Mass, and might achieve many of the same goals, those who like the Tridentine mass want to achieve, greater reverence and a focus on Mass as sacrifice. Some of us would find this change a help to put ourselves in the proper frame of mind at Mass.

  41. Very thoughtful post, Monseignor.

    Your point about the “closed circle” experience is well illustrated by the sign of peace. Would it be too much to say that the sign of peace seems to have become a kind of climax of the Mass? It certainly is not that, but a closed circle environment, the looking at each other, the Mass as a kind of “gathering,” all that has a logic that seems to have put an unintended climatic emphasis on the sign of peace. The gesture gives the worshipers something to do. They have an act to perform. They participate. They confer peace on one another. The Mass halts until the buzz and murmur abates.

    Note that the priest says something like, “Let us turn now and offer each other a sign of peace.” The gesture is then self-initiated by the worshippers, who start turning to the left and to the right to grasp one another’s hand. The act has a “horizontal,” left-right, person-to-person aspect.

    I live in Beirut and attend Mass at a Maronite parish, one in which the celebrant faces ad orientum. But the sign of peace is not initiated by the worshipers. It is initiated at the altar by the priest himself, who typically gives a blessing to an acolyte, who is kneeling before him, touching his outstretched hand with a crucifix. The acolyte then rises and walks down the main aisle, extending the sign to those seated on the aisle. Those people in turn extend the gesture to those next to them. But sign of peace starts at the altar and is passed through the church by one acolyte. The act has a “vertical,” front-to-back, priest-to-people aspect. There’s nothing touchy-feely about it.

  42. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger: The Spirit of the Liturgy. It’s all in there, explained simply and beautifully.

    In the last week, I attended a conference at which daily Mass was celebrated entirely in Latin, ad orientem, in the new form. It was every bit as reverent and beautiful and transcendent as the old Mass.

    Thank God.

    The answer is Latin. The answer is the hermeneutic of continuity.

  43. There is a church close to us where they celebrate the Novus Ordo mass ad orientem. (They also celebrate mass in the extraordinary form.) I am always impressed by the difference of focus when the Eucharistic prayer is said this way. To mimic this in my own parish I either follow the prayer in the book or bow my head and listen except for the elevation. The only place where the priests personality should show up at all is maybe in the homily. I recently read that they did a survey of priests about whether or not they liked the new English translation of the mass. One of the comments of those priests who disliked it was that it made them feel “disconnected” from the people. I think that fits into the discussion here. The connection we want is between God and his people led by the priest.

  44. Re: Leadership

    Too often our priests have confused celibacy with being gelded. Priests who truly lead by preaching the entirety of the Word of God will lose other priest-friends and some wealthy parishioners, but they’ll soon be surrounded by parishioners who’ve been waiting in the pews for forty years for a leader. (Of course that priest will have to watch out for the sin of pride, but a good spiritual director can help there.)

  45. “In the ancient orientation or “stance” of the Mass”

    The Mass is simultaneously:

    1. The re-enactment of the Sacrifice on Calvary, with the priest in persona Christi. Which way did Jesus face on the cross as he died for our sins?

    2. A re-enactment of the Lord’s Supper, in substance, with the priest acting in persona Christi as he confects the transubstantiation. Which way did Jesus face as he offered His flesh to eat and His blood to drink?

    Your explication would do much honor to Amalarius of Metz, I would warrant. I am afraid that for me there is too much of allegorization and too little of lived experience in it to be compelling.

    Your mileage may vary.

  46. *****=five star column!

    I agree very much! I’m pleased with your thinking here: for a long time now, I view mass as reverential joint public worship. . . so it’s weird to have this circle being made. It just makes more sense.

  47. Very well done article.
    And let us not forget that the idea of direction of prayer is rooted in the Old Testament. God commanded that the Israelites worship in the common rectangular position, with the priest and the holy of holies being at the front of the worship. It symbolizes many things, such as the pilgrim Church moving forward, and how we are led by the priest towards God. The key, though, is that it was God who instituted this direction of worship. Not man.

  48. I came to the Latin Rite from Eastern Orthodoxy, so ad orientem was just the way it was done there. The priest did face the people when preaching and giving a blessing. Even the Epistle and Gospel were proclaimed from the center of the nave facing East. I am hoping there is a return to ad orientem more and more in the Roman Catholic Church. I agree that we can do with less “gathering” and “dialogue” and more preaching and living out the Gospel.

  49. Amen! As the GIRM is currently written, the expectation is an ad orientem mass. A priest can do this as he wishes- though I don’t think it would be wise to do it without a lot of catechesis first. I would like to see the GIRM further amended so that the expectation is mass facing the people for the liturgy of the word, greetings, etc and facing the altar for all prayers to God. As the Girm stands, the priest would pray most prayers at the chair and could only face ad orientem for the Offertory and the EP. Perhaps the day is coming!

    1. I believe you are looking at it wrong. The priest does face the altar. He just doesn’t have his back to the rest of the Body of Christ. The Mass brings God to us in the Eucharist. God is ACTUALLY there. There is no need of an ethereal or imaginary ‘feeling’ of being lead to an unseen god. The priest and the rest of the body of Christ pray together for the Holy Spirit to “come upon the gifts” and make them holy. The priest’s words bring Christ to ALL GATHERED. The priests private words/prayers are just that, private. The people are saying their own prayers during the priest’s private time. The Mass is the Body of Christ-the people and priest praying together, listening to the Word of God and then actually and truly receiving God in a physical way through Holy Communion. We encounter the True, Living God in ALL of these actions/prayers; not just one aspect of the liturgy.
      As a theologian I have difficulty with my contemporaries who think of things too heady, too graduate student. Most people gathered at Mass have gone through Confirmation and have little knowledge (meaning education) of how “we think” things should be at Mass.

      As for circular churches, one sees those across from them and realizes that they are looking at another part of the Body of Christ. It is not a selfish thing but a humbling experience.
      Once we have heard the Word of God, received Jesus in the Eucharist, and experienced Christ’s Body in the others gathered we are empowered to go forth and spread the Gospel.

      1. Sorry to be so heady, Maureen. But as a theologian, are you not being a bit pedantic? No one doubts Christ is present on the altar, This is an article about Whether our liturgical posture conforms to other worthy notions, such as being on pilgrimage, Being turned upward and outward beyond ourselves and of having an evangelical posture, Etc. Further, as a theologian, I’m a bit surprised that you forget that in the Mass., Christ is leading us to the Father. Hence, your account of Christ presence on the altar, while correct, is incomplete. For Christ, present in the priest presiding, and preeminently in the Eucharistic sacrament, Is leading us to the Father, and unto glory in heaven. We are ascending with him. I argue here that our current liturgical posture reflects these truths poorly. You’re certainly free to disagree with that, but I don’t appreciate having such notions dismissed as Heady. Should not a theologian be more open to respectful discourse About worthy and widely recognized sacramental imagery? Why be so dismissive?

  50. I am a recent convert (from a non-Christian background) and my comments may therefore be a bit “anthropologist on Mars” in nature. But one thing I find very striking in the TLM (which I prefer, though can’t attend frequently) is the prayers at the foot of the altar before the priest and servers go up the steps to begin Mass. There’s something about that moment for me that sets a profound example for the congregation of deep reverence for what is about to happen.

    In a related way, the first time I went to First Friday for Adoration, I was deeply moved by the priest kneeling, facing the altar. It felt very much as if he were not only leading us, but also setting an example of reverential relationship to our Creator and Savior from which we could learn by imitation (since not everyone learns well from words alone).

    1. Pax. Welcome! May the Traditional Latin Mass-and all Sacrifices-lead you to God, His worship, and Heaven.

  51. I tend to agree and indeed republish most of Msgr. Pope’s posts. Not this time, I’m sorry. It is not because I’m against the extraordinary form. Nor is it because I hate tradition or Latin (I’ve taught and strongly commended it). It is because I don’t think that seeing man averts us from God.

    Is God more readily present in a depicted or carved man-made figure than in the image He himself created? What we need is not hiding the face of man but teaching everyone–in the first place: priests themselves–that their faces are now living icons of the living God, and that any attempt to drive attention just to themselves is an explicit invitation to idolatry.

    I’m not particularly against or pro celebrating ad orientem. I am particularly in favour of a fully sacramental perspective of every aspect of the Church–including the assembly and the celebrants.

    1. One teaching need not preclude the other. Imago Dei has its place. But, it is also a human instinct to sculpt and paint images that point to God and away from us. Further, Jesus is said in several places, e.g. he last supper to have looked up when he prayed. But, to use your logic as if it were absolute, then he erred and should have looked into the faces of those made imago Dei. Now I do not suppose you intend your point to be absolutized, and that is why I say that one teaching does not preclude the other. Further, I am not denying that there is no presence of God in the assembly. Nevertheless in terms of being a people on pilgrimage and in terms of the image of leadership and not “walking backward”, and in terms of not appearing a people too closed in on ourselves there are values to be explored in the more ancient and consistent stance of, at least the Eucharistic prayer.

      1. Two good points. And yet, we should be able to see the errors of selfishness in our times reflected in-if not STEMMING from-the circular, closed off assembly at Mass. The greatest prayer of the world and God is basically left to the wayside, tabernacle hidden away.

        While there are other factors, the positions and meaning taken at the Sacrifice mean something.


    2. Mr. Medina, you pose the question (rhetorically, it seems) “Is God more readily present in a depicted or carved man-made figure than in the image He himself created?” The best answer is, I think: “Yes, sometimes.”

      That man-made figure — of Christ on the cross, for example — is there to help us focus our attention on the Being whom we’re speaking to and worshipping. We’re reminded by that image that we are not God, neither as individuals nor as a community. And that’s an essential message the liturgy should deliver to reach a culture that’s besotted with the twin errors of Nietzsche (each man is a god) and Marx (the collective is God).

  52. Excellent article. You bring up some very good points. Some of our parishes have lost the true focus of the Mass, I agree, especially when what makes the congregation happy is put first. God is the focus and all that is celebrated should be for His glory, not ours. Too many parishes forget that everyone is expected to participate in the liturgy and not just some of us. Music is meant to support the liturgy and is not a performance by the music liturgy.
    The days when the choir was in the rear of the church kept our focus on the altar. Everything was directed to the crucifix on the altar. Now it seems many people don’t understand their role in the Mass, that they should participate and not be just spectators..

  53. Thoughtful words. I hadn’t connected ad orientem with leadership generally.
    I’m sure many priests (especially here in the U.K.) would like to try ad orientem for the Eucharistic Prayer; articles like this help build momentum.

  54. Michael Davies continues to be vindicated the further from his death we get. Benedict stated for all time that several of his main points in the liturgy were spot on, and this essay on the orientation of the priest bolsters his thesis further. May this trend toward recapturing the old ethos of the mass continue.

  55. Excellent post Monsignor. I agree with not rushing into this. So how about we wait till this Sunday? 🙂

    Can you also write about the place of SACRED music in lieu of praise music in the Mass? And hand gestures by the lay faithful?

    Thank you for this again. As you stated this is certain. To cause quite the dust up. I will get some popcorn.

  56. Msgr:
    I totally agree with this post. However have you ever considered that the post itself is an excellent example of the lack of leadership which you decry? I cannot begin to list the number of blog posts, articles and essays I have read over the years criticizing ‘versus populum” celebration of the liturgy. But as you caution, this is not an actual proposal to DO anything. This is leadership? Secondarily, how exactly would you propose this as an “incremental change”? Would you perhaps suggest the priest turning 10degrees a year so that in 18yrs he has turned around? Why must we simply think about this rather than actually DO it?

    1. I agree Matthew. This lack of courage and show of timidity on the part of our shepherds is troubling. Why are people (like the author of this blog) so scared of doing what is right? A good reflection on modern liturgical problems and then a nervous, scared “don’t take me literally, don’t do anything” ending is kind of silly.

      Pope Bendedict XVI was a man of great humility and courage. He saw what needed to be done and, with the grace of God, began carrying out the reform of the reform.

    2. I AGREE TOTALLY! Why does beloved Msgr. end the article with such shivering fear and timidity?? Turning 10* per year makes THE point!

      1. No shivering, just pastoral sensitivity. Not everyone sees the value of ad orientem and the faithful have been through a lot. In a wider setting it is good to teach for a while and build up pastoral support. Pastors are in different settings and will make different conclusions as to pace and whether and if change is warranted.

        I am just going to guess that Matthew and JO are young men, probably in their 20s. Wisdom will come with later years and when children have been raised or perhaps pastoral experience rooted in love have had their desired effects and Matt and JO realized that jerking people around with changes they are not prepared for usually backfires. Some things need to be chipped away at, one form of radicality and sweeping change does not remedy another.

        No fear here. I speak openly under my own name, not in the hiddenness of comboxes under pseudonyms

  57. Mgr Pope touches on a couple of interesting themes in this article. I particularly like the idea of the priest leading his people out.

    Ad orientem is, by its very nature or indeed ‘direction’, eschatological. By facing East the priest and people are facing not only the place of Our Lord’s crucifixion, but also the place where He will return. For as we read in Acts (1:11) “He who has been taken from you into heaven, this same Jesus, will come back in the same fashion, just as you have watched him going into heaven.” – We are going out to meet the Risen and Ascended Lord. It is a beautiful image.

    A priest once told me of a book he had read about “Why Catholic’s Don’t Sing” (true of some, not all) – the book argued that when the chair was placed at the centre of the sanctuary and the priest given a microphone “a star was born” – too often have I been to Mass where it has become “Fr such-and-such” show. Though the same goes for some lay people as much as clerics.

    There is also a distinct lack of silence… But that is an argument for another day.

    Thank you for your post, Monsignor.

  58. Well written Monsignor.To me It seems illogic when I see the priest making the elevation of the host and the cup facing the people and at the same time turning his back to the crucifix which is behind him.

  59. I agree completely. As has been stated, the GIRM does not preclude ad orientem. Coupling that with your observation of clergy somewhat failing to lead, might you be able to take the lead in asking your bishop to allow you to offer Mass ad orientem?

  60. Modernism has been making inroads into the liturgy and theology of the Mass for over 100 years.but with recent acceleration after Vatican II. Perhaps now we can begin the journey back to the sacredness of the mystery which occurs at the altar and away from the desacralization of Protestantizing our auditoriums, or as some say, community worship spaces. Ecce agnus Dei!

  61. This past Palm Sunday I was in Oxford, UK at a church that had the complete Latin Mass that I remember well from my childhood. Even though I am very familiar with Latin and I initially thought it would be a great return to a form that I used to love, to my surprise I found myself very dissatisfied. Like it or not, most of us do not like the priest murmuring the Canon in silence. We are now expecting – again most of us – to follow the prayers (Canon in particular), in fact, I would like to hear the sonorities of Latin proclaimed out loud. How one would address this while keeping the “ad orientem” is a problem, in my view.
    In conclusion, I understand your position, Monsignor, as well as you invitation to do it prudently, but I think that the majority of people have moved on now, and a return to the old form would be strangely unsatisfactory, even for people who like Latin.

  62. After watching the video I had a revelation. Hindsight may be 20/20 be we can’t go through life looking at life through our behinds.

  63. I consider myself a traditional-minded Catholic even though I do prefer the Novus Ordo to the Tridentine and even though my “favorite” Mass is a Latin/English mix. That’s probably mostly because even though I studied Latin for 5 and a half years, I just don’t have a gift for speaking foreign languages and I like to be able to understand what I’m hearing so that I can focus on praying instead of focusing on trying to translate.

    Though I attended the Tridentine rite as a youngster, I don’t remember much from those days. So my first real experience was as a member of the 30-something cub. As mentioned above, I was not “converted”, but I did have an epiphany. My jaw hit the floor, almost literally. I was shell shocked. At what? Not all the Latin. Not all the silence. Not all the incense. Not the beautiful art in the church. No none of that. Something more simple. Something much more insidious.

    It was the priest. He had his back to us. In the early 1960’s, if someone had asked me how to cause widespread loss of belief in the real presence of our Lord, I wouldn’t have know how to reply. As a college educated young adult, I probably would have given a lengthy series of suggestions. The answer, however, is dastardly simple – turn. the. priest. around. After that, it doesn’t matter what rite is celebrated. It doesn’t matter what language is used. Turn the pries around and wait for it to happen.

    Why? It changes the whole dynamic of the worship. When the priest has his back to us… it is not that he has his back to us, it is that he is in front of us leading us in prayer and worship. Either the His Presence is Real or we are all crazy folks staring at a blank wall. With his back to us, the priest is one with us, leading us as we pray to Him. The Lord is the clear, obvious, only possible point of focus.

    Now, have the priest face us. Where is the focus point? Christ in the tabernacle? No more. Now the priest is a focus point. His manner, his presence, his… presentation/performance become more critical. He can more here or there and all eyes follow him. And hey! Now that we can do all this moving around, now that the people have grown accustomed to (dare I say) being entertained, it would be neat to spruce things up, to add this and that to the liturgy. Now that the focus is on the priest and not our Lord, is it any wonder that others feel the need or desire to have their place of prominence (and as someone who has been extremely active as a volunteer in the Church, I do not intend in any way to disparage the sincere love with which many serve our Church).

    Now that the priest has become the principle point of focus, the tabernacle can be moved to a side altar… to a side… room and many folks won’t even notice because their eyes are else where. All the other activity and side shows only add to the obscuring fog that hides the absence of our Lord from so many.

    Imagine moving our Lord to a side room when the priest is facing the same direction as us – facing Him. I submit that it simply would not be possible. How did we get to this point? Certainly there is a lot more involved. But I have no doubt that the ultimate architect of turning-the-priest-to-face-the-people, is the master of lies himself. Though fifty years ago, I could not have envisioned where it could help lead, he most certainly did. Turn the priest around, how utterly brilliantly simple.

  64. please delete this post and my first as I made some corrections and edits. the final copy will follow in my next post. thanks!

  65. I consider myself a traditional-minded Catholic even though I do prefer the Novus Ordo to the Tridentine and even though my “favorite” Mass is a Latin/English mix. That’s probably mostly because even though I studied Latin for 5 and a half years, I just don’t have a gift for speaking foreign languages and I like to be able to understand what I’m hearing so that I can focus on praying instead of focusing on trying to translate.

    Though I attended the Tridentine rite as a youngster, I don’t remember much from those days. So my first real experience was as a member of the 30-something cub. As mentioned above, I was not “converted”, but I did have an epiphany. My jaw hit the floor, almost literally. I was shell shocked. At what? Not all the Latin. Not all the silence. Not all the incense. Not the beautiful art in the church. No none of that. Something more simple. Something much more insidious.

    It was the priest. He had his back to us. In the early 1960’s, if someone had asked me how to cause widespread loss of belief in the real presence of our Lord, I wouldn’t have known how to reply. As a college educated young adult, I probably would have given a lengthy series of suggestions. The answer, however, is dastardly simple – turn. the. priest. around. After that, it doesn’t matter what rite is celebrated. It doesn’t matter what language is used. Turn the pries around and wait for it to happen.

    Why? It changes the whole dynamic of the worship. When the priest has his back to us… it is not that he has his back to us, it is that he is in front of us leading us in prayer and worship. Either His Presence is Real or we are all crazy folks staring at a blank wall. With his back to us, the priest is one with us, leading us as we pray to Him. The Lord is the clear, obvious, only possible point of focus.

    Now, have the priest face us. Where is the focus point? Christ in the tabernacle? No more. Now the priest is a focus point. His manner, his presence, his… presentation/performance become more critical. He can move here… move there and all eyes follow him. And hey! Now that we can do all this moving around, after the people have grown accustomed to (dare I say) being entertained, it would be neat to spruce things up, to add this and that to the liturgy. Now that the focus is on the priest and not our Lord, is it any wonder that others feel the need or desire to have their place of prominence (as someone who has been extremely active as a volunteer in the Church, I do not intend in any way to disparage the sincere love with which many serve our Church).

    Now that the priest has become the principle point of focus, the tabernacle can be moved to a side altar… to a side… room and many folks won’t even notice because their eyes are else where. All the other activity and side shows only add to the obscuring fog that hides the absence of our Lord from so many. Soon He starts to be forgotten. Soon many fail to ever acquire belied that He really, truly is physically present.

    Imagine moving our Lord to a side room when the priest is facing the same direction as us – facing Him. I submit that it simply would not be possible. How did we get to this point? Certainly there is a lot more involved. But I have no doubt that the ultimate architect of turning-the-priest-to-face-the-people, is the master of lies himself. Though fifty years ago, I could not have envisioned where it could help lead, he most certainly did. Turn the priest around, how utterly brilliantly simple.

    1. Excellent post, thanks. If I could change one thing about the Latin Rite as currently celebrated, it would be this, and your post captures why.

      Also, something is terribly wrong with kneeling-and-bowing in the face of the priest when he raises the Host and Chalice for consecration. Terribly, terribly wrong.

  66. I just had this conversation with a coworker about the theological meanings behind the styles of architecture. The only church-in-the-round I’ve ever been in built before the 1950’s was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Northampton, UK, built by Simon de San Liz in the 1070’s, I think – built as a replica of the actual Holy Sepulcher in gratitude for his successful return from the q

  67. Sorry – somehow hit the Send button.

    from the 1st Crusade. But that’s it! I’m sure others can think of more. The Pantheon? Yes, but it wasn’t built as a Christian church & even now the altar is at one side, not in the center.

    My priest prays both old & new Mass every Sunday, & has celebrated new Mass ad orientem. It is so prayerful, beautiful, reverent, & God-focused. To paraphrase Benedict XVI from Spirit of the Liturgy – when it comes to praying Mass, the priest’s personality really just isn’t that important. I think the focus on the priest & the congregation all staring at each other has led to so many of the problems we’ve had in the Church over the past 40 years.

    I agree with Charles: let’s not rush it – Sunday is fine.

  68. Here at St. Benedict’s in Richmond, Virginia all the Masses, although celebrated in English, are ad orientem. At the 11 AM Mass on Sundays the Chants are all sung in Latin. When our bishop or a visiting priest celebrates at our parish it is unsettling to have them face us in the pews. View the Church’s website at ‎


  69. You would think by now the Church would have it’s act together when it comes to the mass. It’s like saying it’s become corrupted by.incompetent leadership over the centuries. Even in the painting of the last supper, they are all on one side of the table with Christ all facing the same direction forward and upward. Maybe we owe the novel concept to the artist who painted the scene. I can see it now, the pope is presented with the commissioned painting and say’s, “By golly, I think you might have something here. This gives me an idea.”

  70. Post-Vatican II I have frequently heard the phrase “we are a pilgrim people”. Ad Orientum worship highlights that reality in a way that the current common practice does not.

  71. A very good explanation, MSgr.

    Pope Benedict hoped that through the Summorum Ponificum that both forms of the Mass could be enriched. Unfortunately, the isolation continues with a great chasm existing between. Despairing of any real reconciliation, my wife and I belong to a traditional parish which is satisfying and a relief from the chaos and madness elsewhere. Still, there are elements of the extraordinary form that could be reformed, i.e. the propers could be prayed in the vernacular. On the other hand, the prayers at the foot of the altar should have been retained. They are a perfect preparation for beginning the mystery of the sacrifice. At any rate, here we are staring at the obvious abyss and act as though it were a mere line in the sand.

    Pope Benedict has said, “How we attend to the liturgy determines the fate of the Faith and the Church.” If this is true, then there really is no time to lose. My daughter is a member of a parish in the Albuquerque area that regularly says Solemn Masses “ad orientum” and no one swoons or faints. In fact, the parish dwarfs the size of most other parishes and has founded two other parishes. The pastor is not timid and he is a leader.

    At this pace I don’t believe I will see this reconciliation in my lifetime. Very sad.

  72. God bless you for hitting all the real issues and proposing small changes that will contribute to bigger changes not only during mass. I really couldn’t put my finger on why I felt so uncomfortable in circular churches and why the kiss of peace has become a floor show sometimes. It’s such a distraction from the Sacrifice of the Eucharist.

    Many thanks!

  73. As a relatively recent convert (2004) to The Faith, and one whose childhood experience does not inform my Catholic opinion or judgment on these issues, I struggle with suggestions which seem to equate the quality of my surrender and participation in the Eucharist with the orientation of the altar in my sanctuary, and with the direction my priest faces when Christ is made present on the altar through his power to consecrate. At that point aren’t we all looking at Christ present in the Eucharist?
    I am not worthy or qualified to argue the position. I am neither priest nor deacon. I am a Catholic in awe of God’s love and the sacrifice he made for me, and I daily stand amazed at the depth and breadth of His church and its fullness.
    So these quotes that follow are not mine, and I don’t propose they are the sum of the theology or history of the ad orientum discussion, but they do seem to support that the issue is not one of theological determination. Isn’t this really one of personal preference?

    “It is proper to explain clearly that the expression “celebrate facing the people” does not have a theological sense, but only a topographical-positional sense. Every celebration of the Eucharist is praise and glory of God, for our good and the good of all the Church (ad laudem et gloriam nominis Dei, ad utilitatem quoque nostram, totiusque Ecclesiae suae sanctae). Theologically, therefore, the Mass is always facing towards God and facing the people. In the form of celebration it is necessary to take care not to switch theology and topography around, above all when the priest is at the altar. The priest speaks to the people only in the dialogue from the altar. All the rest is prayer to the Father, through the mediation of Christ in the Holy Spirit. This theology must be visible.
    “Did not Saint Leo the Great, in the fifth century, remind the faithful in one of his Christmas homilies that “when the sun rises in the first dawning of the day some people are so foolish as to worship it in high places?” He adds: “There are also Christians that still retain that it is part of religious practice to continue this convention and that before entering the Basilica of the Apostle Peter, dedicated to the only and true God, after having climbed the stairs that bear one up to the upper level, turn themselves around toward the rising sun, bow their heads and kneel in order to honor the shining disk” (Homily 27, 4). In fact, the faithful entering the basilica for the Eucharist, in order to be intent on the altar, had to turn their backs to the sun. In order to pray while “turned toward the east,” as it was said, they would have had to turn their backs to the altar, which does not seem probable. ”
    (Published as an editorial in 332, Vol. 29, No. 5, May 1993, pp. 245-249, this article was translated from Italian by Fr. John T. Zuhlsdorf.)

  74. I am an English Catholic priest, ordained in 1975. I was schooled in the Missa Normativa (its original title) and had no problem with it to begin with. As time went along I saw things I did not like and began to think. A turning point (no pun intended) was Cardinal Ratzinger’s book, “The Spirit of the Liturgy” which led me to read Fr. Klaus Gamber’s book on liturgical renewal. I have since read other things and thought very deeply about it all. I have informed my parishioners about all of this and although I still celebrate “facing the people” at the weekend (though I stressed I am..and they are…facing the Cross) all my weekday Masses are now “ad orientem”. There have not been any complaints.

  75. Thank God you have said this aloud!!!! Perhaps we can see the day when we no longer have to suffer with “Father As Performer” or “Father As Entertainer.”

    I remember a Mass – the best-attended Sunday Mass at our parish – when, after a festival the day before whose purpose it was to generate funds for our school, the leaders of that fund-raising drive presented a mock-up, grossly oversized facsimile of a check to the pastor at the end of Mass. All I could think of was the Gospel passage where Jesus drove the money lenders out of the temple. We had conflated the supreme act of worshipping God with the results of a fund-raising activity of the parish. I say, let the Mass be the Mass and all else have its proper place outside of Mass.

  76. “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.”

    This is so very well put. As a Plain Catholic we do not venture into debates. We come to our local parish and worship God. We have heard many times the comments about the old Mass having the priest’s back to the people.

    Not as argument but as observation: it has always struck me that rather than being an entertainer on display, the old ad orientam made the priest a leader pointing the way to God.

    That said, I know I would be lost in a Latin Mass being too young to know any of the Latin. God’s will be done.

  77. At the end, Fr. you commented that St. Augustine would state, “Let us turn to the Lord.” and then he went up to the altar…..
    When was the last time you actually saw the celebrant actually ascend steps to a higher level for the Eucharistic prayer? Many worship centers don’t even have the altar on a raised platform. I said “worship centers,” as the word ‘church’ is misused when referring to a building, as it is Greek for community.

    When I was a girl, our pastor would come down the steps of the altar to give his homily/sermon and then re-ascend those same steps to continue the sacred liturgy. The architecture of the building should reflect the purpose of the structure. A catholic worship center, should reflect worship, and not a social gathering where the worship of God and the Sacred Liturgy occur occasionally. This should be reversed, the worship of God and the Sacred Liturgy should be paramount in the design of these buildings, with the altar and sanctuary elevated above the people vs. the people looking down into a pit, as in a theatre, to witness the Sacred Liturgy. Also the Tabernacle should be returned to the center of the Sanctuary where it can be found easily without a map and compass. Jesus is the reason for the building, let’s go back to architecture that placed Jesus and HIS LITURGY as ‘center stage.’

    Now I don’t know the architectural requirements for the building of the Sanctuary in a catholic worship center, but the pulpit/ambo where the Scripture readings are proclaimed should be at a lower level that the Altar of Sacrifice that is used for the Eucharistic Prayer, and the Penitential Rite should be prayed before the Ministers and Celebrant even enter the Sanctuary, or at least at a lower level than the Ambo that is at a lower level that the Sacred Altar. This would require at least, if you can picture this, a sanctuary that is separated by a railing that would demark a separation between the sacred and the common that allows enough floor space for the Celebrant(s) to pray the ‘Penitential Rite’ of the Mass, then 2 or 3 steps up to the level of the Ambo where the ‘Word,’ and homily are proclaimed, and finally a second set of steps, minimum 3 to a floor upon which the Sacred Altar of Sacrifice stands. This would not only visually emphasize the Sacred, but would elevate the Liturgy to a height where most/all could see the celebrant without having him, the priest, down in a theatrical pit.

    I agree with Fr., “Where is the sense of the sacred in our modern liturgy. Have we forgotten who we are asking to bless and consecrate the gifts of bread and wine. Whose Body and Blood we are receiving. We need to put Jesus 1st again where he belongs.

    I could go until this word processor runs out of ink, but I will stop.

    Sr. Carol OFS

  78. Having just attended my first EF mass since I was a babe, I most definitely could sense a renewed focus on that thing we refer to as “the invisible” in our creed .How easily my soul seemed to acquire wings to fly.How easily I became engaged.Hearing all the words mean little to a small child who is being picked up and loved by a Father. A reading of the cannon before mass can suffice . I don’t discount the ordinary form but I think the Extraordinary Form should be made more available for people like me who most certainly attend it often if given the chance. Thy Kingdom Come!

  79. Amen! Totally agree Msgr. I returned my parish to ad orientem worship at all of my Masses beginning with the last Easter Vigil. It makes all the difference in the world. Even if we are trying to focus on Our Lord during the Eucharist Prayer, the distractions caused by versus populum are difficult to overcome even with the Benedictine Arrangement.

  80. I am delighted to see this discussion on a site sponsored by the Archdiocese of Washington.

    A similar article could be written on the benefits and significance of having a universal sacred language.

    I miss the EF and wish that it were more available.

  81. Welcome back to the 1950’s! Some people, even priests think that returning to the past will revive the liturgy and with it the faithful. Sure, lets go back to the days of ‘pray, pay and obey’ and all will be right with the world. Progress cannot be stopped, no matter how many would want to erase the past 60 years of a more Christian Church, a Church more in tune with the Gospels and less with pomp, knee jerking calls for return to the way things were and when we do, the world will be better. … Ain’t gonna happen folks, get used to it!

      1. Sir, maybe you should read the Fathers of the Church and about how the Latin Mass came from three original rites. “Small” changes occurred over the centuries and the Mass you spoke brought glorious martyrdom to many saints.

    1. Robert, you might consider going to Calvary Chapel. Be prepared, however, to pay; I don’t know how much praying you will do; but you certainly won’t have to obey anyone but yourself.

      Another example of the individual whose mantra is “my will be done.”

  82. I’m reminded of a new parish assignment which I received several years ago. After Mass one day a lady approached me and asked, “Father, how come you don’t make eye contact with us during the Eucharistic Prayer? The other priest does.” My response, “Because, my dear, I’m not praying to you.” More and more I like the idea of ad orientem.

  83. Topics 1 and 2,
    Topic 1, the direction of the priest, either facing people or not facing people is always facing the Blessed Sacrifice.

    Topic 2, The connection to emulation of the priest to altar service. Encourage teen and even early 20s for young men to serve. Copy the priest, it’s a healthy thing to start at an early age and have them follow along in the missal.

  84. The article shows another example in a lack of leadership,,,, when you say that you just want to start a discussion but aren’t advocating any change.
    A true leader sees the vision clearly and then says what is right and wrong, he doesn’t dilly with dialogue, discussion and the like.
    Constant dialogue with no real action is what is hindering the Church from igniting a restoration.

    Is it so terrible to suggest that the Church abandon the novus ordo, return to the traditional latin mass, clarify V2 in continuity with tradition and produce a new syllabus of modern errors for our times?

    Let’s get on with the restoration before it is too late.

  85. Thanks for beautifully articulating the experience of many Catholics who have been through the experience of a gradual weakening of faith after years of liturgy which lacks a sense of transcendence, mystery, reverence. The banality of most Sunday Liturgies results in a this world focus with us as central and a loss of a sense of God’s presence. The message often is “be a liberal activist and do as you wish elsewhere as long as you are nice and mean well. May God deliver the Church this humanistic flypaper we experience on Sunday.

  86. The first part of Fr. Robinson’s book covers the philosophical and religious foundations of modernity, and this helps provide an understanding of how our liturgy changed. The subjectivity and self-centeredness of our contemporary world — and the loss of the sacred — came from somewhere, and ‘The Mass and Modernity’ describes this admirably.

  87. Not being very liturgically literate, but nonetheless Catholic since birth in ’57, I can identify with what Msgr. Pope has written.

    How the Mass was celebrated didn’t matter too much to me until I stopped going for a number of years and then came back about seven years ago. When I came back, some things had changed and most notably we stopped kneeling during the prayer right before Holy Communion (I believe it is called Agnus Dei). After wondering why nobody was kneeling and why in some church buildings the tabernacle wasn’t anywhere near the altar, it dawned on me that during the Mass we ceased being individual God worshipers and had become communal people worshipers. I thought that was pretty “deep” for a liturgical simpleton like me; but Msgr. Pope’s analysis, I think, proves that we discover truth; it is not something we can invent.

    This article carries the full weight of truth. I cannot wait to see a return to a more holy celebration of the Mass. Please forgive the simple-minded thoughts expressed herein.

    1. Thomas,

      You are not “simple”, but bring simple, true light to the disease. An emasculated liturgy and non-leader (priest) has destroyed real worship, driven people away, and caused a lack of vocations. Let’s pray and sacrifice.

  88. I now attend the Tridentine Mass every Sunday and finally feel that I am home!

    Words cannot describe the joy, reverence, awe and wonder that I experience again after so many years!

    I see young families with many children attending these Masses as well.

    God bless them all!

  89. FWIW, the rubrics for even the ordinary form are all implicitly ad orientem:

    The parts where the priest is to turn and give instruction or a blessing while “facing the people” are clearly marked in the General Instructions. If he is turning in order to face the people, where was he facing the rest of the time?

    Not being a priest, this is easier for me to say, but I don’t see why one should have to ask for permission from the bishop to say the Mass according to the actual instructions on how the Mass should be said…

  90. I really don’t get what you are saying about leading. Does anyone really doubt that the Priest, Bishop or Pope is leading the congregation. I remember Pope John Paul II’s Mass on the Mall in Washington in ’79 we were around on three side and there was no question as to who was leading the one million in attendance. What is happening at Mass has not changed with the change of Rite. Jesus becomes really present. Blame catechists for not teaching properly. The change that might be responsible for this was the change in fast from midnight to 3 hours by Pius XII in 1957.

  91. The bigger and more crucial issue today is the visuals showing that the priest is better than the faithful. Yes, have the priest lead, but have the believers form a semi circle very near yet behind the priest. When the Liturgy of the Word is proclaimed, have the priest sit separate from the congregation, but on the same level floor, and not “above” the faithful. There is a lot more, but this should aid in discussion.

  92. 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.

    1. Candida

      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.

  93. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

    2. 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.

      1. 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.

  94. 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.”

    1. 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

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

          1. 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!

  95. 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.

  96. 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.

    1. Pete,

      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.

      1. 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.

  97. 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’.

    1. Brian:

      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?!

  98. 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.

  99. 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.

  100. 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.

    1. Kurt

      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!

  101. 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!

    1. 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.

    2. 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?


  102. 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.”

  103. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

  104. 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.

  105. 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.

    1. Michael

      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(:>(

      1. 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.


  106. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. Richard,

        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.

  107. 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!

  108. 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.

  109. 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!

    1. 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.

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

  110. 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.

  111. Martin

    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!!!!

  112. 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

    1. Charles

      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.

  113. 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?

  114. 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.

  115. 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.

    1. 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.

  116. 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.

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

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